Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for Atlanta Business Radio, spotlighting the city’s best businesses and the people who lead them.
: Next up on the Atlanta Business Radio, we have with us, chef owner of Babette’s Cafe, a real favorite of our previous guest, please join me in welcoming to the show, Ms. Marla. Adams. Hello there.
: Good morning. Thank you.
: So, did you pick up anything or anything viable on that last segment?
: Well, social media is a big concern for restaurants. And, unfortunately, after 25 years in business, I’m finding that a lot of my time is spent on social media and getting words out in platforms in this direct link. I, actually, kind of invested in a little company that send text alerts — They were in beta testing — to guests when we had last minute openings. And people loved the connection. I thought it would be a bother because I’m old, but they very much loved it. So, you know, it’s what everybody does. You know, it’s time-consuming Instagraming, Facebooking, it’s a big job. It’s a big job.
So, Marlan, what is Babette’s Cafe? And how did you come about finding it?
: Well, I started it 25 years ago. I’ve been in the restaurant business for 38 years. And I know I don’t look that old.
: But it’s radio.
: You should be all hunched over, and had you 38 years in the restaurant business.
: My back’s shot, but I started the restaurant on a shoestring. And I based it from the movie Babette’s Feast, which is … It’s a generation ago. Actually, it’s on Broadway right now.
They recreated it. It’s a short story, and it’s made into a movie. It won the Best Foreign Film. And it was about a woman chef in a very austere setting. And it was a woman housekeeper. And for this dinner or this event, she took some lottery winning, and created this incredible dinner, and it changed the community. It’s a very kind of … It’s a very beautiful story about food and what it can do to a group of people, so.
So, it impacted you enough to want to start your own restaurant, start your own business?
Now, starting my own business, I had hit a glass ceiling, honestly. I’m working for some other companies. And, you know, I just didn’t know what else to do. I mean, it’s just a crossroads. So, I had some support from my parents. You know, in the old days, you could open a restaurant on a shoestring. Now, you need investors and millions of dollars. So, you know, it’s just a point in my career where it was that or nothing because I couldn’t go back, and I didn’t feel comfortable going back ordering from somebody else.
So, why a restaurant? You just have a passion for food?
: Well, I have a degree from the University of Virginia in Russian studies. And I was going to go in-.
: It makes perfect sense.
: As I was going to go into the agency, you know, “agency.” And that summer … I grew up in Northern Virginia. My father is in the agency. And then, I just took a break, and I said, “I think I’ll just, you know, go work in a bakery for summer.” And my father was very upset.
: And I loved it. I just liked working with my hands. I said, you know, “I can get paid for making pies, and cakes, and you know, standing on my feet all day. I mean, it was a craft, and it was a different part of the brain, and I just fell in love. So, I continued to cook for a few years, and then went to the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park. So, it just … I found my thing.
Did you feel that you need to go to the culinary institute get some level of higher education before you started, before you opened your own restaurant, or was that just another step?
: Oh yes.
: Well, again, you know, women in the business where, you know, 30 years ago we’re not on the same par. In some instances, they still aren’t. So, I had to go get some credentials.
: And then, I came back. I moved to Atlanta on a lark, and thought, “I’d go down here a year,” and here I am 35 years later in Atlanta. And the food season … The food business was just kind of blossoming with it and the restaurants. And I always had work. And it wasn’t … I never thought I’d open my own restaurant because it’s a headache. But you just get to point that you just don’t want to work for anybody else anymore.
Yes, I got that. So, you said you always had work. So, were you kind of like freelance? You’re doing events and-.
: No. I worked for other companies I worked for Buckehead Life. I worked for the Peasant Corporation, which you might remember, but not many people do. Again, another generation. And I opened a hotel during the Olympics, the Penta Hotel. So, I had-.
: I had about 15 … Well, as a staff member, as a chef within one of the restaurants. So, then, they sent me abroad to open a couple of other restaurants and other hotels. So, now, I have some experience-.
: … before I did it.
So, when you opened these restaurants, that mean you were the head chef at those or you did the business?
: No, no, no, no. I was … No, I was just … Actually, at that point, I was in the business side and the cost control side. It was an opportunity. It was an opportunity to live in hotels that were half finished-.
