The David Burke Restaurant Group announced that they will be opening ‘Trilogy,’ a new restaurant and movie theater concept
Forget nachos and popcorn… David Burke’s got you covered with better movie fare.
The New York City-based David Burke Group announced that they will be opening a trio of new restaurants, aptly named Trilogy, inside Silverspot Cinema movie theaters, a small chain of movie theaters in the South. The restaurant group was founded by Chef David Burke (David Burke Townhouse), who announced last year that he would be stepping down from his role overseeing the company’s day-to-day operations.The new cinematic restaurants, which will open inside Silverspot Cinemas in Coconut Creek, Florida; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Naples, Florida this summer, will feature the cuisine of executive chef Matt O’Neill (David Burke Kitchen Aspen).
The David Burke Group describes this new concept as “a chic American café.” The locations will offer full-service restaurants and concessions to theater-goers, with a subtle film theme throughout the décor. Menu items like tuna tartare wontons made with scallions and avocado mousse, a BLT lobster roll, angry shrimp fajitas, and a bevy of cocktails and beers can be ordered tableside or to-go to enjoy during the movie.
David Burke is not the only household culinary name to dip into the upscale cinema concessions business. Last year, Danny Meyer and Union Square Hospitality Group announced a partnership with AMC to create dine-in theater food and drink programs.
Plans Detailed for “The Union League of New Philadelphia”
David Gutstadt and a slew of “Just the Right People” are betting that the staid old world of private clubs can be disrupted, Philadelphia magazine reported.
Gutstadt thinks he’s invented something new with what he’s planning as the Fitler Club, Philadelphia reported. The plans call for something posh yet casual, exclusive yet diverse, hedonistic yet philanthropic, and a one-stop shop for the modern urbanite to achieve personal and social fulfillment.
Gutstadt’s first step as he tries to sign up members, Philadelphia reported, is to talk a lot about his plans for the club and how it will distinguish itself in a market that includes the reinvented and again-thriving Union League of Philadelphia.
Gutstadt was recently given a chance, Philadelphia reported, to address a gathering of corporate and foundation executives from around the country that was sponsored by Philadelphia-based Comcast and dedicated to the region’s food and hospitality sector, “I want to take a couple minutes,” he said, “to talk about what we think is a really exciting project for the City of Philadelphia, and hopefully in the future bringing this to other cities around the country.”
“I am the founder … in a new venture called Fitler Club, [which] is what we believe is going to be the next evolution in the private lifestyle club space.”” Gutstadt continued.
“I actually came out of the hospitality space,” Gutstadt, a 42-year-old with an economics degree from Princeton who then spent two decades working with top investment banks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, told the group. “I’m a 20-year hospitality veteran.”
About six years ago, Gutstadt continued, he was ready to leave the hospitality finance game and move to Philadelphia with his children and his wife, the former Julia Dranoff, whose father, Carl Dranoff, has filled a lot of Philadelphia space with apartments and condos. Shortly after the move, he added, he became a long-distance commuter, lured back to work in Manhattan by the CEO of the aggressively upscale fitness club operator Equinox and charged with developing a plan for the company’s move into hotels.
So, Gutstadt explained, he spent five years “racing around studying hotels.” Meanwhile, out of the corner of his eye, he was seeing the explosive growth of the co-working company WeWork, which would soon diversify its offerings by moving into housing, education and fitness.
Gutstadt was also noticing, Philadelphia reported, how hip private clubs like England’s Soho House were establishing successful outposts in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. It began to seem clear, he said, that people are increasingly willing to put more and more of how they experience their daily lives into the hands of trusted brands.
“Watching all this, I’m sitting at the pointy end of the spear and saying this is an unbelievable confluence of lifestyle and design and hospitality all coming together,” Gutstadt said. “Everyone gets to this moment in their life where the lightbulb goes off.”
And in that moment of enlightenment, Philadelphia reported, Gutstadt asked himself: What would the club of the future look like?
He then described the answer he gave to himself: “It’s got to have health and wellness. Because that’s important to people. Got to have great restaurants and social space. It’s got to be diverse and community-oriented. Everything the modern urbanite wants. We put in a co-working space. No one’s done that. What a great opportunity.”
The Philadelphia that he sees emerging, Gutstadt said, is clearly ready for such a place. “You collect 2,000 or 3,000 of the most interesting, influential leaders, connectors, influencers across all segments of Philadelphia. What do you have? You have a platform that can actually do good and effect change,” he said.
Philadelphia then reported on a tour that Gutstadt provided of the location he has selected to create the future in private club space. It is on the far western edge of the city’s downtown “Center City” area, on a landing outside a huge five-story concrete-and-brick building that was once a Hudson Motor Car factory.
Hudson disappeared in the late 1950s, Philadelphia reported, and the building was then adapted for other uses. For decades, it was called the Marketplace Design Center. Now, the original structure is undergoing a gut renovation, and a five-story, steel-and-glass box has been added on top, creating nearly 300,000 square feet of space to house the new international headquarters of Aramark Corporation.
Gutstadt hopes to open the Fitler Club early in 2019, Philadelphia reported. Pointing to a blueprint taped to a window in the construction site, he described plans for offices, a restaurant, private dining area, terrace, bar, a private area for investors, and a second restaurant.
Looking out of big windows that provide views of the Schuylkill River, a new riverside trail, the 30 th Street train station and two modern new glass towers, Gutstadt asked, “What restaurant in Philly has these views? The bridges light up at night. You’ve got this beautiful landscaped promenade, like a mini-version of the High Line in New York.”
Continuing the tour, Gutstadt described plans for a plush, 50-seat movie theater that shares a hall with 14 five-star hotel rooms and suites. “Two floors down are the fitness and event space, a ballroom, a trophy room and a bowling alley,” he said. Plans also call for a climbing wall and a 75-foot lap pool. With his Equinox experience and personal interests, Philadelphia reported, Gutstadt plans to be very hands-on in the fitness center.
Early renderings of the design concepts, Philadelphia reported, show a sleek and modern look leaning toward Industrial Chic, with soft, muted furnishings playing off the brutal solidity of the exposed concrete building elements. But design will vary throughout.
“The whole story of the club revolves around this being your second home,” Gutstadt said. “Just like your home, there’ll be different areas. One might be industrial and edgy, another clubby and comfortable.”
The project’s design architect, Matthew Rosenberg, who lives in Los Angeles, told Philadelphia that the design concept is evolving as he gets to know this city better. “We’ve had to adjust our design sense,” he says, “and understand there’s history in the building and Philly that definitely doesn’t exist in L.A. More richness and texture … more old-school feel.
“Our goal is to get members to spend as much of their day there as possible, from breakfast in the morning to lunch to dinner at night,” Rosenberg added. “We want to curate their day from waking up till the time they go to bed in the hotel — keep them there and show them there’s a much higher level of experience by staying.” Details that the designer and Gutstadt work on, Philadelphia reported, range from how the surfaces look to what the door handles feel like to how each room smells.
Gutstadt described the ultimate goal for his concept in this fashion: “I would like each component of this club to be the best example of its kind,” he said. “Not just in Philadelphia, but really in the country. I want people to say: This is the greatest gym I’ve ever seen. This is the best restaurant experience I’ve ever had. And this is the best hotel room. Best private movie theater.
“If we’re thoughtful, I think we can achieve that,” he added. “Then we can take it other places. This could be the next billion-dollar idea for the membership club model.
“The day I gave notice [to Equinox] was the day I signed the letter of intent for the space I have right now,” Gutstadt said. “I had done a lot of concepting. We had done some programming and some layouts. It was like a night job. But the moment we hit the button and I had my agreement with the landlord and the main partner in the deal, I said, Okay, this is going to be it now.
“That was April 2017,” he said, “I started thinking about it seriously about nine months before that. Thinking, sketching, playing around — executive-summary-type stuff. But the concept — that was all just me.”
Philadephia’s report also quoted Michael Forman, a lawyer who in 2007 started an investment company, Franklin Square, that has grown in a decade to 300 employees, and has joined Gutstadt as a partner in the Fitler Club venture.
“One of the reasons David [Gutstadt] looked to me to be his partner is that I’ve had success and I have a pretty good network,” Forman told Philadelphia. “So we relied upon the network that I’ve relied upon and who has invested and had some success with me. And they’re the right kind of people. They are good Philadelphians.
“This is a for-profit venture, but we’re going to set aside a certain percentage of our income for philanthropy,” Forman added. “And we’re looking to do more than just a pure for-profit model.”
To buttress that idea, Philadelphia reported, Gutstadt turned to a friend in New York, Dan Bassichis, who now runs Admiral Capital, an investment company he started with David Robinson, the former basketball great with the San Antonio Spurs and U.S. Naval Academy. Robinson has spent his retirement years building inner-city schools, helping athletes transition back into the real world when their playing careers end, and giving other wealthy professionals a place to invest their money that has a philanthropic component.
Admiral Capital, Philadelphia reported, has not only put $4 million into Gutstadt’s Fitler Club concept (the second largest investment after Forman’s), it has helped to attract other celebrities from the sports and entertainment world, including several connected with the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Gutstadt has also been able to land a few well-known Philadelphians for operational roles, Philadelphia reported. Jeff Benjamin, a front-of-the-house guru who spent 20 years building a restaurant group with Marc Vetri and then sold most of it to URBN in 2016 for just under $20 million, will be Chief Operating Officer and oversee all hospitality components of the club.
Gutstadt has also landed a celebrity chef to oversee the food-and-beverage operations, former Top Chef winner Kevin Sbraga, who was introduced to Gutstadt just as he was wearying of trying to make it in Philadelphia’s highly volatile and competitive restaurant scene.
