December 22, 2023

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Recipe for Success: Amy McAtee’s Culinary Journey

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Overview:

  • Amy unveils ‘HONEY’s’ unique naming journey.
  • Teamwork and positive relationships are foundational strategies for success.
  • Meditation, delegation, and maintaining high standards is Amy’s key to managing chaos 
  • Amy and Joe’s diverse backgrounds in food and music inspire culinary creativity at HONEY.

1. Can you share with us the backstory on the name ‘HONEY’? Does it have any significance or did it come to you on a whim?

It’s an interesting story. Initially, we were set on calling the restaurant The Scarlet Begonia, inspired by a beautiful flower and a Grateful Dead song. However, after a surprising market research report, filled with unexpected negativity, we realized we needed a new direction..

After much brainstorming, the name ‘HONEY’ struck a chord while we were catering an event. It encapsulated our vision of a modern, warm, and romantic place perfectly. The credit for that idea goes to my husband, Joe. ‘HONEY‘ felt contemporary, easy to remember, and aligned with our culinary preferences, especially in international cuisine. The ultimate choice for “Date Night” or “Girls’ Night Out”.

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2. Running a restaurant comes with its challenges. Can you share some philosophies or strategies that have helped you navigate these obstacles in the highly competitive and ever-changing restaurant landscape?

I’m very fortunate to have my husband as both a life and business partner which is a significant advantage. We support each other, prioritizing teamwork over typical back-and-front-of-the-house clashes. We aim to be prepared and organized, but in the restaurant business, unexpected challenges are routine.

One of our problem-solving approaches involves maintaining excellent relationships with our support teams, from air conditioning to oven repairs. Treating everyone in our circle respectfully ensures their support in times of trouble. Understanding personal challenges and offering necessary support is crucial for a positive work environment.

I emphasize the collective effort in our success. While my husband and I set the tone and create the menu, it’s the entire team, including cooks, servers, and others that makes our achievements possible. Sharing credit and recognizing everyone’s importance is fundamental.

Leading by example is another guiding principle. Even on challenging days, maintaining a positive attitude is crucial. As a leader, you set the tone, showing the team that overcoming challenges is possible and empowering them to do the same.

3. Could you walk us through a typical day in your life and how you manage to create harmony among the various aspects?

Since the pandemic, my husband and I have embraced meditation, which has been transformative. Taking a moment to breathe deeply and center ourselves is powerful. It lowers stress and helps in overwhelming situations.

I recall a chaotic Saturday night when a girl had a seizure in the restaurant. Amidst the frenzy, I had to call an ambulance, manage an ant problem at another table, and ensure the girl’s safety. It was overwhelming, but recalling my meditation practices helped me prioritize tasks, take deep breaths, and get through it.

Delegation is essential; you can’t do everything on your own. Recognizing what you can handle and delegating tasks is key. We have laminated checklists for daily tasks, emphasizing the importance of doing each job well. I stress the importance of maintaining standards because, in fine dining, every detail counts. Consistency is vital. It’s about providing the best for our customers, making their experience exceptional.

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4. How do your diverse backgrounds in science and music inspire you and Joe to uphold quality and stay abreast of restaurant trends at HONEY? Also, could you share insights on balancing your personal and professional lives as a couple managing the restaurant?

Our inspiration for maintaining quality and staying abreast of trends in the dynamic restaurant industry primarily comes from our shared creativity in music and art. This creativity is evident in our unique menu, deliberately avoiding common items found in other restaurants. Our signature dish, the unforgettable black tea-glazed spare ribs with spicy ginger ice cream, sets us apart. Other distinctive offerings, such as the shrimp martini served in a silver metal glass or a raw tuna dish presented on a 200 million-year-old Himalayan salt block, contribute to a memorable dining experience.

To keep things fresh, we continuously evolve our presentations, showcased in dishes like the duck samosa, which combines hot and cold elements for a unique taste. Embracing a global concept inspired by my Greek and Italian heritage, we share unique and diverse flavors, creating unforgettable experiences for our guests who often express, “I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

As for our journey into the restaurant business, my background in science and anatomy led me to initially work in a hospital doing research. However, I found fulfillment in the restaurant industry, driven by my love for food, interacting with people and the excitement it brings. Joe and I, both previously working in food service, decided to collaborate in another restaurant, with him as the chef.

Balancing our personal and professional lives as a couple managing HONEY has been an ongoing process. Originally operating six days a week, we adjusted our schedule to align with our vision for a pampering experience. Closing lunch service and adding Sunday dinner, we later found a balance by closing on Mondays and Tuesdays, ultimately operating for dinner from Wednesday through Sunday. This adjustment has made us happier and more effective in our roles, allowing us to appreciate the incredible journey we’ve had over the past sixteen years.

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5. What was your vision behind the interior and overall atmosphere of HONEY?

When we acquired the restaurant, it was a large open space, and our vision was to transform it into a luxurious intimate dining experience. We aimed for a more spacious and private feel, reducing the number of booths but enhancing their size and comfort. The addition of curtains near certain booths was a creative touch to offer a more sensual experience.

Considering the importance of flattering lighting, we incorporated various light sources, including table lights and ambient lighting, to create a romantic and visually appealing setting. Candlelight adds to the overall romantic atmosphere.

Music plays a crucial role in setting the right vibe. The music, which has been personally curated by my husband, contributes to a lively, fun, yet romantic ambiance. The combination of lighting, decor, and music is carefully crafted to ensure that every aspect of the atmosphere aligns with the unique experience we aim to provide at HONEY.

6. In the age of social media and online reviews, how do you handle feedback, both positive and negative from your customers?

I aim to work at the highest level, giving my best every day, with integrity and care. However, there are always people who may be impossible to please or may have ulterior motives, like competitors or ex-employees leaving negative reviews. In the past, I used to be extremely affected by even one negative review, even losing sleep over it.

We strive to please our guests and don’t charge anyone for a dish that they do not enjoy. However, I’ve learned that some reviews are not legitimate or fair. In essence, I don’t read reviews regularly, especially the negative ones. I focus on positive feedback that acknowledges our efforts and do not let negativity control me.

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7. Almost all food chains and restaurants have secret recipes, but what has been your secret recipe for achieving the things you have today?

The secret recipe for success in life involves not dwelling on the past or mistakes. Life is never free of challenges; everyone faces problems, but it’s about how you handle them and the control you give them over your life. If someone dislikes a dish, it’s not a personal attack. The key is not to let one negative comment overshadow all the positive aspects.

In the restaurant, we’ve had instances where one table praises a dish while the neighboring table dislikes it. I’ve learned not to let that linger in my mind for days. Don’t let the bad things take up more space in your life than they deserve.

In dealing with rude customers, my approach is to feel sorry for them. They might not be having a good day, or week or life, and their behavior reflects that. “Kill them with kindness” is a powerful strategy. Your positivity can impact others. If you stay positive, you can influence someone having a bad day. Don’t let negativity dominate your life; every day is a new opportunity to start fresh.

Conclusion:

Amy McAtee’s journey in the culinary world tells a story of resilience and creativity. From the surprising naming revelation of Honey to the intricate art of restaurant management with her husband, Joe, Amy’s career is a testament to success in the ever-changing fine dining world. Her commitment to harmony and her way of overcoming challenges with a fresh perspective serves as inspiration for others navigating the complexities of the restaurant business.

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