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Archive for September, 2007

Kitchen Equipment: Where Fun Meets Function

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

September 2007

By Robert J. Nebel

When a shiny new industrial-strength stove, grill or cooler is wheeled into a kitchen, a feeling of exhilaration fills the air. But successful restaurateurs know that decisions about what and when to order new equipment are driven by business need, not to satisfy a desire for the latest playthings. The good news is that some of the most functional equipment can also be a heck of a lot of fun to work with.

Such is the case for Chef Dennis Davis at Virginia Highland’s Sala Sabor de Mexico restaurant when it comes to his new Tuff Grill. “We were looking for something more rustic that produces higher heat,” Davis says of the wood-fire grill. And yet, “it is incredibly simplistic and flexible. You load it up and you can control the temperature on each side of the unit.”

The Tuff Grill was a logical choice for Davis and his crew because not only does it flavor their Mexican cuisine with the wood-smoked flavor they sought, it fit into Sala’s rustic decor. “With the Tuff Grill, you can taste the smoke in the chicken breasts and especially in all of our fish dishes,” he says, adding that there is a positive noticeable difference in the way people are responding to the food since he has been using the Tuff Grill.
While the Tuff Grill imparts smoky flavor into the cuisine, Davis also enjoys its low maintenance. “It’s always the biggest issue with a grill, but with this unit, it’s really not that bad,” he says. “The beauty of the grill is that it has no moveable parts. It’s archaic in that sense, but that makes it easier to clean than a gas grill because there are fewer nooks and crannies for ash buildup.”

Before he purchased his “wood-fired wonder,” Davis worked with a standard gas Imperial Grill. While he was happy with it and got the mileage he wanted out of that piece of equipment, Davis says that the grill wore out quickly due to the demands of his kitchen. After four years, Davis and the staff decided it was time for an equipment change. “Gas grills can pop, warp or simply break down,” he says. “After realizing that we had it in our budget, we went with the Tuff Grill. We hope to avoid the wear and tear on this wood-burning grill. I think it is the way to go.”

Davis is also fond of Sala’s Imperial Salamander. The broiler gives tomatoes and veggies a smoky taste, and at three and a half feet wide by two and half feet tall, it’s a space saver. The unit is above Davis’ stove, which gives him plenty of room to work on his stovetop.

The Tuff Grill and Imperial Salamander are user-friendly according to Davis. “The Tuff Grill is easy. It might take a little effort to get going, but once it’s on, you get great results,” he says. “The Salamander is great. You just turn it on and go.”

“Simplicity” is the credo that Executive Chef Kevin Rathbun follows when purchasing kitchen equipment for his three restaurants: Inman Park’s Rathbun’s, Krog Bar and Kevin Rathbun Steak. “I’m frugal when it comes to equipment,” Rathbun says. “I don’t need a signature kitchen that’s on display. I just need firepower.”
As the owner of three successful restaurants, one might think that Rathbun is sitting pretty with only the finest equipment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rathbun operates on a shoestring budget and is a fan of used equipment. For example, Rathbun paid about $400 for a range when he started out and still depends on that range to this day, affectionately referring to it as his “go to piece.”

When it comes to broilers, Rathbun prefers the Southbend over the Imperial Salamander. “Most steakhouses use them,” Rathbun says. “I can see why. The Southbend balloons the meat, seals the juices and cooks quite fast.”

For years, Chef Kevin has raved about his Big Green Egg at home, so he purchased large versions of “the world’s best smoker” for his kitchens. “The Egg provides so much creativity,” he says. “It’s great for pork shoulders and of course tomatoes and onions. It retains so much moisture.”

When it came to ventilation, Rathbun didn’t skimp when he purchased a Captiveaire system. “It’s a little more money, but it’s worth it for safety reasons,” he says. A clean kitchen is a safe kitchen and, “sooner or later, you have to get back there.” That is why his equipment is on wheels and has quick release options.

