What is your official title?
I’m the owner, the founder, of Food Dance. I used to be the Executive Chef, but that’s Robb Hammond’s title now.
What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?
I do roll over and look at my phone to look at what happened the night before at the restaurant. We have an online app, a service called Ctuit, it’s a polling company, and you can instantly see what happened at the restaurant the night before. The manager logs in, and you can see what they’ve been doing, and check on things, like for example if something broke the previous day. I look at that, and I can easily see what happened if I wasn’t there that day. I work at home a lot in the morning, I answer emails, all of that kind of stuff. Then I come into the restaurant, say hi to people, and I really stay busy with all of the new projects we have going on.
How was your transition away from Executive Chef?
Well, even though I’m not making the cooking decisions anymore, I am still the General Manager, so I am functioning in that role. What I do now is get involved in the food profiles and tastes, and can give feedback like ‘we need to work on this’, but I don’t need to approve every dish like I used to. Chef Robb and I sometimes work on the menus together. It was an interesting transition; I learned a lot about myself from it. I stopped telling people in the kitchen what to do, and instead, gave some guidance, and let them work through it. We have been through a lot of change in the past five years, and we’ve really needed to learn how to be in a big space. We are now managing between 80 and 90 staff. My days have changed a lot, and now I’m needing to look at things from a bigger, wider viewpoint.
What kind of projects are you currently working on?
We are renovating the market. We opened that market about six months after we opened the restaurant, and the vision was to sell food, and to sell products that people couldn’t easily get. But, it moved into this place that I didn’t like. It moved into being “gift-shoppy”, and while that was cool, and unique, it just isn’t who we are. So, we wanted to showcase all the product that people didn’t know we had up to the front. We’re moving the cases, and, it’s just very exciting. We’re going to start selling sustainably raised meat like we currently butcher, that isn’t offered much in this community. There will be a new cheese case with more American artisan cheeses, and it gives us an opportunity to do more education with our guests. We’ve been at the Kalamazoo Farmer’s Market all summer, it’s been really well received. We sell as much cheese on that one day than we do in two weeks! So the market is a big project, moving lots of things around. My husband does all of the interior work, the construction, so we work on these projects together.
We are also branding all of our packaging, so that’s a huge project with marketing. We’ve gotta get it right. Figuring out who you are on print is challenging. We are moving our offices upstairs and putting a cooler downstairs. Just a lot of things going on around here!
Any upcoming events that you’re particularly excited about?
Yes, October is National Cheese Month! We have two events going on. One is a Blue vs. Cheddar tasting, and we are fashioning that after one of the cheese tastings that Michelle Miller and I did in Torino, Italy. So we are taking six beverages and six cheeses, and comparing them! And the dinner is really exciting because we are going to cook with cheese, and we’ll have the cheese makers here. And we are doing grilled cheese sandwiches in October.
What do you love most about Kalamazoo?
I had a business in Ann Arbor too, but I came here and stayed here because I just felt like Kalamazoo needed to eat really well. I love that we’re close to the lake. I love that it’s a friendly community. It’s dramatically different from other communities. It’s not so transient an environment, you know, we’re just friendlier here – maybe it has something to do with the name!
Where did the idea for Food Dance come from?
I had a business in Ann Arbor at the time, and I had a lot of life changing events happening all at once. I gave birth to my son, and my friends were all having babies and we wanted to raise our kids together, so I moved back over to Kalamazoo. I went to work for T.E. Murch’s and the owner and I just saw things differently there. I wanted to buy from farms, and I realized I didn’t want to work for someone else – I was lost. And what better to do when you’re lost than to say hey, I’m going to open a restaurant. I found a partner, and we decided when we opened we were going to do breakfast and lunch – that seemed easy enough. But of course, initial plans don’t last long, and before I knew it we were getting a liquor license, adding in dinner, and suddenly we were doing three meals a day! I think the move to our current location was the greatest change for Food Dance. I had a hold of my vision for the business, and when we were asked to move into this building it was crazy. The building owner knew he wanted a restaurant here, and it was a big process to get the building, which was already under construction, to accommodate a restaurant. So we came in and gave direction with what we needed to be successful. And now, here we are!
