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Archive for July, 2009

Pacci Ristaurante Introduces Sustainable Initiatives

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Pacci Ristorante, one of 45 chef-driven Kimpton Restaurants in the United States and Canada, announced three new sustainable initiatives to the restaurant’s EarthCare program.  First, sustainable seafood dishes will be served in accordance with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.  Additionally, 30 percent of Pacci’s wine list will feature eco-friendly selections by January 2010 and in-house purified water will be available through a national partnership with Natura® by July 2009, reducing disposable bottle usage.  Each bottle sold will include a Kimpton contribution and an additional donation from Natura® to The Nature Conservancy.

By participating in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Restaurant Program, Pacci Ristorante pledges not to serve items from the Seafood Watch “Avoid” list and has trained wait staff to be knowledgeable about seafood choices.  These practices play an active role in the protection and health of ocean wildlife.

“This is a cause that I have been passionate about for a long time, and I find it extremely important to avoid serving seafood that is a product of environmentally-damaging practices such as overfishing, underwater dredging or by-catching,” said Keira Moritz, executive chef at Pacci Ristorante.

Sustainable seafood dishes at Pacci Ristorante include sea scallops with wild mushroom risotto and sweet pea nage ($26); P.E.I. mussels with garlic, basil, cherry tomato, corn butter and crostini ($8); shrimp fettucini with creamy pancetta sauce, sweet peas and fried egg ($9 for half, $18 for whole); Alaskan halibut with corn, fava beans, heirloom cherry tomatoes and olives ($25); and frutti di mare (seafood stew) with basil and lobster broth ($21).  The restaurant’s mussels are farmed in an environmentally responsible way that does not affect the seafloor habitat.  Additionally, Pacci’s Alaskan halibut is wild-caught as opposed to an overfished variety.

Already established EarthCare practices at Pacci Ristorante range from back-of-the-house recycling and fryer oil reuse to toxin-free kitchen cleaning chemicals, the elimination of Styrofoam to-go containers and low-flow plumbing.

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Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria is Now Open in the Luckie Marietta District

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Concentrics Restaurants announced the opening of its newest restaurant Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria on Monday, June 29, 2009. The third Concentrics venture and partnership with Legacy Property Group in downtown Atlanta’s Luckie Marietta District.

The restaurant’s signature feature is a genuine coal-burning oven, a hallmark of New York City pizzerias. The oven heats up to 1,000 degrees. In addition to producing genuine New York flavor, the coal oven promotes environmental sustainability by burning anthracite coal. One of the cleanest burning fossil fuels, anthracite is abundant in the United States. Max’s defining fixture, the oven recaptures the feel of the original pizzerias of the early 1900s. In a historic building with original brick walls from the 1900s, Max’s captures the feel of traditional Brooklyn, Soho and West Village pizzerias.

Executive Chef Nick Oltarsh, a native of New York City, is heading up the kitchen at Max’s.

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J. Christopher’s Ownership Changes Hands

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

J. Christopher’s Restaurants, LLC announced that it had acquired the remaining equity of the J. Christopher’s brand.  As a result of this transaction Sam Haddock and Dick Holbrook now own the brand, concept, all intellectual property and franchising rights of the concept as well as the two company-owned restaurants. Jeff McCann and Chris Brogdon the founders and former partners with Haddock and Holbrook will continue to own and operate their J. Christopher’s Restaurants under a License Agreement with J. Christopher’s Restaurants, LLC. Brogdon also operates Franchised Restaurants in Nashville, Tenn. and Macon Ga.

“Our relationship with Jay and Chris has truly been a great partnership,” said Dick Holbrook, CEO of J. Christopher’s Restaurants. “Their vision to create a neighborhood daytime breakfast and lunch spot serving familiar food with flair combined with the knowledge that Sam and I have about the restaurant industry has catapulted the success of J. Christopher’s. We look forward to taking the brand to even greater heights and will without a doubt continue to consult with Jay and Chris on a regular basis.”

The first J. Christopher’s restaurant opened in 1996 in Marietta, Ga. In August 2007, the founders of J. Christopher’s, Jay McCann and Chris Brogdon, partnered with industry veterans Dick Holbrook and Sam Haddock and created a new company called J. Christopher’s Restaurants, LLC. Although McCann and Brogdon have relinquished their part in the corporate matters of the business, they will continue to operate 18 of the restaurants under license agreements. Brogdon and a partner opened the first franchised J. Christopher’s restaurant in Franklin, Tenn. in November of 2007 and have the rights to develop more franchised restaurants in the Nashville area. Brogdon and a partner opened a second franchised J. Christopher’s restaurant in Macon, Ga. in January of this year.

