A Love Letter To Waffle House

Credit: Waffle House

Credit: Waffle House

I’m sitting inside as I write this.  Your team just flipped on the 90s R&B playlist.  Head bops are happening and I’m in love.    

“What about your friends? What about? What about your friends? What about, what about?”

Yes, I’m in love with you Waffle House.  You give me that TLC that I need.

You hold a special place in my heart.  In college, you were my 2 a.m. rendezvous.  You’re that old standby for breakfast with dad.  When I’ve had a busy night, I know you’re open when everything else is closed.

You’re getting ready to wind up when the bars are winding down.  From late night to early morning, you turn tables quick.  

And one of the guys on your prep line just came over to ask how my meal was…be still my heart.

You make me swoon with you consistency Waffle House.  You make me swoon because consistency is an underrated quality in restaurant land.  You’re giving quick, friendly service and you’ve set my expectation of what’s going to come out on my plate.  You’ve got a good thing going.

Your menu is smart and built for efficiency.  People may poke fun at your laminated picture-filled placemats, but your prices are reasonable and clear, and you’re not overwhelming me with too many choices.  I know everything is made to order which is how you’ve been able to accommodate dietary restrictions before it became a business necessity.  I could have it my way here before it was trendy.

You bring me joyful zen Waffle House.  I can sit at the bar and watch my food being prepared and see your clean kitchen.  

You love your regulars because you know many of them by name.  You really have a way to make a guy feel special. 

Waffle House, you never pretend to be something you’re not.  You’ve taught me there’s something magical in that authenticity.

I’d like my hash browns covered and peppered please.

Forever and always,
Kevin

Sense Memory

Me & Cocoa

Me & Cocoa

After being on land for 18 months, there have been a few places I've been CRAVING from my previous time in the Caribbean.  I was so excited when I saw that I'd have one chance to take a quick walk (or tender boat ride) to visit these spots when I accepted this new ship contract, before I head to the Mediterranean.

Cocoa's Menu

Cocoa's Menu

I guess I forgot what training into a new role and learning a new corporate culture would be so time consuming... 

The first place I've been craving is "Bread & Chocolate", an amazing vegan cafe in Grand Cayman.  The owner, Agota, moved to Grand Cayman from Canada and has opened a cafe that creates amazing dishes and some of the best desserts I've had.  And while I personally don't follow a vegan diet - I could eat here every.single.day.  My favorite dish? The amazing Breakfast Tacos.  The chalk board wall has a daily joke or limerick and with only a few seats - it was always a race to beat the rest of the crew there.  Also. Great wifi.  Which is why we race there... For wifi and baked goods.

Look, when you're on a ship your priorities are a little different...sometimes. 

Breakfast tacos from Bread and Chocolate

Breakfast tacos from Bread and Chocolate

St. Maarten is a gorgeous port - split into two sides, the French and the Dutch. I've been porting on the Dutch side since 2013, and found an amazing French cafe just past the tourist strip. (For what it's worth, there's an amazing Eco-resort on the French side with an amazing zip line and adventure course.) Anyway - the cafe is named "Au Petit Cafe" and it is just that. A small cafe. But what you wouldn't expect from looking at the dark woods and somewhat random decor is that Cocoa, the cafes owner, is the go-to coffee bean roaster for the hotels on the Dutch side. And the go-to chef for pastries on the French side. Her hand written menus change daily and is full of savory and sweet crepes. Her coffee beans are roasted beautifully and one of the first places I could drink black coffee. 

So why am writing a blog about two places I visited almost two years ago? Because their food was great, but the owners of these cafes made a distant port of call feel like home.  I've come to realize how importandt food that tells a story is something that drives me. And when someone is willing to share their story with me through a dish, I'm there.  

It doesn't hurt that when you eat a diet filled with sometimes questionable food in the mess that you have a few tasty safe havens to get you through 80 hour weeks, no days off, and that feeling when you smile for so long there is a pain behind your ears.


