During the first year of Lockeland Table, my wife and I had a newborn at home; I was working six days a week and 14 hours a day. I worked the grill, the pizza station, and more. One night, during a very busy service, one of our servers came back to me and informed me that we had a guest with a lot of allergies.
Understanding that allergies are significant, I left the kitchen and went to their table. I don’t want a situation in my dining room if I can avoid it. As a chef, you have to get used to a lot of requests coming through the dining room. Many guests often claim to be allergic to various ingredients, so I needed to have a conversation with this guest. I wanted to do this correctly.
Dorothy recalls it this way:
We didn’t know who the young Chef was when he came to our table…
But he was so kind and concerned.
To tell you the level of care…
Hal took the menu out of my hand and said,
‘What would you like for me to cook for you tonight?’
How many restaurants do you think that would happen at?
Ironically, I chose his signature dish, The Strip.
(Which met most of Dorothy’s dietary restrictions.)
A week later, Cara handed me a thank you card that we had received from the couple. It even made the point that other restaurants had not been very compliant or accommodating. These were cool people…and serving guests well is a part of my job.
We understood it was a very busy night,
and him coming out of the kitchen was a big deal to us.
We didn’t expect that. —Dorothy
I learned how to cook for Dorothy, and, as the two continued returning to eat at Lockeland, they began bringing gifts to Cara and I, from Dorothy’s pottery studio, Summer Triangle Pottery. Over time we became friends.
One particular day, while we were in the midst of writing our book, they offered to make the plates and platters for our VIP book release party. That was probably the nicest thing someone had done for us.
After the release party, it was decided we would get together and make plates specifically for Lockeland Table. There were other local restaurants that were using pottery, but when I realized that it was a possibility that we could do that here I got very excited. For a chef to be able to visit a potter or artist personally and talk about his food and have them design their craft to fit our craft…how lucky am I?
I had gone out to Summer Triangle Pottery after a visit to Nicoletto’s pasta, and while there I noticed some similarities between these two places and their crafts. The drying process of pasta and pottery is very important. In the pasta world, if you over dry, the pasta will crack. The heating of pottery and drying is just as crucial as well. I learned so much that day!
“I got a message from Hal one night;
‘Hey, we want to collaborate on some bowls.’
We were on our way out the door when I took the call, but at that point, I didn’t want to go.
I wanted to stay home and make bowls” —Dorothy
Shortly after we began, I heard of another restaurant was taking ashes from their wood-burning oven and using them in pottery, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do heWe have been at this now for about a year. What started with side bowls led to condiment bowls, then the fritter plates with the high edges, then big bowls, dessert bowls, and now even our coffee mugs! Each serving piece has also been carefully thought through. I would look at pieces that Dorothy calls rejects and I might say something like, “Deviled Eggs would go on here.” And then, “if this one over here comes up a bit more on the edge, it would hold pasta.”
The plates look so Lockeland, and that didn’t happen by accident. Dorothy presses each plate with one of our LT linens. Right into the plate. The impression of the linen matches our book cover and our LT style and branding.
It’s truly amazing when you think about it all. What if I had been a chef who was grumpy that night and had not cared about the guest’s unique dietary needs? We would have totally missed out on this exciting journey, partnership and friendship. That’s truly what it’s all about at Lockeland. It’s about the relationship. Not only with our guests, but our staff, our vendors, our farmers, and our community.
For example, when White Squirrel Farm walks in the back door, I don’t check his weights. I buy his products because they are beautiful and I trust him. This is the result of years of positive relationships.
I now say to people, “If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?
Treat your staff better? Get to you know your local vendors and what they truly have to offer and what they need from you? Meet local artisans and see how you can partner together? Or, maybe treat guests the way you truly need and want to be treated? We are working to do that in every aspect of our business.