Mom taught me that you really don’t have a principle or a conviction unless you are willing to voluntarily inconvenience yourself for it.
When our twins landed on this planet 12 years ago, we decided to put our convictions about “Sustainable Practices” (our environmental stewardship and diversity programs) into a real, no kidding sincere mode. The motivation: We didn’t and don’t want to disappoint these kids or generations beyond.
Notching up our commitment was an inconvenience, because doing so makes most decisions more difficult. But, we ended up with Proximity and Print Works being the first hotel and restaurant in the country to attain the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) highest rating, Platinum, with their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program; arguably a pretty good outcome for the trouble.
The technique we used at the Proximity was to view each decision through a Sustainable Practices lens/filter. Loading such a lens is a chore because decisions are hard enough as it is without adding more considerations. Then, often times the new filter doesn’t have much information on it! And, what data it has is sometimes flawed so you end up not with a quick decision but with a research project. I often wonder if we have some sort of masochistic bent that causes us to enjoy making things more difficult, but then I remember what Mom taught me. By the way, it is even more of a pain when the process leads to an unconventional decision that requires more effort for implementation. In my experience, it is well worth it and it is fun. I’ve wondered if people from past generations didn’t use a variety of “lenses” more often than we do now.
Anyway, this process allowed us to gain competence with using non-typical lenses / filters so we decided to start looking at our decisions through an authenticity lens. For some time now, Nancy and I have been in search of higher levels of authenticity. We notice that we love having authentic experiences, so we reckoned that others (as in our guests and fellow staff members) might have the same reaction. Using this lens is doubly difficult, because I don’t know what authenticity is. I just know it when I see it. More to the point, I notice when it is missing— as I think we all do. I’m giving this background because it sets up the story I want to tell.
The other day I was dining on the veranda at Lucky’s in Greensboro when I had a fairly significant emotional experience. It was the sort of groundedfeeling that I’ve come to call “WA” (Warm and Authentic).
It began when I sat down and noticed the great fidelity of the sound system (now in stereo) playing a song by Laurelyn Dossett, a friend, neighbor and extraordinary singer-songwriter. I was waiting for my guest, so I just sort of soaked the music in. Then, not two songs later, a song by Evan Olson came on. Evan is also an extraordinary singer-songwriter and friend who worked with us back in the 90s when his band won the Dick Clark national talent search. All the while, I felt wonderfully enveloped by this beautiful outdoor room. I got to help design this space with my great friend, Don Rives, who sadly has since left this earth. This space is special, not just because of Don’s great design, but also because it is lovingly cared for by our friends Brenda McLamb and Tom Grandy. Then Karen Walker, who leads the team at Lucky’s, came my way with her sincere and authentic smile. She visited some guests near me then teased that I must have been stood up.
When my guest arrived, Eric, who is a great service staff member, told us about the specials. A day boat something-or-other for the fish and the special vegetable was crowder peas that Jay (Lucky’s Executive Chef) had picked up at the Farmers’ Market. I ordered the locally grown pan-fried catfish and as my sides I chose the crowder peas, kale greens with black-eyed peas plus green beans. When the plate arrived, it looked and tasted like a fantastic home-cooked dinner rather than a restaurant meal. (In my experience, restaurants seldom get food to the table that is soulful, delicious and nutritious plus appealing to the eye. This plate had all of that.) Then Jay happened to saunter by with his ever present playful, enthusiastic, academic, bohemian and serious about food way of being. His eyes twinkled when he asked if it tasted good. Just minutes later, I saw him wheeling a couple of coolers of food from the Farmer’s Market to the London Taxi that he uses to chauffeur his precious cargo. He was on his way to our Southern Kitchen in Cary to distribute that good stuff along with his enthusiasm and competence.
It occurred to me that this outfit might be progressing in its quest for higher levels of authenticity because I sure-as-fire experienced it. It all makes sense because isn’t there something authentic about the sorts of things I describe? But….it is elusive and dangerous for us to think much about it. If someone thinks they are cool, don’t they cease being cool? I’m not saying our restaurants and hotels are anywhere near as authentic as we want. This is about the journey, not the destination. Authenticity isn’t a destination. It lasts just a moment. We just want to string authentic moments together. When that happens, we think our guests and our fellow staff members will be glad.
At that lunch, I got to get what we aim to give.
I get this sort of experience right much around our hotels and restaurants. I see authentic folk sincerely busting their cans to take great care of our guests and their fellow staff members. It is this sort of thing, or when I don’t notice it and I get to enthusiastically help out, that keeps me passionate about playing my role, even 22 years on.
I could have told dozens of other stories. This one just came to my mind. When I see Heather Severino (Don Rives’ daughter) helping our guests or team at the Green Valley Grill, I get the same feeling. And, I know this journey is for real when I wander around Leigh Hesling’s kitchen at Print Works and see folk making homemade stocks, cutting fries and cooking duck confit the only way you ought to.
Telling this story has motivated me to write up a list of extraordinary things that this team does, but we haven’t the space to put the list here. It will be at qwrh.com —click on the “Above and Beyond” tab.
When you visit one of our places, it is our intention that you get food that tastes great, that you experience guest rooms that are extraordinary, that your service is friendly and competent and that you see facilities that are aesthetically pleasing and very well maintained. As a bonus, I hope that you get to experience some level of what I’m not doing such a good job of explaining here.
If you are still awake, I apologize about the cure promise. I tried.
Cheers! Dennis & Nancy King Quaintance
- I’ve recently learned that the Center for Principled Problem Solving at Guilford College is doing work with ideas that sound similar to the “filter/lens” thing I’ve talked about. I look forward to learning more from them.
- I am skeptical when business people talk about their principles. I hope you read this just as a story, not as a greater than thou sort of thing. This cowboy, and this outfit, have flaws out the ying-yang (er….yin-yang?) but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a tale to tell.
- Laurelyn now plays at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen on Tuesday nights while Chef Jay Pierce cooks delicious skillet fried chicken. Both are wonderful.
- Evan now often performs with Jessica Mashburn. The duo is called AM rOdeO. They just released an album called “Doot.” Jessica has been a key member of this team for a decade. They play Wednesday evenings at Print Works where we serve a great Mussels special and have extra low prices on some respectable wines.
- In the next year, we’ll bring a lot of the sustainable practices enhancements that we used at the Proximity and Print Works to the O.Henry and Green Valley Grill plus our two Lucky 32 Southern Kitchens.
- I could have told supporting stories about the diversity plank of our sustainable practices program, but there was only enough room for these examples and diversity lacks a USGBC type of certification.