Tom Jankovich looked out the window of his North Carolina restaurant concept and saw a line of cars heading his way.
“All of a sudden, there they were!” Jankovich says.
Coming from the mountainous Bannerelik region of his state, on word-of-mouth news that the longtime country club chef had opened his own restaurant, loyal fans and patrons found their way to the Painted Fish Café without so much as a billboard to lure them in.
But nothing in Jankovich’s story of success came easy. It came from having his back against the wall. And like so many, having to reinvent himself after job loss and the challenge of hospitality in the era of Covid.
“In 2010 I was let go from a job I’d held for 10 years as a country club chef,” Jankovich says. “I didn’t want to leave the mountains because my kids were in school, and I didn’t want to uproot them.”
But when he cast his line in the area, he pulled up a move-in-ready 2,400 square foot facility with updated kitchen and outdoor seating for 150. And then it was up to Tom.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand’s blog Recipe for Sucess, Jankovich talks about riding the hospitality wave atop choppy waters.
Boxerbrand: What’s a Painted Fish doing in the mountains?
Tom Jankovich: My plan was to call it Scratch Kitchen, because we make everything from scratch — all the stocks, breading, everything. And my Dad and a friend of mine, who wanted to invest, said they didn’t like the name. Then for some reason I started thinking about a trip I had taken to a store that had a big, metal fish sculpture. I don’t know why, but I loved it. And I told my wife I was going to buy that fish. But it was $350, and that was just too much. But, by the time we opened, the metal fish had come down in price to $75; my staff pitched in and bought it for me! I love it. I just thought it was so cool. And we really built a theme, even our name, around it.
Boxerbrand: How did Painted Fish Café navigate the choppy waters of Covid?
Tom Jankovich: When Covid hit, it was the wintertime, and I was already operating at a seasonal low. I was down to two people in the kitchen with me. We had to shut down because of regulations, so I did takeout by myself. I’d answer the phone, take the orders, and make it happen. When it got to the point where I couldn’t handle it, I brought the souse chef back. When we were allowed, we re-opened at 50-percent capacity, and I realized we did just as well in terms of money in the pocket as we did when we were operating full time. Even though I lost a lot of revenue, I also dropped a lot of costs.
We actually did pretty well. Even though we made less money, we scaled back our overhead. I’m doing the work of three people in the kitchen. My souse chef and I have been doing all the work ourselves, as opposed to normal times when we had four cooks, a souse chef and myself. My daughter was in California working in rental real estate. When the pandemic hit and her lease was up, she threw everything into a storage shed and came here. She now works in the restaurant with two other servers, and she makes a lot more money.
Boxerbrand: What’s on the menu?
Tom Jankovich: We’re known for putting a unique twist on recognizable dishes. We offer a range of dishes, from pastas, ahi tuna and curried scallops to meatloaf with bison and bleu cheese. We also do a pan-seared sesame tuna with creamy risotto and wasabi aoli and a reduced soy sauce.
Boxerbrand: How have the Boxerbrand menu covers worked out for you?
Tom Jankovich: We upgraded our menu covers when we did an upgrade to the restaurant. It really made a difference in adding to the ambience of our room. — Painted Fish Café uses Boxerbrand’s Slenders menu-cover line in its table presentation. Thank you!