Since Rathbun wears several caps in addition to his chef’s hat, he and his partners are on the frontline of kitchen equipment purchases. “A lot of the time we go directly to the company and do the talking and research,” he says. Among the equipment in Rathbun’s kitchens are Blodgett Convection ovens and Hobart stationary and handheld mixers.

At the Intercontinental Buckhead, Director of Food and Beverage Bixente Pery manages Au Pied de Cochon restaurant, the hotel bar, room service and banquet facilities. To juggle multiple demands without compromising his goals for high quality, he chose Rational ovens, which have been a big hit with Pery and the culinary staff. “You can steam, you can use it as a regular oven and even regenerate food which means it goes from the oven to the plate, no covers or trays are involved,” he says. “When you can regenerate food, you can really serve restaurant-style with our banquets.”

Bixente Pery has been dealing with Rational ovens for the past five years and vows that he will not go back to what he calls the “old way.” The “old way” for Pery was firing up the oven, putting on plates and using covers. “Sauces would burn or food would come out dry,” Pery recalls. “Quality was not top.” Pery says Rational ovens avoid those pitfalls and in the end, save time and labor.

Upgrading or purchasing new kitchen equipment can be a daunting task. Just ask Chef Olivier DeBusschere of downtown Atlanta’s Nikolai’s Roof. Since his kitchen sits atop the Hilton, he is limited in his equipment choice. “We cannot have a wood-fired grill because of where we are at,” DeBusschere says. “We have the Lange line of equipment from the stove to the vent system. The newest part of it is my stovetop.” While he appreciates having a new stovetop, DeBusschere’s is more excited about his new Pacojet ice cream maker, which he uses to make sorbets and soft parfaits.

With so many equipment options and new technology available, some chefs still prefer keeping things simple. Rathbun admits he may one day upgrade his equipment line; he says that he would like to have a complete Jade product line because “those pieces look dynamite for French-style kitchens.” And he points out that warranties can be an advantage to purchasing new equipment by offering “peace of mind.” But he doesn’t feel that warranties should be the deciding factor and is also concerned that newer equipment might use more gas and be more apt to break down: “I look at some of these nice new pieces, but then I think, “How am I going to clean it? How am I going to get the flour out of that thing?’ I believe in fewer bones. More bones mean more can break down.” Sala’s Davis agrees. “The more technology, the more that can go wrong,” he says. “All I want out of my equipment is for it to work.”

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29th -30th — Taste of Duluth

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

benefits the beautification and improvements of downtown Duluth. (770) 476-0240. www.duluthfestival.org.

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28th -30th — 8th Annual Wine South

Friday, September 28th, 2007

at the Gwinnett Center. Contact Karen Siegel, (678) 985-9494, ext. 105. www.winesouth.com/indexmay.htm.

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Gaining Control of Employee Turnover

Friday, September 28th, 2007

September 2007

Debby Cannon, Ph.D., CHE

In years past, employees were considered dispensable entities, easily replaced if they left or if there were asked to leave. The hospitality industry used to accept triple-digit turnover rates as “just part of our industry.” This was prior to the realization that employees are truly “human resources” and that companies can positively impact turnover. With research showing the detrimental impact of turnover on customer service, employee satisfaction and the bottom-line, efforts to retain workers are no longer optional.

To amplify the importance of retention, qualified employees are difficult to find in an economy characterized by low unemployment and numerous work opportunities. It is predicted that the “war for talent” will only escalate in the upcoming years with the retiring of the baby boomer population. There are a number of management tools, as discussed in past articles, aimed at maximizing employee retention. For this issue, exit interviews, retention studies and turnover analyses will be discussed as tools to improve the workplace environment.

All three tools, related but different, are important in understanding why employees stay with an organization as well as why they leave.