When "No" Sounds Like A "Yes" And Service Advice From Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou would have celebrated her 88th birthday this week.  She had many gems of wisdom and guiding quotes, but this is one applies to so many cross-sections of life working in the hospitality industry.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
— Maya Angelou

So true! Right? -- remember the last time you had a memorable service as a restaurant guest.  Or the last time you had an amazing customer experience at the grocery store?

You may have forgotten the meal and those leftovers may be long-gone, but you probably do remember that person who made a lasting impression.

Going a step further with this gem by pulling out my Miss Manners hat...

This applies to owner and operators who navigate difficult decisions daily.   The conversations you have could impact someone's livelihood.  If your answer has to be a "no,"  always make people feel like you said "yes" because of your delivery. 


How Cao Artisan Chocolates Navigated A Rebrand

Carl Matice and his Lynchburg, VA business Cao Artisan Chocolates has been going through a rebrand.  He offered advice to navigate that process

“Rebranding is painful.,” he said.

His chocolate company makes everything in house and focuses on high quality and presentation.  When another business named Cao began making the same trade show circuit, it was time for a new name to avoid confusion.

“We have a six month process we're going through right now to get the word out.” 

From social media presence to signage, phasing out the rebrand allows the newly named Altus Chocolates the ability to retain customers.

Cao Chocolate

Biscotti Goddess & Packaging

Wheeler Wood, owner of Biscotti Goddess says it’s all about the packaging.

“You can have the crappiest product but if you put it in a pretty package, it will sell itself,” he said jokingly.  

If the cranberry chocolate biscotti we snacked on is any sign, they’re hitting a double whammy of primo packaging and tasty coffee biscuit.

His company also owns the rights to National Biscotti Day, which falls the same day as National Coffee Day and National Heart Day — that last one was unintentional.

How Much Can I Sell My Restaurant For?

Jason Savedoff

When you're selling any business, putting a value on your hard work is a challenge. Our friend Jason Savedoff of RVA Advisors provides some advice for restaurant owners on navigating that process.

Dear Jason,
My husband and I own a successful restaurant in the city.  But as you know, this business really takes a toll on an operator, both mentally and physically.  So, after almost 15 good years we think it's time to call it quits and sell the business.
Like many owners, we've taken certain liberties with the money, especially the cash, that has come into the business over the years.  While this has been a positive thing for us during our ownership, our CPA has told us that since our tax returns show little to no profit most years that our business is basically worth only what we can sell our equipment for.  In looking at what used restaurant equipment sells for online, that would only be about $5,000!
So, my question is weather it's even worth it to list our business with a broker or if it's better to just liquidate and close the doors?
Thanks,
Amy S., Richmond

Dear Amy,

As you're already aware, your predicament is as common as common can be... I've seen business brokerage trade publications that poll their subscribers (business brokers) report that more than 90% off all small businesses use a "tax strategy" to decrease the amount of profit they show on their tax returns.  While this strategy can be very helpful with your tax exposure while you're an operator, any prospective buyer of your business will want to see your tax returns during the due diligence process and will rely on them as the most official proof of the profit (and loss) your business has taken.  Thus, if you show significant losses on those returns you certainly will expose yourself to some uncomfortable questions during your buyer's investigative process.

BUT, returns that show losses are not the ship-sinking torpedoes many CPA's believe them to be, particularly in the case of restaurants and retail businesses.  As part of RVA Advisor's services to sellers we work with accountants to provide proof of business success other than tax returns.  This may include point-of-sale records, a reorganization of Quickbooks classifications to separate discretionary expenditures from vital business needs and the production of a marketing package that tells the true story of a business's success.

That said, Amy, it's much easier to sell a business that shows robust profit on its tax returns, which is why we recommend that business owners meet with a competent business intermediary (broker) who is also an accredited consultant, several years before a planned sale.  This gives us time to smooth out any speed bumps that could impede a future sale, and, just as important, gives us time to increase the value of your business, which will result in a higher market value when it comes time to sell.

-JS


River City Diner

Richmond-staple River City Diner needed an update for their media library in anticipation of an interior refresh of one of their locations.  We coordinated a styled photoshoot with emphasis on fresh ingredients to bring their slogan, "We are today's diner," full-circle.

