Vivian Howard hints at plans for Chef & The Farmer


In a guest essay for The New York Times, North Carolina chef Vivian Howard hints at what her famed restaurant Chef & The Farmer might look like when it reopens “next year.”

Opinion essaypublished online on Friday, focuses largely on the challenges and issues contributing to “multi-course menus in the decaying state of the restaurant business” — among them low margins and behind-the-scenes employees who feel “killed.”

Howard, who is also known for her PBS shows Chef’s Life and Somewhere in the South, elaborates on her experiences with such issues, saying that she closed its Kinston flagship restaurant last June “in large part because it was impossible to ignore the inefficiencies, stress and fatigue caused by an unsustainable business model.”

“Our industry needs to evolve or full-service, cuisine-focused restaurants like mine will disappear,” she writes.

Still, for fans of Howard and her Kinston restaurant, this essay can bring hope and excitement about what’s next and how the business model might change.

Vivian Howard
Chef Vivian Howard outside her restaurant Chef & The Farmer in downtown Kinston, Nov. 15, 2017. Howard’s two restaurants in Kinston and the TV show “A Chef’s Life” have brought attention to her rural hometown. Julie Leonard

Changes in the business model

Near the end of her essay, Howard says she plans to reopen Chef & The Farmer “next year,” listing notable changes she plans to make to the new section of the restaurant, which will “please both the diners and the people who feed them.”

First, she writes, the food served in the restaurant will be different. “We will not rely on diners to pay servers; chefs will serve cafeteria-style in our upgraded kitchen bar,” Howard writes.

Restaurant “programs” other than food — like the beverage program Howard writes about earlier in the essay — will disappear. “The energy we put into enhanced service and its attributes will flow directly into the one ‘program’ we choose to keep — our food,” she writes.

The restaurant will be open at other times. “Most importantly, we will only be open four days a week, from 11am to 9pm, because that’s the schedule that promotes staff retention,” Howard writes.

Are four days a week enough? Howard writes that the kitchen will actually make money seven days a week, “because we’ll be cooking for people whose asses aren’t in our dining room.”

Viv’s Fridge will promote a new model

That’s thanks to Howard growing Viv’s Fridge concepta collection of smart fridges scattered across the state, stocked with meals prepared in the kitchen by Howard’s team of chefs.

viv's fridge.jpg
The first Viv’s Fridge was launched on Bald Head Island in June. Baxter Miller

“Chefs who have moved from nights on the line to quiet days in the kitchen will prepare food for a small collection of individual, strategically placed smart refrigerators in the restaurant,” Howard writes. “Covid has given us a lot of terrible things, but it has also given birth to a new and relatively inexpensive way to enjoy food made at home by a chef’s magic wand. Next-level take-and-bake, pick-and-eat chefs and pasta delivery combined with an existing kitchen will help make us whole.”

Howard has four Viv’s Fridge locations in the Triangle — one in Durham and three in Raleigh. Other coolers include Emerald Isle, Kinston, Wilson and New Bern.

In her essay, Howard did not give a more specific time frame for the reopening of Chef & The Farmer, other than that she plans to do so “next year.” When she first announced the closure last June, she said the restaurant, which had then been open for 16 years, was in need of an “update”.

Howard also owns restaurants in Wilmington and Charleston, South Carolina.

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Corey Dean is a reporter on the News & Observer reporting team. She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hosman School of Journalism and Media and has lived in North Carolina all her life.

Vivian Howard hints at plans for Chef & The Farmer

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