Even though the Heathman Hotel and Heathman Restaurant and Bar are two different businesses, the operations are symbiotic.
Opened in Portland, Ore., back in 1928, the boutique hotel has been named one of the world’s best places to stay by Conde Nast Traveler and one of the 500 best hotels in the world by Travel+Leisure in 2009. Heathman is adjacent to the Portland Center for the Performing Arts and the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
The 95-seat Heathman Restaurant is leased from the hotel by a management team that includes general manager Garrett Peck and executive chef Michael Stanton. Stanton recently came on board to help the restaurant’s master French chef Philippe Boulot further Heathman’s culinary program, which offers French dishes with a Pacific Northwest influence.
Its menu emphasizes farm-fresh and local foods procured from the area’s ranchers, growers, farmers and foragers.
FE&S: What makes your operation unique?
GP: Most hotels are not focused on their restaurants.
MS: We run the Heathman like a stand-alone restaurant, providing the service of a mom-and-pop operation. Some of our customers come in five to seven days a week. We have waitstaff who have worked here for 10 years, and they know regular customers by name.
FE&S: What are the biggest challenges in the hotel restaurant segment, and how do you overcome them?
MS: Competing with other local restaurants can be difficult. For every two to three that close, five to six open. Competition is great because it feeds what we do and our passion. Fortunately, there is more camaraderie with local chefs than competition. Another challenge is that there are many privately owned small restaurants, and we tend to get labeled as a hotel restaurant.
GP: Getting over that misnomer can be difficult, as is competing with other area restaurants.
MS: When I came on, the goal was to utilize the same ingredients we were currently using, but in a different way. Although our menu is constantly changing, the concept remains French with Pacific Northwest influences, which has been in place for the last 17 years. Signature dishes include braised pork shank, flat iron steak and bouillabaisse. Salmon also is huge here, and we expect to get coho in the next week or two. We also serve local venison. Our dinner menu includes 10 to 12 main courses, six to seven salads and six or seven appetizers. Offerings change every day.
GP: We offer breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch, in addition to room service, which is handled by the hotel. Our bistro menu is provided from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day and includes reasonably priced happy hour fare.
FE&S: Is catering a large part of your operations?
GP: We cater between 20 and 40 events each week, serving between 10 and 75 people. The Heathman Restaurant has six small rooms to cater up to 120 people at one time. During the holidays, including Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, we offer buffets for up to 650 people in these areas. Catered food is prepared in a small banquet kitchen that is located one floor up from our main kitchen.
FE&S: What sets the hotel restaurant segment apart?
MS: I just worked a charity dinner for 500 in an event for the Oregon Food Bank, partnering with a chef from a small Italian restaurant. His operation is only open for lunch and dinner six days a week. It’s all he has to focus on. Hotel restaurants like the Heathman are open 24/7, 365 days a year. We have to think about all dayparts, in addition to catering. There are multiple facets to keep our eyes on. Also, our menu is constantly changing, due to the seasonality of our offerings.
FE&S: How do your kitchen and equipment support your menu?
MS: Our main kitchen services the dining room; bar area, which seats about 50; and the marble bar lounge, which holds 45 people. We have a 30-foot-long cookline that includes sauté, grill and center expediter stations, in addition to a small area for pastries. We also have eight-by-eight-foot walk-in coolers both on the main floor and downstairs in the small prep kitchen. The smaller kitchen also contains two walk-in coolers, a small walk-in freezer and a 20-by-10-foot storage area. The banquet kitchen on the second floor includes a combi oven, six-burner stove, tilt skillet, fryer, broiler and reach-in cooler. We smoke, steam and roast with the combi oven and use our double-stacked oven for baking. Stocks, the foundation for all our sauces, are prepared in kettles. The tilt skillet is key for searing meats and preparing stocks for banquets. The broiler and open burners are used constantly. Also, the flattop grill gets a workout, operating from 5:30 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.
FE&S: What aspects are most important with equipment used in hotel restaurants?
MS: Quality is most important. Equipment has to be durable, because if it goes down, we lose money due to lack of efficiency and repair costs. Dependability is everything in this business when it comes to equipment and labor.
FE&S: What equipment innovations have been invaluable to your operation?
MS: We tend to keep things simple here, utilizing everyday equipment like flattops, ovens and salamanders. Combi ovens are amazing because they make timed cooking possible. Also, vacuum-pack machines are invaluable. This equipment adds shelf life and improves food safety. Blenders are vital pieces of equipment in preparing emulsion sauces. Although we don’t use them, anti-griddles are great because they change our thought process in terms of cooking and cooling foods.
FE&S: What do you predict for the future of the hotel foodservice segment?
GP: Hotel foodservice is getting more serious due to our changing clientele. These guests are more knowledgeable and expect a high-quality dinner, regardless of whether they are eating in the dining room or banquet areas. I hope this is where the entire hotel industry is going in terms of upping the ante.