Check out the final product below on these table cards.  

Q&A with Paisley & Jade: Advice About Furniture Rental For Your Next Event

Morgan Montgomery and Perkins Morgan are the founders of Paisley & Jade. 

Morgan Montgomery and Perkins Morgan are the founders of Paisley & Jade. 

Morgan Montgomery and Perkins Morgan met while working sales and design at a Richmond-based catering company.  working at a Richmond based off -premise catering company doing sales and design. “Neither one of us can boil water so luckily we were not in the kitchen,” Perkins said.  “We shared a small 10’ x 10’ office space along with the catering decor.”

Their conversations in that small space led to the creation of Paisley & Jade, a boutique-style furniture & prop rental company located in Scott’s Addition.  They specialize in vintage and eclectic items that can be rented for weddings, corporate events, film and advertising shoots, home staging and more. 

We're using P&J next week on behalf of Secco Wine Bar for the French Film Festival, so we asked Perkins to tell us what business owners needs to know before jumping into rentals.

You have a background in catering and events.  What were you able to bring from that experience to better work with your food, beverage and hospitality clients?

Our time in catering & events has carried over to working with the food & beverage hospitality field because you learn that every piece needs to serve a purpose of have a dual function. There needs to be a productive and efficient factor to each piece of inventory. For example, our bars we have built not just so they are aesthetically pleasing to look at but that the interior shelving and back bars can sufficiently hold wracks of glassware, be tall enough to hold wine & liquor bottles, etc. 

What makes Paisley & Jade different from other event rental companies?

It is so important to us to maintain a great relationship with the Main rental companies here in Richmond & in NC. They are often our biggest supporters. We offer a niche service that those companies then sub rent from for their clients. Paisley & Jade’s inventory is slightly different because we offer one of a kind and often custom pieces that cannot be purchased whole sale or purchased in bulk. Our vintage pieces (couches, sideboards, architectural items, etc) have a story that goes along with them that have been purchased through Estate auctions and private sales up and down the East coast. Our custom built pieces (bars, benches, tables, etc) are sourced through local reclaimed lumber and built on site for either custom requests or to introduce a new line of furniture to the rental industry. 

Explain what inspired you to fill this niche?

Morgan has a background in Theater design & production and Perkins grew up on an historical event venue. This niche is important to fill to constantly inspire and move the event industry forward. Cooler events lead to higher attendance which increases non profit support - it’s all full circle! It’s not that either one of us is the best or most knowledgeable with furniture & its history but we had a great idea & the work ethic to see it through which put us in a position to let Paisley & Jade be the hub where craftsmen can offer their work; an upholsterer who can transform an antique settee, a VCU Engineering major who can build any piece he can imagine, a calligrapher who can bring to life a chalkboard welcome sign, etc. 

You’ve established yourself in the wedding world, but tell us about some of the food events where Paisley & Jade’s furnishings have been featured? 

We have a saying at Paisley & Jade, “At Paisley & Jade, you won’t starve.” Richmond is exploding in the beer, wine & food industry & we have loved being a part of that growth. A few of the food events we have loved being a part of is the annual Richmond Folk Feast, Farm to table dinners with Pharsalia Events, Tricycle Gardens & Dinner In The Field held at Victory Farms, & Supper At Sunset with Child Saver’s just to name a few!

In what scenarios would a restaurant want to work with Paisley & Jade?

Scenarios that a restaurant would want to work with Paisley & Jade is when they offer off premise catering, transforming the restaurant space for a private event (rehearsal dinners, corporate dinners), Food festival set ups such as Broad Appetit & The Folk Feast, temporary table, seating & furniture staging for a restaurant just launching. 

What industry tips can you give us to guide restaurant and small business owners through the event rental process?

Paisley & Jade can be as hands on as you would like us to be! We offer a wish list feature on our online inventory where you can go through and build your own order but a majority of our restaurant clients come in with a date, an overall feel for the aesthetic and a budget and then give us the opportunity to pull together a few different options to fit their budget and needs. Restaurant owners are incredibly busy so a great tip that I often tell my clients is to know what you don’t like & from there we can pull together the most timely and spot on mock up!