Exit interviews involve talking with employees at the time of their departure from an organization. The exit interview, ideally, should be conducted by someone other than the employee’s immediate supervisor or manager. This recommendation is based on the fact that the No. 1 reason employees leave their jobs is related to some type of problem with their immediate supervisor or manager. Some companies have successfully implemented on-line exit interviews. Studies have shown that exiting employees are often more open when interacting with a computer than with a “live” person. Online versions of exit interviews can also be translated into whatever languages are needed by the company. The ability to translate exit interviews into multiple languages is vital in reaching all employees who are leaving. A disadvantage of the online format is that employees have to be able to read.

Confidentiality is an overriding concern for most exiting employees regarding the information they share. Employers should make sure that the information gained through exit interviews is grouped and that no single employee’s opinions are disclosed to inappropriate people. How information is handled from the exit interview must be explained to every employee going through the process.

Questions asked in exit interviews should be designed to provide valuable information that the organization can use in continuously improving. Broad, overly general questions may yield little useful information. Questions such as the following, in using a scale showing degrees of agreement or disagreement can provide pertinent material:

  • How helpful was the initial job training in preparing you to do well in your job?
  • To what degree did you have the needed materials/tools/supplies to be able to do well in your job?
  • To what extent did you supervisor/manager keep you updated on news impacting the department or company?

Other open-ended questions can also provide valuable insights:

  • What did you like least about your job?
  • What did you like best about your job?
  • Would you recommend that a good friend or family member work here? Why or why not?
  • What is the main reason for your leaving this company? What could we have done differently to keep you here?

Exit interview data should be categorized and tracked to show trends regarding why people leave the organization. Analyses should be done by department for larger organizations or by work areas for smaller restaurants.

Retention studies are also important in finding out why employees stay with your company. These studies should not be limited to only long-term employees, although a sample of these workers should be included. Employees should be included representing varying lengths of service as well as from varied levels and sections of the business. You also want feedback from these existing employees on suggested improvements for the company. As with exit interviews, confidentiality is important and so is the analysis of grouped data and follow-up action plans communicated to employees.

The third tool to use in understanding turnover is quantitative analysis of data. The turnover analysis should be performed each month to allow comparisons between departments or work areas. The typical turnover analysis formula is:

Turnover ratio = Number of employees leaving department
Average number of employees for department

The average number of employees is calculated by adding the beginning number of employees at the first of the month to the number of employees at the end of the month divided by two. A turnover percentage is obtained by multiplying this number by 100,
The turnover analysis allows a number of things to be followed including trends (upward, stable or downward turnover), seasonal differences and the impact of organizational changes. Some companies separate “planned” employee turnover from “unplanned” exits. For example, the departure of summer interns would be anticipated as would the leaving of seasonal employees. Another approach is separating voluntary terminations (employees who resign) from those who are discharged in the turnover calculations. Distinctions such as this can help in a refined analysis of changes and trends.

Debby Cannon, Ph.D., CHE is Director of the Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality, Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University.

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Uncovering Lost Roots – Heirloom Vegetables and the Seasonal Calendar

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

September 2007

By Suzanne Welander

When just about every type of food can be purchased at any time of the year, why would any chef willingly embrace limitations on their raw materials? A growing number are, in fact, and are finding a ready market of customers who prize the deeper connections, and flavors, of heirloom, seasonal produce sourced from local farmers.

Sourcing locally is not without its challenges, the not the least of which is the variability of products available at any given moment during the year. Global shipping, freezing, and overnight air delivery of food products, now second nature, have erased what for millennium was an immutable fact: the inherent seasonality of fruits and vegetables. In a counter-intuitive twist, the global market has actually dramatically reduced diversity within the food supply, to the extent that a slim 30 plant types now feed 95 percent of the world’s population according to Slow Food USA.
Working with seasonal produce is the first step in erasing this trend, and starts with an understanding of which plants are harvested, and when, during the year. Steven Satterfield, Executive Sous Chef at Watershed in Decatur notes, “Seasons can make decisions for you about what the menu will be. If it is available locally, and it tastes good, then it will on the new menu.”

“Anytime we get anything local, we want the fruit and vegetables to stand out on their own,” says Jason Scarborough, Executive Chef and Owner, Blue Moon Cafe in Statesboro. He adds, “Farmers call a couple of days before delivery, and I wrap my menu around them.”

