Would You Dine Often at Your Own Restaurant?
By Ryan Turner
Pretend that you donâ€™t own your restaurant or work there â€” would you go there often and spend your hard earned dollars? At Muss & Turnerâ€™s and Local Three, our intent has always been to create a place where weâ€™d want to go ourselves.
Having a frequent presence â€” as patrons â€” in our own dining rooms sends a message to staff and guests signaling our own content and satisfaction with what we have created. Our desire to be a part of the culture, flavors and feelings that our businesses evoke, especially on our own “personal time,” builds trust and validates that the business truly represents our unique values as owners/partners.
Weâ€™ve felt that if we could achieve this, our personalities and passion could shine passively while sending our staff and guests signals of intent that would hopefully lead to trust. To us, trust is everything.
Here are the key elements weâ€™ve focused on in our first two restaurants launched six years apart:
â€¢ Location: Our two establishments are located near where we (the three partners) live. As much as we want to be part of the community we serve, convenience rules for most people and it’s no different for us as we go back and forth each day. We also love the concept of discovery or employing what a friend calls â€œBat Cave Marketing.â€
Being on the busiest street with curb appeal has never been a determining factor for us. Being off the beaten path and a little hard to find adds to the total experience. To some, it is frustrating, but to most, it has a positive effect as long as the experience is good, once the â€œBat Caveâ€ is discovered.
In our newest restaurant, the discovery process continues after parking and ends at the end of an opulent Class-A office building hallway. It is unorthodox, but it works.
â€¢ Design/Furniture and Fixtures: Weâ€™ve been fortunate to have great experiences with architects who made the design of our restaurants about us and how we wanted both places to look, feel and function rather than being about their own vision.
More than anything, weâ€™ve always wanted our staff and guests to feel comfortable. We seek function over fashion and then replace fashion with authenticity and a great story. For example, the tables at M&T were handmade from old wine boxes by a good buddy of ours. The millwork and bar were built by another good friend (and one of our chefs). Some light fixtures were made from colanders by my wifeâ€™s grandfather.
At Local Three, folk artist Tracy Hartley made the bar from a 13,000-pound oak tree that used to live right up the road, but fell in a storm. Tracy also made all the tables from re-purposed wood taken from the old porch of a local house. He built our private dining room table from a 20-year-old Mardi Gras float. The handcrafted barn doors from local carpenter Justin Powers have already been duplicated in a customerâ€™s house.
We seek the talent of local artisans who operate with a similar level of passion to ours â€” it just fits. They provide us with purpose-driven function that deepens the dining experience, and we provide them a stage for sharing their craft and, hopefully, help build their business. The message it sends is a little deeper than if we paid someone a lot of money to look in a catalog and select something they think is pretty, yet durable.
â€¢ DÃ©cor: Most people enter Local Three for the first time with a stereotyped image. They are walking down the sterile, quiet office tower hallway rich with elevator music. Their preconceived expectations are shattered when they are met by the sounds of a vibrant scene that begins when they open the door and arrive at the host stand flanked with a jackalope and a museum-framed â€œVelvet Dudeâ€ drinking a white Russian. There is no need for a person to stand at the door to explain that this place is different. Guests know immediately they have entered â€œThe Bat Cave.â€ The message sent with no words is, â€œWe take what we do very seriously, but we donâ€™t take ourselves in the same vein.â€
We use a term called â€œWhereâ€™s Waldo DÃ©cor.â€ We love the idea of our guests randomly discovering elements of our “wiseasstitude” over many different visits, albeit on the menu or at the bar. We love to laugh and share with others what we think is funny. Why not try and tickle a personâ€™s sense of humor at the same time as touching their sight, smell and taste?
â€¢ Food & Drink: We get bored easily, so employing a menu of recognizable food and beverage that never changes simply doesn’t make sense to us. We understand the merits of consistency, brand recognition and buying deep, but we prefer a more challenging path.
Discovery is a cornerstone of the experience here. We surround ourselves with truly passionate people who are empowered to create while buying and selling products they are passionate about in a fiscally prudent manner. The menus at both of our restaurants change every day, so we are always able to try something new and different. As I tell people all the time, we simply sell what we really like. God forbid we are ever forced to go out of business and end up living off of our restaurant inventory in our own home pantries. Iâ€™ll be darned if Iâ€™m going to be stuck with a bunch of stuff I donâ€™t like, especially wine and beer.
â€¢ Work Environment: Here is where the rubber really hits the road for us. How does the restaurant where weâ€™d want to work operate? What is the culture like? What are the owners like? Is it a place of passion, caring, trust, creativity, positivity, great work ethic, respect and loyalty? We employ people we like to be around sans restaurant. We simply want our restaurants to be operated by good people who truly care about what they do and who find fulfillment in giving an honest effort in being a part of something special that uses food and drink as means of achieving genuine human connection.
Thatâ€™s a mouthful, pun intended, but itâ€™s the truth. Our guests can intuitively sense if our team truly enjoys the who, what, where, why and how of our restaurants. This sensation is like an intoxicating condiment to the entire dining experience.
When all these elements come together, we have a greater opportunity to go beyond the transactional relationship of filling a belly to possibly touching someoneâ€™s heart and soul. You can fill your belly anywhere, but you never know what you might find in a â€œBat Cave!â€
Ryan Turner is the co-owner of Muss & Turner’s restaurant in Smyrna and Local 3 in Buckhead.