Vickery’s Glenwood Park has gone green by offering a sustainable menu that includes all natural beef and poultry, and a wine list that features several organic juices. The restaurant has also moved to reduce their waste by switching to 100% biodegradable to-go cups that are made from corn instead of traditional plastic in addition to 100% biodegradable silverware and to-go boxes as opposed to the typical non-biodegradable Styrofoam containers commonly used in most restaurants. Vickery’s also offers a selection of organic, pesticide free wines, some of which use ladybugs to control pest infestation at their vineyards in lieu of dangerous pesticides.
Alpharetta restaurant, Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails, welcomes new Executive Chef Boyd A. Rose and General Manager Jimmy Carter. Bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience, both came to Milton’s from Rainwater Restaurant. Together the duo presents ‘New Southern’ cuisine that utilizes fresh, local ingredients. For more information, please visit www.Miltons-Atl.com.
By Charles Y. Hoff, Esq., and Michele Stumpe, Esq.
Restaurant and Hospitality Legal Team at Taylor, Busch, Slipakoff & Duma
So, you want to open a new restaurant and have an eye on a location where an existing restaurant is going out of business. You are thinking that all you need to do is buy the equipment in an asset purchase and arrange for the landlord to assign the remainder of the lease to you. Sounds simple? It may be, but unfortunately that’s not the norm. Many an unwary entrepreneur has been caught off guard by issues such as a prior owner’s tax liens, local laws that are inconsistent with their business model, premises restrictions and other pitfalls that can turn your dream into a nightmare. Property and/or back taxes owed by the previous owner can lead to complications that may result in your inability or difficulty in obtaining an alcohol license.
Once you think you’ve covered your bases with the Department of Revenue, you have a whole host of other issues that can arise with the local government. For example, some cities and counties will refuse to grant alcohol licenses to new owners of establishments that have a prior history of criminal activity or alcohol violations. It may not seem fair that the “sins” of the prior owner are thrust upon you, but the laws of successor liability and privilege licensing are alive and well in Georgia. Many of these scenarios can be avoided by exercising some due diligence prior to closing.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
Check to make sure your business concept is legal (you’d be surprised about the things you cannot do in various counties – like letting a customer bring in a special bottle of wine for their anniversary). Also, be aware that it may take upwards of three months to obtain a license for your new establishment under even the best of circumstances. So, it’s never too early to start the process. It can be arduous, including requirements such as obtaining driver’s histories, fingerprints and multiple meetings with various local governing bodies before you can get approved. In addition, the Department of Revenue has recently changed their procedures, renewing their interest in clearing the books of all outstanding tax issues.
If you are breathing a sigh of relief because the prior owner is willing to let you operate under their license for a period of time after the closing until you get approved, watch out. Many jurisdictions consider the existing license void upon the change of ownership. You might not get caught, but if you do, you could be looking at another year before you can even apply for another license. These are just a few of the issues that can arise in the wonderful world of alcohol licensing. The key is to become educated about the process and the potential hurdles before you sign on the dotted line.
By Debby Cannon, Ph.D., CHE
Director, School of Hospitality
Robinson College of Business
Georgia State University
What separates good companies from great companies? Good restaurants from great restaurants? It is not only how they operate in financially profitable times – when there is plenty of business and the average check is high – but even more so how they operate in harder economic times.
There are five essential strategies that are crucial for GREAT results:
Get in touch with the core values, the DNA of your business. What were your founding principles? What do customers love about your operation? What do employees and other stakeholders value because that is what you have stood for over the course of time?
These core characteristics – such as great service, fresh products, creativity of dishes, beauty of plate presentations – cannot be sacrificed at any point despite business volume. Businesses that cut what is the true essence of their reputation, what people value and return for time and time again to experience, are also cutting their chances for survival.
Revenue, revenue, revenue. Take care of your “return customers” (they are the foundation of your business) as well as develop new ones. Think creatively. Where do potential customers exist? In the office complex next door? The apartment building around the corner? Think of incentives to get people in the door because then you have the opportunity to impress them and make them “return customers.” Recently, a number of restaurants were offering a selection of free menu items for a day. The reason? Allow people in to experience their food and service, hopefully making return customers.