: … and people think, “Oh, that’s great. That’s like …” You know, you don’t have hot water. CNN is the only television station. I mean, sorry. I’m not supposed to mash on other, but, yeah, every … I hurt my back, and had to get out of the kitchens for a while, but then I got into food and beverage, the management. I learned all about the computers and the cell systems. You just kind of have to take what, you know, life gives you and learn from it.
: So, without those experiences, I wouldn’t have been able to have a restaurant survive and excel for 25 years because it is very dollar-oriented.
Yeah. So, from beginning with the passion of loving to, you know, work with your hands and working with food, to going through all the way through the business side and learning from that aspect, was it hard for you to have kind of switch gears and do that from working with that food directly to switching to the management side? Was that challenging at all?
: It was, but in my own restaurant, and part of the reason, I’m I’m a restaurant girl. I mean, I haven’t expanded. You know, I’m very hands-on it in both areas. I have chefs. I have kitchen managers. I have bar managers. I have a management team. But, you know, if I lose a manager in one area, I’d go out there for a year. And then, I might lose the manager in another area, and I go back.
: So, I haven’t. And in the meantime, there’s all these other challenges with for getting in the other hand. You know, life is so much easier before reservations and the internet. So, I don’t like the management as much, but I’m good at it. And I want my team to progress and learn. And I challenge them, and I push them, and I get my money’s worth out of them. And they like working for me. Some people haven’t, but I have some people that have been with me for a long time.
Yeah. So, of all the experiences that you’ve had from starting working in a bakery and then all the way through now with traveling, and, I mean, in being in Atlanta during the Olympics, of all those experiences, what would you say helps you the most in relating to your employees now, and parting upon them wisdom, or just sharing your own experiences with them? Would you say there’s a particular experience that helps you the most in doing that?
: It’s maybe a negative experience. I worked in one of the hotels, and when I went into management in the hotel, my boss, the general manager of the hotel, I went to clear a table, and he said, “Oh, no, no. You should be telling somebody else to clear the table.” And I like, “She’s busy. The table’s dirty, and the customers are around. I’m going to go tidy the tables.”
: So, I am very hands on. I mean, I like pouring a glass of wine for the guest. I liked … You know, I brought bread and water to a table the other night, and they go, “Oh my god. The owner. I can’t believe you’re doing this.” It’s what I like to do. So, I like polishing silverware. I like cleaning shrimp. I mean, not so much just shrimp anymore, but I’ve cleaned a lot of shrimp. But, you know, I’m very … I think that’s what makes Babette’s unique is that I’m there. I don’t have a … I’m not just looking at spreadsheets. Spreadsheets just put me to sleep.
But it’s true. And as that level of it’s so personable having the owner of the restaurant come out and serve you, or come out and just pour your wine, pour your glass of water, that’s … I mean, it adds that level of intimacy that’s different than, you know, a bigger restaurant or one that maybe uses so much the traditional forms of media, like you’re talking about before.
: I mean, I use all those forms of media too. But, yes, I do. But, it’s just what Babette’s is. I mean, I think, it’s very unique in Atlanta. And we’ve been there 25 years. And there are a lot of the restaurant groups that have been open 25 years. Everybody says, “Oh, you’re the only one.” But, you know, Bambinelli has been around, Sotto Sotto has been around. I don’t want to plug too many of my competition, but, you know, we’re all of the same age, and we all have been doing a long time. And I guess, we’re all figuring out our exit strategies, but I don’t have one yet.
Well, that’s good. But coming out on the … I mean, you said you’ve been around for 25 years in Atlanta, and then coming … Just going through the internet age and everything that’s come up with social media, how have you kind of stayed in front of that? I mean, clearly, it’s the history and what Babette’s Cafe is and what it means in that personal touch, but how else have you stayed in front of that, and still been around for 25 years, and been so popular?
: You just have to adapt. I mean, any business has to adapt. It was a big change for us. And a lot … At the beginning, we were all very excited about it because it was, “Wow, this is just so easy. It’s just a great tool,” but now, you know, the algorithm help is, you know. So, now, I have someone that I hired to do Instagram and Facebook-.
: Oh wow.
: … photographs. And we try to do it in-house, and we couldn’t do it. And, now, local search and web designers. I mean, it takes a lot of time, and it’s is very frustrating, and it’s very expensive, but …
Yeah, it’s crazy how much it-
: And it takes away from what I want to do, but-.
: How are we doing on the … I don’t know what the right word is, which may be part of the problem. Gender equity, women being able to make it in this arena.
