Chef David Slay begins his day at sunup. “I’m not a big sleeper,” says the top Zagat rated chef/owner of Park Ave restaurant in Stanton, Calif.
“The first thing I do is check our video feed from my vineyard, so I can see as workers arrive, and start planning for the day.”
By 8 a.m., Chef Slay is on the scene at his destination restaurant in a blue-collar community about 15 miles from the coast. The romantic restaurant, with its large, verdant gardens, attracts 1,500 people to its dining room each week. And Slay, whose claim to fame is his “low-key approach, lack of tattoos, and aversion to the term farm-to-table” gets busy tackling office work associated with running Orange County’s Best American Traditional Restaurant, according to Zagat, making sure that above all else, the customer experience is one of the best.
“This sounds cheesy, but it takes a lot of nurturing of our customers to make our restaurant a success,” Slay says. “People come through the door expecting so much. They have a lot of other choices out there. And we strive to ensure that their drive to Stanton to find us was worth their trip.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog, Recipe for Success, Chef Slay tells us more about his rise in the hospitality business.
Q: What is your claim to fame?
Two things: I’m a low-key person and I don’t have tattoos or earrings. And we never use the term farm-to-table anywhere. We’ve always had our own gardens, where we grew our own produce, and have always worked closely with our farmers. We cook very clean and have access to great vegetables and ingredients. We just don’t call it farm-to-table because it’s just what I do. We grow it and we serve it. Our organic farm here supplies both restaurants (Slay’s second restaurant is Il Garage Ristorante) with organic fruits, lettuces. We cook very clean.
Q: Please elaborate on your clean cooking concept.
Our menus are simple. We don’t cook with 5-6 ingredients per dish. So, if you’re having fish, for example, you’ll taste the fish and the olive oil.
We grow greens year-round, and offer the best ingredients from our region. Our beets, carrots, chard, kumquat, wild broccoli and patsoy —an Asian green similar in look to baby spinach— have great flavor.
And we have a supply of specialty beef from farmers in Northern California and seafood that literally comes in on small boats. On any given day we’ll get a call from a small fisherman offering the day’s catch of yellowtail, for example.
So, our food is local, very fresh, and sustainable.
Q: How have you attracted customers to your door?
We’ve worked very hard to keep up the interest and the excitement through all tools available. We use Instagram and other social media, and we’ve had great reviews. As a result of social media and of our diligence in maintaining a database of our customers, we’re setting records in attendance. We’re getting 1,500 people a week coming to our restaurant, and we are not in a tourist destination. Stanton is not an epicenter of anything. We’re in a blue-collar community of roughly 30,000. There’s not much else out here, not a strip mall, or any other fine-dining restaurant. So, we are purely a destination experience.
Q: You’re expecting to be slammed with business this weekend. Tell me why.
The Academy Awards are this Sunday and typically restaurants are dead. But we’ve been doing this thing every year where we offer a take-out fried chicken dinner on that night. We set up in the parking lot, and in years past, we’ve served 800-900 take-out fried chicken dinners so people can go home with them and watch the Academy Awards.
Q: What are your biggest obstacles?
I’m pretty lucky. We’ve been able to retain staff and don’t have a big turnover. We pay more than most in salary, and we invest in our restaurant, keeping up with a full maintenance plan. We have a crew and groundskeepers who work full-time keeping everything from the kitchen to the gardens in top shape.
Q: Any advice for aspiring restauranteurs?
You’ve gotta be diligent and have a lot of patience. You also need to commit to working a lot of hours, and working hard. But it’s completely worth it! I come from a family of restauranteurs, who started in St. Louis in 1911. My wife Gale and I decided to come to California because we wanted to be in a bigger market. And it’s been amazing! — Park Ave restaurant uses Boxerbrand menu covers Iridescents Line in its table presentation. Thank you!