Energize your staff! Happiness and positive attitudes are contagious. So are negative ones. People like to be around uplifting individuals. Make your establishment the type of place where people, customers and employees get a charge of energy and excitement. It starts at the top with upper management and what employees see in their role models. It also is directly linked to how employees are treated. Positive, friendly, happy employees are a vital part of your restaurant.
Achieve better bottom-line results by identifying areas to control waste and increase productivity. Beware of the quick reaction to cut costs – just to cut costs. Again, these may be your lifelines – service, quality of food, ambiance.
Look for those things that customers do not see – wasted product, breakage, careless use of energy and water, errors and mistakes, lack of teamwork and other types of low productivity. Get employees involved in identifying how money is going down the drain and possible solutions. Think of incentives and rewards for employees offering viable ideas and suggestions on how to achieve better bottom-line results.
Training. It should be ongoing. Continuous quality improvement is crucial to any operation and training is a key ingredient of that process. Train new employees and provide refreshers and retraining for existing employees. Cross train to achieve maximum employee productivity. Train employees to help maximize revenue by providing great service and knowing the menu but also by being able to effectively market the menu with mouth-watering descriptions and suggestive selling. Train employees to help in avoiding and cutting waste. In addition to helping productivity, learning new things is linked to employee retention – another vital component to bringing more money to the bottom line. Turnover is costly and can be a detriment to quality service in any operation. Conduct training that can improve your operation by analyzing needs, prioritizing areas that can have the most impact and following up with employees afterwards to ensure implementation.
GREAT results do not happen by chance. They are linked to strategically planned approaches that are executed in a proactive way. You may ask, “Aren’t these five approaches important – regardless of the business volume?” Absolutely. The above five are essentials and should be present when business is at its peak as well as during slower times. The bottom line: do not cut your essentials.
A well-informed server should be able to answer customer questions: “What do you mean by local” and “define organic and sustainable?”
If the chef is the critical link between the farm and the kitchen, the server is the most important link between the kitchen and the customer. A well-informed, articulate wait staff can mean the difference between an average or excellent dining experience.
More and more restaurants are realizing the selling factor of serving locally grown, organic food. The key is not only having a chef who appreciates and can effectively use these products, but also having a wait staff that understands the significance of these products. The server, then, becomes a critical factor in this food chain.
It is important for each server to know where the food comes from and understand and appreciate the “bigger picture.” A well-informed server should be able to answer customer questions: “What do you mean by local” and “define organic and sustainable?”
Perhaps of all those terms, “local” is both the most readily understood and least definable. “Local” to some people means within a certain number of miles. For example, the San Francisco Eat Local Challenge encourages people to eat food produced within 250 miles of San Francisco. But here in Georgia, we’re faced with a different set of circumstances. Alice Rolls, Executive Director of Georgia Organics, says “I don’t really like to put a mileage limit on “local” because we don’t have the luxury in terms of supply, particularly here in the South. Some people use the “a day’s drive” to define it which is handily nebulous!” It is sufficient to say “local” means food grown as close to home as possible. Eggplant from a backyard garden is extremely local, while strawberries from Florida are probably more “regional” than local, but still ultimately better than buying strawberries from California. For most of us, “local” means buying as close to home as possible to reduce the environmental impact and to support a local farming community.
Organic and sustainable are more easily defined. To have products sold as “organic,” the producer must be certified. Certification is based on a farming system that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Many farmers choose not to pursue certification but follow similar farming practices as organic, working to treat the land with respect, so that the land is not harmed in any way, hence the term “sustainable.”
Olivia Sargeant, one of the founders and owners of the restaurant Farm255 in Athens, has a staff of waiters that knows the importance of local and sustainable food from the ground up – literally. All the “team” (if you work in any capacity at Farm255, you’re part of the team) is required to work on the farm (found at a very local four miles from the restaurant) at least once a month. Whether they weed, water or harvest, the team receives an ongoing education in what it means to grow and gather the things they offer on the menu. Like many restaurants who offer mainly locally grown goods, Farm255 changes the menu almost daily, based on product availability. With the fluidity of the menu, the Farm255 team meets daily to discuss what is on the menu, where it came from and what it tastes like. Team enthusiasm for the menu, and the restaurant, is always high. “We have an incredibly strong and committed team,” Sargeant says. “We have to be careful not to get too heedy. After all, we’re not here to create mini-activists. We have to remember that people are here to eat dinner. It’s a fine balance.”
