Lifestyle

Enterprising Restaurateurs Lisa & Kirk Chin

Thursday, June 14, 2018

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There are few serial restaurateurs, with various dining concepts existing under one corporate umbrella, who can truly pass muster. Immediately coming to mind are David Chang (Momofuku), Shereen Arazm (Terroni), Danny Meyer (Shake Shack), Yotam Ottolenghi (Ottolenghi) and The Rock's own Lisa & Kirk Chin. The Chins, who own Fromage Gourmet Market, Fromage Bistro, Oak Wine Bar and Café Dolce, were honoured with the prestigious Enterprise Award at the 20th staging of the Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards, recently.

“Our customers and friends are happy we were recognised and have been complimenting us through social media outlets,” said Lisa Chin, co-principal of Fromage, speaking with Thursday Food.

The Enterprise Award is given to a business that is innovative, multi-faceted and offers seamless customer service. The Chins' restaurants are a master class in ideation, unpretentious service and anticipating the needs of their customers. Having a great concept, however, is just not enough. Successful hospitality leaders know how to befriend in order to give them the things they never knew they wanted.

“(Our customers) believe our award is well deserved and have always thought we should be awarded for our investment in Jamaica,” said Chin. When most North American restaurants close within their first year (mainly due to shoddy customer service, poor execution of concept and sub-par food) and with takeout becoming a daily exercise versus a once-in-a-while treat, opening a restaurant, especially in a population-dense city, isn't for the faint of heart. Not only is there stiff competition with similar restaurants, but also with fast-food chains that sell enough food to feed a small family, for a song.

After the success of the opening of Fromage in 2013, Lisa and Kirk turned their sights to wine (a natural union) and opened Oak Wine Bar on Hillcrest Avenue in May 2016. And, ever the busy restaurateurs, they expanded their empire to include a slick fast-casual concept: Café Dolce by Fromage (Constant Spring Road) in December 2017. Later this month another Café Dolce will be opened at Kingston Industrial Garage (Spanish Town Road). “Kirk and I are very happy that the Observer recognises Fromage's contribution to the restaurant and service industry, as well as our contribution to employment. It is very appreciated that all our hard work did not go unnoticed,” Lisa remarked.

Lisa and Kirk have not only built a successful brand but have developed a loyal following. They are avid travellers — imperative for any restaurateur who wishes to stay ahead of trends and continually delight their customers. Not to mention, the conflation of the world due to social media — customers see the drool-worthy dishes from other parts of the globe and want to have that experience without having to stamp their passports. The Chins somehow have managed to always stay just ahead of the curve and this has endeared them to the hearts and bellies of a number of Jamaicans.

In 2006 Danny Meyer, who also owns the award-winning Union Square Café and the Manhattan dining institution Gramercy Tavern, wrote what quickly became the hospitality bible, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of the Hospitality Business. The leitmotif being unpretentiousness, easy-mannered professionalism and graciousness. A successful restaurant isn't just built on having good food and service but also by deeply connecting with customers to the point where they feel like family. Lisa and Kirk Chin see all their customers as members of one large family and it is felt, whether you dine at Fromage, Oak or Café Dolce, because home is not a place, but a feeling.

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