Holbrook is the former president and chief operating officer of AFC Enterprises®, which was the parent company of Church’s Chickenâ„¢, Popeyes® Chicken & Biscuits, Cinnabon® and Seattle Coffee Company during his tenure. Haddock is currently a Partner and Manager of the Red Hawk Restaurant Group, LLC that own and operate Moe’s Southwest Grill restaurants in Alabama, and previously served in executive positions at Rally’s Hamburgers, Popeyes® Chicken and Biscuits and Winners International.

In 2008, J. Christopher’s opened two new restaurants on Alpharetta Highway in Roswell, Ga. and Town Center in Kennesaw, Ga. This year, restaurants have opened in the Atlanta suburb of Johns Creek and in Macon, Ga. Additional 2009 openings will include the Atlanta neighborhoods of Brookhaven, Woodstock and Toco Hills as well as two potential locations in Nashville, Tenn.

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GRA Quarterly Meeting

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

July 28, 2009 – www.garestaurants.org.

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New faces at Montaluce’s LeVigne restaurant

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Montaluce announced the addition of Brad Egnor as General Manager of LeVigne.  Brad is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University and brings years of restaurant management experience to Montaluce. Also, Steven Hartman will be the new Executive Chef. Steven came from The Capital Grille at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, a Mobil 5 star hotel.

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Gwinnett Restaurant Week

Monday, July 27th, 2009

July 27-30, 2009 throughout Gwinnett, www.gcvb.org/restaurantweek.

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It’s Easy Being Green Or Is It?

Monday, July 20th, 2009

July/August 2009

By Michael Wall

It’s the hottest trend in the restaurant business, customers want it and heck, it may even be law one day – utilizing green practices in the restaurant business is here to stay.

But what does “being green” mean exactly? And how can restaurants jump on this bandwagon while actually accomplishing the goal of protecting the environment, which is at the heart of all green and sustainable efforts?

Don’t fret, friends. We’ve compiled this list of 10 things restaurants can do to be green, and we had one of the best advisors you can get: Gina Hopkins, Director of Operations at Atlanta’s Restaurant Eugene, which is as celebrated for its sustainability efforts almost as much as for its cuisine. (Restaurant Eugene has been a winner of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence since 2005. Chef Linton Hopkins is a James Beard Award nominee, and one of Food & Wine magazine’s 2009 Best New Chefs.)

Linton Hopkins adjusts his menu to highlight Georgia’s purest locally grown produce and naturally raised meats.

For Restaurant Eugene, and the dozens of other amazing restaurants around the state of Georgia that strive to protect the soil and water from which all good food comes, seasonality becomes a concept that’s as equally important as sustainability.

Gina Hopkins gave us some great tips, and we’ve tracked down some others from restaurants that may not be quite as celebrated but are headed in the right direction.

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Tip No. 1: Buy Local, Buy Local, Buy Local

Believe it or not, shopping from a nearby farm isn’t as hard as you’d think. And many times it’s even easier and more convenient than buying produce in bulk from a company whose product comes from who knows where.

Hopkins says, “Especially when it comes to artisans and producers, anything we can get locally cuts down on carbon footprint.”

One reason local food is better environmentally is that the average dish travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate. Needless to say, that’s a lot of fuel, which produces a lot of greenhouse gases and smog-forming particles.

More and more these days, local farmers and ranchers are switching to organic farming, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency studies show that conventional herbicides and fungicides contain known carcinogens. Organic farming also keeps tons of pesticides out of Georgia’s rivers, streams and lakes.

Plus, there are other advantages to buying local. It supports your local economy, which means you’re supporting community members who’ll, in turn, have more to spend at your restaurant.

Bonus tip: For restaurants beginning this march towards sustainability, the path can be daunting at first. Local procurement isn’t always that easy, or even affordable, at first. It takes patience, time and good marketing for restaurants to sell their high-quality, locally produced menus for a profit.

