The problem when both bride and groom are employed at the same restaurant is that, inevitably, some of the staff won’t be able to attend the wedding. I was experimenting with my new camera and decided to share some of my photos for those who want to see a bit of what Josh and Katie’s lovely wedding was like. They were married out at The Farm in Candler, NC, on a perfect golden afternoon on October 16, 2010. Best wishes to the happy couple! (Note: If you’d like to see a picture more closely, just click on it)
Several months ago, my wife and daughter started a contest. Lauren, my 11 year-old, wants Arnold Schwarzenegger to come to our restaurant – she loves the Terminator (but has no idea about the Governator). Amy decided she would try to get the President of the United States to come to the restaurant. Now both of these may sound ambitious, but I have learned never to underestimate either my daughter or my wife when they set their mind to something.
Amy sent a letter to the White House with a copy of our menu and asked that, if President Obama and the First Lady ever came back to Asheville, they try our place for dinner. When she found out the President would be spending his vacation in Asheville in April 2010, she followed up her letter with several emails to just to keep us in mind while they were here.
The President and First Lady came to town, visited 12 Bones on the way to their hotel (a great restaurant by the way, owned and run by really good people) and settled in – if that is ever the case with the President and his schedule – for a couple of days in Asheville.
While we had hoped the President and Mrs. Obama would come to the Corner Kitchen, it seemed that their trip was too short and their were too many other opportunities for them to explore for them to make it to Biltmore Village. By Saturday night, April 24, I had assumed they would finish their trip and go back to Washington without us seeing them.
Joe and I and our friend Grant took our families to Pack’s Tavern for dinner. It had just opened and we were interested to see what they had done with the building and the food. The building is beautiful, the food was good and we were having a really nice visit with each other. About halfway through dinner, I got a text from my step-brother, David Warren. He was at the Corner Kitchen for the birthday of one of my cousins. Our text conversation went something like this:
David: Is the President coming here tonight?
Me: Not that I know of. Are there Secret Service agents there?
David: A few
Now David is a pretty decent joker from time to time so I just ignored him. I figured he was pulling my leg, and I was involved in a conversation at the table so I forgot all about it.
Three more texts came in but I didn’t really notice them until I got up to check on the kids. They were exploring Pack’s Tavern and, hopefully, staying out of trouble. I checked the messages – they increasingly implored me to get to the restaurant as fast as I could since the President was there. Still thinking that David might be joshing me (really just in disbelief), I called the Corner Kitchen.
First call goes to voice mail – not a good sign as we make every effort to answer every call. Second call is answered by Adrienne in her most professional host voice.
“Thank you for calling the Corner Kitchen. This is Adrienne. How may I help you?” I asked if anything unusual was going on and the response was something like this – “Yes, the President is upstairs and I’m freaking out!” This said in the most enthusiastic way you could imagine. And she wasn’t freaking out but she was very excited.
I made the rounds, told everybody what was up and Joe and I headed to the restaurant, families in tow. At this point, it probably makes sense to answer the most common questions we have been asked:
Did they let you in to your own restaurant? Yes. The Secret Service were very professional, very serious about their job and also very understanding that as the owners we wanted to make sure everything went OK in our business during their visit.
How many Secret Service agents were there? All of them, I think.
How much notice did you have before the President arrived? Just a few minutes. One black Suburban out front is normal, several is odd, and several with Asheville Police Department cars surrounding them is the President. By the time you notice all the GM vehicles in the street the ball is already rolling.
How did they choose your restaurant? Not really sure, but the White House advance team ate with us on the Tuesday before the President’s visit and liked the food. Their quote was “We have to tell the Boss about this place!” and that apparently put us on the short list of places for dinner for the President. From what we can gather, the letters from my wife did not play into the decision but we did not exhaustively interrogate every staffer about it (Amy would really like to know, though.)
On Wednesday night, a staffer (unbeknownst to us) made a reservation for Saturday night for six people in our Sisal room. The story was that he was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him and was going to have some friends with him for the event. We booked the reservation, gave them the price for the private room and then I had the manager, Tracy Heintzleman, call them back and tell them they could have it for half the normal price for a private room. I figure it was a special night, I wanted them to have good memories and not worry about the money. Little did I know that money was not really too big of an issue and that the guest of honor was already married.
Did they clear the restaurant of all other customers? No. Guests with reservations were allowed to come in after the appropriate checks and body scans were made but no new customers were allowed to come in after the President’s party. Good thing, too, as many of the customers that were already at the restaurant did not want to leave when they saw the President and First Lady come in.
Did you cook anything special for the President and his party? If by this you mean, did you make something that was not on the menu, then no. Josh Weeks, our chef de cuisine, felt that the regular menu had really great food on it that night and that the President and his friends would really enjoy it. It also let the kitchen continue in a more or less normal fashion for our other customers and staff.
