“I’m so happy right now” is what I said to Laura, my server at Farm 255 in Athens, GA. It wasn’t an excited statement. It was said from a content heart. Why? Because I had just experienced an absolutely outrageous meal prepared by the incredible Chef Whitney Otawka.
How did I come to experience such greatness? Well, to be honest, it was suggested by my crew chief, Terry Jinks. You see, today was the day that I came early to the Atlanta area to pour a seat for my Formula car. After a long time of getting in and out of the car, and sitting in a seat where the epoxy resin seemed to be cooking my back like a ribeye steak, I wanted a nice place to go and get something that wouldn’t weigh me down for tomorrow’s practice day.
Terry mentioned a few places. One of those was Farm 255, where they do kind of a farm to table style cooking. That ALWAYS is right up my alley. When I walked in the door, there were roughly ten workers…and me. Yep, I beat the crowd by a few minutes. I sat at the bar facing the kitchen so I could watch the magic happen.
My first plate fired (now you get the title) was an Heirloom Tomato Salad with mouse melons, arugula, Pearson’s peaches, basil, mint, and shaved baguette that had been frozen. It was a great balance of acid from the tomatoes, pepper from the arugula, sweetness from the peaches, and bitter from the mint. It was very nice and clean.
The restaurant quickly began to fill, so I took the chance to talk to Chef for a few minutes about the dish and how great it was. As she fired my main dish, I noticed something that was unusual to a lot of kitchens. It was……calm. Like, REALLY calm. Nobody was stressed. No one was running around shaking like a scared dog. Everyone was doing exactly what they needed to do, and they were doing it well. In fact, the team seemed…happy.
Pretty soon the line of orders was great, just like the team preparing them. The only time Chef raised her voice was to say, “Cibo”, which means food in Italian. That was the que for the servers to come get what ever dish was ready. The thoughts in my mind were about how great of leader Whitney must be to have a highly functioning and happy kitchen crew. It’s almost impossible to have both.
When my entree was set in front of me, I was stunned. It was drop dead gorgeous. Braised Border Springs Farm lamb shank with black cherry tomatoes, baby fennel, polenta, romanian pepper agro dolce, and mint. Chef explained all of the different ingredients she used and how they would compliment. I took one bite and knew that I was now ruined for all future lamb shanks. This was by far…far-far-far the best lamb shank I had ever had.
As I finished my Georgia Peach Fried Pie and vanilla ice cream, sitting there in my contentedness, I thought, this is how so many businesses should run. A calm, competent, passionate, caring leader, with a happy and productive team, can create a product that absolutely makes the customer want to come back every day for more. Click to Tweet If Chef Whitney Otawka can create that experience in an industry that is polar opposite, why can’t so many more businesses?
Oh, and yes, I told Chef that my plan is to come back tonight. So if you’re around the Athens area, feel free to join me at Farm 255. By the way, when I got back to my room, I discovered that she was on Iron Chef. I’m not surprised in the least.
Question: Is it possible for other businesses to operate this way?
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53 thoughts on “You’re Fired!…kinda”
We are proud to have Farm 255 in our town! Glad you enjoyed it!
Now I want to come to Athens! – So I found out reading this blog what a total geek i am because i though for the first full 10 seconds you were standing in a computer room talking with a powerful piece of computer equipment – you can tell how i spend my day – i am always talking to servers, but don’t often have to leave a tip.
Anyway – great story, and good to know that the horror stories in TV kitchens are not mandatory to get good food. Leadership and management work where ever they are applied (except perhaps my server farm!)
Chris I’d love to hear some tips from Chef Whitney. If you can catch her can you get some insight from someone running a team so efficiently.
I am with @EdwinG – would live to hear tips from Chef Whitney.
Dang I hate your posts about great places to eat – it always makes me hungry after reading – not only hungry to eat but also hungry to lead my own solo businesss with the great leadership attributes you teach about.
Live Beyond Awesome!
@EdwinG I second that – MOBILE ENTRELEADERSHIP PODCAST please! 😉
@Aaron Nelson Great idea Aaron! The Podcast Answer Man uses a Roland Edirol digital audio recorder to do some of his interviews (totally mobile):
Can you imagine if CLo would interview some of the business owners he runs into on a weekly basis? Could be a really cool themed podcast every once in a while???
David and I live only ten minutes from Athens and I have visited Farm 225 many times. Each time the experience and the food are wonderful!
We just might take you up on your offer to join you tonight. 🙂 It’s a great place to go.
Great experience you had. Again you frustrate me, Chris, because I don’t work at this place either! We are in the hiring process again after having our last person leave after 5 months. Management is again pushing to fill the position despite applicants being new grads and having no pediatric experience. UGH! When is it time to put up the white flag and admit that I cannot change the culture at this company?