“[Gutstadt] started telling me about this private club and hotel and restaurant and fitness thing,” Sbraga told Philadelphia, “and I’m just like, ‘Wow, I don’t know what to compare this to.’ It was really interesting. I think I was his first employee.”
Philadelphia reported that the common answer from most of the people involved with the development of the Fitler Club, when asked if they belonged to any clubs, was “No.”
“It would never come to my mind to go be part of a club,” Sbraga said. “Honestly, when [Gutstadt] first said it, it was hard to wrap my head around, because chefs don’t do that.”
Forman said that he belonged to a few golf clubs, but used them just for golf. He’d thought of joining the The Union League of Philadelphia, he added, but realized he’d probably never go there.
Philadelphia also spoke with a charter member of the Fitler Club, Amanda Branson Gill, a documentary film producer who came to town when her husband joined a technology venture capital firm in the city.
“We’ve lived in Philadelphia for 10 years,” Branson Gill said, “and it never occurred to us to join the Union League. The Union League is fine and a real institution that is an important part of the civic fabric of Philadelphia. But it’s not a place I would ever join.”
Philadelphia’s report on the Fitler Club acknowledged how the Union League is now thriving under the direction of General Manager Jeff McFadden, with a waiting list for membership and a broadened appeal thanks to recent additions of golf club campuses and dining venues outside the city and at the New Jersey shore.
“In some ways, [the Union League has] become the only game in town,” Forman told Philadelphia. “I remember the old Locust Club [but a] whole bunch of clubs have dissolved and consolidated into the Union League.
“I think there is an opportunity for the next generation,” Forman added. “And that’s what Fitler Club is—it’s the next generation of clubs. There’s room for the Union League to continue to thrive and for us to thrive by providing a little bit different experience. I think our amenities will be a little bit better, like the gym and hotel. The ballroom will be different and updated. Hopefully, we can succeed.”
David Gutstadt also talked politely about the Union League (of which Carl Dranoff is a member), Philadelphia reported. But Gutstadt believes, and is making a big bet, that “the new urbanites” represent an untapped market for the kind of place he’s trying to create.
As Gutstadt was conceiving Fitler Club, Philadelphia reported, it became clear to him that the resurgence of the urban private membership club had started in London, where a host of clubs have opened in the past few years.
So is Gutstadt also creating a club for people who would otherwise never join a club?
“I wouldn’t couch it like that,” he told Philadelphia. “I just think Fitler Club is designed for what we think the modern urbanite wants.
“We ask ourselves every day — who is our member?” he added. “We don’t have a sheet of paper that says, ‘Twenty-five percent will be males between ages 25 and 35.’
“In my mind, it’s a very organic process,” he added. “It’s not ‘Are you male, female, black, white, straight, gay?’ It’s ‘Do you identify with the culture and community and the design and the aesthetic — with the whole package?’ Health and wellness. Great food. Elevated design and art and culture programming. Do you want to be part of this great community that we’re going to build, that wants to have fun but is socially conscious and wants to give back to the city?”
With all that it will have to offer, however, the Fitler Club is going to cost thousands of dollars a year for even the lowest-priced membership, Philadelphia reported. (There is a plan to offer “scholarships” to people who are doing notable things in lower-paying professions.) The membership rolls will be limited (charter members were confirmed this spring), and from a practical standpoint, especially in the beginning, the club’s membership will no doubt consist largely of friends, and friends of friends, of people who have enough money to invest in the project.
So how does Gutstadt plan to create inclusivity in an inherently exclusive setting?
“There’s a push and pull,” he told Philadelphia, “of who determines who gets invited and who determines who gets in. It’s a private club somebody has to be the gatekeeper. But we’ve tried very deliberately to be as diverse as we could be from an investor-group perspective.
“And then at the second tier, we’ve tried to proactively identify people who are the leaders in each of their fields — the best doctors, emerging artists, celebrities, leaders of nonprofits, major institutions, leaders in academia,” he added. “Business leaders are a lot easier to identify and easier to convince to join. But our commitment is that when we say we’re a club of leaders, connectors and influencers, it’s not just because they’re running a big company.”
Gutstadt told Philadelphia that preliminary membership pricing information plans to start Fitler Club dues “at $225 a month for a younger person.”
“That’s not crazy,” he said. “The Union League has a $7,500 initiation fee, and dues are $400 a month.” Fitler Club’s initiation fees will start at under $2,000, Philadelphia reported, and step up in roughly thousand-dollar increments depending on a members’ age, and monthly dues will follow a similar tiered structure.
To view renderings of the rooms and amenities planned for the Fitler Club, visit https://www.phillymag.com/news/2018/03/17/fitler-club-david-gutstadt/
About The Author
Joe Barks is the Editor of Club & Resort Business magazine, working out of Wayne, Pa. (suburban Philadelphia). He has been covering the club and resort industry since the launch of C&RB in April 2005 and during that time has written cover-story profiles of over 150 club and resort properties, as well as many additional articles about specific aspects of club management and profiles of leading club managers. Barks has been a writer and editor for specialized business publications for over 40 years, covering a wide variety of industries and professional disciplines over the course of his career. He is a four-time winner of Jesse H. Neal Awards from the American Business Press, known as the “Pulitzer Prizes” for industry trade publications. He has also been a freelance contributor to many leading national consumer and business publications, and served as Marketing Manager for the Hay Group, a leading worldwide management consulting firm. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
New Restaurant SAILS into Rowayton
The location and the friendly faces are familiar, but SAILS American Grill, the restaurant now occupying the former River Cat Grille, is brand new. SAILS opened for dinner Tuesday evening.
Guests will immediately notice the décor inspired by Rowayton's waterfront community on the Five Mile River. The interior, which invokes the craft and beauty of sailing, will remind guests of a sailing yacht. Maritime sea light pendants hang from the ceiling and photographs of classic sailing yachts by artist Michael Kahn decorate the walls.
"They even have sails on the ceiling," said executive chef Nathan Kramer.
The food is Modern American, "with New England flair," Kahn said. The menu ranges from simple -- hamburgers, braised short rib sliders, seafood and salads -- to more elevated takes on the classics.
Thin-crust pizzas go gourmet with wild mushrooms, ricotta and fresh mozzarella, draped with pancetta and drizzled with truffle oil. Ravioli is house-made. The lobster ravioli combines artichokes, andouille sausage and lobster napped in a sweet vermouth cream. Fresh, wild Alaskan Sockeye salmon is roasted on a cedar plank, then topped with a mélange of baby spinach, greens, roasted pearl onion, smoked bacon, dried apples, toasted macadamia nuts, and tossed in a honey-mustard cider dressing.
Kids get their own menus. It offers an all-beef, organic hot dog, mini hamburgers, organic grilled chicken breast and the favorite of the fussiest-eaters: spaghetti with butter. Kids can choose from a selection of sides.
The glowing fireplace will draw adults out on a date. Live music will be performed beginning in January. In warmer months, diners can eat on the patio.
Kramer is a classically trained French chef who has worked for many celebrated chefs, including David Burke of Townhouse in New York City, David Burke Prime at Foxwoods and Primehouse in Chicago Glenn Thomas of Avon Old Hills Hotel in Farmington Larry Forgione of An American Place in New York City, and Nancy Oakes of Boulevard in San Francisco.
Even if you've never heard of Fresh Acquisitions, you've probably heard of one of its brands, especially if you love buffets or steak: The company owns Old Country Buffet, Ryan's, Hometown Buffet, Furr's Fresh Buffet, and Tahoe Joe's Famous Steakhouse. The pandemic has forced it into Chapter 11 and closed most of its restaurants, which have dwindled from about 100 to six. The company says it plans to focus on Furr's and Tahoe Joe's after it restructures whether any of the other brands will survive remains unclear.
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Get ready for culture shock: Ambiance at a favorite restaurant may be unrecognizable, at least in the beginning.
"There's going to be some things that have to happen that make restaurants probably a little less pretty and a little less lively and take away some of the ambiance that we all crave when we go out," says Scott Shor, operating partner at Edmund's Oast, a vibrant restaurant and brewery in Charleston, South Carolina. "But the new reality — at least in the short term — might just be that it has to look a little bit more industrial and a little bit more carefully plotted out."
To ensure guests eat with the cleanest utensils and drink out of pristine glasses, tables may not get set until diners take a seat.
Many restaurateurs grapple with the idea of utilizing disposable dishware as they think about reopening. The sustainability aspect leaves them cold, but it could provide temporary peace of mind. Salt, pepper, ketchup and other accoutrements will be served only upon request. In their place, look for hand sanitizer.
Fewer diners could mean a quieter restaurant chatter-wise, but communication between server and diners — especially at six feet away and through masks — may result in higher volumes.
"Tableside, how do we distance while still taking orders while still delivering great service," ponders Shor. "It's not going to be perfect because someone has to pick up and put stuff down on the table. You can't stay six feet back and run food to the table and pick up and clear the dishes."
While sharing plates and family-style dishes ruled menus pre-pandemic, chefs now consider diners' comfort levels with this preparation.
David Schuttenberg and Tina Heath-Schuttenberg, co-owners of the popular Kwei Fei in Charleston, South Carolina, "could see a scenario where we add a modifier [a special instruction in our order system] and portion things out in the kitchen." However, both hate to lose the communal dining experience. "It's a core part of who we are," says Schuttenberg.
No matter how much planning goes into the redesign, all owners acknowledge they won't know what works and what feels right until they're operational(ish).
Castellucci plans on offering gloves and masks to guests upon arrival, but Shor notes logistically it doesn't work if you're a diner as "you have to have access to your nose and mouth."
After delays, West Plano development is going up quickly
A West Plano real estate project seven years in the making is about six months away from opening.
By then, the West Plano Village development on Dallas North Tollway may be mostly leased.
