Friday, August 29, 2014

Tim Bando: Balance, the new success

When I first interviewed Tim Bando, he was at a precipice. He had come to the realization that his definition of success needed to change – not because success had eluded him in Tremont (Theory), New York City (Tremont), or the Hamptons (Meeting House), but because the cost of success was too great. It took the shock of his wife picking up and moving back to Cleveland with their children for that epiphany to occur. He had to modify his definition of success to “balance.” It is a daily pursuit.

After my initial meeting with him on that cold December morning, I was satisfied with his reasons for returning to Cleveland in 2012. His wife wanted to be closer to her family and he wanted more realistic hours, nothing too drastic. The brutal hours are a common complaint. It wasn’t until I was back at my desk organizing my notes when my phone rang. It was Tim. He proceeded to tell me his story. Bando, like many others in the industry, was battling addiction. He wanted to go on record – not only as part of his own healing process, but also to raise awareness of one of the real dangers in the industry. It also reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with a restaurateur who has since relocated, who said, “you’re young and at the end of your shift you have a lot of cash. If you want trouble, it’ll find you.” 

Since that original article was published, Bando has transformed Deagan’s Kitchen & Bar in Lakewood into a successful venture, created the menu and opened Humble Wine Bar just down Detroit Road from Deagan’s, and went on to do the same for The Standard on the east side. As I drove to Chagrin Falls to meet him recently, I couldn’t help remembering his emphatic proclamation at our first meeting: Tim Bando wasn’t interested in opening his own place. Grove Hill, Bando’s new restaurant, located in the old Raintree space, has been open for six weeks now. Take from that what you will. I figured it was a good time to check in.

Grove Hill
Grove Hill, Dining Room
He was running a little late. I wandered into a side door that was left open by a service repairman who appeared to be working on the HVAC system. The transformation isn’t dramatic, but it’s done in such a way that has preserved all that was good while stripping away the years of wear-and-tear it endured. Raintree was there so long that it had become woven into the very fabric of Chagrin Falls’ culture. The tables are lined with white butcher paper, brightening the room while giving the tables a polished look. The walls have been freshly painted a warm gray with black trim. Two of the original clocks adorn the dining and bar areas. There’s also a painting of Tim’s wife as a young girl on the wall in the bar. The painting sets up the family friendly vibe, confirmed by his children’s menu. The main menu is nicely casual, offering American dishes with Mediterranean influences. He is also offering a variety of oysters. For the most part, the décor still relies on the original bones of the space. The arched, wood-trimmed mirrors in the main dining room and the bi-level bar area remain the most dominant architectural features. The bar itself is where most of the renovations occurred. Notably, they repurposed an area within the dining room to be used as a private dinning space. It can easily accommodate a party of twelve.

Grove Hill, Bar

Grove Hill, Private Party Room
Enter Bando. He’s simultaneously talking to his FOH manager and the workers, and apologizing to me for his tardiness; it’s as if a mild cyclone has entered the room. He immediately starts obsessing about a Yelp review, one negative in a sea of positive reviews. A review he already knows he should not have read. We sit at the bar with the afternoon light streaming in. I ask him how his first weekend of brunch service went. “It was good. We wanted to ease into it so we didn’t make a big announcement about it. Now that we have that experience behind us, we’re ready to get the word out. We’ve enjoyed a great reception since our open. It took longer than I thought it would to get open and we went over budget.” He adds the last part almost in jest. Again he brings up reviews. “The critical reviews have all been positive. I wish I could focus on those and block this one out,” Bando says. He tried to contact the review’s writer, but as of last Monday he hadn’t been able to make the connection. I try to set him at ease by mentioning that most chefs simply don’t read Yelp reviews. But since I’m all too aware that this is this same obsessive nature that leads most chefs to triumph, I let it go. Even though I’d love to ask if he’d consider reading his Yelp reviews on camera.

Chef Tim Bando in front of a painting of his wife as a child
“Grove Hill is most like Meeting House,” he explains, citing his place in Amagansett. “A casual bar, relaxed dining room. We offer five-to-seven varieties of oysters, which come in three-or-four times a week.” He also offers a 45-dollar dry-aged ribeye from Pat La Frieda, which is served with wild mushroom hash, roasted cipollini onions and salsa verde. “I’m not fucking putting mashed potatoes on the menu,” Bando declares. He goes on to mention he’s been experiencing more substitution requests out in the suburbs “We do the best we can to substitute based on the ingredients on hand. I’m not going to 86 a dish to allow someone a side that will be needed for another. An up-charge may be incurred – it depends on what they want to sub,” Bando explains. Evidently, this has been more of an issue than he would like. He’s also considering adding a late night menu featuring a cheese program and oysters for people coming home from social engagements.

Despite these minor protestations, he is quick to mention how well things have gone for him since opening – largely due to the fact that among his 30 employees are many veterans of the industry People he has known and trusted for years. They help him run his 130-seat restaurant with an additional 16 seats at the bar, eight more in the window and 24 on the riser. Things have worked out.

When asked what advice he might have for young people who want to pursue a career in the culinary industry, he immediately chimes in with “choose another profession.” He also recommended, “work with the best people in the industry. People you want to emulate. It takes time to become a Sous Chef but it is that relentless repetition and practice that will get you there. Too many are bored too quickly. It takes time to develop talent.” In a bittersweet moment he says, “if I had gone to culinary school at 18, I might very well be retired by now.” He doesn’t want the job of babysitter. He sees his role as that of a supervisor. “Applying constant, gentle pressure to get them up to speed. You can’t let anything go.” I get the general impression that being a chef means sweating the small stuff.

I asked what he thought about Cleveland’s prospects and he was hopeful, adding this caveat: “We’re not Chicago and we’re not New York City. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can move on with the business of realizing Cleveland’s potential.” He also worries we may be hitting critical mass in restaurants. “Consumers will decide which restaurants will make it and the frustrating reality is that restaurants with fine culinary programs are not guaranteed success.”

Finally, I wanted to be indulged in one last Tim Bando story, since he is also a skillful raconteur. I asked him what the craziest thing that’s happened to him while on shift. He recounted this adventure: “I’m working at Avanzare in Chicago and we witnessed someone stealing wallets from unsuspecting patrons at the bar. He was reaching inside ladies’ handbags that were draped across the back of the bar stools. We called the authorities but before they could get there, he made a dash for it. We trapped him inside the revolving doors until the cops could get there.” That’s the kind of quick-on-your-feet thinking that is expected of chefs every day.

I mention that I continue to recieve positive feedback regarding the initial published article. Bando adds, “Since then several people in the industry faced with similar problems have contacted me seeking help and advice. I’ve been given the biggest second chance of my life. We’ve all settled into our new routine.” There is balance. 

Grove Hill Restaurant
25 Pleasant Drive
Chagrin Falls, OH 44022


Prices: $$

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