Barry Aycock, owner of Glen-Ella Springs Country Inn in Habersham County understands the importance of clear communication between the farmer, the chef and the wait staff. “Somebody has to be aware daily of what is being prepared,” she says. “It is impossible for the wait staff to explain things to the guests if the kitchen can’t explain it to them. I have found that the more information that you can put on the menu, the better it is for everyone. The customer has it right in front of them so they know what’s being offered.”
Even though Aycock is a true believer in the philosophy behind serving locally grown food, she also has found it to be challenging. Since the harvest of fresh, seasonal vegetables is not evenly spaced out, but comes in either trickles or deluges, she has found that her chef has to be quite creative in coming up with new ways to serve particular items during the “deluge” times. “At the end of the season last year we had peppers and more peppers, and then more peppers. It took some real creativity to know what to do with them all.”
Linton Hopkins, Chef and owner of Restaurant Eugene and Holman and Finch Public House, has addressed this problem by developing close relationships with the farmers who supply his produce. He works with them to get the products he needs at the times he needs them, within the realm of posÂ¬sibilities. Hopkins calls it “mindful planting” and works hard to think ahead and know the kinds of crops he will need before the planting season even begins. “It all started with my askÂ¬ing the question: â€˜How do I become a better chef?’ The answer was pretty obvious. If I need to get a better carrot to my guests, then I need a better carrot.” His answer to getting a better carrot was to get the freshest carrot possible, which is one picked fresh from the field, grown by someone he knows and trusts and served as quickly as possible.
Perhaps, the educated server is the key to helping diners find their way back to simple food that tastes good.
“I get my inspiration for the menu from the farm first,” Hopkins says. “I wouldn’t know how to write a menu without this inspiration. If I see a perfect turnip, then it inspires me to do something great with it.” Server, Christine Gomez, who has been at Restaurant Eugene for two years, says that the guests are continually amazed at how simple the food is and how absolutely delicious it tastes. “I served a dish of asparagus, quail egg and parmesan cheese to a man one night who told me it was the â€˜best thing I never knew I wanted!’”
With proper training, all servers are in a position to help create a new generation of diners with taste buds that are discerning and sensitive to freshness and flavor. Perhaps, the educated server is the key to helping diners find their way back to simple food that tastes good. Food enthusiasts everywhere realize nothing tastes better than good, clean, food-grown humanely, picked fresh, prepared well and served by someone who appreciates and understands the value of something as simple as a better carrot.
Laura Martin has been writing and publishing for the last 25 years. Her latest book is Tea, The Drink that Changed the World (Tuttle Publishing, 2007). She lives in Atlanta where she writes, gardens, bakes draws and quilts.
The American Culinary Federation (ACF) announced that the Greater Atlanta chapter won the 2008 National Chapter of the Year award. The award was presented during the annual national convention held in Las Vegas this week.
Also recognized was John Michael Lynch for the National Student Culinarian of the Year. Lynch is an apprentice and line cook at the Cherokee Town & Country Club in Atlanta.
Anise Morrison’s story is certainly a “yam good tale.” In 1979, First Catering Inc. was founded by her parents George and Jane Morrison. Her father, having worked in wholesale food distribution and having various restaurants since 1969 in Georgia and South Carolina, realized there was a need for a homemade, traditional Southern pie. Morrison states, “Dad was always interested in wholesaling and met a retailer who wanted to add to his dessert line. He grew up with the sweet potato – cooking, growing and selling it as a child on the family farm. For three years he developed a sweet potato pie unlike any others. The Southern-grown yam (sweet potato) is richer in color, sweeter and more nutritional than all the others.”