Kelly McCray

Kelly McCray

With over fifteen years of experience in the hospitality industry, Kelly has worked in a variety of restaurant concepts ranging from a tequila lounge to a Forbes Five Diamond property. She has worked front and back of house positions from host to general manager. She can work a commercial dishwasher like a boss.  She holds degrees in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and is an adjunct instructor in the J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College Culinary and Hospitality Program.  

A Note On "Resting Bitch Face" In Restaurant Service

Waiting tables, bartending and related professions can have unbearable moments like any job or career.  Service industry gigs can carry the frustrations that come with working a rough shift and being on your feet for hours.

But here’s the thing, at the end of the day, we’re getting paid to be kind to people. It's pretty simple.

Over the past couple of years, I’m sure you’ve read a BuzzFeed article or two about the recent obsession over “resting bitch face.”   This is not a new phenomena as melancholy may be our natural emotional state (thinky reads on that here).  Relaxed facial muscles are arguably the norm. 

But there's a strange, double-standard lurking behind this whole bag.

Somehow, if you are a woman and not smiling, it’s seen as inattentive, unapproachable and disinterested.  Whereas, if you’re a man — especially in the service industry, it’s written off as brooding.  I’m sure you’ve seen it, experienced it, and know the men I’m talking about.

I've seen females in the service industry called out for "resting bitch face" first-hand.  If this is happening in your restaurant, you sure as heck better be telling your smug dudes the same thing.

Final point: everyone, just smile :)

“If you are a woman and not smiling, it’s seen as inattentive, unapproachable and disinterested. Whereas, if you’re a man — especially in the service industry, it’s written off as brooding.”

Chalk Of The Town: How To Talk Signs With A Richmond Chalkboard Artist

Rachel Humiston is in Belmont Butchery taking a look at a blank canvas with owner Tanya Cauthen.  It’s a chalk board that’s just waiting to be filled.

You’ve probably seen Rachel’s work if you are a Richmonder shopping at Trader Joe’s.  She’s been their resident sign artist for seven years — it’s a job she fell into unexpectedly.

She originally came to Virginia on a scholarship to Randolph Macon pursuing a math degree. Without any formal art training, Trader Joe’s handed her a marker and said, “go” as Rachel puts it.

“I feel like I’ve been getting paid to learn an amazing skill,” she says. 

I’ve learned how style and information can really build people’s confidence in buying a product.

After honing in those skills, she began taking private gigs to make chalkboard signs for weddings and local events like Fire, Flour & Fork and RVA Makerfest.  She’s found her art niche in temporary signage.

She’s learned a few things along the way to pass to the food and beverage community.  Communication is key when working with an artist for the first time.

They may not have a visual background and they don’t have to,” she says. “I can bring visual representations for the feelings they’re having about their business.”

Here are a few other takeaways from Rachel when thinking about signage.

  • Ask the big questions. — Define who you are marketing to and what your intention is with your sign.  Who is your audience? Is it informative?  Is it a mission statement. Is it a belief about who they are?  Is it something to help the ambiance? How will this information make me make a better choice?

  • Simplify. This is your chance to clear the clutter and find your focus.  Consolidate all those tiny things on the walls into a puzzle that makes sense.  

  • A good “A” frame will change your life.  Having one that looks professional is important.  If you have someone in store doing your chalk art, get someone official to do the headers to create that space that is structured so it still looks clean and organized.

“Signage can be about making things stand out in a really chaotic environment,” she says.  “I’ve learned how style and information can really build people’s confidence in buying a product.”

See more of Rachel’s work on Instagram.


Just Seat Me At The Bar

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You know that awkward stranger stare when you say something completely unexpected?  That was me in DC asking to sit at the bar after already having reservations on the books.

My request to view this glorious open kitchen and magnificent spit-fired chicken up-close-and-personal threw a curveball at the hosts.  

Not reserving your bar and patio offers a little fluidity on the floor and opens more tabletops for diners.

