I’m sorry. It’s me. It’s definitely not you. You did all the right things. Every day open and waiting to delight guests with new and exciting dishes, plated in always different and beautiful ways. You showed up. You shined bright.
I feel like there has been a death in my family. I have this overwhelming sadness. I try to not ruminate as there are many layers to think about with the closing of my family’s favorite restaurant. It had been a second home to me for just over fifteen years.
I know things have been tough for the past couple of years. Many people are wondering what happened? How could such a fine restaurant with a dedicated following shutter its doors? I would guess that if I asked you what happened, I might get a different answer depending on the typical weekly calamities…downtown flooding, streets closed for parades, high overhead, expensive table linens (Frette, I noticed), long meals with clients who have short attention spans, increased food costs, the unsightly dumpster parked in front of your restaurant for endless months while the building next door underwent renovations. The regular need for sandbags and early closing every time it rained hard. Humidity from all the water in the ancient basement doing a number on your HVAC system. You endured many years of intense stress with changing palates, competition from the next new restaurant that garners all the attention for the few extra dollars that so many people manage. Constant festivals are both a boon on some days and a bust on others. Closed streets and full parking garages. None of these things ever stopped you. You always powered through.
It is impossible for me to think that the restaurant failed for any food or service failures. The contempt that some people spew on pages like Yelp, Open Table, and Facebook is disturbing. You, my friend, were never offering a factory food model that so many are willing to eat. Pre-made frozen desserts are a quick and easy solution for other establishments. You were not that type of purveyor…ever. In fact, to the untrained eye, it might appear that you placed a burger on your menu just to appease the unsophisticated palate of guests who may have been talked into going to a “sushi place.” Not so…you always understood there were days that people just need a burger, or a steak for that matter.
Metro! wasn’t just a place to grab a quick bite and move on. This special place was like my second living room. In the early years, it was my every weekend watering hole for my single social life. You provided me a safe and friendly place to meet people before social media changed the way we engage with each other. I never forgot the night you gave me the heads up on a guy that was chatting me up. You let me know he was a bad apple. You looked out for me.
Metro! was my go-to place to entertain physicians as a medical sales rep. Also, it was the only place in my mind for a girlfriends’ night out. Once remarried, it quickly become a place to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. As our kids left the nest and returned for short and sweet visits, it was always assumed we would go see Andy while they were in town. When they were old enough to drink, they wanted to have their first adult beverages with us at Metro! Now as empty nesters, Metro! was in heavy rotation for our cherished date nights. And is it where we often entertain visiting physicians while we try to convince future fellows and partners that Roanoke is a cool place to live and work.
We are in shock and disbelief at the closing of your innovative restaurant. You made it through so many tough times. You weathered the 2008 stock market collapse. You made it though marketing reforms which essentially stopped all medical marketing dinners, once a steady source of revenue. You blazed the trail for fine dining in Downtown.
The last three Januaries, my husband Mike wanted to do the Dry January challenge. This is a month where we challenge ourselves to give up alcohol for the health benefits, and to ensure that we still can. January is notoriously slow for restaurants, people overindulge from Halloween to New Years, then do a 180 in January to reset physically and financially, and to give the liver a break. The last 90 days, my husband and I have been eating low carb…I’m sorry Andy. I know that you always offer healthy choices including low carb, but my willpower to be in your living room without one of your craft cocktails is something I just couldn’t do and stick to my weight loss plan. I’m weak. Again, it was me, not you.
As we collectively scratch our heads on how this restaurant could close, the answer is simple. We didn’t show up for you. I know that each person will have a different perspective and even if I asked you three days in a row, I would probably get some different scenarios, but really it is basic. You would still be running your family business if we showed up.
Instead of pointing out all the inequities of being a small business owner in a challenging and ever-changing economy, I would like to help you remember all the things you did right.
First off, I loved the fact that I could be an adult in Roanoke. You gave me a place to get dressed up and turn out with friends, clients, and family. You provided an atmosphere that was sophisticated, not stuffy. Your food was always the focus and never an afterthought. Your attention to detail was superb. The drama of having a perfectly plated meal was impressive. Even up to the bitter end, you continued to innovate. You kept me guessing and dreaming. You inspired me to be a better cook at home.