: I think that they’re very capable. I think that some of them go and raise families, and they’re not in a position to work the evenings and the weekends. I find that with the new cool dads. That’s the problem with the men too, you know, when they have young kids. I’ve lost some people to their children.
: I think that a lot of women, when they get into the older restaurants, you know, I’m talking maybe 10 years ago, the cooks the ladies were kind of kept in the cold station, the pantry, the salads. And, you know, I just always, you know, push them, and said, “No, you’re doing this now.”
: And I think there are a lot of women in the business, but it’s not conducive to families. I raised a daughter. My husband and I raised a daughter, but we had a unique situation. He was a detective at the Atlanta Police Department, and he worked the same hours as I did, and we paid a lot for nannies the first few years. He retired, and he became the primary caregiver. He did a good job.
: But the opportunity, I think, is there. It’s if the women are going to just take the challenge. Women are a little shy, “Oh, I don’t know how to do this,” and they back off a little bit. And I think men, on the other hand, say “Yeah, I can do it.”
: We’re not shy enough.
: Yeah. And they can’t. So, they don’t listen. So, they fail. So, there’s pros and cons of both. We deal with them differently.
Yeah. As, I mean, be the owner of Babette’s, and just how do you impart that upon your employees and these people that come into your work, and between men and women trying to bridge that gap, and making them understand, and helping them to understand, again, utilizing the experiences that you had?
: Now, I tell them some stories, and I tell them, “Well, I did this before you were born.” And, you know, I just … It’s the way you treat them and what you expect out of them. And you see, the other members of the staff see it. And so, it’s just the way Babette’s has always been.
Yeah. And that’s one of the things that, you know, it’s a, tenet. I guess, it holds and how you’ve been able to be around for 25 years.
: I succeeded in some male kitchens, and I’ve surprised them. You know, just, I’m not afraid. I’m cautious, but I’m not afraid. I’ll do it.
Where does that fearlessness come from?
: I’m vain, I don’t want to fail, and I don’t when I look back. And that’s probably the strongest.
: I want to hear about Chef Justin.
: Well, Justin is actually leaving us.
: Yes. We’re talking about … Yes, there we go. He has … He’s leaving. He has a young son, and choseShe has to go.And then
Shifts to killing him. So he’s taken a job that. Is. During the day. So I am. I have a young woman on my staff. I have I have a couple of guys that he works for preteens. Wow 15 years. And they. Know the Jinshan inside and out. The young girl that. Joined us last summer she’s very young but she’s younger than me and she is just going to be you know the candidate to take over. The. Ordering and you know the. Cost controls and kind of us as a kitchen manager so it’s an opportunity actually for her to step up. And be given that opportunity. So. I mean. Just I thought we would go into the. Into the old age together separate great guy. But. Things changed and I have someone on board and I’ll probably be back in the kitchen. Yeah. I’m kind of excited about. My friend the staff is sick of me. And. I get in the way. So. We’ll see what’s what are these things. I have been seeing all these are Petrosky. Of pork and veal and milk and you’re talking about God.
I brought shading. OK. Can I have one more. Katie it’s like four or five there I’ve got there is a pastry we make. You know I mean maybe we make everything in house or bread and this is a
Grocery a Tetragon reduction sauce with it. But my staff estimates will cringe if they hear this but. My husband was cleaning the kitchen. Which I was very happy he did. And he threw away my little ramekin tariff reductions so it does not have much Harragon. But paroquet they’ve been on. It’s actually a. Dish from my aunt. My. Father was Albanian so I grew up with a lot of Middle Eastern influences. I lived in Istanbul as a child. So it’s kind of. Wishes. It’s
Just a all meat pastry. Well it’s delicious. It’s great and so is a big part of what you do to then creating new recipes coming up with new new dishes or is that just. Do you draw on like your heritage on mailing recipes.