George Morrison’s research and development included interviewing his mother and great aunts and using his catering kitchen for trials before the first of its dessert line was introduced, the sweet potato “Yam Good Pie.” Then, after a 19-month battle with pancreatic cancer, George died in January 2001. Of the many things he left behind was the family-run catering busiÂ¬ness, a fine recipe and the beginnings of a plan. “I catered throughout college and worked in the family restaurants growing up, but didn’t know I’d have my hands in the food business this much. After Dad’s death and then burying my grandmother, I was in a fog. I then realized I needed to do something with my father’s pie recipe.”
After speaking with her mother they decided to develop a prototype and start marketing the Yam Good Pie. They also decided to develop Jane Morrison’s pecan pie made from Georgia choice pecans, naming it the “Georgia Lady Pecan Pie.”
“We are always listening to our customer and allowing them to help us make what we do better,” states Morrison. “John’s talents allowed me to take a leap and invest in the restaurant.” Morrison’s restaurant concept has been influenced by her art education and her frequent visits to New York City and France. She wants visitors to linger and “to compliment life in LaGrange.” As you enter the Parisian Victorian-era decorated restaurant, you notice the sparkling heavy glassware stocking the wooden bar, the massive dessert display and the colored accents, and you may just utter ou la la.
Morrison and her pies may be best known for her two spots on the Food Network. In 2004, she was in an airport lounge with Al Roker and his wife. Morrison told the Rokers the pies she was carrying to the National Association of Specialty Foods trade conference in New York City are “the best pecan and sweet potato pie there is.” After tasting the pies and learning of Morrison’s design experience, Roker booked her on his show, Recipe for Success, featuring people who left a career to go into the food business. When Roker changed show formats, Morrison was featured again. The show still airs in repeats, and Morrison gets a steady stream of orders for the pies and e-mails from fans.
Morrison’s wholesale business continues to grow. They utilize the Home Shopping Network and QVC to bring in direct customer orders while Morrison focuses on business-to-business sales by expanding their dessert line into specialty catalogues. Her desserts are currently private labeled by high-end companies such as William Sonoma, Saks Fifth Avenue, Cushman’s Fruit Company and Neiman Marcus, to name a few.
A new focus is adding a savory line to their dessert line of hors d’oeuvres in response to customers’ requests. Eighty-five percent of the pies, which now include over 13 different varieties, are shipped out of state. In an effort to increase sales, First Catering has negotiated their way into Costco (only Atlanta stores) and is in discussion with Whole Foods Market and Kroger. Morrison’s challenge is to expand the wholesale business at a profitable price point. “Production at this level of quality is not easy or cheap,” says Bell. He balances Morrison’s vision with his calculations. “Suppliers have given notice their costs are going up 10-15%. Currently, the company’s wholesale sales spike in the fourth quarter, which accounts for 75% of the year’s total. At any moment orders could double and we welcome the challenge of figuring out how to make more pies profitably while using the highest quality ingredients.”
Today, about 25-30% of Morrison’s business is still catering through the cafe, with a heavy focus on desserts, specialty cakes and wedding cakes. It is still a local-run business with Morrison putting her artistic talent to work in the presentation, Bell creating the delicacies and Jane Morrison keeping the books. “Catering is nothing but advertising we get paid for,” says Bell. It also has their biggest profit margin. The restaurant business is tough in LaGrange, as Morrison mentions three nearby restaurants that recently closed, including a franchise. “Our niche is a plus. If we can survive LaGrange’s revitalization and preservation, then the mom-and-pop businesses will survive. It’s been a struggle but it’s thriving.” Ou la’ la’ is projected to see a 30-40% increase in sales this year, bringing total restaurant revenue to $500,000. As people are staying closer to home, Morrison’s online and catalog business increases, bringing her total revenue company wide to over the $1 million mark in 2008.
First Catering, Inc. donates some of its profits to fund a scholarship in George’s name at LaGrange College. Morrison was motivated by her father’s support of her creative pursuits, including inspiring her to succeed in business. Money was awarded recently to a female student for the first time in its seven-year history. “I want to continue my father’s legacy by assisting others in pursuits of their passions. May all things in life be yam good!” says Morrison.