But you can start off small. Take the BookHouse Pub, a quaint, woodpaneled new joint on Ponce de Leon Avenue with a stellar beer selection. The typical patron here is on the younger, hipper side, and wouldn’t be considered a foodie. Chef Julia LeRoy is offering a prix fixe, four-course local dinner that’s still somehow affordable. It’s innovative, and a great start.

Tip No. 2: Recycle

To some it sounds obvious, to others it sounds impossible. Until recently, it’s been all but impossible for restaurants to recycle because of the volume of waste produced: the beer bottles, the wine bottles, the napkins, all the vegetable grease.

Now, though, there are several recycling companies that handle the trash restaurants produce.

“It seems incredibly obvious now, but for a long time recycling was not an option for restaurants simply because it was such a large amount,” says Hopkins. “If it’s not available in your area, put together a team on your staff and tag team taking your things to a recycling center, which is what we did for two years before we were able to get our recycling picked up. And that was initiated by our staff.”

Tip No. 3: Composting

Composting involves capturing all of your food waste, mixing it with other organic matter and allowing it to decompose into organic matter that makes for a heck of a soil or fertilizer. Sometimes worms are used to speed up and enrich the process, which is then called verma-composting.

Composting is one of the hottest green trends among restaurants right now, and it’s usually done with a valuable partner: a farmer. After all, farmers are always battling Georgia’s red clay soil, and rich compost is the perfect antidote.

Tip No. 4: Grease Is The Word

Just a few years ago, Restaurant Eugene paid companies to come and collect their used vegetable grease. But now, a company pays them for it and then converts it into biodiesel, a fuel that can be burned in any diesel engine.

This serves two very exciting sustainable functions. First, it keeps a waste stream, the grease, out of landfills. In fact, illegal dumping of restaurant grease has been a problem in Georgia since day one.

Second, biodiesel is a much cleaner-burning fuel than regular petroleum diesel. It’s not a cure-all, though. It doesn’t help with a type of pollution called particulate matter. But it does drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And its smell reminds everyone of food!

Tip No. 5: Cleaning up

These days, it’s easy to find alternatives to those staples of restaurant cleaning supplies: Windex, Pledge, etc.

Seventh Generation All Purpose Cleaner is a great replacement and doesn’t contain any of the products that damage the environment through either its use or production. A 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water is another simple, highly effective green cleaner.

“Natural cleaning products – that’s a big one,” says Hopkins. “It’s so much healthier for our staff and guests coming into the restaurant.”

Tip No. 6: Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans help push air around inside your restaurant. Hot air rises and cold air falls. Keeping them mixed up and more constant can have amazing efficiency results. Restaurant Eugene was able to save 25% of its heating and cooling costs by simply installing ceiling fans.

Tip No. 7: Lights Out

When it’s finally time to close up, turn the lights off, too.

Tip No. 8: Computers Off

Save money and energy by shutting down the restaurant computers, too. Not many do this, but think about the amount of time you are gone with your computers on. “And computers use a lot of juice,” Hopkins says.

Tip No. 9: Alternative Transportation

This isn’t applicable to all restaurants, but carpooling, transit use and bike riding are great ways to lower your impact on the planet.

“We have a lot of people who carpool to the restaurant,” Hopkins says. “It’s not something you think of when it comes to restaurants, and it surprises me when I see restaurant staff carpooling.”

“I would say there are 60 people on staff and 15 that are in carpools. That’s really great. Some of them even ride bikes to work.”

Tip No. 10: Paper Versus Plastic

Ok, this isn’t a real tip. It’s just an example to demonstrate how hard it is to do the right thing, even when you want to. The important thing to being green is that you just try. Restaurant Eugene recently debated whether to use reusable cloth towels or recycled, throwaway paper towels. The correct answer is elusive. So much is still unknown when it comes to the complex life cycle analyses that are required to best protect the planet.

Hopkins eventually went with recycled paper towels. Who knows if that’s the most environmentally sound decision?

But the point is, at least she cared enough to think about it.

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Secrets to Unlocking Your POS System

Monday, July 20th, 2009

July/August 2009

By Christy Simo

Sure, your POS system can seat guests and process their orders, but there’s a wealth of hidden information to help run your business more efficiently and profitably just waiting to be uncovered. The question is how.

Jay Kazlow, co-owner of Dantanna’s, an Atlanta-based high-end sports bar concept, is in the process of mining the gold from his POS system.