In the quest for flavor, chefs are pushing beyond the appreciation of the virtues of in-season produce. Enter the heirloom varieties: old stock representatives selected over the years for taste and adapted to local climes. It’s not only the heirloom tomato, the patron saint of homegrown vegetables, that entices chefs into heirloom terrain. Scarborough’s cafe’ uses heirloom potatoes, including pink ladies, fingerling Peruvians, and red bliss.

Whippoorwill Hollow Organic Farm, which grows for many restaurants, is a convert. “We try to order seeds that are rare, or both an heirloom and rare,” says farmer Hilda Byrd. The farm’s first foray into heirlooms was the Whippoorwill Pea, a small, speckled field pea packed with flavor. Though not related to the farm of the same name, calls regularly stream in from around the country as people search out the variety that they remember from long ago. The farm also grows a red velvet okra (used by Watershed), and is one of the farms Anson Mills has contracted with to grow the Sea Island Iron Clay Pea, “a very, very tiny pea that makes a gravy to go over the Charleston rices Anson Mills is bringing back,” says Byrd.

Many of these plants lack pedigrees, such as the black Spanish-type peanut that Whippoorwill Hollow grows. This smaller variety, cultivated by Byrd’s brother for 30 years, was originally passed along to him by another farmer. “I don’t know how old they are, or even what variety they are,” says Byrd. What she does know is that their flavor is rich and they sell well at market.

“Although some seeds have lasted for eons, seed does need to renewed periodically,” notes Skip Glover of Glover Family Farm. Particularly in the humid South, varieties need to be grown to remain in the vegetative lexicon, and in order to be grown, there has to be a market for them. Slow Food USA is taking action to preserve these endangered foods, first by cataloguing them in their Ark of Taste project, and in some cases, actively working with farmers to create viable markets that sustain continued production as part of their Presidia project.

In a story that would make a chef cringe, Julie Shaffer, leader of Slow Food Atlanta, relays the tragic tale of California’s Sun Crest Peach. “They’re the most delicious peaches, unbelievable,” says Shaffer. “But because they just did not travel well, farmers started bulldozing their orchards and planting trees that would produce the fruit that the market was buying.” Slow Food USA convinced a grower on the verge of erasing this heritage not to bulldoze in return for a commitment to help him market the peaches. It worked.

Earlier this year, the Seed Savers Exchange distributed seeds from the Ark of Taste free to any Georgia farmers willing to participate in the project. “It’s a method of trying to preserve these endangered foods by making them commercially viable,” says Glover.

Nicolas Donck of Crystal Organic Farm was one of the recipients of the Ark seeds. “Tennis Ball lettuce, Sheepnose pepper, Aunt Ruby’s German Green Tomato:” Donck enthusiastically recounts the varieties he’s nurturing at his farm, including the yellow-meated watermelon of the Tohono O’Odham people of Arizona. Because these varieties tend to be more pest and disease-resistant, they’re more adaptable to organic farming.

There’s yet to be any food unique to Georgia added to the Ark list; animal breeds, fruit and vegetables, cured meats, cheese, cereals, pastas, cakes and confectionery all qualify, and can be nominated online.

With seasonal, heirloom produce on the plate, each meal has the potential of becoming a miniature cultural harvest festival. It’s worked at Watershed. Says Satterfield, “During the summer months, our seasonal hot vegetable plate is our number one selling entree. Cooking seasonally makes our guests more aware of what is in season and when. We won’t serve a tomato until they are available locally, for example, and sometimes that is a hard thing for folks to understand, but it really allows you to appreciate it when the waiting is over and the perfect tomato is in front of you.”

Suzanne Welander is the communications director for Georgia Organics, a nonprofit organization working to integrate healthy, sustainable, and locally grown food into the lives of all Georgians. In addition to Georgia’s Local Food Guide, Georgia Organics publishes a seasonal harvest calendar to help consumers and chefs know what to expect from local farmers throughout the year, available at www.gorgiaorganics.org/calendar. For more information on Slow Food USA, visit www.slowfoodusa.org.

