In a previous work life, just before Joe Scully and I started Corner Kitchen, I had just been named IT Director of a company that, at the time, was the largest IBM re-seller in the world. I really liked my job there. I had some great mentors (shout out to Phil Yanov) and the staff that I had was dedicated and fun to work with. In all truth, I was given the title as partial compensation for the fact that the company had just been bought by a much larger company from Cleveland. If I ended up being severed, my boss at the time wanted me to have the title for my resume.
I was let go (we wanted to stay in Asheville, not uproot the family and move to Cleveland) and provided severance pay, which Joe and I used to start the Corner Kitchen. The reason I mention the IT position is that I worked in that world, as well as retail, manufacturing, hospitals, and home care before coming to the restaurant world. All my positions were ones in which customer service, whether to external or internal customers, was paramount. And I really liked them all. I loved taking care of things for my staff and customers. And, in the jobs where we sold goods to folks, return customers were the lifeblood of our business. But – I had never worked in a restaurant in any capacity.
When Joe and I started each restaurant, there were many conversations about menus, systems, equipment and consistency. I also took to heart the idea of going the extra mile for our guests, but I wasn’t sure what that would entail in our little place. And, I was pretty terrified when we opened. A dozen questions, not the least of which were “Will we be able to pay the bills?” and “What if they don’t like our food?” swirled through my head every day until we opened.
As it turned out, the food was not a big issue. We did things well and Joe has a great feel for things that should be together on a plate. When something didn’t meet our guest’s expectations, we made changes. Joe and I both want our guests to leave happy, so the pressure was on to make everything great before they walked in the door. And we worked with some great staff, who were also dedicated and fun to work with. Those folks have engendered much of the positivity that has grown around both Corner Kitchen and Chestnut.
Over the years, we have worked hard to build a loyal following of local guests, as well as taking care of our out-of-town visitors. Something we noticed over time was that there was a solid core of folks that come back to our restaurants again and again. We have one guest, Joe Bly, who comes in an average of half a dozen times a week (some weeks he may double that count). There are families that bring each of their children in for dinner for their birthdays, at their childrens’ request. We have had a marriage upstairs at Corner Kitchen. Folks celebrate their anniversaries at one or the other restaurant each year.
At Chestnut, we had a couple who came to see us after the husband’s medical treatments. They liked certain seats and we did our best to make sure they had those seats whenever they came in. As his health worsened, they had to move their seats slightly to accommodate his oxygen. But they kept coming and we loved seeing them. We have business people that come see us several times a week. They bring clients during the day and their families at night.
What I found over the years is that having guests say they like our food, or that our staff was welcoming and friendly is a great thing, and very satisfying. But the unexpected (at least to me) thing I received from being part of these two restaurants is the gift of the relationships that have developed over the last 13 years. I have found friends, people that have made me better as a person, and great business partners.
When I walk into Corner Kitchen or Chestnut and see someone that took a chance on us a dozen years ago and still loves to come sees us, it makes me realize that even though I never worked in a restaurant until I was 41 years old, this is where I was meant to be all along.
~ Kevin Westmoreland