“There’s no other restaurant in the country who is using the products like we are,” says Kazlow, adding that it’s been a learning process for both him and Aloha on getting the different software systems to reveal their data.

Kazlow decided to install multiple systems from the same provider so that he could coordinate and connect info from the various systems to provide new insight into his restaurant and diners’ habits.

corey.jpgHe uses Aloha TableService with MenuLink for inventory, Guest Manager for making reservations, as well as the company’s eServices eCard and eFrequency customer loyalty software.

Right now, his main focus has been obtaining additional marketing information on his diners so that he can better serve them while also keeping his bottom line in check.

For example, Dantanna’s frequently partners with local sports teams for promotions to encourage fans to dine at Dantanna’s.

“Last year, I did a promotion with the Atlanta Braves where I sent out a coupon that was good for $20 off,” Kazlow says. “I sent that out to every season ticket holder for the Atlanta Braves. I got good redemption, but I collected no data.”

This year, using eFrenquency software, he sent a credit card-type gift card with the Dantanna’s logo to Hawks and Thrashers season ticket holders offering $25 off the check.

“It was not only a gift card, but once they redeemed it, it turned into a loyalty-based frequency card,” he says. “It’s a free gift that first time they use the card, and then when [the waiter] runs the card, they print out a check asking for the customer’s name and phone number, e-mail address and anniversary.”

Kazlow found that not only have more than 50% of the potential diners who received the cards visited Dantanna’s and used them, but most of his diners have also been willing to part with their information in exchange for future discounts and savings.

“We’ve been able to convert over 50% to a loyalty card, where people are using it on a repeat basis,” he notes. “I would say probably well over 50% of the redemptions I’ve been able to collect that data.”

Kazlow already has somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 people in the system since integrating it at the beginning of the year, but that’s merely a start.

“I’m more interested now in building the base,” he notes, “because the bigger the database, the better the results.”

He plans to use this data to offer frequent diners coupons for their birthday and quarterly e-newsletters with sports-based discounts. But his eye is on a bigger prize.

He hopes to be able to use the information provided by patrons to discern what menu item, for examples, sells best to a particular demographic.

“I’ve got birthdays, I’ve got names, I can take a pretty good guess of gender. Imagine the marketing power if I knew what the most ordered dish was for a woman between the ages of 20 and 25 – how to market to that specific group of people and what my server introduces when he approaches the table. Even if I don’t have age, [my server could know what to] market to women as opposed to what he markets to men.”

It’s an enticing prospect, onethat he and Aloha continue to work towards. The implications are numerous. Not only would he be able to specifically market menu items to certain demographics, knowing what menu items sell the best and to who can also cut down on ordering product that goes unused or knowing what menu item is a poor seller.

“Since I’m a very small company, things are much more urgent for me,” he says. “If I save a half a point in food costs, that makes the difference between my being open next week or not.”

Although it takes some time to learn the system on the administration side, training the staff has been relatively easy.

“For the employees it’s nothing. It’s all menu driven, it’s all screens and they don’t do much with it. They seat guests, they put in floor plans, they put in their orders and that’s it,” he says.

Dantanna’s recently opened its second location in Atlanta’s CNN Center, where Kazlow is also General Manager. The Aloha system is coming in handy here because event s at the Phill ips Arena, Georgia Dome and Georgia World Congress Center often dictate traffic f low. One day they can serve nearly 1,000 people, another, it’s nearly quiet.

“The last four days has been absolutely killer. I have 300 seats here that were open yesterday. I probably rolled over two to three times for lunch and three times for dinner. Huge,” Kazlow says. “But today I didn’t roll over 25% for lunch, because the convention’s gone. So, the CNN Center is very up and down.”

He notes that his Buckhead location seats 200 and can average around 400 tables a day, while the CNN Center can seat around 440.

That’s a lot of diners to take care of, and Kazlow uses Guest Manager to help seat his guests. This comes especially in handy at the CNN Center, which has a patio area that is completely nonvisible to the host.

“In Buckhead, you can pretty much see the whole restaurant from the host stand. At CNN you can’t,” he says. “The advantage of Aloha’s Guest Manager is that it’s hooked up to the POS. So, when a table gets up and they close the check, it shows up on the host’s screen.”

jay.jpgIt sounds simple, but it helps Kazlow and his staff seat guests quicker and rotate customers through faster. It also helps manage the tables in terms of bussing and cleaning them.