Your passion for the freshest ingredients and innovative ways to prepare them was the main difference among your peers. Just provisioning the place would be a full-time task. Bacon was cured in-house. Bloody Mary mix, also fresh. That delicious half-sour dill pickle you spent years perfecting, atop the perfect grassfed beef burger…this is what separated you from others. I’m guessing it was hard to keep up with all those vendors.
I’m still in shock about how quickly people just want to make a quick judgment so they can file away the reason a restaurant closed, and move on to the next thing. There are textbook ways to do a grand opening; there are no textbook ways to end a business.
Our perceptions are the lens through which we experience life and the world around us. The uninformed on social media point to a common scenario, saying it is typical for a restauranteur to just shut the doors and leave a note. How simple-minded to imagine that is was an easy decision for you. You carefully arranged for other restauranteurs to meet with employees, and had job offers waiting for all of them on Sunday afternoon. The fact that your competitors are also your friends is a testament to the way you ran your business.
If others are quick to believe that you had bad intentions for your employees, then they weren’t regulars. Besides making phenominal cuisine daily, you were also a tenured restauranteur. Over your lifetime, you learned how to run a successful business from your parents. This is in your blood. I was speaking with one of your longtime employees just this morning. Dexter, a former server, who climbed his way to management within a couple of years. Dexter quickly rattled off a dozen things that you did for your staff. Dexter was respectful of your management style. He said you grew your own managers. You never hired outside managers to come into the team. You always promoted servers to assistant managers and then to managers as they developed the high level of customer service that you expected. Dexter appreciated your willingness to train staff members to DJ if they were interested, and give them a Thursday night shift to have the experience of getting a crowd on the dance floor. You always had a theme for the staff each year for Halloween costumes and a contest just for them. Dexter told me that one year the staff was ask to dress as their favorite superhero. He won with his Ghostrider costume, and was thrilled to be given a bottle of Dom Perignon as his prize.
As you are well aware, the nature of a restaurant is an ever-changing staff. One staff member relationship really stood out to Dexter. He said that when Chef Tom was working in the kitchen, it was a beautiful thing to watch. He said that ‘Tom and Andy worked together like a father and son.” When Chef Tom discovered he had cancer, it was his dying wish to continue working, right up to the bitter end. Andy, you followed his wishes and made that happen for him. For years you kept Chef Tom’s name listed as sous chef on the menu–long after he had passed away. Many highly-trained chefs helped you over the years. You became a regular mentor for many who were studying and working through our local Al Pollard Culinary School. You are a respected peer among local chefs.
Speaking of menus, can we talk about how frequently you changed yours? There were always a few dishes on the list that the regulars would not let go out of rotation, but there was also always something new to the season, or just new to Roanoke.
You were the first to offer Wagyu beef in Roanoke. Remember that stint of mini dessert flights? Just three or four bites, enough to satisfy most sweet tooths after a special meal. I remember you offered the dozen desert choices on an iPad. That was a cool new way to use technology, until a dinner guest used the tablet to search for adult materials, then when it was handed to the next table, a family, those naughty images came back. Sometimes we can’t have nice things here. Looking back further, remember when you did tableside fondue with the craft breads, house cured meats, local veggies and those adorable little fiddlehead ferns. I do. I know I annoyed you by begging you to bring it back, but that was so ten years ago. You have long moved on to master the next new technique. How about when more recently, you offered binchotan grilled food? This Japanese style of cooking uses special wood that had to be imported from Japan. Having affordable quick bites of Japanese street food was a special treat for Roanoke.
It will be a drastic change for your family that has fought hard week in and week out to put their special stamp on fine dining in Roanoke. I know you will adjust. I am deeply saddened that we could not sustain your presence in downtown.
The Wolfe Family loves you and your family, this will not change. Thank you for a fabulous fifteen years. It was awesome.