@JoshPalcic I’m pretty sure Chris will say never, haha. All you can do is all you can do. Change requires influence. Influence who you can, deal with the rest! Hang in there Josh! At very least it’s very valuable lessons on how NOT to do things!!
@JoshPalcic Those new hires are a great opportunity for you to influence them toward the kind of culture you would like! Take them to out to coffee, invite them to join you in no gossip, in praising publicly, in taking their negatives up and all those great things in Entreleadership.
Or, go job hunting. . .
(Don’t listen to me. I’m self-employed after working at numerous jobs ruined by bad leadership.)
@cabinart @JoshPalcic When the boss gives you lemons, squeeze them all you can! I think that’s how it goes.
@JoshuaWRivers When the boss gives you lemons… put up a lemonade stand! That’s EntreLeadership spirit!
@lilykreitinger I knew it was something like thay!
Hey Chris, David and I live about ten minutes from Athens and I have visited Farm 255 many times over the years. It is always a wonderful experience and excellent food as well.
We just might take you up on that offer and join you this evening. It’s been too long since we have been there.
I think you’re right Chris, other businesses CAN run this way. There are a few things that I think are key. #1 clear vision: you gotta know what your working towards, organization will come no other way. #2 a STRONG leader: you need a leader that KNOWS the vision and is strong enough to say no to everything that competes with or complicates the vision. #3 culture: there must be a company culture that treats employees well, respects and values them. Employees that are content cannot provide exceptional service in such a calm organized manner!
Sounds like a great time brother! I wish Athens wasn’t so far from WA State!!
@Skropp I think we should organize a Team CLo bus tour of the Southeast. We could tour the racetracks and restaurants on Chris’ circuit!
@skottydog I’m right there with ya brother!! Would be a blast!
@Skropp @skottydog Here, here! I’d go for something like that! That would be so fun.
@skottydog @Skropp “Team CLo: Excellence at all speeds”
@skottydog @Skropp Love it. I’m there!
@skottydog Hey, I’m up for that! We can be his support crew… Lining up the stands with CLo banners… doing the wave, sporting or t-shirts… and then trying all the food out for him to make sure it’s good quality and he doesn’t get sick.
Vision is absolutely key to businesses running this way. Everyone needs to be focused on the same outcome, and supportive of the leader and each other as they move forward. As we’ve discussed the last few days – if the culture is positive and the team knows they will be listened to and respected, they will work harder for the right results. Sounds like this kitchen should be featured instead of the others we see on reality shows!
@CarolDublin This should be featured on TV, but it would probably bring less ratings than the fighting and chaos.
@JoshuaWRivers Yep – the sensationally bad always seems to grab more attention than the incredibly good.
@JoshuaWRivers @CarolDublin Agreeed! Why do the “car accident” shows do better in ratings? No one wants to be bored with learning the behind the scenes operations of a well-oiled machine (he says sarcastically.)
@JoshuaWRivers You know, I’ve often wondered that myself. Why is it hard to find reality shows which show off how GREAT places are run, and why they are run well? Afraid that @CarolDublin is right – the sensational bad seems to grab more attention. Yuck.
@Aaron Nelson The sensational bad is what has kept news organizations in business for years. I think they’ve trained us to expect it.
@CarolDublin I think an important part of vision is knowing what ISN’T part of the vision. Saying “no” to things that will pull away from the vision!
@Skropp Good point. I think the yes/no part of the vision might be blog topic to consider.
@CarolDublin Better tell Chris!
@Skropp @CarolDublin Amen!
@CarolDublin Yeah, instead of “Restaurant Impossible”, how about “Restaurant Immaculate”?
@CarolDublin Garbage sells… quality scares people! That’s why we don’t see this type of business on a reality show.
I firmly believe that any business can operate this way. It has to be intentional. At first, it will take tremendous work and consistency. As the team works into this kind of unity, it would take less work, but it would still have to be intentional.
It is apparent that everyone there seems to understand the goals: both long term and immediate. Each person seems to know and understand their role and responsibilities, as well as what others are doing and how they work together. The leader seems to do a good job keeping things upbeat while keeping everyone focused. This description could be copied and pasted for any business without having to change any words – no one would know if it was a restaurant, an office, a retail store, etc.
@JoshuaWRivers It comes back to communication, doesn’t it? The values, vision and responsibilities are obviously clearly communicated, constantly, and things run smoothly. That’s something we struggle with where I work – every problem we have comes down to lack of clear communication.
@CarolDublin @JoshuaWRivers I agree with what you’ve observed and noted here. Clear values, vision, and responsibilities that are clearly and regularly communicated go a long way in creating a peaceful and effective workplace. I’m taking notes!!!
