The kitchen was a madhouse.
It was Thanksgiving in the late 80s. The club house at The Fair Grounds racetrack in Louisiana seated around 2,000; and on that holiday, all eyes were on the kitchen doors.
They remained stubbornly closed. Hungry guests began to wonder why.
Finally, Vicky Bayley stood up and decided to find out what was going on.
Part of a longtime horse racing family, she’d worked alongside her Thoroughbred-trainer father and eventually went to work for the Fair Grounds.
With confidence, she strode into the kitchen to get answers, and wound up taking over the reins of that holiday meal.
“I was wearing a suede outfit when I decided to walk into the kitchen to find out what the holdup was,” Bayley says. I was told there was an ‘expeditor problem’. And then the chef turned and looked at me and said, ‘Miss Vicky, you’re going to get hurt in here, you should leave.’ And I said to him, he was going to get hurt if he didn’t get it together!”
Tying an apron over her beautiful outfit, Vicky Bayley went to work alongside the kitchen staff, plating 2,000 dinners for hungry, impatient guests.
By 1991 Bayley had invested in her first restaurant with chef Michael Fennelly, and from there went on to achieve critical acclaim with restaurants and partnerships. “I’ve been involved with 18 restaurants. I’ve helped some transition under new ownership, and others with startups, helping them create a name and logo.”
This past year, Vicky Bayley’s newest venture took her to 22 Saint Ann Drive in Mandeville, LA, where she flung open the doors to the St. Ann Wine Bar. In a lovely space surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows in a hip and historic part of town, Bayley teams up with Jeff James, who was the sommelier at Keith Young’s Steakhouse in Madisonville.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Bayley discusses her new venture.
Q: Please tell me about St. Ann’s Wine bar.
I created the food and menu with chef Mike Fennelly with the goal of creating small plates I could create on my own. I hired a chef and he was in the kitchen for one day and never came back.
So, on opening night, I was in the kitchen by myself when I texted an SOS to a friend of mine, who is a chef. He stayed with me the first night, and I’ve been doing the platings by myself ever since. Jeff James is the sommelier — he offers 41 wines by the glass. And, muy son has also joined our operation, and he brings a youth and vibrancy to the room.
Q: How do you create great bites?
Because I wasn’t a formally trained chef, I wanted to design something where I could be in the kitchen, create great meals, while having fun in a business that I love.
We designed a menu I could execute, and one that reflected the foods I like to eat. So, for example, I make small plates ranging from mini Angus meatballs, and blackened AHI tuna Napoleon, to a St. Ann cheese board, crispy potato chips. We offer a number of popular sliders, hummus plates, pizza and desserts.
I’ve learned that as with any kitchen, the prep work is the most important part, along with the timing. And when you’re doing small plates, you can send them out as soon as they’re ready.
And our sommelier has a deep and rich wine list of reds, whites and bubbles that our customers love.
Q: What’s your secret to success?
One of the things I have learned through the years is that it’s not a sin to not know something.
So, you find the best people, the experts, and you bring them in to teach what you don’t know.
That kind of “fake it until you make it” adage is really true. But you have to surround yourself with the best people you can find who know what you do not know. In the restaurant business, you need to strive to learn all aspects of it and eventually become expert.
Q: How did you attract your first customers?
We did some advertising on a local radio station and word-of-mouth. We also got involved in our community, working with fundraisers in the neighborhood, which is in the heart of Mandeville, a high-end shopping center.
We chose the name St. Ann after the street name to help people find the location. And we’ve enjoyed great success of being in the right place. There are high-end shops all around us, and the addition of a wine bar was perfect for this spot. It’s doing really well. It’s designed like the lobby of a hotel, rustic and comfortable. We have seating in an outdoor area, and also offer private functions in a room reserved for private parties.
Q: How did working alongside your Thoroughbred trainer father help prepare you for the hospitality business?
Both industries can be really grueling. But you have to find a way to make it fun.
When I was younger and raised on the racetrack, I watched my Dad work 16 hours a day. But it was in his blood, and he loved it. That’s how I feel about restaurants. In 1991, I opened Mikes’ on the Avenue in New Orleans. .It became a very big hit and was named in the top 50 by Esquire. My next restaurant was Artesia which I opened in New Orleans with John Besh. He became a critically acclaimed chef, and the restaurant was very successful.
As Bayley states in her own blog on St. Ann’s Wine Bar, going from the race track to the fast track in the restaurant business was fostered in an appreciation for working hard, taking knocks, and seeking opportunity when doors open: “How did I get into the restaurant business? Maybe because of the way I was raised, thinking about planning out my life just never occurred to me. When you are training horses, winning and losing is just a part of the game…”
And after decades in hospitality, and with 18 successful restaurant ventures, Bayley once more is in the thick of it in her own busy kitchen, making small plates, and overseeing St. Ann’s Wine Bar. — Vicky Bayley uses Boxerbrand’s Café Line in her table presentation at St. Ann’s Wine Bar and has relied on Boxerbrand for many of her restaurant ventures. Thank you! *Please check out Boxerbrand’s new Super Duck Printed Menus line!