“Didn’t you just want to take home the smoked tomato sauce?”
“The fresh arugula under the so shell crab was from their own garden!”
“The mint in the homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream was also from the garden!”
“Where else can you find venison and wild boar and have it consistently well-prepared?”
These are just some of the comments from customer reviews of Anthony’s Restaurant and Bistro. Why does Anthony’s have such an excellent reputation? Why do so many North Country people make Anthony’s their “go to” place for anniversaries, graduations, birthdays, and other special events? For the team at the helm, the answer is simple: customer service and customer satisfaction. According to Wikipedia, “Customer service is the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase. The perception of success of such interactions is dependent on employees ‘who can adjust themselves to the personality of the guest’.”
While trying to explain their reputation for good customer service, bartender Debora Rascoe-Hovis echoes the Wikipedia definition, “We are good at reading the customer. We’re consistent with that. I don’t think we phone it in.” No one will ever accuse the staff at Anthony’s of “phoning it in”. Every member of the staff always seems to be present and ready to serve.
For the owner and executive chef Scott Murray customer service means confidence in their product and customers who are proud to be at his restaurant. But Murray was quick to point out that Anthony’s is all about teamwork, “Everyone here knows that the better they do, the better the restaurant does.” Rascoe-Hovis added, “We check in with each other and really do work as a team.” There are no stars here with the exception of Anthony’s itself which the staff proudly points to as a bastion of gracious and excellent contemporary dining. Murray explained, “We’re about country elegance; we’re not food art. I would just as soon have you think you can come here every day.” A pamphlet by the front door begins to explain his pride in being a local, chef owned restaurant:
“We source local and regional seasonal ingredients whenever possible as we benefit from the quality products our community has to offer. As well as partnering with many quality local farms and producers, our own gardens supply the restaurant with many of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs used in our kitchen dining room.”
Then comes the philosophy and inspiration behind the food Murray has served as chef for the last 34 years:
“Our classic European inspired American cuisine incorporates con- temporary flavors with focused attention to detail while maintaining a rustic presentation. We begin with sustainable ingredients in their purest form and prepare all of our menu items in-house. We control the quality of our ingredients by making our own stocks, producing our own smoked items as well as charcuterie, hand cutting all of our steaks and fresh seafood, and creating all of our desserts (including unusual flavors of ice cream).”
Once in the front door and ready to dine, the customer gets to choose his or her atmosphere. For a casual atmosphere with a pub style feel, a comfortable bar, and live music Friday and Saturday evening, the Bistro is first come, first seated with no reservations. For a more intimate, white tablecloth setting and sophisticated feel, the dining room offers guests a more refined setting and reservations are appreciated. If the party is large, the Gold Room can seat up to 50 people for a special occasion or event, and if one can’t make it to the restaurant because the wedding is on the beach or in the woods, or it’s unfortunately a funeral, you can call Anthony’s catering.
When Scott Murray bought the business from Drew and Linda Sabella in 2009 he said he thought the restaurant business was about the food. Since then he has changed his mind and now says that it is good customer service that comes first because that is what brings customers back.
To give his staff more of a say in the business, Murray created a team of managers who meet once a week. While he runs the kitchen, Michael Minehan runs the front of the house, Scott William manages the catering business which has served as many as 600 people at a time. Bartenders Jimmy Golavach and Debora Rascoe-Hovis are managers, but Golavach also takes care of the art, the grounds, and the gardens, while Rascoe-Hovis manages the books. Each one of them talks about the trust and pride they have in the restaurant and their fellow workers, which is not always the case in the food service field where one never knows what is going to happen next, except to roll with the punches when it gets busy.
Talking to Murray and his management team, one cannot help but be impressed by the longevity and loyalty of the staff. Murray started at the restaurant when he was 21 years old in 1983, Jimmy Golovach was 19 when he began in 1988 and only 22 when he painted the well-known mural on the bistro wall. Waiter Tyler Wilson has been there just shy of thirty years and four of the kitchen staff have each been at the restaurant for fifteen years or more. Michael Minehan, a 20 year veteran, said that besides being treated well, there are so many long timers among the staff because of the nature of the customer base, “In Plattsburgh, we’re the special place and they know what they will get. Our customers are happy to be here, they return. We get to know the people, then their children come here, then the children have children and they come here.”
When asked if customer service is a dying art, Michael Minehan said he knows a restaurant owner in Glens Falls who swears that in twenty years all service will be robotic, but he can’t picture it at Anthony’s, “I don’t think it replaces the whole experience. You are our guest. We want to make people feel comfort- able and enjoy their time with us. People expect a certain level of service from us versus say a Chili’s. We want people to feel at home and not have to worry about anything.”
For Golovach, the familiarity of Anthony’s actually does feel like home. He thinks that in most restaurants proper service is falling by the wayside “but it is so important in a small business that is not a chain. Thankfully there is a resurgence of fine dining.” Customer service to Golovach is about their whole time in the restaurant, “We want to make sure the customer is greeted and cared for throughout the dining experience and is attended to without it being overbearing.” Then like the good bartender he is, he added, “I want the guests to guide me rather than my guiding them.”
Debora Rascoe-Hovis said, “There is an element of theater at Anthony’s. We are hosting a party and creating an atmosphere and a place where both the customer and we want to be.”