“There’s a bus table function where from any Aloha terminal in the restaurant they can push “Bus Table” and the table number, and it will start flashing on the screen. Then anybody again can push “Clean Table” and open that table up for seating,” he says. “So, you don’t need a host walking around the floor seeing if a table is open or not.”

Ultimately, being able to manage customer flow while also determining who’s more likely to order what and tracking who is using his marketing promotions has huge implications for Dantanna’s.

“The more information you have, the more power you have to market,” Kazlow says. “And that’s what I’m looking for.”

Tax Breaks and Your POS
By Robert Wagner, CPA

Uncle Sam wants you! … to buy equipment. Hard to believe, but true. Recently Congress passed and the President signed an extension through 2009 of significant tax breaks on equipment purchases. So, buying a POS system gets you up-to-date technology and a very attractive tax deduction. Because of these tax breaks, you will write off, i.e., get a tax
deduction for, most or all of the equipment you purchase in 2009.

Give Yourself a Bonus

Bonus depreciation on equipment comes in and out of the tax laws depending on the economy. Allowing businesses to write off equipment rapidly is thought to be a good way to spur our economic recovery. Currently, purchases of new, not used, equipment are subject to 50% bonus depreciation. That means if you buy new equipment in 2009, you immediately get to write off 50% of the purchase price. And then you depreciate the rest of the restaurant equipment, usually over five years.

So, how does this work? Suppose you spend $10,000 for a new POS system in 2009. First, take $5,000 in bonus depreciation and then take “normal” depreciation of $1,000 on the remaining $5,000 tax basis. Result: For 2009, you spend $10,000 for a POS and get $6,000 or more in depreciation expense on your tax return. That’s a 60% write-off in the first year of ownership!

What if you have a net loss in 2009? You may be able to take the loss (generated partly by bonus deprecation) and get a refund of the taxes you paid the government in prior years. This is a complicated area, so it’s essential to consult your tax advisor.

Write Off 100% of Your POS

The amount of equipment a small business can elect to write off in 2009 is increased to $250,000. So, your entire POS purchase could easily be written off in 2009. The really good news is this tax break works for purchases of both new and used equipment.

However, qualifying for this tax break, called the Section 179 Election, is harder than qualifying for bonus depreciation. The business must jump these hurdles:

  • Section 179 depreciation cannot cause or increase a tax loss for the year, so the business must be profitable to qualify.
  • The business does not qualify if more than $800,000 in furniture, fixtures and equipment is purchased in 2009.
  • The equipment cannot be purchased from a “related party” as defined by the tax laws.

Really savvy operators are combining bonus deprecation and the Section 179 Election to
maximize tax deductions on POS purchases and minimize their taxes. Contact your tax adviser
for more info on how these tax breaks can make your POS purchase even more attractive.

Robert Wagner, CPA, is President of NetFinancials, Inc., which provides a full range of
tax and accounting outsourced services for restaurant companies. E-mail: bob.wagner@netfinancials.com.

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Doing More With Less-The Necessity of Employee Productivity

Monday, July 20th, 2009

July/August 2009

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

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Tightening the belt, doing more with less, developing a new business model-the phrases vary but all are germane to operating a company in today’s economic environment. Employee productivity has never been more important, but for some businesses this is a complex and confusing goal and understandably so.

In the restaurant industry, it is not all about quantitative results, although no one can doubt that the numbers are important. The quality of products and service is crucial, and often this is the hardest component to measure. You may know how many guests are served during a particular shift by each server, but, as a manager or owner, do you know the quality of the meal or the level of service delivered to each patron? It is unrealistic to hover over each employee as the meal is prepared and served.

Another challenge has to do with how your company defines productive behavior. Does productive behavior equate to each employee actively pursuing the restaurant’s goals 100% of the time?

The Global Productivity Report, which analyzes productivity data by country, states that the global average is 34.3%, meaning that, on average, slightly more than 34% of employees’ time around the world is spent being unproductive. (Unproductive time is defined as anything that is not contributing to the goals or objectives of the company.) Although it is impossible to be productive all the time, one source states that efficient businesses should aim for 85% of workers’ time being productive (The London Times, November 2008).

In a survey of employers (representing a workforce of 340,000), the approach having the biggest impact on improving productivity was performance management. Training of managers/supervisors and the promotion of organizational objectives and goals were also cited as having significant positive impact.