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15th — Spice of Life Smyrna

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

held at the Market Village on Village Green. (770) 319-2526. www.ci.smyrna.ga.us.

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Hooters of America, Inc.

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

The Power of Branding

September 2007

By Joni House

You’re turning 25. You’ve spent years carving out your place in the restaurant world. You really do have a fun casual dining menu, you insist, and aren’t just another pretty face. People titter (or try to run you out of town) when you tell them your name. What’s a chain to do?

Hooters’ answer is to celebrate: with a total of 445 stores (121 company-owned stores and 324 franchises) in 23 countries around the world, Hooters is a presence to be reckoned with. Hooters is “one of the best-recognized brands in the restaurant industry,” says Mike McNeil, Vice President Marketing. Kat Cole, Vice President of Training and Development, echoes that view adding: “We are fanatic about our brand.” Key to Hooters’ success is the focus and clarity on what the brand is-and is not.

What Makes the Brand?

The executive team agrees: Hooters is more than casual dining. “We target the sports crowd, and we add socially acceptable sex appeal,” Cole says. Hooters, is of course, known for its Hooters Girls. “We’re a casual setting where you have to have a sense of humor,” she continues. “We’re unconventional.”

The Hooters girl is a brand element-since 1997 gender selection is a legally protected part of the Hooters brand-and is the key component of the viewscape in every Hooters restaurant from South Bend to Seoul. The Hooters girl creates the Hooters atmosphere: she smiles; she sits at your table; she’s a conversationalist; she’s an oasis of orange. But she also sells: customers order another round because she is sooo nice and they don’t want to hurt her feelings by paying the tab and leaving just yet….

But to sustain success over 25 years requires more than feminine beauty and charm. Consistency is a considerable factor in Hooters’ branding strategy. Even internationally, Hooters insists on maintaining its unique flavor, including the wing sauce and the Hooters Girl uniforms. Internationally, “basically it’s the same as in the states,” John Weber, Executive Vice President of Franchise Operations observes. For example, “the Japanese know us from California. The interior, the building design, the uniforms-they’re all the same.”

To transplant the brand into different cultures, both domestic and international, requires a corporate team dedicated to delivering the Hooters experience. “The people are the best thing” about Hooters, says Coby Brooks, CEO. “It’s not a fraternity; I’d never call it a fraternity,” he laughs. “It’s a huge family.”

To that end, Hooters rewards store employees for delivering the Hooters brand experience. There’s the Hooters Girl of the Year, and the less photographed but equally important Kitchen Crew of the Year. “These are our best examples of what represents the essence of Hooters: sales, energy and interaction with the customers and other team members,” says Brooks.

Educating employees on the essence of the brand is important to maintaining its consistency worldwide. At Hooters University managers are trained in three phases corresponding with their career development and increasing responsibilities. Hooters University develops subject matter experts (SME’s) in what Kat Cole calls “the world’s oldest profession: hospitality.” Part of the training is how to give back to the community, an important element in the Hooters mission statement. By the time employees have completed Phase III at Hooters University, they’re part of the regional management team and ready for multi-unit leadership.

“Promoting from within is now by design, where at first it was by necessity,” says Kat Cole. So it makes sense that 59 percent of the corporate office employees are female, and two of ten Vice Presidents and above are female. Cole, herself a former Hooters Girl, recalls a peculiar alliance of N.O.W. and Mormon picketers demonstrating against Hooters’ presence in Salt Lake City: “We don’t exploit women; we employ them,” she says.

Eyes Wide Open

Hooters’ lighthearted and self-deprecating approach doesn’t hide the keen self-awareness behind the work that keeps the brand elevated. Hooters knows who its customers are, and just as important, who they aren’t.

