Sunday, January 18, 2009

FIrst Impressions

It is extremely important to me that the opening of my new restaurant starts out on the right foot and have a smooth start.  I am going to be completely honest, we had a rough opening at Wally Joe Restaurant in 2002.  The front of house management team was inexperienced to say the least and overwhelmed most nights. Because we started out of the gate at "warp speed", I was not able to keep as close an eye on things as I should have.  My focus was on the food.   Developing a great menu and training the large staff of cooks to execute my food was more or less a priority.  There were a million other things that demanded my attention though.  My brother Don assembled the wine list and helped train the front of house staff, but his time was limited to 1-2 days a week.   That left all the other housekeeping details to me.  

As our mothers taught us, first impressions are important.  Whether you are interviewing for that first job or meeting a girlfriend/boyfriend's parents for the first time, you have one shot to impress.  The same goes for any retail business.  First impressions are lasting impressions.   From the first greeting at the door through the server's attention during the meal to the last goodnight, the guest should always feel welcome.  It will be my duty to insure that happens.   My host/hostesses will be friendly and cheerful.  My servers will be properly trained to know their menus, proper service details, and most important, to be warm, hospitable, and accomodating to our guests.  Most chefs and managers do not realize that no matter how good the food is, if our guests are not treated well, that is the lasting impression.

Another lesson I learned from my parents at a young age is that no will care about a business more than the owner.  That means if I want something to be done right, I will have to do it myself.  

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hail To The Chef

So who is going to be in the kitchen in the new restaurant?  You've seen all the recent press announcements and I'm sure the one line that got your attention was that Andrew Adams is the Executive Chef.  Why not me?   I will explain why I am assuming another role in a future post. For those of you that don't know him, allow me to introduce you.  Andrew has been my longtime Chef de Cuisine at both Wally Joe and The Brushmark.  He was 16 years old when he started working with me at KC's in Cleveland.  After a couple of years, Andrew took off to culinary school at the famed Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York.  In my opinion, Andrew is the best young chef in Memphis today.  Of course you say I am biased, yes I may be, but that is besides the point.  In the 10+ years that we've worked together, I've seen him learn and mature in his talents.  I grew up in the business and did not have the opportunity to attend culinary school.  Nor was I lucky enough to have worked with a great chef.  My education was self taught.  Julia Child used to say that one should not say that one is self taught.  You always learn from someone else.  A matter of opinion,  but no one taught me how to make a great sauce or to properly braise a piece of meat.  I learned how to do that on my own by experimentation and trial and error.  Yes, I read a ton of cookbooks and dined at some of the best restaurants in the world, but I most definitely taught myself to cook.  While I cook by instinct and with my senses, Andrew is more technically sound than I ever was.  

We've been together a long time and I guess it's true we do think and cook alike because of that reason. His food is thoughtful, well conceived, and most important, taste good.  He has a firm grasp on classic cooking yet approaches modern techniques with sensibility.  Andrew has a great cooking pedigree.  In addition to working with me,  he also worked with two of my very good chef friends.  He worked with the late Jamie Shannon at Commander's Palace in New Orleans.  No explanation needed there.  I also set him up with Chef Craig Shelton of The Ryland Inn in Whitehouse, NJ where he cooked for a year.  The Ryland Inn is a Relais & Chateaux property and Chef Shelton was a past winner of the James Beard Best Chef Mid-Atlantic award. Andrew has been around some of this nation's greatest chefs  by cooking with me at the many food and wine events around the country as well as KC's annual James Beard/St.Jude benefit dinners so by osmosis, he's absorbed much knowledge from that. How many young chefs in town can claim that?  

Behind every successful chef, there is a strong No.2.  I personally know many chefs that wouldn't think of sharing the spotlight with their lieutenants.  It is time for him to step out from under my shadow.  My ego is not so great that I need all the attention.  I've always believed that a chef's responsibility is to teach and pass the mantle to the next generation.  He deserves the limelight now. I have great faith in him and I know you will love his food too.  As I said earlier, there is no doubt he is the best young chef in Memphis.  