Correspondingly, the biggest barriers to optimal employee productivity included poor frontline supervision, communication problems and lack of necessary training for employees and managers (Personnel Today, March 2008). As a restaurant manager/ owner, what are recommended action steps for heightened employee productivity? Here are several suggestions:

  •  Clearly define the job expectations for each position. Ideally, this would be in a written form (i.e., a job analysis or job description) so that consistency is achieved over time. Some managers avoid written job descriptions because of not wanting to “limit” employees to predictable, structured tasks. A job description can include the catchall phrase of “and any other tasks and duties as assigned by the supervisor/manager” to provide needed flexibility. The described tasks/duties should include quantitative expectations as well as qualitative standards.
  •  You may find it helpful to delineate for each job duty/task the minimum expected behavior (not compromising your restaurant’s standards) as well as what constitutes excellent performance and outstanding performance. Strive for objective, observable standards. “Menus will be presented to guests within 30 seconds of being seated” is much stronger than “Menus will be presented as quickly as possible to the guests.”
  •  Include what employees should be doing during off-peak or down times. If the restaurant is slow, what should servers be doing (if they are still working)? What should the kitchen staff be doing if still on the clock? These down times can be utilized for special cleaning projects and side work as well as employee-involved marketing efforts.
  • The delineated job tasks and the corresponding performance standards are the core of your performance management system. This information is used for recruiting and selecting employees, serving as the foundation for interview questions and other selection techniques. It is the nucleus of employee training and coaching processes. It is also fundamental to establishing work-related goals for each employee and in designing a performance review process. Employee reward and recognition programs should also consistently reflect this structure.
  • Determine metrics and how you will measure each employee’s performance. The old saying is true: Measure what you manage. Most likely, this will be a multipronged approach encompassing a number of methods such as observation (management by walking around), customer feedback, team member feedback and perhaps even “secret shopper” comments.

The measurement of performance should not be perceived as punitive.Providing feedback to employees on ways to continually improve and refine performance is one of the most important coaching roles of managers and supervisors. Training supervisory and management staff on coaching skills is also an important part of effective performance management.

Obviously, employees are not robots. Research clearly shows that satisfied employees tend to be more productive employees. Employees who understand the goals of the restaurant and how they personally impact the achievement of these goals will have a greater chance of being productive.

Empowered employees who can contribute suggestions and make a positive difference in their working environment tend to be more productive.

Financial, Health Issues Can Affect Employee Productivity

Several recent findings should also be noted regarding employee productivity. Productivity tends to be reduced if employees are concerned about personal financial issues such as making ends meet. Although employers cannot guarantee employee income, they can be sensitive to the signs of stress stemming from financial problems and refer employees to available resources for assistance. Research has also shown that healthy employees are more productive. As a manager or owner, encourage your employees to take care of themselves. This may range from reinforcing that employees eat right, get sufficient sleep and exercise. On a more advanced level, if your company offers health insurance, it may involve making sure employees understand their coverage. As one source noted, “In the best-performing companies, the human agenda is on top. Great companies that understand the human side of their business outperform their competitors on virtually every financial measure.” (Business Insurance, December 2008).

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Muss & Turner’s-Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Monday, July 20th, 2009

July/August 2009

By Shannon Wilder

Remember Cheers, the fictitious Boston watering hole where everybody knows your name? Those who seek to create such a place themselves – or just sample some of the finest food and drink around – might want to take a look at Muss & Turner’s.

Tucked into a posh development in Vinings that smacks more of Georgetown than suburban Atlanta, this Southern deli/gourmet comestibles shop/fine dining establishment makes it a point to learn your name. Order lunch from the well-stocked deli, and the cashier hands you a metal cardholder bearing a piece of paper with your name written on it to help the server find your table.

Gimmicky? Maybe, but it seems less so after you chat with the restaurant’s down-to-earth creators, Chef Todd Mussman and General Manager Ryan Turner, who also identifies himself as “business dude.” The two, who met while working for Atlanta’s Fifth Group Restaurants, began planning Muss & Turner’s in 2001 before opening it in 2005.

“We wanted to open a place like it was our house – like come in and enjoy the hospitality the same way as if you were invited to our home,” says Chef Mussman, a Boston area native whose family’s experience in the deli business spans two generations.

