This is a difficult question to answer. Because, it is hard to know what the question is asking. Is it asking who I am or, more practically, who is the blogger "Fred"? Or maybe the question isn't who I am, but why am I doing this? And why should anyone listen? There are multiple queries at play here.
So, I think the tried and true journalistic formula will work best.
Today we will start with the first "W": Who. A pragmatic answer is indeed appropriate here. We will let the other four "W"'s be their own separate posts. Along with the one "H" of course.
Trying to keep this concise could be a bit challenging, considering the source. But, I want to take the time to introduce myself to you A little background about myself might go a long way towards establishing my credibility with you all which, I feel is important.
I am Fred.
I really grew up with the restaurant business all around me, although, I didn't spend much time in restaurants until I got older.
My grandfather owned a restaurant and grocery in rural Ohio. Buddee's. Mom spent a good bit of her youth working there. Not really the Norman Rockwell scene of the soda fountains and happy teenagers. It was more the standing on a wooden crate so you can reach the sink to peel potatoes at age four type thing. Not so romantic.
So, Mom did what she could to avoid the restaurant business. Although she loved to cook and loved to cook for people. The more the merrier. The holidays were always a big deal with Mom inviting everyone that she could convince to come. It was a warm childhood. And it was my first taste of hospitality and I saw what it brings to the host and guest who share in its communion.
Mom finally opened her catering company in '83. She had a little business in Sugar Land called the Calico Kitchen. She cooked for everyone in Sugar Land it seemed, from Mayor Duggan to Margaret Thatcher. (Yes, that Margaret Thatcher. It even made the papers.) Everyone in the family pitched in. My older sister decorated cakes, my cousins and sisters helped prep, I helped serve and pull plates. It was a true family business.
In '88, when Dad died, Mom threw herself into her work.
Meanwhile, I had begun working other restaurants. I did some prep work here and there - The Jersey 'Lil Cafe in the old Lone Star Market and Classix Diner in Sugar Land. But, I really latched on to the front of the house.
In November '90, I got a job at Tillman's Landry's in Sugar Land. It is long since gone. (I believe it is a Berryhill, now) A friend of mine called and said he was making great cash and I should come check it out. The interview consisted of two questions: 1) Can you remove your earring? and 2) Do you have a tuxedo shirt? I said "yes" to both and the manager, Gil, said, "Come back tonight." And like that I was on the floor. I don't know who had it worse, me or the tables I waited on? I was terrified, but looking back, I was only scared because I cared about what I was doing.
From Landry's I went on to Pappas. "Pap One", for those familiar. This was early 1992. Greg Pappas was still alive and would visit the store sometimes with his brothers. Harris was the one I remember most, though. They ran a tight ship. And I loved it. I used to tell people the kitchen was so clean at a Pappas restaurant that I would eat off the floor. Not really, of course, because eating in the kitchen was grounds for immediate termination. And they meant it. I really learned a lot from my time at Pappas. I learned the technical basics of service. The foundation was laid. At Pappas, I learned about consistency and perception. And that people didn't just go to restaurants, they had relationships with them.
From Pappas I went to Carrabba's. It was '93 and things were going well. Getting a job waiting tables at Carrabba's was a step up from the frenetic Pappas environment where $1000 in sales might net you $80 in a night. Carrabba's was more in tune to what dining is all about. And so was the clientele. I went to dinner there before applying for a job and I remember it just felt different. Energetic. Alive. Lucrative. At first Johnny and Damian would visit the store. Hearing them talk about restaurants was mesmerizing. Here I was just a kid and I had had the opportunity to learn from some of Houston's best talent. I developed my craft. I established a human connection with the folks there. Carrabba's was my first understanding that there is a difference between people who simply eat and people who, instead, dine. And there is a difference in the people who serve them.
It was, unfortunately, soon after that we, as a staff, realized that Johnny and Damian had let Carrabba's go and we were working for Outback. The restaurant would slowly go back to the eaters.
It was 1995.
I went back to work for Mom full time. The catering company had grown into a restaurant and ice house. I had been managing and closing the bar at night since it opened in '94. Now, I assumed those duties full time.
Things went very well for a couple of years. The bar grew and so did the other businesses. That was a good time.
Then, in '97 I started a family. It was time to get out of the bar business. Mom sold her businesses and retired. I went back to restaurants.
In '99 I took a position as a manager at Houston's. It was a great decision. I learned so much about restaurants there. From psychology to philosophy. Houston's has a reason for everything they do. Everything is measured. Everything is calculated. They have dissected the entire dining experience and reconstructed it as a universally applicable science. And it is amazing when it all works together. It is a difficult restaurant to try to explain, but the philosophies and principles that define the integrity of the restaurant are beyond reproach and the commitment to guest and quality are without question the strongest that I know. It's a love it or hate it place, and the argument can definitely be made that it is a place to eat and not dine, but I love it. And I have all the respect in the world for George Biel and what he has built.
I left Houston's in April of '03.
John Marion Carrabba was a regular at Houston's on Saturday nights after he closed down his place, Piatto Ristorante. I had worked for him at Carrabba's from '93-'95 at the I-10 store. When a position came available to be a GM for him at Piatto, I couldn't refuse. It was a dream come true. Finally an opportunity to help run and build a restaurant. To help create a place where people could dine! I was thrilled.
And, so, from April of '03 until January of this year, that is what I did. I helped Johnny and Mary Ann (and Victor and all the guys) build one of the best restaurants in town. We built Piatto into a place that is known around Houston and beyond. It is known as a place to go and feel at home. A place to celebrate and reunite. A place to share and live. A perfect place to DINE. And for that I am very proud.
And here we are. That is who I am. I am a lifelong restaurant man. I grew up in the kitchens and dining rooms of some of Houston's best restaurants with some of the city's best restaurant people. If you've lived and dined in Houston long enough, chances are we've crossed paths somewhere. Chances are we might again.
If you have any questions or comments about this blog or anything Houston related please fell free to DROP ME A LINE. Or, just leave me your email address. I'd love to hear from you.