Q: What includes twelve hotels, thirty-eight restaurants, pigs as happy as, well, pigs in Thornton, Iowa, fourteen days, (Lucky) 3200.3 miles, a set of 4H year old twins and two blissful parents?
A: Our QFBA III (Quaintance Family Big Adventure III) Road Trip, “Okoboji and Back,” or: “How to be as happy as a gopher in soft dirt.”
We had incredible experiences on our adventure that are worth mentioning here because they impacted us professionally. We believe that, over time, organizations tend to become “internally focused.” In other words, there is a tendency for a team to focus more on its own experience than the experience of those it serves. We know this tendency, we fight against it, but it is a strong force. An antidote is to immerse oneself in the external perspective; in our case, the guests’ perspective.
Our road trip was one deep immersion (we love understatements). It gave us a frame of reference that won’t wear off for a good while. At many of the hotels we were greeted in a technically competent, yet insincere, way, and, often, restaurant staff members were all but rude to this road-weary family that arrived late. (People who work in restaurants and hotels ought to be nice to their guests, and if they don’t have it in them to be nice, they ought to move on; how crazy to get the cold shoulder because you are tired and look it!)
As a result of our trip we are even more dedicated to keeping our promise of friendly competent service, flavorful food and outstanding accommodations. If you ever feel any way but 100% welcome in our restaurants or hotel, we want to know about it. If you’re not as happy as a pig in Thornton, Iowa, (more on that later) let me (Dennis) know. I can be reached at [email protected]or 336-370-0966 x 322.
Cheers! Dennis & Nancy King Quaintance
P.S. A family reunion took us to the heartland. Here are some travel hints… In Louisville, Kentucky hit Lynn’s Paradise Café, and do visit the glassworks. The architecture in Columbus, Indiana is breathtaking (really) and the Blennerhasset Hotel in Parkersburg, West Virginia will exceed your expectations by 200%. The West Virginia Capital Complex is beautiful and worth visiting. The American Club Hotel in Kohler, Wisconsin is worth its lofty prices. The Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa is a 10 (the best arts & crafts restoration I have ever seen, and Lake Okoboji in northwest Iowa is amazing (a spring-fed lake, 150 feet deep in the middle of Iowa – who would have thunk it). Don’t just visit Oshkosh, Wisconsin during the “fly-in,” the aviation museum is fantastic year-round. And, last but not least, instantly leave a hotel that doesn’t smell just right.
P.P.S I thought you’d like to know that we were worried about having to take lots of restroom breaks while traveling with small children, but it worked out fine – our twins waited patiently for me. DQ
Where a pig can be a pig…
We’re now serving Niman Ranch pork in all of our restaurants (nimanranch.com). It tastes better and their farming and processing practices are better. Niman Ranch is actually a network of small, family-owned farms across the country and we visited Paul and Phyllis Willis on their farm in Thornton, Iowa (you know, just south of Clear Lake). Paul Willis is the leader of the network of family farms that grows pigs the way they did back when pork was flavorful. All the Niman Ranch farms, including the Willis’, follow a “strict protocol that includes treating their animals humanely, feeding them all-natural feeds and allowing them to mature naturally.”Their commitment to the “highest standards of husbandry and environmental stewardship” make this a natural partnership.
Plenty of fish to fry (or bake or sauté)…
We are changing our fish purchasing policies to incorporate our “sustainable practices” notion. Unless we become convinced that the ocean farming practices are sustainable, we intend to phase out farm-raised salmon. We’re offering more freshwater-farmed fish, such as tilapia, trout and lots of catfish. The flavor is impressive, especially because our supplier provides us with freshwater fish that’s raised in a low-stress environment, fed an all-natural diet and shipped within hours of leaving the water. We are confident that you’ll taste the difference. (Plus, we knew that catfish had come of age when it was featured in a favorable light in a “New York Times Magazine” article this past spring.)
Tomatoes that taste like tomatoes…
The heavy rains have had a challenging effect on our Field Truck initiative but we are up and running now. Farm raised tomatoes and other good stuff are featured throughout our Lucky 32 Farmer’s Market menu in the Heirloom Tomato & Mozzarella Salad, Gazpacho, Fried Green Tomatoes, and, of course, summer could not be summer without a BLT. And we’re not just talking tomatoes – we’re also preparing fresh seasonal dishes every day, based on what our Victualer brings in from the fields. Stop by Lucky 32 to enjoy the bounty of the season, or come to the Green Valley Grill for some Kitchen Garden favorites that include Summer Vegetable Risotto, Vegetarian “Lasagna” and other recipes specially designed to highlight the fresh flavors of summer. And be sure to save room for our Summer Fruit Crostada, a juicy rustic tart dessert that will convince you that North Carolina fruits are the best around. (Get the whole scoop about our Field Truck and sustainable practices initiative by visiting our website at qwrh.com and perusing previous issues of our Neighborhood Letters.)
The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (carolinafarmstewards.org) and UNCG’s Project Green Leaf (greenleaf.uncg.edu) have helped us tremendously with this program. With their help, we believe we can have a positive impact on developing and sustaining sound practices that will meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We’re confident that you’ll enjoy the flavor advantage we get from using fresh, responsibly farmed foods. Please let us know what you think of our “Slow Food” by contacting Bart Ortiz, our Vice-President of Flavor & Consistency, at [email protected] or 336-370-0966 x 347.
In May, as part of the crash-course in wine service training that Julia provides for each of our servers, several of our managers and staff members took a “field trip” to four North Carolina wineries, including Hanover Park, RayLen, Shelton and West Bend. (Their wines are better than you would expect. We predict that the Yadkin Valley appellation will become highly respected.) Private behind-the-scenes tours, barrel tastings, a picnic lunch and lots of new information were packed into one dizzying day. As the group traveled from one winery to the next, Julia quizzed her “students” about what they had just learned. At the end of the day, after learning about the history of grape growing in North Carolina and beyond, as well as the differences between a Chardonnay and a Shiraz, or a Pinot Noir and a Pinot Grigio, everyone was confident that they would pass the required Wine Service Test that each of our staff members take before serving our guests.
So, the next time you’re in the mood to relax with a glass of wine, we hope you’ll come by Lucky 32 or the Green Valley Grill and let Julia, or one of our well-trained staff members, help you choose the wine that will suit your mood and your meal.
“Suddenly I smiled and seemed to see that life has no geographical metes and bounds.”
From Best-Seller, O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)