Cencor Realty Services and Weitzman Group broke ground on the 15-acre development at the northeast corner of the tollway and Parker Road last year.
Weitzman and apartment developer Amli Residential plan to have the buildings ready by early next year.
“Amli is ahead of us with their 264 apartments,” Cencor Realty executive vice president David Palmer said. “They will open the leasing office in December.
“We expect to be substantially completed with our retail and office buildings by Feb. 1,” he said.
The four-story Amli apartment community will face the retail and office buildings on a main street that runs north and south through the project.
The first residents will move into the urban-style apartment community in February, said Gia Brodt, Amli’s vice president of development.
“The community sits on what was one of the best-located remaining parcels in all of West Plano,” Brodt said. “The highly visible location was appealing long before Toyota and FedEx made their employment announcements earlier this spring.
“Both Plano and Frisco have an impressive roster of global corporations with employees who want to live close to work and take advantage of the excellent public school systems,” she said.
view graphic on dallasnews.com
“Amli West Plano Village is one of only a few communities in Plano where residents can walk to grocer-anchored retail, restaurants and a movie theater.”
Aparrtments in the area around the nearby Legacy business park have less than a 5 percent vacancy, according to Axiometrics Inc.
That was the idea back in 2007 when Weitzman Group tied up the high-profile corner next to a Cinemark movie theater. The land is owned by Plano’s prominent Haggard family.
Originally the development was to have seven- and eight-story buildings and even a hotel.
Put on hold
Then the recession hit, and everything was put on hold.
“We went through the economic cycles and finally came up with a plan that worked,” Weitzman Group founder Herb Weitzman said. “The market changed, and we had to change the design.
“We finally came up with a plan that works.”
An Eatzi’s Market & Bakery has been open at West Plano Village for months.
There are 90,000 square feet of retail space and 60,000 square feet of offices on the second floor.
Weitzman Group has signed leases with four restaurants for the buildings that line the east side of the tollway.
Kona Grill will occupy a separate building at the corner of the tollway and Parker Road.
Dallas restaurateur Patrick Columbo is putting a second location of his North Dallas eatery Princi Itali in West Plano Village.
Mi Dia From Scratch, a Mexican restaurant created by chef Gabriel DeLeon, will occupy 7,100 square feet.
Dallas’ Apheleia Restaurant Group will also open a Pakpao Thai restaurant.
“The project is coming together like we hope, and we expect the first restaurants to open in April or May,” Palmer said.
Weitzman Group has signed leases with AT&T Inc. and Charles Schwab to occupy part of the retail space.
“We have three restaurant spaces left and a space for a dessert concept,” Palmer said. “We have a lot of interest.”
Dallas-based architects Hodges & Associates designed the complex, which will have a central plaza with fountains and outdoor seating.
It’s just down the tollway from the hugely successful Shops at Legacy retail, office and apartment complex.
Palmer said interest in the office space at West Plano Village might be as strong as the retail draw.
"We are in the middle of the hottest office corridor in the Southwest," he said. "We are getting tire-kicker interest from large office users.
Luckinbill Takes L.B.J. Home Again
In mid-January, Laurence Luckinbill will go to Austin, Tex., for a 3-day run of his one-man show “Lyndon Johnson.” Playing L.B.J. in Austin is fairly comparable to doing J.F.K. in Hyannisport, Mass., H.S.T. in Independence, Mo., or F.D.R. in Hyde Park, N.Y.
It has to be daunting for Luckinbill. Lyndon Johnson died only 15 years ago and memories will be fresh. “I will stop in Johnson City and ask for an L.B.J. haircut and take it from there,” Luckinbill said in his home in Pacific Palisades a few days ago. The play began life as a PBS special.
Luckinbill and his wife, Lucie Arnaz, and their five children (four sons and a daughter) moved back to California in August, 1987, after a decade in Manhattan.
For Luckinbill the return was an acknowledgement, not without bitterness, that the Broadway theater cannot assure the actor a living wage--even a successful actor, presuming he wants to do good work.
As long ago as 1970 Luckinbill wrote a piece for the New York Times about the economics of the theater. “I said then that it was becoming impossible to have a life in the theater. For the actor to feel responsible to the community, he has to feel that the community is responsible to him .
“It was a bombshell. Nobody wanted to hear that. The paper got 300 letters. But the situation has only gotten worse.”
Back in Los Angeles, Luckinbill has resumed film work with a vengeance. He played opposite Charles Bronson in the recent “Messenger of Death” and with Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown in “Cocktail.” At the moment he is winding up “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” which William Shatner is directing.
Secrecy has been tight surrounding the script, but one printed leak has identified Luckinbill as Spock’s brother. Luckinbill does not say. The only supporting clue is that his makeup takes 2 hours each morning. “The greatest of the actor’s gifts is stamina,” Luckinbill says.
The movie work provides a secure base for the stage work and for some producing plans the Luckinbills have. Their project, “The Desi Arnaz Story,” is under consideration by a studio now.
The L.B.J. project began when producer David Susskind asked Luckinbill to read James Prideaux’s script. Susskind was doing it as a PBS special and needed an answer over the weekend.
“It scared hell out of me. I thought, I’ll fail. No one can do L.B.J. Lucie said: ‘If you turn it down, it really means you’ve decided to be a writer-producer-director, but not an actor any more.’ I hadn’t particularly admired Johnson because of the Vietnam War.”
But Prideaux’s script, based on the Merle Miller book, “Lyndon,” dramatically depicts Johnson’s rising anguish over Vietnam, leading to his decision not to run for reelection in 1968. The text, also strongly detailing L.B.J.'s achievements in civil rights, health care and poverty legislation, turned Luckinbill around.
“I said I’d have to read it to David and the director, Charles Jarrott, to get their reactions, and on a rainy afternoon I did. I began to get this wild feeling that it could work.”
Keith Haney devised makeup, including new ear lobes and an extension for his nose, that gives Luckinbill a remarkable and occasionally astonishing resemblance to Johnson. The voice--cajoling, passionate, profane and imperial--delivers the character even without the special cave-like resonance which memory says the Johnson oratory had.
Lady Bird Johnson saw the special, but (rightly and with class, in Luckinbill’s view) has chosen not to comment. But Harry Middleton, the head of the Johnson Library, has said Luckinbill “ is L.B.J.” After more than three decades as an actor, Luckinbill thinks it is his best work, the piece that had to await his own maturity.
Luckinbill, 54, was born in Ft. Smith, Ark., and made mild sorties at pre-med and pre-dentistry before acknowledging that he belonged in drama. After Catholic University, he spent two years abroad with the State Department lecturing on theater and doing plays. Part of his time was in the Sudan, where the starvation he saw propelled him into the late Harry Chapin’s World Hunger Year. He and his wife are both active board members.
After the Texas engagement, Luckinbill will do “Lyndon Johnson” at Ford’s Theatre in Washington as a benefit for World Hunger Year.
“Actors are tetched,” Luckinbill says. “The only thing the actor can do is observe accurately. Marlon Brando used to talk about sitting in a phone booth on 42nd Street and watching people go by.
“In the family I was always kidded about only being an actor. My father was scornful of it. He never believed it was a life for a grown man. Now a lot has changed for me since my father’s death. You have to become your own man after your father dies.”
Part of the change has been his reconsideration of Hollywood and the movies vis-a-vis the theater. “It’s not true, as we used to say in New York, that anyone can make it in the movies. There are different specifications for stage and screen. In its way, the theater can be too cozy. That little three block by eight block world can be its own form of ivory tower.”
Luckinbill had had a go at Hollywood after his success in “The Boys in the Band” (in which he re-created his stage role). He was also in the original company at the Mark Taper Forum. But he retreated to New York and admits that it was partly fear. “I didn’t want to come to terms with the big movie business, with the idea of film as a mixture of art, entertainment AND business.”
But Broadway disappointed him again. “I found you can’t make it doing good work at $400 a week. I’m dying to give back to the theater, but you can’t if it doesn’t support you.” Now he has come to terms with the movies and they appear to be mutually satisfactory.
The Sponsored Chef
At the Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, Mass., one typical East-West fusion offering is "Miso Risotto with Shrimp Mousse and Roulade of Seared Monkfish." With its fancy name and $28 price tag, diners might expect the seafood is all fresh off the boat.
But the shrimp that gourmet chef Ming Tsai uses in that entree and others is frozen. And that's no coincidence: Mr. Tsai cut a deal with a big supplier of frozen shrimp, which pays more than $550,000 a year to sponsor both of Mr. Tsai's TV cooking shows. The company also sells him frozen shrimp at "below cost." Under the deal, the underwriter asks that Mr. Tsai features shrimp on two or three episodes.
"For me, frozen is a tastier shrimp," says Mr. Tsai, who on occasion buys shrimp fresh from other vendors. "Fresh is not as fresh as frozen, I think."
And now, a meal from your chef's sponsors. Some of America's most respected culinary stars are signing contracts with trade groups from raisin farmers and avocado growers to canned-good promoters -- and getting cash, discounts and freebies in exchange for using their products. New York chef David Burke pockets $5,000 from a major beef lobby every time he cooks veal on the "Fox and Friends" morning show. In Salt Lake City, chef Ty Fredrickson's restaurant group gets $10,000 a year from an Alaska seafood trade group -- just for putting the word "Alaska" in front of the king crab and halibut dishes on the menu. Charlie Palmer, the high-profile restaurateur, says he is in early talks for a marketing deal with an American caviar maker, and has asked to get paid in fish eggs.
In an era when celebrity chefs sell themselves as artists with unique passions and new approaches in the kitchen, they're also serving diners some old-fashioned marketing techniques. Some could be featuring a food item because a trade group they're working with wants the chef's customers to shop for the item later, or recommend it to friends. On television programs, chefs often cook with appliances and products supplied by sponsors. While there's no outright deception here -- it's more an issue of omission -- some diners who hear about the arrangements say they leave a bit of a bad aftertaste.