Turner, who hails from Maine, says it’s all about offering genuine food and genuine hospitality. “Is it just a pure money play – are you just trying to do a transaction so you can make a buck, or is there something more significant behind that transaction?”

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For these two, there’s definitely something more significant going on. Muss & Turner’s doesn’t just serve up great-tasting dishes; the owners are committed to using local, sustainably produced ingredients. Chef Mussman buys grass-fed beef from Riverview farms in north Georgia, for example, and from it he makes not only hamburgers, but also the roast beef that he preserves via Cryovac and saves in the restaurant’s cooler. It may not last as long as that purchased from a grocery store (often loaded with preservatives), but the taste, he says, is incomparable.

“It’s the right thing to do to support people of like passions-support the local economy,” Turner says.

The general rule of thumb, Chef Mussman says, is that if he can get a product from Georgia, he does. “That’s inherently our food philosophy: back to the basics, back to square one,” he says.

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It seems unfair to characterize a menu like this as basic. Lunch is loaded with one-of-a-kind sandwiches like the Closed On Sunday (buttermilk battered chicken), the Reason to Reuben and the Insult to Philly – so named because, Chef Mussman says, it features real beef and melted Swiss, as opposed to processed meat and cheese. The lunch menu, including sandwich names, was generated over a 12-pack of beer and, the partners say, reflects their tendency to be wise guys.

When the establishment opened, the emphasis was on convenience foods – meats, sandwiches, desserts, salads, artisanal cheeses, wine and assorted gourmet foodstuffs such as a handmade soy sauce imported from Japan that retails for $23. Dinner, in short, wasn’t on the menu. But less than a year into the venture, patrons began asking for more.

“Our customers were saying we love your food; we’d rather drink a glass of wine or beer here with you,” Turner says.

“We made a $50,000 gamble in the 11th month of our first year,” Turner says. Out came a significant portion of the retail space’s handsome blonde wood shelving units, in came more tables – made from wine crates – and a handcrafted bar.

Was it scary taking the leap from lunch and deli to full-on dinner service? Not really. “It was a relief,”Chef Mussman says.

“Our background actually is executing dinner and not retail,” Turner explains. “We started as a deli and that’s how we earned our reputation, but what’s kept us alive is that we did dinner. Todd and I had fun selling wine retail, but we can still sell it doing this, and this is more enjoyable; it’s more inspiring.”

The dinner menu, which changes every four weeks, is based on seasonal offerings. Late spring fare included game hen, salmon and pork chops. The culinary team, which includes Chef de Cuisine Ryan Hidinger, Sous Chef Gregg Baker and Saucier Ben Barth, has free reign when it comes to creating dishes, Chef Mussman says.

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The restaurant also caters and provides baskets for concerts. In keeping with Turner’s desire to offer gastronomic experiences diners can’t get anywhere else, Muss & Turner’s is hosting wine and beer tastings (Tuesdays and Thursdays, $15) as well as the occasional wine and beer dinner. These, Turner says, allow diners to experience wine and beer in its truest form: perfectly paired with food.

Pairings for a recent beer dinner were created by Baker, who, Chef Mussman says, doesn’t drink, but relies on the other chefs’ impression of the beer. It’s just another example of how Muss & Turners operates.

“You have to build a culture and you have to attract people who care who are as passionate about what you’re doing as you are, then teach them, delegate and trust,”Turner says. “Trust is the key ingredient to the great staff that we’ve cultured and it’s the key ingredient we have with our guests. It really has nothing to do with concept, it has nothing to do with location – it has to do with relationships.”

The Morel of the Story

In this day of Twittering and Facebooking, Ryan Turner doesn’t spend much time promoting Muss & Turner’s online. Sure, there’s a Facebook page with several hundred fans, which he uses to spread the word about special events such as wine and beer dinners. But he takes a different tack when it comes to communicating with the restaurant’s most ardent fans, a group the two refer to as “The Ambassadors.” “They’re our booster club,” Chef Todd Mussman says. “If we were a football team, they’d have our flag on their cars.”

Turner recounts a recent expedition Chef Mussman made to the woods to collect morel mushrooms. When his partner texted him to let him know he was returning with 8 pounds of the delicacy, Turner alerted the faithful via e-mail blast, offering a free plate of morels to the first six people seated at the bar at 5:30 that night. The result: A full house clamoring for morels, wine and dinner, free or not.

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