Most days during the nearly five years of Chestnut’s life, I have started my day off at the window bar looking out on Biltmore Avenue. I turn on all the lights, even though it’s just me and maybe one other person here, and set up my “office”. It is a great place to start work. I set up my laptop, normally grab a cup of coffee, and work through my emails and to-dos.
After making sure there is nothing that can’t wait a few minutes, I make the rounds of the dining room. I am not looking for anything in particular, but I usually catch a few things that need to be taken care of. If they are small, I just fix them. If they are good for the manager and staff to see I may leave them until they arrive. Both restrooms are on the checklist as, for many guests, a clean bathroom is the most important thing. The nice thing for me is that the place is generally pretty pristine. Our staff does a great job every day, making the place look like there is no way several hundred people came through the door and had a meal with us.
Outside it starts differently every day, however. If it’s winter, it is still a bit dark when I get here. The sun creeps between the buildings and lights up the streets over the first hour. Folks, generally locals, walk toward City Bakery, Green Sage, 67 Biltmore or Double D’s (they get the late risers) for coffee and sustenance. Since Chestnut opens at 11:30 during the week, I sit in a quiet, cozy spot watching everyone fight the cold to get wherever they are heading.
Between May and October, the world is a bit busier downtown. Guests from out of town are emptying out of the hotels, some with their canine partners, and looking for things to do. At that time of day, there are not a lot of stores open, but Asheville is such a walkable town, that you can cover most of downtown in a couple of hours, have breakfast, then get into some serious shopping for some seriously cool stuff, much of it made within miles of our front door.
All the while, behind me, in the kitchen there is a growing hive of activity. As the cooks and sous chefs arrive, the music comes up and everybody goes into prep mode. All the fresh things for lunch are peeled, cut, measured and put into the right places so they fall readily to hand when the first guests arrive. If it is a delivery day, the sous chef is busy running up and down the stairs to check things in, write checks and put the goods away. There is little time to take a breath in the three hours before lunch starts.
In my window office I watch for friends or neighbors to walk by and we exchange smiles and waves. It’s amazing how much people are creatures of habit. One lady carries her laptop with her every day and goes to City Bakery for coffee and, apparently, not much else. The gentleman with the two corgis comes out of his condo immaculately dressed and takes the dogs up the sidewalk at a brisk clip. Our landlord’s wife brings her four kids out and walks across the street toward Double D’s and her car. Even the strangers are sociable when they see me sitting at the window.
It is a time of relative calm in the restaurant business that is my career now. I cherish the moments I get to spend in the morning light. We have moved our Westmoreland & Scully business office a block or so away, so I am not at the window every day like I used to be and I miss that.
As the day moves along, the pace and energy in the building continues to build. Servers, bartenders and bussers come in and get their sections ready. We do a premeal meeting at 11:15 am every weekday, then lunch service. At 3 pm, we close and basically transform the kitchen into a different one. One that is now ready for dinner service, which is a completely different menu and has a completely different feel. Premeal at 4:45 pm, Chestnut dinner service, close down and the magic that is really a lot of hard work to get the place looking like none of this every happened.
And then we do it again the next day. Some life. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
~ Kevin Westmoreland, Co-owner