It's Here: the 40 Under 40
Forty names you may not know, but FSR Rising Stars are making a significant impact on their companies and communities as they introduce innovation, creativity, and dedication to their restaurant operations, food and beverage menus, and dining experiences.
From all walks of the full-service restaurant industry, these rising stars are people you will want to take note of and visit when you’re in their neighborhoods. You’ll meet big-city chefs—like Marjorie Meek-Bradley, the 29-year-old executive chef who worked in leading restaurants coast-to-coast before landing at Ripple in Washington, and chef Zack Sklar, 28, who is helping create jobs and open new restaurants in his hard-hit hometown of Detroit. There are plenty of folks from Middle America as well—independent operators who are helping small towns turn around, entrepreneurs expanding franchise opportunities, leaders at fast-tracking regional restaurant groups, and key executives in national chains who are bringing healthier menus and greater efficiencies to restaurants across the country—like Cheryl Dolven, who is helping to bring healthier dishes to the 425 million guests that Darden Restaurants serves each year.
When Darden Restaurants—the largest restaurant company in the U.S. with sales topping $8.5 billion in its 2013 fiscal year—made a commitment to bring healthier menu options to its more than 2,000 restaurant locations, the company tapped a nutrition expert and registered dietitian to lead the charge.
Cheryl Dolven joined Darden in April 2011 as the company’s director of health and wellness, having served previously as the director of nutrition marketing for the Kellogg Company and as corporate dietitian for two supermarket companies.
Five months later, Darden announced it would reduce calories and sodium across its entire portfolio, while also bringing healthier options to its children’s menus. Almost immediately, Dolven says, “The commitment to lower sodium and calories changed the culinary conversation at Darden.
“We put nutrition into the conversation—across all levels of the organization, and it’s a big change,” she says. “The conversation is about transparency, choice, variety, and innovation. It’s about making positive social changes.”
Darden’s commitment to bring health and wellness to its menus started in the C-level suite, and was born out of a commitment to be a company that makes a difference. “Reducing sodium and calorie measures are important, but what’s exciting to me,” says Dolven, “is the change it has created within the organization. Now we’re talking about nutrition in conversations where before we might only have talked about cost or quality.”
Dolven leads a team of five people that does nutritional analysis for all the Darden brands to make sure guests have the options and information they need to make decisions that are right for them. “We work across the organization with the supply chain group, the culinary team, and the marketing and communications departments to bring healthier menus to our guests.”
But encouraging healthier eating habits, while enticing diners to enjoy their special eating-out occasions, is not an easy change.
One of the most obvious hurdles, Dolven notes, was determining whether customers would want healthier options.
“Casual dining isn’t an everyday event, and indulgent menu options have a higher preference rate,” she explains. “Many customers splurge on calories when they dine out.”
She set out to learn what customers really want, and discovered, “people want to be healthier, but they want options so they can balance choices in their own way.”
According to her research, an estimated 80 percent of diners want healthy options on the menu. To meet this demand, Darden restaurants began making changes. Olive Garden brought a “Lighter Italian Fare” section to its menu with all items 575 calories or less, and LongHorn Steakhouse showcases low-calorie dishes as “Flavorful Under 500.” All of these dishes are healthier, but still align with the flavor profiles the restaurants are known for.
While the commitment is the same across the company, every brand has its own challenges and its own starting place. “There are a lot of different ways we can shift our footprint—we can lower calories and sodium by what we add to the menu, what we take off the menu, or what we reformulate,” she says. “But we try to limit the amount of reformulation that we do because altering something our guests already know and love can be tricky.”
As a logical first step, Darden identified ingredients that drive the most sodium or most calories. “For Olive Garden, we picked three or four sauces that were used in a lot of menu items, and we knew if we could reduce sodium or calories in those sauces, then we could impact a lot of menu items. Then we did the same thing across all our brands to determine where we would prioritize reformulation,” says Dolven.
Already, Darden has made sweeping changes—introducing more teas to beverage menus in an effort to counter sugary soft drinks, adding skinny cocktails to the adult beverage menu, and making perhaps the strongest statement on its children’s menus, which no longer feature soft drinks as a visible option. Low-fat milk is now the default drink on Darden children’s menus, soft drinks are available by request, and fruits and vegetables have become the default sides.
Going forward, all the Darden brands have a handful of ingredients that they are looking to reformulate, specifically as it relates to sodium. “To lower the amount of sodium in what we put on our plates, we have to lower the sodium in the ingredients that we purchase, which is more difficult with sodium because it has functionality in food beyond taste,” says Dolven. “We have to work all the way back to the manufacturers to change some of the ingredients we purchase, but our suppliers have been incredible partners in this journey.”
The company is also spending more time on new development and putting processes in place to think more proactively about the nutrition of each dish. “We’ve built our team and introduced a whole new approach to nutritional analysis,” says Dolven, referring to the implementation of ESHA Genesis, a software widely used in the foodservice industry. “We’ve invested in the right tools and the right talent so our chefs will have an understanding of sodium and calorie counts while they are developing dishes, rather than waiting until the end of the development process.“
The new approach has effectively built an infrastructure that ensures Darden can meet the growing need for transparency dictated by new regulations for nutritional information on menus and a heightened awareness of meeting special dietary needs such as gluten-free requirements. But Darden continues to stretch its commitment to healthy menus far beyond the “must do’s.”
Dolven says she is planning to lead a portfolio-wide pantry review to further scrutinize ingredients, which may lead to more definition around nutritional targets for future innovation.
As for meeting the commitment pledged in 2011, Dolven says the company is making great progress, working against baseline measures established in 2010. The first goal called for 10 percent reductions in sodium and calories by 2016, followed by a 10-year goal that would reduce Darden’s sodium and calorie footprint by a total of 20 percent by 2021.
“This will be a continuing effort for us as we identify future opportunities for health and wellness,” concludes Dolven, who doesn’t believe in limiting what she can eat in her personal life. “I focus on what I should be eating instead of what I can’t eat, and when I’ve eaten the healthy servings I need, suddenly I’m full.”
In Plymouth, California, population 1,000, chef James Ablett serves more than that in a busy week at Taste.
Located in the wine-rich Sierra foothills, Ablett has matched the innovative spirit of more than 50 local wineries to create wine-friendly dishes that are the talk of the town—and beyond. In fact, Zagat recently tabbed Taste as Sacramento’s Best Restaurant, an intriguing accolade given Taste’s location 40 miles from California’s capital city.
“I’m blessed to have the freedom to be creative,” says Ablett, now in his third year at Taste.
Ablett’s latest passion has been tending to Taste’s 60-by-60-foot garden, where he grows tomatoes, squash, and other produce that he can weave into his imaginative dishes.
“Having a garden gives our team a sense of pride and immense care for what hits our guests’ plates,” he says.
In one of the South’s up-and-coming hot spots, 4th & Swift Chef de Cuisine Jeb Aldrich has accomplished much at an early stage in his career—in large part due to the guidance of his father. Absorbed in the industry since he was 16 years old, Aldrich worked in a number of restaurants across the world—including Osteria del Boecc in Cantu Como, Italy Schloss Hotel in Turracher Hohe, Austria Peninsula Grill in Charleston, South Carolina and now in Atlanta under the helm of his father, Jay Swift, at 4th & Swift.
In his role as chef de cuisine, Aldrich is responsible for crafting the nationally acclaimed establishment’s daily and seasonal menus, as well as tending to the on- and off-site gardens from which 4th & Swift sources many of its products. With the goal of becoming the concept’s head chef, Aldrich says he looks forward to the opportunity to continue growing both his culinary skills and the family business.
At Poquitos, a 244-seat Mexican restaurant and bar that opened in Seattle in March 2011, the restaurant hit an impressive $4.5 million in sales in 2012—with food accounting for 50 percent of the revenue. The man behind the food is Manny Arce. Through Arce’s creativity, natural foods, and thoughtfully sourced produce, the restaurant has gained a huge following. Truly dedicated to his craft, he keeps costs low and his team happy. He started cooking at age 15 and was trained at Riverside Culinary Academy in California, then traveled the globe in culinary internships before settling in Seattle. When not thrilling his guests, he’s out thrill seeking on his surfboard or motorcycle.
At Vie, James Beard–nominated chef Paul Virant’s 10-year-old restaurant in Chicago’s western suburbs, bar manager Bill Anderson extends the upscale eatery’s passion for local ingredients and complex preserves from the plate to the glass.
On any given day, Anderson ventures into Vie’s canning room, plucking novel ingredients from the shelves—smoked apple butter, huckleberries, and pickled onions among the choices—and embracing the freedom to concoct novel beverages with an artisan’s flair and a bartender’s curiosity.
“There’s a duality here that I think is rare to find,” Anderson says. “Because of the culinary philosophy at Vie, I’m able to go out and broaden our guests’ horizons and palates in the same way they do in the kitchen. It’s a remarkably liberating and exciting process.”
Calvin Banks has come a long way from his first foray into the foodservice business as an employee at quick-service chain Taco Bueno. After joining up with Six Flags Entertainment Company for eight years and then jumping into the hotel business with Gaylord Hotels, Banks became senior training manager at Gaylord National in Washington, a four-restaurant property where he was eventually promoted to director of training. “Bringing together 2,000-plus people to open a property was a significant accomplishment,” he says of the experience at Gaylord National.
In March 2013, Banks brought his training skills to The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. With nine full-service restaurants at the resort—including the Penrose Room, the only five-star, five-diamond restaurant in the entire state of Colorado—Banks has his hands full with foodservice staff training throughout the hotel.