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Brooks Museum

Now that the word is out, the big question is "Are you staying at the Brooks?". The answer is definitely YES. As many of you know, I assumed the foodservice operations at The Memphis Brooks Museum of Arts in late 2006. My intention was to operate both Wally Joe Restaurant and The Brushmark, but sadly, circumstances prevented that and I left my eponymous restaurant shortly afterwards. I have been the Executive Chef at the museum for the past two years and I have to say that it has been a great experience. I hope and I believe that it has been a mutually beneficial relationship between the two of us. I cannot say enough good things about everyone at the museum. From the day I started there, I've never felt so welcome. Let me give a few shout outs beginning with the folks in Development. Diane Jalfon is the current Director of Development. She was the PR Director when I first came on board. Diane and her staff does a tremendous job with building relationships with the community to raise awareness about the needs of the museum. The marketing department with Claudia Towell, Heather Klein, and current PR director Elizabeth Callihan does an amazing job of promoting the many events at the museum and restaurant. Rick Bartemus is the glue that keeps the engine running. Maybe because I work with her so closely on a daily basis, I reserve the highest praise for Stacy Wright, the Director of Catering and Special Events. She is so incredible with her vision and passion. She never ceases to amaze me with her special touch at all the special events such as Avant Garde, Patron's Dinner, and Moss Society Dinner. I've witnessed first hand her patience and boundless energy with weddings, corporate dinners, and other events. Without a doubt, if it was not for Stacy, there would not be so many satisfied brides, guests, customers, and on and on. I've not worked so much with the other departments in the museum, but I know they are very dedicated at what they do. I would be totally remiss if if didn't mention my staff in The Brushmark led by Ashley Phipps. These guys work daily to make happy guests. Why would I want to leave all these great people? I hope to remain there as long as they want me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I am quite new to this blogging stuff.  I know, I promised to post something at least once a week, and here it is now January 13.  I started writing my first post January 2 and just published it a few minutes ago after several editing sessions.  What a slacker!  I promise, it gets better! 

Now that we've leaped all the legal hurdles, it's time to get down to the business of designing a restaurant.  We are working with Reb Haizlip of Haizlip Studio.  He comes highly recommended by some very influential people in town.  Some of you might be familiar with Reb and his work around town.  He worked on The Children's Museum, projects at The University of Memphis, The Grove Grill, Memphis Country Club, and L'Ecole Culinaire.   We consulted with him on the feasibility of the very first property we looked at.   That led to other conversations and meetings about another property.  I have to say I've learned a lot about how Reb's mind works in the past couple of years.  He has some great ideas.  I love his sense of blending the trendy with a timeless style.  Reb always listens to our ideas and open to suggestions.  Like most artists, I'm sure he is confident in his work. But this is definitely not an architect who is making this his vanity project.  Andrew (more on him next time) and I had a meeting with Reb this afternoon.  I am so excited about his ideas.  As a matter of fact, Reb will be a contributor to this blog with sketches and photo. That means you get an insider's look at the progress of the restaurant.    Tell me what you think.  I do value your opinions.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! With the beginning of each new year, a feeling of excitement, hope, renewal, (and dare I say it?) "change". Did I really just say that most overused word of 2008? I digress.

I am very excited to finally announce to the world that I am opening a new restaurant in 2009! I'm sure many of you have heard all the rumors and speculations about the location, time frame, and etc. about the project. I can't tell you how frustrating it's been for me in the past 2 years since I left my eponymous restaurant. We had a location in mind of where we wanted to be and targeted a certain property that was for sale. Of course negotiations fell through when we could not agree on a price. We also looked at 3 other properties on the same street. Same story. Each time I thought we were close, the deal fell through. Needless to say, I soon tired of telling friends and former clients that we were "close" to opening at "so and so" and a certain date. Paranoia started to set in that everyone in Memphis was saying I was full of crap. The questions didn't stop coming though, all of you loyal fans kept encouraging and waiting. For that, I am eternally grateful.

The new restaurant will be at 690 South Perkins. It's right up the road from Theatre Memphis. I could not be more happy with the property. That was actually one of the properties we wanted during the search process. We got lucky when the former owner decided to move to Colorado. It is actually the largest and best property on the street. The back yard has big, beautiful oak trees that provides plenty of shade for outdoor dining. I will describe it more in detail in future posts.

The legal hurdles are finally out of the way!  We were approved by the land use board in November.  Even though the location of the property is zoned commercial, we had to get approval from our commercial and residential neighbors because of the nature of our business.  
We had to reassure the residents that it was not going to be a nightclub or bar with thumping rap music or loud rock bands playing till 2 A.M.  After approval from the the neighbors and the Land Use Board, our next step was the City Council.  The City Council gave us an early Christmas present on December 16 when they unanimously approved our project.  

Now the fun part starts.  We get to design a restaurant from the ground up.  Hopefully, we will get things going in the next few weeks.  Check back at least once a week to get updates on the project.  I should be able to start posting pics soon.