For the Hooters brand loyalist, Coby Brooks observes, “it’s not a customer base; it’s a fan base.” However, certain demographic groups are outside the sweet spot for the brand. “We cater to our weaknesses and market to our strengths,” Cole says. For example Hooters has added products like fruit smoothies to its food and beverage lineup in an effort to make the stores a more comfortable place for women and families. Nevertheless, Hooters doesn’t market directly to those groups. “We want to be more inclusive,” Cole says, without losing focus on what the brand is.

Given the intentionally unique aspects of the Hooters brand, “the entire community is not our potential market,” Cole continues. Hooters has to have a larger population pool to generate the same number of customers as other casual dining chains. According to Cole, Hooters’ demographic market area (or DMA) is roughly twice the size of Chili’s to generate the same number of customers. “We’re just controversial enough for our own good,” laughs Mike McNeil. “If we don’t get a little controversy, I worry.”

The strength of the Hooters brand can sometimes complicate messaging on issues that are important to the company, however. Hooters’ charitable arm, Hooters Community Endowment Fund (or HOO.C.E.F.) supports local causes and initiatives developed by store managers in their own communities. In addition, Hooters supports charities nationally, but sometimes quietly. “Some [charities] have turned down money,” from Hooters, says Kat Cole. For years Hooters has privately supported breast cancer research and prevention, Cole says. This year, however, with the tragic death from breast cancer of Kelly Jo Dowd, who started her career as a Hooters Girl and moved into management, Hooters has found a platform for taking a more open role in advocating for breast cancer research and prevention. All employees, male and female alike, now see a video on breast cancer as part of the hiring process.

Teaching an Old Brand New Tricks

Approaching the age of 25 the Hooters brand is getting the all the attention such a milestone warrants.  The executive team acknowledges challenges to the brand, but, as Joe Hummel, Vice President of Operations and Purchasing, observes, “The concept is not broken.”

Some of the challenges to the brand come from its huge success in its “delightfully tacky, yet unrefined” niche. Mike McNeil reflects that among the negatives is the “perception that food value and menu variety [are] not as great as [they] are.”  Some, he says, are “dismissive of the brand” entirely due to the sex appeal. According to McNeil, a significant challenge facing Hooters is “trying to make sure we’re legitimizing the concept as a food brand within the restaurant industry.”  John Weber expands on the thought: “Our biggest challenge is staying ahead of the brand. We have to be proactive in terms of staying ahead of it.”

For Hooters being proactive can take many forms. One example is product line diversification. In 2006, Hooters added hard liquor to its bar offerings. “We have a duty to our franchisees to test” new products and features, says Kat Cole. But the chain proceeded cautiously. The big concern with the addition of hard liquor was that customers would be “naked and hanging from the rafters,” Cole laughed.

To help implement the concept, Hooters partnered with ShowTenders, and elected to limit its liquor offering to 25 total bottles versus the almost 70+ varieties at a typical Outback store. “We had a six-month training period,” Cole recalls. “We were ready/set, ready/set” until the first 20 stores rolled out with liquor offerings in fall 2006. Now, all but 20 of 121 corporate locations are converted to liquor service, and 80 of 294 franchise locations have rolled out the new offering. “We’ve had zero alcohol issues from full spirits,” Cole reports, and “zero customer complaints, except for requests for more brands. Our Bloody Mary is made in-house from scratch and it’s awesome!”

Hooters is also celebrating its expansion internationally. “We continue to evolve the concept,” says Coby Brooks. Speaking of the legacy of his late father Robert Brooks, “ironically it got a little bigger than he could grasp. You’d think [the brand] would be the hardest concept to take international, but it’s been relatively easy.”  John Weber adds: “Our greatest opportunity is international expansion.”

Hooters is franchised in 23 countries, from Asia to the Mediterranean. Weber identifies other targets of opportunity: a 20-store contract in France, a large deal in England, and additions in northern Germany. Discussions in Jordan are underway, and a franchise opportunity in Dubai is still in negotiation.