Recently Banks received his master’s degree in human resources, and he’s also the president of the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART), an industry organization he’s been involved with since 2010. “I like to help people grow and develop,” he says. “I see myself continuing to be in a position where I have the opportunity to help people grow and develop.”
Before Connor Burke joined the restaurant group headed by his father—noted New York City chef David Burke—in 2010, he asked his father if there were any restaurant jobs he hadn’t held.
“When he said he’d never been a bartender, I knew that’s what I’d do. I figured it would entail the least amount of scrutiny,” Burke quips.
Four years later, Burke continues forging a reputation all his own, leveraging the massive innovation of craft breweries and distilleries to produce inventive, one-of-a-kind drinks at David Burke restaurants in the Northeast.
“The beverage side is the most fun aspect of the restaurant, a place where I can express myself and deliver great hospitality to guests,” says Burke, who’s leaving New York City behind this month to direct the beverage program at the newly opened David Burke Kitchen in Aspen, Colorado.
For Christine Cipullo, restaurants have been part of her life since she started busing tables in the family business at age 10. As the family opened additional concepts throughout the Philadelphia area, Cipullo got a taste of the operations side of the business, helping her father develop and manage new units.
But it was the opening—and continued success—of Bacco Bistro nearly five years ago that Cipullo says was her crowning achievement. “It was during the economy doing so bad and everyone was saying, ‘You’re going to close,’” she says, adding she was pleased to have opened successfully despite the difficult circumstances.
In addition to her devotion to Bacco Restaurant Group’s growing number of establishments, Cipullo makes sure to squeeze in time for her volunteer work as a children’s counselor, too. “The restaurant business is what I know and what I do,” she says. “But at the end of the day, caring for troubled kids is one of the [most important] things I love to do.”
At the platinum-ranked Myers Park Country Club, a sprawling 84-year-old private enclave in Charlotte, North Carolina, chef Scott Craig manages five kitchens, a staff of 52 culinary professionals, five dining outlets, and multiple banquet functions.
Last year he was one of six Americans to win a coveted gold medal at the International Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany, where 52 chefs competed for the honor. This year he will compete in the 2014 Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg, and in the 2016 International Culinary Olympics he is slated to be an individual competitor.
A mentor to many, Chef Craig hosts student interns from Johnson and Wales University, the Art Institute of Charlotte, and Central Piedmont Community College—and is coaching multiple chefs for culinary competition, including two students who are eligible to try out for the 2016 United States Youth Culinary Olympic Team. His own education includes study at Virginia Tech, Johnson and Wales University, and the Culinary Institute of America. Chef Craig honed his talents at two clubs rated among the top 10 private clubs in the nation, Baltimore Country Club and the Chevy Chase Club.
An industry veteran with more than 20 years in the restaurant business, Shaun Curtis quickly climbed the corporate ladder at family-friendly chicken-wing chain Buffalo’s Cafe. As part of the team for nearly 14 years, Curtis has held numerous positions at the company, including everything from corporate executive chef and director of R&D to vice president of brand development and, now, chief operating officer. Not to mention, he also owns his own Buffalo’s Cafe unit in Loganville, Georgia.
With a major role in menu development and recipe creation for the 15-plus-unit concept, Curtis has helped turn the evolving brand into the international company it has become today, all while staying true to the wings concept.
And though he may be dedicated to the restaurant industry for the long haul, Curtis’ other passion—cars—has led him to own more than 25 vehicles over his lifetime. “My family pokes fun at me that my driveway often looks like a car lot,” he says. “I’ve always thought of that as my fallback.”
A love for baking—instilled by his grandmother—led Ebow Dadzie to realize that the foodservice industry could be his ideal career path. After working with a number of pastry chefs and completing an externship in the southwest region of France, he returned to the U.S. to work as a pastry chef at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City.
Named U.S. Pastry Chef of the Year at the 2007 U.S. Pastry Competition, Dadzie was recruited by the Marriott Marquis the following year.
Though pastries are his passion, Dadzie is also dedicated to his position as adjunct professor at Monroe College, where he teaches confectionary and pastry classes. “The best thing for me now is actually bringing up the future [generation] and teaching,” he says. “Being able to see what the future is going to bring and being able to be a part of that is something I’m enjoying a lot.”
While in college, Jennifer Davis was a server at The Greene Turtle, then a bartender, and now she is the director of training. When she started as a corporate trainer in 2007, the company didn’t have any formal training in place. She spent her first six months designing and developing a training program that was implemented system-wide a year later. She has opened 33 units with The Greene Turtle. Last year, under Davis’ supervision, the training program introduced all new materials, systems, and requirements—the same year that Davis gave birth to her twin boys, Blake and Brantley.
The persistence and determination that Kristy Del Coro used to hike Machu Picchu is the same mindset she carries into her work at New York City’s Rouge Tomate, one of the globe’s few Michelin-starred restaurants with an in-house registered dietitian.
Since joining the Rouge Tomate team in 2011, Del Coro, an SPE Certified Culinary Nutritionist, has worked with the acclaimed eatery’s culinary team to produce refined, market-driven dishes optimizing nutrition and taste.
“It can be challenging, it can be tiring, but finding that perfect balance between nutrition and taste forces us to think creatively and deliver a rich experience for our guests,” says Del Coro, who calls her position at Rouge Tomate her “dream job.”
“It’s unusual to have this kind of philosophy, but it’s incredibly rewarding when we get it right.”
Starting his professional life as a graphic designer, chef Gregory Ellis certainly didn’t take a simple path to the restaurant industry. However, he quickly discovered that his passion for cooking was the perfect way to start a second career. After graduating from culinary school, Ellis worked his way through the kitchen at Chicago’s famed Charlie Trotter’s, then followed his future wife to Arizona, where he worked as sous chef.
After returning to Chicago and bouncing around a number of restaurants, Ellis teamed up with a partner to open 2 Sparrows, a popular brunch spot in the Windy City. “It is the hardest mountain that I have ever climbed,” Ellis says of opening his own restaurant. “I learned so much from doing it.”
With a love for traveling out West, camping, and riding his motorcycle, Ellis has one goal for his future in the restaurant industry: “I just want to be happy,” he says. “If you’re happy, you never have to work a day in your life.”
While pursuing a New York City career in theater, Katie Emmerson decided her true calling was behind the bar despite several successes on stage. “I come from a theater and dance background and working in the service industry was always a means to an end, but one day I picked an extra bartending shift over an audition and I knew that said something.”
And the beverage industry soon took notice of Emmerson, especially after she was recognized as one of Beverage Media’s 10 Mixologists to Watch.
In 2011, she joined the bartending staff at Boston’s popular enclave The Hawthorne, and has been promoted twice. The bar, which is noted for its cozy atmosphere, is widely celebrated for its specialty cocktail program and provides Emmerson the perfect stage to perfect her craft.
“There are a lot of similarities between hospitality and theater, but bartending is more interactive than musical theater, and I love making people happy.”
Meaghan Fitzgerald’s life changed dramatically in 2011 when her father, the third-generation owner of Jacob Wirth, was in a devastating car accident. During his hospital stay, she worked 18-hour days to keep their 145-year-old family restaurant running smoothly. “I have not met anyone else who has shown the courage and skill it took to run the business,” says her father, Kevin Fitzgerald. And she has also taken Boston’s historic restaurant to new heights, expanding the craft beer offering on the menu and focusing more attention on the catering portion of the restaurant. She also gives to the charitable organization responsible for saving her father’s life. “I may have been able to fill my father’s shoes, but I will never fill my daughter’s,” says Kevin.
As the executive chef at the Pueblo Harvest Café, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Michael Giese understands many of his diners are having their first interaction with Native American cuisine. It’s a responsibility he embraces.
“I had never even dabbled in Native American food before coming here, but I jumped in and have done my best to respect traditions while bringing in a fresh spin” Giese says, pointing to the restaurant’s savory deep-fried black cherry Kool-Aid pickles as one example of the restaurant’s juxtaposition of tradition and creativity.
More than anything, however, Giese has created community through his food and installed a 21st century version of Pueblo hospitality with a revolving tapas menu for the restaurant’s regular “Party on the Patio” events and by teaching community cooking courses and mentoring local culinary students.
“I love how food can inspire and connect people,” he says.
Already chef/partner at two of Austin, Texas’, most-popular restaurants for foodies and cooks alike, Sam Hellman-Mass says, “I feel so lucky because the best chefs in Austin want to cook with us.”
With a specialty in Texan cuisine, Barley Swine and Odd Duck source all products locally. “Both restaurants are doing great. We get inspired by all types of cuisine but because everything is local, it’s truly Texan.”
A partner since 2010, Hellman-Mass earned his culinary stripes cooking in Boston, Australia, and Colorado after earning a finance degree from Boston University.
“I have a real comfort with numbers, and that often allows me to look at things from a different angle,” he says.
When he’s not working, Hellman-Mass enjoys playing sports, exploring the competition, reading biographies, and traveling the world to experience other cuisines.
A foodie from the start, Gavin Jobe nabbed his first restaurant job washing dishes at age 12 and, years later, joined the team as a server at Sullivan’s Steakhouse, a Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group concept. Sniffing out an opportunity after the establishment’s sommelier departed, Jobe took and passed the Certified Sommelier Exam, becoming sommelier for Sullivan’s $1-million-a-year, 5,000-bottle wine program.
Feeling the itch to travel, Jobe left Sullivan’s and, during the summer of 2012, explored the U.S. and exotic locales in Thailand, Jamaica, and more, studying the cultures and cuisines of foreign lands. Making his way back to his home state of Louisiana, Jobe wound up at Tsunami Sushi, a Baton Rouge establishment that sits atop the Shaw Center for the Arts, overlooking downtown Baton Rouge and Louisiana State University.