With a nearly full house floor upon our arrival, I know that our original table was certainly not put to bad use.  Especially traveling, I wanted to make sure we had a spot.  Thank you OpenTable.

I just kept thinking about this funny hesitation to seat me and my dining companion at these open bar stools.

Most restaurants do not open bars and patios for reservations to allow for moments like this.  It offers a little fluidity on the floor and opens more tabletops for diners.

Savor that wiggle room on the floor and let me mosey up to a stool.

Photo credit: Moda Seating


Navigating Your Soda Wand

sodagun.jpg

Bartending revelation. The cola button is almost always in the upper right corner of your soda gun.  Unless you're in the Southern Hemisphere (kidding)...

Where's the cola button on your wand?


What To Do With A Bad/Unfair/Negative/etc. Yelp Review

The rage! Photo credit: Serge Ouachée

The rage! Photo credit: Serge Ouachée

This is the most perfect response to Yelp you’ll read this week...maybe ever.

Yelp

Oh restaurant owners, I know you have a love/hate relationship with Yelp. I’ve heard your battle cries so many times.  As much as it offers that opportunity to get some candid feedback on what’s going on, it also can open the floodgates.

Which brings us here.  I promise this will be the most diplomatic and well-thought out Yelp response you have read in a while.  May all of our Yelp responses be as beautiful.

The below rant is written by a customer after being turned away from service twice (yes, from two different establishments) for being overly intoxicated.

The review has been redacted for privacy and such.

Very disappointed with this restaurant. After many pleasant visits I was shocked with the service received today. Me and 3 of my friends were refused service for drinks based on a call from [redacted] where we received deplorable service( and of course we made them aware of the poor service as anyone should do). We came to [redacted] expecting the normal excellent service but were turned away due to unwarranted comments from an obviously prejudice establishment.  Why would a restaurant refuse service to a customers without forming their own unbiased opinion( we were literally there no more than 5 minutes). None of my friends were intoxicated as we had had only a few drinks and were responsible citizens utilizing Uber for rides home.  I am sad to say I can no longer patronize or recommend this restaurant to anyone. It is a sad day n Richmond when one prejudice restaurant can pass their prejudice along to another with a simple unwarranted phone call. Shame on you [redacted] for buying into this!!!!!! You should have taken the time to form your own opinion and you would have seen would good customers we were when treated with respect.

Standard rage-filled review, right? — slight aside: for context this customer was accusing both restaurant of being homophobic.  As a gay man and a patron of both venues, having worked on various projects with both businesses, and seeing plenty of diversity in the staffs’ orientation spectrum, I assure you this is not the reality.

the manager starts with gratitude acknowledging this guest’s previous experience

Below, find the beautiful and genteel response from the general manager.

First, we are happy to hear that you had many pleasant visits to [redacted] and always receive excellent service.
In the state of Virginia, it is unlawful to serve anyone that is clearly intoxicated. 
We made our informed opinion not solely on the fact that [redacted] called to inform us you were asked to leave because you had become too intoxicated, but because you had difficulty crossing the street, you were slurring your words, and were clearly too intoxicated to consume the two bottles of wine that you immediately ordered at before 4pm. 
Please understand that it is our ABC license that is in jeopardy if we break the law and we have a responsibility to the community not over-serve anyone that we deem is clearly intoxicated. Based on your reaction to being cut off, we made the right decision and stand by it. 
We would hope that when you wake up tomorrow and re read the review you wrote, that you agree with us and decide to remove it. 
Either way, we are very happy that you decided to not drive intoxicated.  

There are several reasons I love this response — should all of our Yelp responses be of this caliber!  First, the manager starts with gratitude acknowledging this guest’s previous experience.  Secondly, they provide extremely detailed reasoning in the response for their decision.  Finally, this note ends with a close that is focused on the guest's wellbeing.

So breaking this down to three takeaways for the recipe to a perfect response to an outlandish review:

  • Thank You: Express gratitude for the customer taking the time to write.

  • Response: Candid explanation, action or followup to the customer’s concerns.

  • Valediction: Close by leaving things on an upbeat note and an opportunity to make amends - regardless of who is in the wrong.