What can be done to improve our beloved Kalamazoo?
So this has been one of my biggest frustrations while I’ve lived here. Other cities have food focused communities, and we don’t. We have arts, and education, and that’s where the money goes. I’m not saying that’s bad – arts and education are very important, but now there is a need to be better educated when it comes to food. Grand Rapids and Traverse City are doing a great job, and we’re seeing that, and seeing that it’s important to celebrate farmers and what they’re doing for the local food movement. We did a big farm tour with Discover Kalamazoo, we invited the media, rented a bus, and took them out to different farms all over the state. Then we brought them back and fed them, and went to Bell’s and Waterstreet to top it off. We’ve been buying and supporting local foods for a long time in Kalamazoo. It’s not about us, and it’s not about our business, but it’s about setting an example of choosing to eat really good, healthy food, raised well, and cared for – and buying from the source! We want to help educate the community on what we are putting in our bodies, and we all need to be doing a better job at supporting that notion.
How did you come up with the name Food Dance?
I asked a bunch of friends and they gave me their suggestions. Someone mentioned ‘Food Dance’, and it just makes sense, because really, the restaurant is like a dance. And we use that word all the time in the kitchen! When an order is ready, the chef puts the food down and says “Dance please!” when the food needs to go out to our customers. It’s so funny, sometimes you can hear Chef Robb in the back yelling “DANCE, PLEASE!” to try to get people’s attention when we have a busy night. But when everyone’s working together, it is a beautiful dance. Someone brings the food, someone brings the check, someone stops by to check on you – we all move together.
What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?
It’s all over the map, and I pretty much lose touch with music unless I’m listening to it constantly, so I listen to Spotify. We have to decide what type of music to listen to in the restaurant, and it can be painful with all of the different generations we get in here asking for different things. So we just try to decide, what’s good for the dining room, you know, what’s something kind of cool and mellow. I just started listening to Benjamin Francis Leftwich, and he’s kind of quiet and mellow, like John Mayer. We’ve also been listening to a lot of Cuban music lately in the restaurant.
What is next up on your reading list?
I read lots of things at once. I love reading magazines, and one of the only ones I read cover to cover is Fast Company. It’s like, wow, people really do these things? It’s just so cool. I’m reading The Urban Farmer, and I love Tracy McMillan. I’m actually a part of a book club – there’s seven of us that get together and eat and drink and talk, it’s just really fun. But I love books, and I love going into bookstores.
How do you take your coffee?…or do you?
I don’t. It’s really hard actually. There are a few main foods in my world that I don’t eat, and coffee just happens to be one of those – well, drink, I mean. I love the smell of it, but as soon as the grounds hit the water – BLECH! I think you have to teach yourself to like coffee. I do drink tea, however, and we serve Waterstreet Coffee at the restaurant.
What is your favorite app to use?
Spotify is my favorite. I have a hundred of them on my phone, but it’s like, which ones do I really use? I’m always curious about the weather, so I have an app for that, I shop using the Amazon app, and I’m a big fan of Etsy and Pinterest.
Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?
Are there any places in the ‘Zoo that you haven’t been to and are dying to go?
There is this new place on the mall, Urban Cottage. I haven’t been yet, but heard it’s a pretty cool store. Every now and then I’ll just drive around downtown and something new always catches my eye, like, oh wow there’s a new place! So, I’m sure there are others out there too!
What utensil couldn’t you live without?
A Knife. Definitely, a knife.
What is your dream for Food Dance?
One of our visions is to have a farm. We are looking for a farmer to partner with. We are also looking at people who would be interested in starting other food related businesses with us under one Food Dance umbrella. We have some staff who are interested in doing some, which is pretty cool We are just envisioning having this small community of businesses. I think it’s a great opportunity to give to budding entrepreneurs our resources and business model, along with a strong mentorship program. You read about anyone who’s gotten anywhere and you always hear about how they took risks and sometimes fail. It’s OK – it’s a part of the process! So we’ll see…we’re excited!