Appointed general manager last summer, Jobe has guided Tsunami to its biggest sales day ever—beating prior records by nearly 15 percent—and recently led the charge on the first menu refresh in the restaurant’s 13-year history.
With dreams of getting back into his chef’s whites and eventually opening his own restaurants, Jobe plans to stick with the hospitality industry for the long haul. “Success and money are means to being able to be with people you care about later in life,” he says.
When he was seven years old, “JJ” Johnson saw a commercial for The Culinary Institute of America. That’s when he knew he wanted to be a chef.
Now, more than two decades later, Johnson is not only a CIA graduate, but continues gaining notoriety as one of the industry’s rising stars. Earlier this year, Forbes named Johnson to its 30 Under 30 list, where he joined the likes of actress Olivia Wilde, musician Bruno Mars, and tennis star Maria Sharapova.
At The Cecil, a one-year-old Afro-Asian-American restaurant in Harlem, New York, Johnson incorporates the culinary traditions of African Diaspora, bold flavors, and unexpected ingredients to transform the simple into the dynamic in menu items such as braised lamb shank and citrus jerk wild bass.
In the 700-unit Ruby Tuesday chain, John Kushner shines. As an operating partner for the Maryville, Tennessee–based chain, Kushner oversees 11 Ruby Tuesday restaurants across Indiana and Kentucky, coaching and developing managers as well as hourly employees.
“Being in the restaurants and working directly with the teams, coming up with smarter ways to do things, is invigorating work for me,” Kushner says.
It’s a passion Kushner developed while working in New York City’s Mesa Grill, a Bobby Flay restaurant. There, Kushner moved from server to manager over four years and learned “the enthusiasm and focus necessary to be successful in this business,” he says.
And Kushner’s work doesn’t go unnoticed by Ruby Tuesday’s corporate office. Director of people, standards, and results Brent Keyes calls Kushner a peer resource who develops leaders and inspires “teams to think rationally and for long-term benefit.”
Responsibilities held by the corporate chef of the upscale Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group are complex and varied. Chef King oversees culinary standards and execution company-wide, while adhering to the classic steakhouse menu that the chain’s guests have come to expect. But the chef’s cooking philosophy is simple: “We source the best, freshest ingredients seasonally. We don’t over-complicate anything. We take premium ingredients and combine them in a way that people can understand. It’s all about keeping it simple and leaving nothing to hide behind.”
A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Chef King has worked in the five-star Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Florida and the Essex House in New York City. He has prepared meals for dignitaries, including Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama, Bono, and Elton John.
He worked in Boston at Starwood Hotels, followed by Smith & Wollensky Back Bay, and then opened his own steakhouse in Ireland before returning to the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group in 2010.
After launching his career on Wall Street in private equity and mergers and acquisitions, David Leonardo now finds he is in a better spot to help others achieve the American Dream.
As chief development officer for 33-unit Wild Wing Café based in Miami, Florida, Leonardo is charged with implementing franchise agreements and a host of other executive responsibilities.
During his tenure, Leonardo has increased the lead pipeline by more than 100 percent while focusing on multi-unit agreements, producing $500,000 in development fees in less than a year.
“Working in franchising really gives me a unique sense of the pulse in our economy,” he says.
With 10 years of franchising under his belt, Leonardo has changed hundreds of lives. “I am a first-generation American so helping others go from rags to riches really resonates with me, and there are more of those stories in restaurants than any other industry.”
Executive chef Adam Long has hunted and foraged through the Smoky Mountains to create gourmet meals for an “Adventure Chefs” reality show. He prepared dishes with ingredients from a 99-cent store for a “Wild Wedding Cook Off.” But when he’s not hunting and scrimping, he is in the kitchen at Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he has been executive chef since 2007—focusing his attention on regional ingredients and local microbrews. He has been with the company through the opening of six additional locations in North Carolina and the formation of the Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar franchise. Last month, Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar opened its first location in Colorado.
Nearly nine years after Tim McEnery founded Cooper’s Hawk in suburban Chicago, his upscale casual restaurant that combines a working winery and tasting room with specialty food and gift items continues making industry headway.
In 2014, Cooper’s Hawk will open four new units, raising its nationwide restaurant count to 18 and giving the Countryside, Illinois–based company new opportunity to create loyal fans.
It is, however, just the beginning for the award-winning concept, which McEnery describes as the brewpub idea brought to wine.
“As I look at the company today, we’re nowhere near what I see as our full potential,” the father of two says. “The biggest challenge will be to continually innovate at a level that equals the growth of the company.”
Talk about a lot of irons in the fire. Chef Lane McFarland is not only head chef and kitchen and bar manager at Beechie’s Place, his family’s restaurant in Meadow Lands, Pennsylvania, but he’s also created a software company and owned a recording studio for six years.
Working at a number of local establishments since the ripe age of 14, McFarland has held every restaurant position possible over the years, from host and busboy to manager and chef. During his college days at Westminster College—where he graduated with a degree in music and business—McFarland completed an integral internship at a restaurant in Pennsylvania, an experience that taught him “all of the management styles and techniques that I would never use in life,” he says.
Four years into his stint at Beechie’s Place, McFarland continues to work out the kinks of co-owning a new restaurant and bringing the menu to the level he desires. “We bring new and interesting things that the town has never seen,” he says. “I bring Italian cuisine, new Irish cuisine, and new American cuisine to show them there’s more to life than just burgers, fries, and stuffed peppers.”
If you ever wonder what it’s like to hop cities working for renowned chefs—Thomas Keller, Marcus Samuelsson, Daniel Humm, José Andrés—before even turning 30, all you have to do is ask Marjorie Meek-Bradley.
After attending culinary school in Philadelphia and working at the five-diamond Lacroix in Rittenhouse Hotel and Stephen Starr’s Washington Square, she moved to famed California establishment Bouchon Bistro, where she served as the first woman in the restaurant’s history to work on the hot line. Next, she traveled to New York to work at Eleven Madison Park and Per Se, making her way through the stations before trekking to D.C. to work with Mike Isabella at José Andrés’ Zaytinya.
After becoming chef de cuisine at Isabella’s Graffiato, Meek-Bradley finally made her way to Ripple in March 2013 as executive chef. “Moving around so much has allowed me the opportunity to learn so many different facets of the business in a shorter period of time,” she says of her career progression. “I would basically work at the best restaurant in the city, and once I was done there, I would move to a new city.”
Arthur Morrissey’s degree in psychology is the perfect complement to a career in marketing. “I love trying to understand human behavior and, if at all possible, trying to persuade it,” he says.
As corporate director of marketing for Morrissey Hospitality Companies in St. Paul, Minnesota, Morrissey gets plenty of opportunity to do just that. During the last five years, MHC has been involved in the development of more than $200 million in hospitality brands including KeyLime Cove Water Resort in Illinois and The Hotel Minneapolis.
Morrissey has earned a stellar reputation with market-defining programs such as a “Buy $100, Get $100” holiday gift card promotion and The St. Paul Grill Scotch Club, where participants earn a complimentary pour of a premium $750 Scotch.
“I love the diversity of my job because it involves almost all areas of our company,” says Morrissey. “It also gives me the opportunity to work with all kinds of passionate people.”
With foodservice in his blood, Stuart Melia grew up surrounded by food and beer—literally. His parents operated a pub and restaurant in Sheffield, England, and the family lived just upstairs, ready to clean beer lines or work in the kitchen at a moment’s notice.
Dipping his toes into the family business, Melia came stateside in 1995, landing a role at Darden Restaurants, where he worked on everything from new unit openings and remodels to service-excellence and labor-saving initiatives. Following his mentor Rob Effner to Logan’s Roadhouse, Melia took up the position of director of new restaurant openings and beverage in 2004. He later went on to spend nearly five years as corporate director of beverage at O’Charley’s Inc., then—taking note of the craft beer craze that would soon sweep the nation—jumped at the chance to join Chattanooga, Tennessee–based CraftWorks as VP of beverage in 2011. A fan of Rock Bottom ales, Gordon Biersch lagers, and the St. Bernardus Abt 12 from Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV, Melia says he treasures the chance to work with a company that carries so many great brands.
Hoping to transition into a COO role for a mid-size company in the future, Melia says he wants to remain in a position that allows him to work directly with employees, guests, and the communities he operates in. “This business is about people, and that is what makes this industry special,” he says.
As executive chef for the Patina Restaurant Group’s flagship restaurant in Los Angeles, Charles Olalia, is firmly ensconced in fine dining.
“Patina is a beautiful place and it is such a luxury to work in a restaurant that is so established that we know exactly who we are,” he says.
Olalia, who was born in the Philippines, has trained with some of the world’s most renowned chefs including Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, Guy Savoy at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Las Vegas, and of course Master Chef Joachim Splichal, the founder of Patina.
For Olalia, a modest man with big dreams, his top priority is mentoring, inspiring, and pushing his kitchen team.
“I want all of my cooks to progress to a different level,” he says. “What I have seen is that everyone falls off the wagon because it gets tough. I can help them move forward and use their passion to get over that hump.”
An intense competitive streak lured Michael Perez to the kitchen and brings out the best in him to this day. “I love sports and always enjoy competing. When I was younger, I signed up for cooking competitions and fell in love with the restaurant business.”
That love has taken Perez, who is executive chef at the newly opened and well-received Indaco in Charleston, South Carolina, from his childhood home in Portland, Oregon, to the Deep Creek Fishing Club in Ninilchik, Alaska, to Scarpetta in Las Vegas.
Now in the Deep South, Perez, who has eight years of professional cooking under his belt, has garnered critical praise for his focused, rustic Italian cuisine.
“I never feel as if I am working, and I love leading the team, pushing people to make everything come together. The chef really is the quarterback of the kitchen.”
