Last night, one of my managers was sharing yet-another-story of a guest trying to make a reservation on a night with no available tables, and resorting to a relatively common strategy of claiming; "But I know the owner."
It is true--I meet an awful lot of people between the two restaurants. Years ago, I suggested the managers respond simply with; "Please give him a call on his cell phone and he may have an idea how to help."
My favorite story, however, was years ago, at COBBLESTONES. The disappointed guest, stood in the lobby, looking towards the full dining room and claimed with confidence and good humor; "But I know the owner well."
I smiled, looked him in the eye and responded; "True he's a great guy, but I am pretty sure he would be unable to help you!"
I received an email a couple of days ago, from a guy representing a guy, who is developing a potentially premier restaurant space in the Andover area. They wanted to meet with us, to discuss our interest in operating a restaurant there. We met yesterday.
Here's the thing- They had dined at moonstones, after knowing about COBBLESTONES, and they were "Blown away." (I am NOT para-phrasing) They loved...the atmosphere, the food, and most of all, the team work and attitude of the "4 or 5 staff members" that visited the table throughout their visit. The guy who owns the space said-- "These guys know what it is all about." And, clearly, so does he. (Thank you to my managers and staff for continuing to set the "hospitality bar" so high!)
Likewise, as if the message needed emphasis--while emailing back and forth with our primary provider of meat--Kinneally in Boston--the following closing message was sent by "Jim";
"You guys have a really great team and you have some really good, organized, caring, polite and nice employees, like your Chefs Tiffani and the sous chefs as well ( we deal with a lot of people )"
Thanks, again--Jim and staff! What a great way for me to start my day!
If you have any "your staff is amazing stories"--or...questions, complaints or concerns that you'd rather not share with the community, be it personal or relative to our restaurants, here's your opportunity. Click here and get busy!
Nearly 21 years ago, I was let go from Hilltop Steakhouse--the last in a list of jobs--that finalized the inspiration that I would be better off as a boss than an employee! (A year or so later, COBBLESTONES became what ultimately proved to be the best "job security" of my career!)
For the record, Hilltop was "a mess" by then, a long way from the early 1980's when they set the sales record for independant US restaurants--at $41M. Stop. Think about that for a minute. Forty-one. Million. Dollars. Quick math...divided by 52...nearly $800,000 PER WEEK! Man o' man. Thousands of people EVERY day, eating steak. We should all have such amazing good fortune--and such great vision!
(Some FYI further perspective? That record breaking year, the #2 was NYC/Central Park's Tavern on the Green @ a mere $27M...while charging $10 for a burger at a time the rest of the country was still below $5!)
By the time I arrived--with a brand new management team hired to help fuel a "turnaround"--the numbers were a fraction of what they once were. And times had changed, in so many ways. Beef was becoming less popular but more expensive, the public was demanding more than just one salad dressing to choose from, and in most places--the waitstaff was no longer allowed to smoke whenever and (almost) wherever they chose.
When I arrived at Hilltop, the iconic-owner Frank Giuffrida was already showing many signs of his advancing age. (I recall him leaving his perch and walking around the restaurant at times, handing out Gift Certificates to employees!) The restaurant stewardship had been handed over to the now, recently deceased, Lenny Derosa; The "heart and soul" Executive Chef at Hilltop, for decades. Under Lenny's watch, we were charged with what was, clear to me now, an impossible task. It was uncanny, weird, being in a building that STILL served "hundreds" of people each day, yet with the majority of the space dark and closed off--making that monstrosity feel empty and old.
Fortunate to have spent nearly a year there, I observed enough incredible innovation and evidence of Frank's "light years ahead" thinking to have been inspired for life--able to picture what it must have been--the way perhaps the movie Titanic painted the picture of grandeur-before-the plunge. Hilltop was still busy enough even, that each cook, cooked one, if not two items, only. Filet Mignons, one guy. Just filets. In it's hey day, Hilltop used two identical line-set ups, end to end, to service opposite sides of the restaurant--The servers working the "North side" picked up their food on one side of the kitchen, the others on the opposite side--essentially, creating two kitchens, and two restaurants, in the same space. (So, TWO guys cooking Filet Mignons--on different grills--on opposite ends of the kitchen!
-Hilltop's parking lot is heated from below. 'Nuff said?
