What’s the difference between a restaurant owned by its chef and one that’s not? From the chef’s perspective, the main distinction is obvious: control. But what about from the diner’s perspective?
It’s all about relationships, says David Welch, who fits the chef-owner bill at Food Hedz in Frisco. While many chefs spend their time making meals, owner chefs make connections.
Case in point: When Welch first featured crab cakes on the menu at Food Hedz, he learned that one of his customers was allergic to the bell peppers in the dish. So he whipped up a batch without the peppers to accommodate that patron all season.
The open kitchen at his restaurant helps Welch make that personal connection with everyone who dines there. Many people have special requests when they eat out, but when they have different servers on different days, there’s an uncertainty about whether the meal will be tailored to their liking. Some restaurants even proclaim a “no substitutions” policy right on their menus. But when Food Hedz regulars walk in and see the familiar chef-owner in the kitchen, a simple white-toqued nod of recognition lets these patrons know he’s already got their backs.
“I know exactly what they want and how they like to eat it,” Welch says.
Such personal touches, he adds, are the difference between simply cooking the food and building relationships. And those relationships help sustain Welch and his chef-owner ilk through hard times. Despite what he calls a “D-” location for Food Hedz—tucked into the Wal-Mart strip mall in Frisco—the restaurant has continued to thrive throughout the recession. Even in bad weather, some patrons come all the way from Breckenridge, bypassing numerous high-end restaurants in favor of the Frisco locale.
Before opening Food Hedz, Welch worked his way up from dishwasher to Zagat Award–winning chef at a premier Summit County restaurant, where he forged relationships with the vendors who help him find the finest, freshest ingredients. At Food Hedz, he uses those same vendors to offer similar quality dishes, but without the $100 price tag. That allows even budget-conscious diners to find fresh, organic fare at less than $15 for lunch, or $39 for a dinner with two courses.
“My customers know they can count on consistency,” Welch says. “They know there’s a comfort level with the ownership. They know us as friends and don’t hesitate to ask for favors.”
One not-so-shy patron even asked Welch to help him buy half a buffalo. The chef spent half an hour on the phone with a rancher brokering the deal.
Does all that make Welch’s restaurant better than one without a chef-owner? Not necessarily, Welch concedes; “better” is a subjective term. But chefs who seek to own their own restaurants tend to be more passionate, Welch claims, and ownership allows them to channel that passion into direct relationships with patrons. If you seek that personal touch, Summit’s chef-owned restaurants offer passion to spare.