Having received the prestigious Drown Prize from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and worked as an operations specialist for Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group all before the age of 30, Ryan Pernice has already set the stage for an illustrious foodservice career.
Bringing his operations experience back to his hometown of Roswell, Georgia—a small Atlanta suburb—Pernice created Southern tavern Table & Main in August 2011, a restaurant that has been praised by Atlanta magazine, Zagat, and more. “If you would have told me I was going to open a restaurant in my hometown 10 years ago, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy,’” Pernice says.
Last November, he opened a second concept, Italian restaurant Osteria Mattone, located just down the street from Table & Main. But he didn’t do it alone. Before returning to Roswell, he enlisted his brother—former sommelier at James Beard Award–winning restaurant The Modern in New York City—to be his partner in their budding restaurant business.
It takes vision and commitment to turn around a small town. When he purchased a small restaurant in historic Wake Forest, North Carolina, (population 30,000) Greg Pearce had both. That was 2007, the restaurant sat 40 inside, 16 outside, and did $250,000 in sales. In January 2012, Pearce relocated Over the Falls to a larger 120-seat space with a considerable uptick in décor, including a bar area and a sunroom—but against the advice of experts, he located in a blighted downtown area desperate for reinvention. Sales hit $1.8 million the first year and neared $1.9 million in 2013—thanks in part to Pearce’s dream for turning the area into the town’s Renaissance Center, but mostly because the food made the restaurant a destination.
“We wanted to grow our menu slowly to keep with the skill level of our personnel, so all we added at first were burgers and fresh-cut fries, but right away we got voted best burger in town,” Pearce says. “Six months in, we started adding more to the menu and now we’ve added higher-dollar entrées.” Even at that, the most expensive item on the menu is $11. Next on his list: Making the entire town a destination, with special events like a food truck rodeo.
Growing up in his family’s Italian and Portuguese restaurant in the historic town of Manassas, Virginia, Miguel Pires developed a passion for wine, and made it his goal to expand Carmello’s beverage program. He’s done so with great success. The restaurant just celebrated its fourth straight year of being Wine Spectator–rated, and touts one of the largest Portuguese wine lists in the country.
“People come from 50-plus miles away to try some of the wines we have,” Pires says.
Two years ago, he also helped launch Monza, a casual concept that features wood-fired pizzas and craft beers. “Every month since we opened we’ve had a 5 to 10 percent increase [in sales],” Pires says. “It’s actually more popular than our original concept.”
In addition to opening new restaurants, Pires wants to continue the tradition he started last year with the Taste of Historic Manassas, an event that celebrates the town’s many establishments. “We integrate our business into the community as much as possible,” Pires says. “Being able to get everyone together, that was a very proud accomplishment.”
Graduating at the top of his class from Johnson & Wales in 2005, Shane Schaibly jumped right into the fine-dining scene, working first at the Ritz-Carlton in Miami Beach, Florida, and then as pastry, catering, and sous chef at Tampa’s Café Ponte.
When he moved over to the Front Burner Brands concept The Melting Pot in 2007, Schaibly took up the roles of manager of culinary development, director of food and beverage, and, most recently, corporate chef for the Front Burner restaurant group. Now a part of the team at First Watch Restaurants in Bradenton, Florida—the largest daytime-only restaurant company in the U.S.—Schaibly has shifted his focus to the breakfast, brunch, and lunch dayparts.
Despite all of his accomplishments in the kitchen, Schaibly insists it’s the family meals he makes for his wife and children that he’s most proud of. (That, and helping The Melting Pot set the Guinness World Record for Largest Cheese Fondue Set in 2007, of course.) “The meals I cook at home and the smiles and laughs shared at that table hold so much value for me,” he says.
Greg Shuff describes DryHop as brewery first, restaurant second. The one-year-old shop’s quality food notwithstanding, it’s an earnest nod to DryHop’s unrelenting devotion to innovative brew making as well as the fact that DryHop’s bar runs directly through the middle of the 3,000-square-foot brewery in Chicago.
“We like to think of ourselves as a chef’s table for breweries,” says Shuff, who started his first brewery, The Last Bay Beer Company, out of an Indianapolis garage in 2010.
Shuff’s inventive liquid concoctions, such as a recent special edition Cuban Coffee Stout in partnership with Intelligentsia Coffee, have earned quick fanfare in the Windy City. The brewery eclipsed the $1 million mark within its first six months, while rising interest in its brews has staff regularly filling to-go orders at the in-store growler bar.
“Interestingly, about 15 to 20 percent of our beer goes out the front door,” Shuff says.
As a CIA student, Zack Sklar promised himself he’d open a restaurant as soon as he corralled enough money. Funds in hand, he made good on that goal. Diners visiting Social and MEX, Sklar’s two metro-Detroit eateries, are now the beneficiaries of that personal pledge.
“I try to make food less pretentious and create a positive experience our guests will remember,” Sklar says, pointing specifically to the novel environment at MEX that features a 40-foot door, mirrored ceilings, dangling ropes, and more than 100 tequilas.
As much as Sklar enjoys crafting inventive dishes, he most enjoys creating jobs in his hard-hit hometown. Sklar’s Peas and Carrots Hospitality, which includes Social, MEX, and a catering company, employs more than 225 Detroit-area residents.
“To extend hospitality from the restaurant and into our employees’ lives is a special thing,” says Sklar, who plans to launch at least three new restaurants by mid-2015.
Despite a degree in sociology, Caitlin Suemnicht knew even before she graduated from the University of Wisconsin that foodservice was her calling. Working for Johnny Delmonico’s, a Food Fight Restaurant Group concept, in college, Suemnicht fell in love with the service techniques, clientele, and talented chefs the fine-dining restaurant industry had to offer.
Suemnicht jumped ship to another Food Fight concept in 2003, becoming the new front-of-house manager at seafood establishment Ocean Grill. Two years later, she switched gears again, acting as event planner for a number of the restaurant group’s concepts, then eventually securing a managing partner role at the company.
As managing partner, Suemnicht has overseen the opening of a number of the group’s restaurants, most recently the modern diner Bassett Street Brunch Club. In May, she’ll also assist with the debut of Cento, a high-end Italian concept that focuses on local ingredients and authentic preparation methods.
A certified sommelier and one of Madison, Wisconsin’s, 28 “Women to Watch” in 2014, Suemnicht says she plans to continue creating and developing new concepts throughout her career, despite the stress that comes along with it. “That’s what excites me the most, keeps me going, and keeps me up at night,” she says.
Cooking throughout his high school and college days, chef Ed Sura decided to make his side job a bonafide career, enrolling in the Great Lakes Culinary Institute in Traverse City, Michigan. After graduating and moving to Chicago, Sura secured a job as a line cook with Graham Elliot, where he worked for a year while the restaurant gained a Michelin star.
Going back to his comfort-food roots, Sura was offered the opportunity to work for James Beard and Jean Banchet Award–nominated Paul Virant, owner of Perennial Virant in Chicago. After moving through various stations in the kitchen, Sura is now Virant’s right-hand man at the rustic American establishment.
Though he plans to remain with the highly acclaimed restaurant for years to come, Sura says he hopes to one day return to Traverse City and open his own concept. “It’s just so beautiful up there,” he says, “and I really did fall in love with it.”
A passion for wine sent Megan Wiig on a journey that began with a masters in wine & spirits business from the Université de Paris X/O.I.V., and now has landed her at Ignite Restaurant Group in Houston.
“I want Americans to fall in love with wine, but I realize not everyone has the opportunity to go to France or Italy to cultivate an appreciation,” she says.
Consultancy stints in Chicago and New York City further honed Wiig’s skills, making her uniquely qualified to influence the drinking habits of Middle America.
“I think it’s important to spend time in Manhattan watching trends if you’re in food and beverage. It puts you that much ahead.”
Wiig, who says she is completely career-focused, is responsible for day-to-day beverage operations for all 330 locations of such iconic brands as Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Joe’s Crab Shack, and Brick House Tavern.
“Since starting here my role has quadrupled,” says Wiig, who first signed on solely at Romano’s Macaroni Grill. “Now I work on all the company’s beverage programs.”
Houston restaurants are getting into tableside service
1 of 23 Elvis Espinoza prepares a pitcher of Oaxacan hot chocolate tableside for David Owen, from left, Cici Liu and Xuan Huang, at Xochi in Houston. Tableside service is trending nationwide. Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle / Houston Chronicle Show More Show Less
2 of 23 Elvis Espinoza serves a pitcher of Oaxacan hot chocolate tableside at Xochi chef Hugo Ortega's latest restaurant. Tableside preparations are making a return nationwide in modern restaurants. Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle / Houston Chronicle Show More Show Less
3 of 23 Elvis Espinoza serves a pitcher of Oaxacan hot chocolate during a tableside presentation at Xochi. Tableside service is trending in restaurants nationally. Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle / Houston Chronicle Show More Show Less
Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House has introduced the Double Eagle Steak, a double-bone ribeye that is carved tableside and presented with finishing salts.
