December 2009: I call Poppy around 11:30am midweek to see if I can stop by to pick up a pile of gift certificates as thank-you gifts. (I do a mix each year – usually Canlis and one other.) Someone answers and says sure, so I park in a bus lane outside and walk in. Earbuds still in, looking at my iPhone, I mumble how many I need, ask what the right amount would be for a couple for two, and walk out with a pile of GC’s, distracted by something or other.
I look at my receipt, and I see that the person who’s served me is Jerry. Jerry Traunfeld, founder of Poppy, ex-executive chef and really the man behind The Herbfarm, a guy with his own Wikipedia page, and someone who I would have been tongue-tied around, had I realized I was talking to him.
August 2011: Midday on a Saturday, I get a message from Ethan, confirming my reservation at Staple & Fancy for that night. I call back to confirm, and “This is Ethan” answers the phone. Well, this time I’m prepared – I know who Ethan Stowell is – James Beard nominee, Best New Chef in America, etc., etc. – and after verifying that it’s him, I make some lame comment about how I’ll come say hello that night. I nervously walk up while he’s working the line (at this one of his many fabulous restaurants), make awkward small talk, and then shuffle back to my table.
So yeah, I turn into a ball of nervousness around great chefs. But the bigger point here is that even as their restaurants and profiles have gotten bigger, as their businesses and their passions have sprouted in all kinds of areas, both of these guys are still working the front desk, making things happen day-to-day to keep the business running.
Rooster Park isn’t as big a force in Seattle as either of their restaurants have been, and our impact on the community, even if it was as large in our wildest successes, would never be as broad. No matter how much I might need to delegate, though, I am motivated to still be the person who answers the phone, who takes the (job) orders, and who our partners know will always be a real and vital force behind what we do.