@CarolDublin It’s amazing to me how many people talk about the importance of communication, but then they don’t practice it! Not here, of course 🙂
@JoshuaWRivers @CarolDublin Agreed. Talk is cheap. 🙂
List Lady is here:
1. What does it mean when a plate is “fired”?
2. How could a fried peach pie with ice cream NOT weigh you down???
3. It would be interesting to know the employee turn-over rate at that restaurant.
4. It would be interesting to know how Whitney learned to stay so calm.
5. It would be interesting to know how she hires and trains.
6. I’ve never heard of “pouring a seat” – sounds really icky.
@cabinart I just finished asking the same thing about the pie! Maybe it answers #6…Chris might have to be poured into his seat after that meal!
@cabinart I would sign up for lessons on how to stay calm. My kids may appreciate it 😉
Working in food service is a different animal entirely. Working as a team is NOT an option. If you don’t work together, you’re finished. It’s too demanding of a business. In most other professions, you can “survive” by doing your job and making the best of it.
The restaurant industry does not work that way. All the best places thrive when a family work ethic is demonstrated. You can dine at a great place, with great food, but if the staff is not friendly, or cohesive…chances are you wouldn’t go back.
My questions are: How do you always manage to discover these places, Chris? And, how is Georgia Peach Fried Pie and Vanilla Ice Cream something that DOESN’T weigh you down for a race?
The key isn’t just working in a job you are passionate about, but also working with a team of people you are passionate about working with.
@skottydog Yeah, I don’t think they could manage if they didn’t have perfect chemistry on the team.
I do totally think it’s possible for all businesses to run this way. As mentioned below, clear vision, goals and responsibilities and leadership who remains vigorously focussed on making that vision, goals and responsibilities happen must be vital parts of this equation.
I know for me, staying focussed on what matters is my struggle that I think holds my team and company back.
@Aaron Nelson It’s so easy to go into panic mode!! I experience that at home every day! The vision gets lost in the midst of dailyness.
Man Chris, you are really good at telling these food stories! I swear I get hungry every time!
I also have a hard time going to a restaurant without noticing the elements you are talking about. Let’s face it, a good restaurant has everything you described!
The thing is that they can’t hide any of their flaws. Maybe they can hide a dirty kitchen, but then the food isn’t up to par. Maybe they can hide a bad leader, but then people won’t stay for very long. And we all know that the servers have to be good, or we won’t be back.
To answer your question though, I don’t think it’s just possible for other businesses to run this way – it’s downright necessary! Anyway, if they don’t, someone else will. Then they’ll be wondering what went wrong.
To answer your question in a word. Yes. I’m always more impressed by someone who is not flashy but quietly competent and successful at the same time. I wonder why we celebrate the Gordon Ramsey’s of the world when in fact the real winners of the world are folks like these.
Hey now! I love Gordon Ramsey! Although I could do without the screaming and f-bombs. Although, I’m guessing that is mostly for tv (you only see him doing that on Hell’s Kitchen; which is kinda the point).
If you watch him on Kitchen Nightmares, what he says makes a lot of sense. If you really watch what he does with the teams in those failing restaurants I think you can find a lot of Entreleadership there.
He looks for the people who really care and builds their confidence. Then he tears down the owners just to get them to the point where they will listen, take responsibility, and treat their team with respect. Then, he pats them on the back and inspires them. He always talks about the customer experience and infusing passion into everything you do.
I can’t get enough of that show because of all that!
Glad to hear you had a “light” meal… Goodness!!! What is awesome is to receive outstanding service and I think the restaurant industry has very litlte wiggle room for error. People don’t like to get sick and they don’t like lousy service. I love the idea of an open kitchen, many businesses could learn from the model and have “nothing to hide”. An open kitchen tells me there’s no critters playing hockey on the kitchen floor, or they don’t serve meals Ratatouille style (I’m good with animated movie quotes).
I see in Chef Otawka the qualities that many leaders should strive for:
– The ability to have great peripheral vision and know what everyone else is doing, even when it doesn’t look that way.
– Trust in the abilities of the people with whom she works.
– A pure enjoyment of her craft and a passion to serve
– Outstanding quality ingredients
– A process which everyone can follow in their sleep, synchrony and coordination
Thanks for sharing and enjoy your dinner tonight. Tell Chef Whitney we would like to place some take out orders 😉
@lilykreitinger Spot on with your summation of the leadership qualities. Wonder if they ship?
@CarolDublin They’d probably do it if you tell them you just had a birthday! : )
I always love it when I sit down to do my daily reading with a rare TV dinner lunch , AND I READ ABOUT YOUR GREAT FOOD EXPERIENCE!!!! um, yes I was yelling! 🙂
This reminds me of a place in Salt Lake City, the Copper Onion. Great staff, and everyone is cool and calm. You can sit right at the bar and the sous chef will tell you everything they know about the product and what it’s going to be used for. Next time you are in Salt Lake, check out the Copper Onion. It is awesome!