THE ANDERSON STORY —
After some years spent toiling away in the kitchen and never truly realizing that it was something I loved and could consider a career, I was fortunate enough to eat at The French Laundry. It was this meal that made me realize that cooking was– or could be — much more then just cooking. It is a craft that can deeply affect people in a positive way. I realized this was a career where I could use my blue collar work ethic, creativity and desire to please others in a way where I could actually make a living.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion for you?
I really just strive everyday to create a positive environment around me. With all that is going on in the world it seems like a really important time to focus on making people happy and that’s what makes me happy. Pretty simply I want my family, co- workers and guests to be happy, that’s my goal everyday.
Break it down percentage wise — how much in the food industry is consumer driven versus chef driven?
I can’t really break down the entire industry, but I will say that when a Chef cooks for their own egos and not the enjoyment of the guests, they are losing touch with what hospitality is to begin with. It should really be all about the guest.
People walk into a restaurant — what’s the first thing they’re likely to notice and what’s the first thing you generally notice?
I think I notice the same thing the average guest notices. But because I am a total geek about restaurants a “normal” restaurant guest might not think they are noticing what I first do, but they are. My first perception of a restaurant is what is I consider “things in the air” meaning scent, sound and lighting.
You have a location at Bradley International Airport in Hartford — what prompted you to be located there?
So I could get through the TSA line faster! I loved the idea of creating a menu that a traveler could enjoy. When I am traveling and eat heavy I always feel horrible, so we wanted to create something that could be eaten in small increments, as much or as little as the guest likes. My restaurants are within a pretty close proximity to the airport, so it helps to have a presence there with those coming in from out of town.
Is the consumer who comes to an airport food location different in anyway from those who would visit a non-airport location?
They are wildly different. The guest who is coming to the restaurant for dinner, is there for dinner. The traveling guest who comes to the airport has a more diverse set of needs. They could want food, just a quiet place to sit, a drink, or many drinks. That’s why the food experience at the airport is made more for snacks and bites then a commitment to a full meal. Although it is very possible to make it a full meal there if they so desire.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who provided it?
My Mom and Dad always told me to do what I loved and the rest would follow. I am now one of those very fortunate people who loves their job. Don’t get me wrong there are always bad days, but for the most part I feel like I am a very luck guy.
There’s so much clutter in the food industry today among those seeking attention — how do you separate yourself from your competitors?
I’m a pretty unique fellow so I really just try and make the restaurant a reflection of how I would like to dine, just stay authentic. I also have been blessed to have a great hardworking team who strives to get better daily.
Many consumers have become more aware about quality food options — but many are still not doing so in their daily lives. What’s your best advice you can give them to eat smarter and spend wisely?
My advice is to learn a little bit about cooking, it’s really quite easy — don’t tell anyone. Buy fresh foods, shop on the outside isles at the store and set some time aside to actually cook at home. Also, we don’t spend a high enough of a percentage of our household incomes on food, so I think we need to reevaluate the value of the fuel we put in our bodies.
In your personal career — what is the short and long term challenges you’re facing and how you plan on dealing with them?
Short term I want my businesses to continue staying financially stable. The onslaught of new restaurants is awesome for the guest and for myself too. But with so much competition it forces you to really stay on top of your game and with so many dining options for the guests we just need to continue to be honored that they chose to spend their dining dollars with us. Long term my challenge is to manage growth. I don’t want to get into any situations that may compromise the quality of what we are trying to do, but at the same time, I hate to miss opportunities.
Most people have bucket lists of things they wish to do. Give me your top three as it relates to the food industry.
Win a James Beard Award. Make Millwright’s one of the best restaurants in the US. Create something that makes the world a better place.