Opening a restaurant is a daunting task for any chef. To open a new restaurant in a new hotel in a city still finding its culinary footing is baptism by fire. For Angeline’s executive chef Robert Hoffman, the lessons learned and relationships forged along this journey are part inspiration and part cautionary tale. Along with lead bartender Henry Schmulling and director of food and beverage Andy Carlson, they have managed to create an atmosphere where none existed before in the still-shiny Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Hoffman got the call to become Angeline’s executive chef eight weeks before the staff began training. He was at a resort in Arizona, also a Kimpton property.
“I didn’t know where Charlotte was – I had a vague idea and, two days later, I was doing a tasting for our management and checking out the area to see if I wanted to move,” said Hoffman, who had previously relocated to Arizona from Chicago. “What I found is Charlotte is a great middle ground.”
That Angeline’s is located in the region’s only Kimpton property helps. That and the fact that Charlotte is a city of hangouts in which its just under 1 million residents are always on the lookout for the next place to go. A week into opening, Angeline’s and the rooftop bar Merchant & Trade were packed, with security guards at the ready to keep onlookers from harassing local celebs like basketball legend Michael Jordan and the billionaires who come to do business in the banking boomtown. The hotel’s floor-to-ceiling windows boast big skyline views, but, in contrast, Angeline’s feels cozy and heady, evoking visions of craft cocktails, wine, and Italian cuisine to come. The nearly 3,000-square-foot restaurant includes a hideaway dining room, full-height wine wall, and communal table. The polished copper and whiskey-colored ombre glass chandeliers and beer taps overhead give it a sultry, laid-back vibe.
Hoffman describes the move, opening Angeline’s and being part of a new hotel as a whirlwind. To a certain extent Monday to Saturday, every table is full and there is a line to get into the rooftop bar nearly every night. “I’ve done some rather large openings before and there were big holes in the boat we had to get filled, but it comes down to staffing,” he said. A hotel restaurant is a different animal. No matter how new or tasty the menu, it is only as good as its staff. Because a hotel guest experience revolves around a length of time rather than just a couple of hours as in a single meal, the service element is critical.
“The main way I measure success is by empowering people and being able to train and develop them through the ranks so they want to come to work every day and be interested and engaged,” Hoffman said. “It’s hard to recruit and retain people so you have to make the investment in the individuals because they might leave you as a line cook and come back as a sous chef. You have to forge those relationships and start those building blocks.” [Read more…]