The prep rooms--where steaks were cut and burgers formed--were extensions of the walk in coolers--walled in white RFP and rimmed with stainless steel tables; where chefs in coats, scarves, hats and even gloves, handled ALL of the meat and seafood. Hilltops product never spent a minute at room temperature. All steaks hand cut, in 40 degrees.
Hilltops "trash room" was a completely walled, and refrigerated, "loading dock"--with entrance doors on opposite ends. Trash cans were topped, and rolled, into this giant room from the rear kitchen entrance--protected from bad smells, flies, vermin, etc. until the trucks pulled up to the opposite doors to haul the contents away.
Hilltops safe was through two doors, and stood about 7 feet tall. Maybe 8'. It nearly took both hands to open.
One salad dressing. Seriously! What genius (for a while anyway!) ...to do millions of dollars in sales--and be able to say "Sorry, no, that's the only choice."
And the salads! The salad room was nearly the size of a gymnasium--and salads were made each day by a team of 6--One guy rolled a cart around the room placing hundreds of bowls side by side in columns, on the stainless-steel tables. The next guy rolled a cart with huge tubs of lettuce--next, the tomato guy, then, the cucumber guy, the onion guy--and next, now the bowl and lettuce guys have circled around and are would trail--picking up the salads and loading them on 6 -foot tall "rolling racks" filled with trays. One hour later, 500 salads ready for service.
I could go on. Unfortunately, Hilltop could not. An innovator, a record breaker, a legendary success--times change, but Hilltop Steakhouse will long be remembered by people who traveled there weekly or just once, parked and walked past the model cows, took a number and stood in line, and celebrated all those things people celebrate at a restaurant--only, by the millions!
I will never forget my time at Hilltop--and having had the chance to see what most did not--but who enjoyed the result of such genius.
Last night we attended a wine dinner and had the pleasure of sitting with two couples; One whom both worked at Monster.com--a company with a little less bite these days--She a dynamic Chicago-file, he a good listener... and the other--he from the North End and an avid hunter/fisherman who splits his time at Martha's Vineyard, managing the cigar bar and selling for Horizon Beverage, and she, a Naples/Sicilian "Gypsy" with the most wild and beautiful hair and who spoke the coolest Boston/Italian dialect --I couldn't get enough of their energy and entusiasm...a fun group to say the least, with many toasts throughout.
With numerous wine events to choose from during the final evening of MV Food and Wine Festival, we chose one sponsored by Boston Magazine and hosted by Sakkonet Vineyards of Rhode Island, and Detente Restaurant in Edgartown--establishments with which I have had zero knowledge or exposure to.
Check it out...Shane Victorino was not the only one hitting grand slams last night!
I won't tease you (too badly) with the mouhwatering specifics--Hamachi crudo and smoked oil, Local Monkfish, lobster and chantarelles, Island Venison Steak, Crispy Short Rib 'balls' in rendered liver-jus, Verbena panna cotta..but I will say this; It has been an incredible couple of nights of "wow" worthy " first time experiences. (The previous night's wild pheasant and crisp nettles was way-way better than expected!)
And Sakkonet! If you were unfamiliar with this New England Vineyard, or, are unfamiliar with the new owner--Carolyn Rafaelian--founder of Alex and Ani fame--I expect you will not be for long. Of course, jewelry success, and being "local" only adds additional interest and allure--both are rather meaningless if the juice doesn't impress. But...here it is, from the "horse's mouth"...The wine is excellent.
I spoke briefly with Steve Krohn, the Director of Sakonnet's wine education--and last night's resident expert--about maybe heading up our way with a few bottles; Maybe even a wine dinner of our own. We are due. Why not Rhode Island!
In the meantime...look for the The citrusy, tart-but-not-biting Vidal Blanc (A "Bullet Proof" grape according to Steve), The "Blessed Blend" of Chardonnay and Vidal blanc--a bit more sweet and soft, no oak, The rock solid Rhode Island Red and the red grape of the AVA--Cabernet Franc. We were more than impressed by these East Coast "born and raised" wines and look forward to the possibility of making you fans too! More later...
Oh, and for the record... The official name is now; Carolyn's Sakkonet Vineyard
Stay tuned for more information...
If learning about Italian wines is not difficult enough, the fact that Montelpuciano is both a wine making region (in Tuscany), found on a wine label, and also, the name of a grape used in winemaking (NW Italy) found on wine labels, and the two have NOTHING to do with each other, as far as anyone knows, is, well, kooky.
FYI...if given the opportunity to drink one vs the other...choose the former!