Becca Wright / Becca Wright Show More Show Less
5 of 23 Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House has introduced the Double Eagle Steak, a double-bone ribeye that is carved tableside and presented with finishing salts. Becca Wright / Becca Wright Show More Show Less
6 of 23 Elvis Espinoza serves a pitcher of Oaxacan hot chocolate tableside at Xochi. Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle / Houston Chronicle Show More Show Less
7 of 23 At Chris Shepherd's One Fifth Romance Languages a strip steak au poivre is prepared tableside. Julie Soefer / Julie Soefer Show More Show Less
8 of 23 At Chris Shepherd’s One Fifth Romance Languages, strip steak au poivre is prepared tableside. Julie Soefer / Julie Soefer Show More Show Less
9 of 23 At Chris Shepherd's One Fifth Romance Languages a strip steak au poivre is prepared tableside. Julie Soefer / Julie Soefer Show More Show Less
10 of 23 Service captain Fred Wynn Sr. prepares traditional Bananas Foster at Brennan's of Houston. Shannon O'Hara, photographer / Shannon O'Hara Show More Show Less
11 of 23 Service captain Fred Wynn Sr. prepares traditional Bananas Foster at Brennan's of Houston. Shannon O'Hara / Shannon O'Hara Show More Show Less
12 of 23 Le Colonial in River Oaks recently added a showy whole roasted duck to the menu that is carved, sliced and stuffed into steamed buns tableside. Julie Soefer / Julie Soefer Show More Show Less
13 of 23 Le Colonial in River Oaks recently added a showy whole roasted duck to the menu that is carved, sliced and stuffed into steamed buns tableside. Julie Soefer / Julie Soefer Show More Show Less
14 of 23 Caesar salad is still made tableside at Damian's Cucina Italiana. Chuck Cook / Chuck Cook Show More Show Less
15 of 23 At Tony's, chef de cusine Austin Waiter offers a seared foie gras dish that is finished tableside with a flame of reserve bourbon and Tahitian vanilla bean and plated on a bed of rhubarb and toasted farro with a Sauternes sauce. Austin Waiter / Austin Waiter Show More Show Less
16 of 23 Chef Chris Shepherd's upcoming Georgia James restaurant will feature a tableside Airman Salad, a Caesar salad made in the tradition of Alex Cardini who is credited with the invention of the salad in Tijuana, Mexico. Julie Soefer / Julie Soefer Show More Show Less
17 of 23 Chef Chris Shepherd's upcoming Georgia James restaurant will feature a tableside Airman Salad, a Caesar salad made in the tradition of Alex Cardini who is credited with the invention of the salad in Tijuana, Mexico. Julie Soefer / Julie Soefer Show More Show Less
18 of 23 At Xochi, Oaxacan hot chocolate is prepared and served tableside, a practice that is being included as part of the dining experience in modern restaurants. Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle / Houston Chronicle Show More Show Less
19 of 23 David Owen, from left, Cici Liu, Yasmin Vasquez and Xuan Huang enjoy their Oaxacan hot chocolate, Friday at Xochi where chef Hugo Ortega offers tableside hot chocolate that is mixed using an ancient Mexican tool for frothing drinks. It is frothed and poured at the table. Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle / Houston Chronicle Show More Show Less
20 of 23 Oaxacan hot chocolate is served tableside, Friday at Xochi. Tableside preparations are making a return nationwide in modern restaurants. Friday, April 6, 2018, in Houston. ( Marie D. De Jesus / Houston Chronicle ) Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle / Houston Chronicle Show More Show Less
21 of 23 A group of Xochi restaurant guests raise their cups of Oaxacan hot chocolate that was prepared tableside. Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle / Houston Chronicle Show More Show Less
22 of 23 Cici Liu, from left, Yasmin Vasquez and Xuan Huang raise their clay cups filled with Oaxacan hot chocolate at Xochi where chef Hugo Ortega offers tableside hot chocolate that is mixed using an ancient Mexican tool for frothing drinks. Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle / Houston Chronicle Show More Show Less
23 of 23 Oaxacan hot chocolate is prepared tableside at Xochi. Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle / Houston Chronicle Show More Show Less
The stainless-steel cart Cuchara uses for tableside service has gotten such a workout that its wheels have been replaced &mdash twice.
It&rsquos used as a tequila cart, a cocktail cart, a hot chocolate cart. It&rsquos been a traveling taco dispenser, a flaming crepes vehicle, a deliverer of churros. And when Ana Beaven, the owner of the Montrose Mexican restaurant, can secure mini grasshoppers from Oaxaca, she places a scale on the cart for tableside guacamole so customers can see their server weighing the crunchy bugs before they are scattered on avocado mash.
&ldquoWe&rsquove done a lot with that poor cart,&rdquo Beaven said. &ldquoIt&rsquos like part of our family.&rdquo
Cuchara has been creating festive tableside presentations since it opened in 2012. So have other Houston restaurants &mdash some, such as Damian&rsquos and Brennan&rsquos, have been tossing Caesars and igniting Bananas Foster tableside for decades.
But lately it appears we&rsquore entering a new era of tableside service, with another generation of restaurants falling hard for the pomp of dining-room theatrics in all of their throwback glory.
A few examples: At Mastro&rsquos Steakhouse, Dover sole is deboned before diners&rsquo eyes. Maison Pucha Bistro in the Heights mixes Wagyu steak tartare with mustard, capers, Worcestershire sauce and egg yolk from an organized cart. Le Colonial, a Vietnamese restaurant in River Oaks, now carves, slices and stuffs whole roasted duck into steamed buns at the table. La Table&rsquos Texas long-bone Akaushi rib-eye is ignited in cognac. And Quattro in the Four Seasons hotel downtown assembles tiramisu from house-made ladyfingers, mascarpone, espresso and Marsala wine in the dining room.
&ldquoI think it&rsquos social-media driven,&rdquo said Arthur Mooradian, regional director of Del Frisco&rsquos Restaurant Group, whose Houston steakhouse has started slicing its 32-ounce dry-aged, double-bone rib-eye on a cutting board in front of customers. &ldquoThe guests love it. It&rsquos one of those things where (the rib-eye) leaves the kitchen and someone sees it and then has to have it, too. It has a snowball effect.&rdquo
And that&rsquos surely the point: Restaurants creating excitement are creating revenue.
There was a time when tableside service was common practice. Restaurants specializing in continental cuisine, once the epitome of fine dining, often employed &ldquogueridon&rdquo or trolley service, where food was cooked, finished and served tableside.
As dining habits changed in the &rsquo60s and restaurant-going went from special occasion to more everyday affairs, trolley service was seen as old fashioned. Few restaurants opted to hang onto tableside glory days of swirling the pasta in a cheese wheel, mashing up garlic and anchovies in a big wooden bowl for salad and setting bananas on fire with a good glug of rum.
Some restaurant professionals say the trend first resurfaced in a big way last year with the debut of The Grill in New York, where much of the menu is prepared tableside by waiters wearing Tom Ford suits.
Indeed, the uptick locally dovetails with what&rsquos happening nationally: &ldquoOld School Tableside Service is Making a Comeback,&rdquo announced Food & Wine in a recent article. Industry magazine Restaurant Business also noted that flashy new presentations were gaining ground, in our see-it-share-it-want-it Instagram era.
Bloomberg food editor Kate Krader thinks the renaissance could be a backlash to the casual hipster/farm-to-table dining trend that has gripped the country for years. &ldquoA certain kind of new fine dining is back, and one of the aspects of that is tableside,&rdquo Krader said. &ldquoIt makes you feel special and adds another dimension to the meal.&rdquo
Robert Del Grande, who will soon offer a whole roasted chicken for two carved tableside at his Café Annie restaurant, equates tableside presentation with distinctly American notions of the fanciest dining day of the year: Thanksgiving. &ldquoYou know, the big show of the father carving the turkey,&rdquo he said. &ldquoIt was all part of tradition and theatrics.&rdquo
Xochi, Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught&rsquos Oaxacan restaurant downtown, has garnered national acclaim for its new ideas about presenting almost ancient flavors and foods. Its Mexican hot chocolate service, where a server froths the drink in a pitcher using a molinillo, a Mexican tool handcrafted from wood, has proven to be a hit with diners, Vaught said.
&ldquoMaybe it has to do with the classics coming back,&rdquo Vaught said of the tableside trend. &ldquoIt&rsquos fine with me, I think it&rsquos fun. But I don&rsquot think of food as being trendy. I think of it as being delicious, beautiful or nourishing. I don&rsquot think about trends.&rdquo
Not all things were meant to be tableside, Vaught added. She recalls the restaurant&rsquos efforts to develop a seafood-soup presentation using hot rocks dipped into hollowed-out gourds. &ldquoIt sputtered up, and those rocks were red hot,&rdquo she said. &ldquoWe found it to be too unstable and too scary to do tableside.&rdquo
Last year when Chris Shepherd opened his unusual One Fifth restaurant &mdash five different concepts over five years in the same space &mdash he employed one of the most classic tableside gestures, the Caesar salad. It married well with the restaurant&rsquos first iteration as a steakhouse. It was so popular that tableside has continued at One Fifth&rsquos current Romance Languages incarnation, with a strip steak au poivre.
&ldquoI&rsquom going to try to do tableside at every restaurant,&rdquo said Shepherd, who remembers watching Julia Child flambé dishes on &ldquoThe French Chef&rdquo back in the day. &ldquoIt brings more to the experience for the diner when they see something done right in front of them. It touches all the senses. That&rsquos a dining experience to me, creating a memory.&rdquo
Shepherd is itching to get his hands on a French duck press, considered the most spectacular of all tableside implements &mdash a heavy, expensive, almost medieval device that turns a roasted duck carcass and organs into pulverized, liquefied juices that are then made into a sauce for the roasted duck breast.
Fine-dining standby Tony&rsquos uses a brass duck press tableside to serve its 14-day dry-aged roasted duck breast glossed with a sauce made with morel mushrooms. The restaurant&rsquos 26-year-old chef de cuisine, Austin Waiter, also offers a seared foie gras dish that is finished tableside with a flame of reserve bourbon and Tahitian vanilla bean and plated on a bed of rhubarb and toasted farro with a Sauternes sauce.
&ldquoWe want it to be a show. We want to bring everyone in,&rdquo Waiter said. &ldquoPeople are more into seeing how their food is prepared, not just what&rsquos put down in front of them on a plate. Tableside is more interactive.&rdquo