China loves the American novelty, and the Hooters Girls are the “stars of the show,” according to Cole. In some locations “the strong entertainment aspect of the Hooters concept sticks,” she says. In all of locations, Weber screens the franchisee candidates carefully. Generally, locations are targeted for “welcoming Americanism,” although Hooters makes small adjustments to accommodate local food preferences. For example, steak choices were added to the menu in Argentina and more elaborate desserts were introduced in Latin America. The core items-wings, burgers, and chicken sandwiches-stay the same. Another non-negotiable: the uniform. “It’s a condition of the deal,” says Brooks. “It’s part of our brand, our concept.”

Further solidifying the brand domestically presents its own challenges. “Hooters is a destination restaurant, as opposed to an impulse buy,” Joe Hummel observes. With domestic growth, the stores start to “cannibalize each other.”

Mike McNeil points out that licensing into other channels is a tactic Hooters is using to create brand extensions. In grocery stores, there are branded chips, wings, and energy drinks. Hooters also has a casino in Las Vegas, and a Hooters-branded MasterCard.

Facelift at 25 years old

If you were Hooters and had a magic wand, how would you use it?

“On our stores,” Brooks says without hesitation. We’re converting the locations and making them pretty again.”  The new facilities prototype is “more comfortable and appealing,” says McNeil. The rollout for the corporate stores will take three more years, Brooks estimates. Each store is closed for six to twelve weeks during the renovation.

There’s also talk of modernizing the Hooters Girl uniform, which, with a minor modification here and there, is the original fashion statement from the 1980’s. When pressed for a sneak preview, Brooks demurs. “I can tell you,” he says, “orange is here to stay.”

Presumably the viewscape provided by the Hooters Girls will be unchanged as well. On a recent visit to a company-owned store, I observed an unconventional vending machine in the ladies’ room: a pantyhose dispenser. A closer look revealed that the garments were atypical: footless, and thicker than the average daysheer preferred by most working women. On the way out, I asked one of the Hooters Girls about the machine. “Oh yeah, it comes in handy for us if we run a pair while we’re working.” Then, ever the sales professional, she looked me over and without missing a beat chirped, “You want to buy a pair?”

Coby Brooks laughs. “Hooters,” he chuckled, “is the nexus of commerce.”

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12th — PFG Milton’s Food Show

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

at the Gwinnett Conference and Civic Center. For more information call 770-532-7779. www.pfgmiltons.com.

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Chef Dave Snyder

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Fresh Focus At Halyards

September 2007

By Christy White

It took a sink full of dirty dishes to make Dave Snyder realize he wanted to be a chef.

“I was 16 years old washing dishes in Grand Rapids, Michigan,” he recalls. “After about a year, they asked me to be a busboy. After my third day I said ‘No more.’ There were some positions in the kitchen available, and after my second day, I said this is what I want to do.”

Chef Dave, as friends and patrons know him, has been serving up contemporary American fare specializing in seafood for the past eight years on St. Simons Island. But it’s been a winding road to the coast.

Although he knew he loved working in the kitchen from his high school restaurant jobs, he continued studying risk management at the University of Georgia. But soon he was skipping class to work his part-time job at a local restaurant. “I found myself cutting class that I was paying for to cook,” he says. “I’d rather be on the stove than in these classes that I paid for, and I thought, something’s really wrong. [So I] said, ‘to hell with it, I’m going to go to culinary school.'”

After attending the New England Culinary Institute, he spent five years working with chefs such as Christian Delouvirer at Les Celebrites, Michael Romano at Union Square Café and Erik Maillard at The Mark Hotel in New York City before heading back South.

His mentors taught him many things about the culinary world, but most importantly, to have a strong work ethic. “There are plenty of guys out there that want to work 40, 45 hours a week and that’s not what it takes,” he says. “If you want to be on top of the game, you have to work your tail off. You got to be able to put in the hours and take it seriously. And they showed me that.”