Did the Secret Service taste the food? Yes. And they had Josh taste the food throughout the dinner preparation. Again, they are very professional and very serious about their job. But they seemed satisfied with what they saw in the kitchen and let our staff do their jobs.
What did the President and his party eat? Corn and Crab Chowder, Mahi Mahi, Baby Arugula Salad, Fried Oyster appetizer, Lobster Taco appetizer, Pork Chops, and Souffle were among the things on their order that night.
Did you hand pick the server for the President? No. We rotate our staff through each station each week and Christina Calhoun happened to be the server upstairs that night. She was a great person to wait on them.
Did you get to meet the President? Yes. We were very graciously allowed to take our families upstairs to meet the President and his guests after dinner. Their friends from Chicago were really nice people and President and Mrs. Obama were as warm and friendly as anyone you could meet.
The First Lady really seemed to gravitate to the children and asked them their ages, complimented them and seemed very motherly when around them. The President was very relaxed and seemed to have a nice sense of humor. When my wife told him of the contest she had with my daughter to get them here, he nodded and smiled. When I said that my daughter wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger to come, he turned and said “And you got me” in a fairly self-deprecating way.
Did you make the President pay? Yes, but there was some thought about protocol. In the end we figured it was the right thing to do. When we came in the room the President was signing his charge slip. My wife touched him on the shoulder and said that he wasn’t supposed to have a bill. He said that is was OK and just grinned. After a pause, he said “I never get to use this card anyway.”
Did you get pictures of or with the President? Yes. The President’s photographer, Pete Souza, was with him. If you want to see some really compelling pictures, go to Pete’s website to view his galleries. The one of President Reagan’s funeral is touching and distinctively American. Check it out. Here are the three pictures he took at the Corner Kitchen that night:
These photographs are provided by THE WHITE HOUSE as a courtesy and may be
printed by the subject(s) in the photograph for personal use only. The
photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not otherwise be
reproduced, disseminated or broadcast, without the written permission of
the White House Photo Office. This photograph may not be used in any
commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products,
promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the
President, the First Family, or the White House.
How was the atmosphere in the Corner Kitchen that night? The best word that comes to mind is “surreal”. We have had a handful of famous people visit the restaurant but they are usually by themselves or with a friend. When the President comes to your place, the atmosphere is pretty electric.
We feel honored that the President and First Lady had dinner with us. My wife kept hoping that they would have a chance to spend a peaceful dinner while they were here. I am sure they were able to do this at the Grove Park Inn and we think they did at the Corner Kitchen as well.
Here is an assortment of pictures that were taken mostly by guests who were in the restaurant or outside.
Every so often, things happen at the Corner Kitchen that qualify as mysterious in my book. Not mysterious in a foggy, English countryside kind of way, but mysterious in the “how the heck does this keep happening?” kind of way.
Three of the mysteries involve things going missing. An example is the loss of our teaspoons. Every two months or so, I have to buy new teaspoons to complement the fork and knife that go into a rollup for each customer in the restaurant. In other words, I have a silverware sorter that holds knife, fork, and spoon in separate bins. We will have a roughly equal number of each until we notice, one day, that we are 20-25 teaspoons short. I go buy these (moderately expensive as these things go) spoons so that we can roll all our silver and things are good – until two months down the road and the situation repeats itself.
We have gone down the list of possible explanations for this phenomenon. Maybe the spoons get thrown away when the tables are bussed. Several of our staff think this is the answer. I disagree. We have someone standing over the compost and trash cans every 30 seconds or so all day disposing of food and table debris. I think we would have multiple incidents of “Hey, there are spoons in here!” exclamations if they were being thrown away.
Other staff think the spoons get tossed in the linen bin with the napkins after bussing. Again, I disagree for the same reason as the garbage theory above. Someone would spot the spoons and say something. So, since I have discounted the two most logical explanations, the two remaining reasons are theft and accidental loss. Our silver is solid, heavy and functional – but not really theftworthy. Maybe one or two would go missing every so often, but theft on this massive scale is not likely. Accidents could include the dumping of a handful of spoons in the trash or behind a bar or table where they might lie for a week or so. If this were the case, then once a month, during deep cleaning, we would find the errant silver. But we don’t. And why just spoons?
Other missing items were the large aluminum ice scoops that we used in our main ice machine. They were fairly inexpensive, but had the look and feel of scoops from the old general stores of the past. Sold at FRS in town and online at several dozen internet restaurant suppliers, these scoops are not hard to find. But every time I bought one, it would last no more than a week and then disappear, never to return. After losing five or so of these scoops I decided to switch to heavy plastic ones and have not lost one since. Were the aluminum (they were actually what my dad calls pot metal – an inferior type of cheap metal blend that usually breaks over time) scoops just so cool looking that someone couldn’t resist taking them home? If so, what did they use them for? And five of them? I can just imagine the sight of one scoop in the serial box, one in the coffee can, one in the flour and so on. But these scoops were 32 oz ones for goodness sake.