I do some family recipes but they’re a little too middle eastern. I’m trying to do European provincial. Google has made us French. Nobody Googles European provincial OK. We cannot come up with. Right. So we’ve come up with French. And my husband’s aunts saying you can’t do it. I said yes but we you know we tag Italians you know. So we’re trying to be southern Mediterranean Mediterranean. And. I come up with dishes and I go back to the food and as kind of my sense of the vernacular of suits of. What you would get. In a farmhouse. In Europe. You know you’re not going to get. Foam and you’re not going to get food stacked high you’re going to get. A lamb stew. You’re going to get what’s out of the car. We’re very seasonal unit seasons. Don’t really mesh. In Georgia with what you might think so we wait on English peas and we wait on you know. Marilyn crab and you know so we wait on those things so it’s the menus constantly evolving and. I have some. Items on my menu that I can never change. Parish kids will never go. And then. You know I rotate. The restaurant come up but I’m always kind of looking back to. It just have to put your head in a different place and it’s a very different place from the marketing and the customer pulls and that kind of thing. So. You don’t have to kind of. Weed out my garden and think about the food and. Then what what well or what’s coming in now. It’s nice. You know you have. To. Artichokes we insist on California our chicks are much nicer than the Mex artistic and sorry. We are by a lot of produce from mix whether we know we’re going or not. And. You know some music I’m here and we’re going to use them there and let’s try something new with the artichoke. So the food kind of dictates where we’re going.
Ok. And so do you find yourself having to kind of set up different amounts of time to. I mean give mental space to that just so to think about the business side of it but you’re also taking consideration. The quality of food and where it’s coming from and what you want the dishes to be in the season.
It is just kind of two different mindsets it’s complete two different mindsets and it’s at least two different days. Yeah I mean I really have to go in and say I’m not going to look at this these numbers I’m not going to do this I’m not going to answer these phone calls. And then of course you come up with the dish and you’ve got to go back and you get accosted got to see whether the values err. What would you can charge for it. Or what. Is going to. Be perceived as valuable or. Say you have to. Sudan apply it to the business. But. It’s. And that’s what I find very challenging even with buying wine or. You know it’s. There are just so many different parts of the restaurant business so if you’re bored. You are not. Pushing yourself. There’s a book to read on why there there’s a winemaker to study there is a way that my husband and I just went to California and we drove through. Santa Barbara and I said you know there’s a lot of good wine that comes from signing a barber in others. And we know vineyards here and vineyards there people you know people we buy from so. It’s very exciting.
Yeah I mean it certainly seems like that it sounds better on really super exciting. So is there a particular story maybe a peach and that’s coming to that. That’s for years and maybe a dish that impacted them or just maybe a reason why they keep coming back. I think we have we have some other house people have been with us a long time and
They’re comfortable. It’s the weight taper off older Sal rests on it’s quieter. I mean on Saturday nights it’s pretty loud but. It’s quieter. Restaurant I say that the biggest compliment I had was I had a long long time customer passed away. And in his will. He left a party. At the events for all of us.
And I’m just like wow that’s the best.
The highlight. Now we got a lot of. Lot of regulars. But you know we try and get people to open 25 years. You need you need the younger people. So their target audience is 30. And up. Don’t need the really younger people that look just to drink a lot.
Yeah there’s a there’s a clear divide. Oh yes. Oh yeah. So how do you get the word out about Babette’s and how could we learn more and visit you. Well we. Talk about. Who we are
And I don’t want to say it’s it’s it’s more or less. But this is my staff this. Is they’re all in. The red are all as committed to path’s as I am. We have a. E-mail us Chenelle just people knowing the story people knowing what really goes on behind. A restaurant and you know that lives and impacts and. You know. People that. You take care of staffs and whether you have insurance or not. We’re a small company. It’s cheaper. They. Don’t get insurance through us. You know but you try and take care of them. It’s just telling the story. And we send out e-mails which we have about 5000 people on our e-mail list and you have to find you have to come into the restaurant to sign up. We don’t. Have online. Fina because we want wanted. You know when I went and so that is actually our best. Marketing. Is e-mails to try and just do them once mom. And. Facebook and. Someone’s taken over Instagram. I don’t have instagram. I don’t know how to open the app but we’re getting traffic. You know it goes. I know. I was watching on your shows recently. And they had a supervisor. So the figures it’s just. Familiarity more towards hearing your name. So you go to events you do advance.
All right. So best coordinates. Website. Phone number e-mail was the best white
Babbitts cafe prom. That’s cafe. You’ll find everything there. It’s a nice very expensive site.
Well Marla thank you so much for coming in here with us. Thank you so much for the more food winter we should leave that last one for grandma. George Casey thank you both for being part of the show. A lot of fun. Absolutely. Just need second to work and that you can. All right. Don’t paid for Katie galley and our guest today. Everyone here at the business review family. Say. We’ll see you next time. On Atlanta Business Review.