Besides work ethic, he learned that it takes a person who cares to do the job right, and he looks for that quality in everyone he hires and works with. “I could teach you how to wait a table, I could teach you how to build a car, I could teach you how to shave ice, but I can’t teach you to care to do it again,” he says. “If you care, you execute well, and you put your whole heart and soul into it, whether you’re waiting on the table or feeding the table. If you care about what you’re doing right now, you’re going to do a good job of it.”

A Fresh Success

After New York, Snyder briefly became a chef at Azalea in Atlanta. An avid fisherman himself, the lure of the coast became too strong. He moved to St. Simons and spent three years as executive chef at J Mac’s Island Restaurant. Then he and a friend decided to open their own restaurant on the island and Halyards was born.

The key to the restaurant’s success is freshness. Everything on the menu is made from scratch, and Snyder spends many mornings down at the docks finding just-caught fish for that night’s special. “Being on the coast, our push is obviously seafood and using local ingredients,” he says. “We go down to the dock and talk to a couple of friends of mine and see what we can get that they caught earlier that morning. We’re very lucky.”

Securing fish from local boats means the fish served at the restaurant is always fresher than fish from the grocer, and even from boats that have been at sea for several days. The restaurant often serves grouper, snapper, trout, redfish, mahi, tuna, tripletail or softshell crab, depending on the season.

Aside from five to six standards, the menu changes with the seasons to keep everything fresh. The contemporary American fare often reveals a mix of influences and flavors. Roasted Peking duck breast with Thai red curry is listed next to pan-roasted Mayport grouper with braised red cabbage, potato rosti, asparagus and whole grain mustard vin blanc, which sits alongside mole-dusted prime filet mignon with braised black beans, spaghetti squash and chipotle demi-glace.

No matter what the cuisine, for Snyder, it’s good company and execution of a dish that makes a good meal. “There are a lot of places where the menu sounds great and the dishes on the menu sound great. The server describes it wonderfully,” he says. “You see all the components on the plate and it looks good, but then you taste it, and it doesn’t taste good.”

Moving to the coast has allowed Snyder to focus on the food and his customers rather than trying to become a celebrity chef. “Keeping up with everybody [in Atlanta] was kind of fun, but I don’t really miss being part of the loop,” he says. “It takes so much of your time away from your stove and away from your guests, but that’s a necessary part of the business in the bigger cities.”

In the 11 years since he has come to the Golden Isles, he’s seen the area’s culinary world expand. “There are other chefs that are starting to make a culinary mark other than just hushpuppies and fried shrimp,” he says. “So it’s changed a little bit in the last 10 years.”

New Opportunities

Just this past February, Snyder took another huge step and opened a second concept just 30 feet away from his first restaurant.

Tramici is a neighborhood Italian restaurant with a huge brick oven and an open kitchen. There, traditional Italian food like eggplant parmesan and shrimp scampi dominate the menu, with a few creative dishes scattered throughout such as lobster-stuffed shells oven-baked with tomato cream and oregano.

“It’s just an opportunity for me to give guests a different experience with the same quality and the same standards,” Snyder says. “We apply the same attention to detail and the same quality ingredients, just in a different setting. It’s a different energy and a different feel, but it’s the same goal: hospitality for our guests.”

While many would say running two restaurant concepts would be a stressful endeavor, Snyder, as always, looks on the bright side: “Now, I’ve got two restaurants, I’ve got twice as many employees, I’ve got twice as many opportunities to do a good job and twice as many opportunities to solve problems. It makes it fun.”

Snyder takes his role as chef and mentor to his employees seriously, and his dedication has paid off with a loyal staff, many of which have been with the restaurant for almost the entire eight years of its existence.

“I had an employee meeting the other day,” he recalls, “and I said, ‘I’m not here just to give you a job, I’m not here just to pay you, I’m here to teach you how to be a better cook, a better server, a better dishwasher, a better person.”

“This business is difficult,” he adds. “I’ve never done anything else other than this since I was 16. But like any other job, if you want to do well, you have to put in the time and energy and effort to do it. You gotta care.”

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7th -9th — Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show

Friday, September 7th, 2007

at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. www.fraexpo.com.

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