The last missing item we have are our small cream pitchers. They are Fiestaware and are the cutest darn things in the world. At least for cream pitchers. And they are fairly expensive. They also come from Homer Laughlin china, makers of some of the most popular china for the last fifty years. Homer Laughlin is a great company, but their supply chain is rooted firmly in the early 20th century. Order some cream pitchers and then wait two cycles of the moon and you might have them in the mail. So losing them is really sort of painful for us. For these I have two reasonable explanations. One is that they get broken. I see this happen with some regularity. I remember each time it happens because I have to turn and leave the room and mourn quietly for a bit. The other is that they get carried home as a souvenir by a guest. I accept that this can happen, not because I have seen it or have no faith in humankind. I work with people that have roughly 400 years of restaurant experience between them and they have seen it happen – over and over again. So maybe it happens here.
The last two mysteries are more minor but still interesting.
Where the heck did all the pens go?
And the most common coin found on the floor at our restaurant is the dime. Six years of decidedly unscientific research has proven this out.
When we opened in 2004, our bar business was considered secondary to actually producing food and taking care of our customers. Biltmore Village restaurants, with one now defunct exception, were popular with foodies that liked to have a glass of wine with dinner. There is not really a late night bar scene and Joe and I never really wanted to create one here. We had about 12 wines on our list (all by the glass for $6) and about the same number of beers. Most of the beers were either popular sellers – such as Michelob Ultra, Bud Light, and Guiness – or favorites of ours – like Newcastle and Tilburg’s Dutch Brown Ale.
If you have ever visited the restaurant and seen our bar area, you may have noticed that while the bar is large, the area behind it is pretty tight. Part of my interview process is to assess whether the person I am talking to has the personality to deal with bumping into other employees 50 times during a busy brunch and handling it with grace. Not scientific but useful when working here. We have no room to fit kegs (even the little cigar kegs) so our local beer options, when we opened, were limited to one brewery- Highland Brewing Company. This was not a bad thing, as their beers are excellent and Oscar Wong, the owner, was a customer. Highland bottled in 12 oz. bottles and this made it easy for us to store and serve them.
Now there are several options for local microbrews in bottles. Asheville Brewing Company, French Broad Brewing, and Pisgah Brewing all offer beers by the bottle, albeit in 22 ounce sizes. We carry at least a couple from each brewery and will be picking up the seasonal brews as well. Step in for a cold one and see why Asheville tied Portland, Oregon for Beer City USA this year.
If we could just fit another cooler in the place…
For those of you that don’t know, most of my career has had nothing to do with restaurants. I spent several years in retail management, six years in medical settings, and six years working for an information technology company. In those years I saw the advancement of technology in both home electronics and computer technology.
I was an early adopter, so I had a first generation laser disc player, a first generation cd player, one of the first Epson IBM PC clones (complete with a 5 1/4 floppy drive only), an S-VHS video recorder, and bought a dvd player when the whole divx temporary dvd technology was still considered a possible alternative to dvd. I was on the internet (such as it was) in 1994. Through my friend Phil Yanov (an early adopter’s early adopter), I was introduced to the first Palm Pilots, and how the internet could be used with all types of devices, including amateur radio.
As someone that enjoys marketing, I have watched with interest the efforts to use the internet as a marketing tool ( I sound like someone in the fifties saying that “maybe this television thing will make some money someday”). I watched the internet bubble burst while working with consultants from Oracle and hearing the moans from many of them who had invested in companies that really didn’t have products to sell or real plans to make money with the products they had.
Since then, a lot of internet products have come along that make the marketing options for a small business such as ours much more diverse. We spent the first four years placing ads in multiple print outlets, on radio stations and their related websites, on television (rarely and at very specific times), sending email updates to our customers that request them, and using our website as the main vehicle to get our name on the internet.
Over the last several months we have added a Facebook page for the Corner Kitchen, a twitter site for the Corner Kitchen, and this blog. While one of the attractions of these recent additions is the cost (basically my time), the other thing I like about these sites is that they give Joe and me the ability to interact with our customers. Joe has such a history with food and restaurants that he can supply interesting stories until the cows come home (thanks to my late grandmother, Grace Lackey, for that saying) and we can communicate special things to our guests with more immediacy.
Our goal is not to inundate our customers with information, and these sites allow access when people want it and can be ignored when people don’t want to hear from us. The goal is to give people the ability to interact with us. I have started posting our daily specials on twitter and using the Corner Kitchen facebook page to highlight events here as well as our staff. This blog will have more meat on the bones – at least that is the plan – and will let Joe and me write about things that interest us (and hopefully you) both inside and outside the restaurant industry.
If there are things you would like to see here or on one of the other sites, let us know.