This interview was conducted by freelance writer Sarah Durn.
What exactly does it take to keep an award-winning Cleveland restaurant running smoothly? From hostesses to managers to dishwashers, we’re giving you a behind the scenes look at what running a restaurant is really like.
Welcome to another installment of our “Day in the Life” series! Today, we talked with manager and Director of Operations, Tim Davin. Tim has been an integral member of the Next Cool Restaurant team since being hired by founder and CEO Rick Doody in 2016. Tim tells us what a typical day looks like for him and his journey to working in restaurants, a journey that included working as a butler at a downtown Cleveland hotel to Arab royals and oil magnates.
How’d you get started in restaurants?
When I was 13 years old, I walked into Joey’s Pizzeria in Chagrin Falls on a Friday night and got a job as a dishwasher.
How long did you work there for?
I was a freshman, I think, in high school. And I was there for a year as a dishwasher. And then I got a job as a busboy at Hunter’s Hollow. I’d set up the caesar salad carts for the maître d’s. That’s when I really became enamored with the restaurant business, when I was in the front of the house with all the action going on, with everyone saying hello to the owner. I liked it a lot.
What was it about working there that made you want to go into restaurants?
It was all the people and how excited they were to be there. You know, being a kid, being a part of the adult world. I just liked the excitement of it. They had live music. It was like they were hosting a party every night.
Did you know from that point forward that you wanted to work in restaurants?
I kind of didn’t know what I wanted to do. I joined the Navy after high school when I was 17, and I went to Spain for two years for a C-130 squad. And then, for four years I was in Ridgecrest, California in the middle of the Mojave Desert. I was a test parachutist. I took care of the pilot’s equipment and safety equipment. And, when I got out of the Navy, there wasn’t a whole lot of call for that.
So, I got a job at a hotel as a bartender. Pretty much all I’ve ever done is work in restaurants besides the 6 years in the Navy.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
When I eventually made it back to Cleveland, I got a job as a butler at the Omni Hotel downtown. Like tuxedos and everything. It was on the 17th floor. They only have four suites up there. And, probably 80% of our guests were Middle Eastern royalty.
Do you have any funny stories from working there?
I have a bunch. Probably a bunch I can’t even tell.
Is there one you can?
Well, this one I can, I guess. So, when they travel, a Saudi prince will travel with an entourage of probably like 30-40 people. And, we handled their room service. We cooked dinner for them. You know, if we brought them a Coke, we’d put it on their bill and we’d get a tip on top of that automatically.
And, we had this one princess who was there for two weeks. And, every single evening, she’d take a bath. But, she’d only take a bath in Evian water. So we would have to bring case after case of Evian water to fill up the tub. And, then her handmaiden would take— you know, those little coils you use to heat up water for tea or something? So, her handmaiden would take two of those, and put them in the water until it was hot enough to take a bath in Evian water.
We’d make like $150 every time she took a bath. Because it would cost her like $500, $600 to take a bath.
So, how’d you end up at Cedar Creek?
I jumped around to different restaurants where I would serve, bartend, and manage. I managed Nighttown for a bit, and I liked that. I worked for Don Pablos as Area Director. I had to travel a lot for that. In seven years, I lived in Cincinnati, Pittsburg, Charlotte, Lafayette, IN, Toledo, Atlanta, Columbia Maryland.
Then, I worked for a salad place called Chopt. I loved Chopt because it was so different. Mondays at Chopt are like Saturdays at Cedar Creek Grille. We would do 300 salads before 1pm. But, I left Chopt, and I didn’t know where I was going to go.
My friend happened to throw my resume on Rick’s desk, and we ended up talking on the phone for like two hours! And, now, that I know him, I know how unusual that is. I told him I was going to be in town, and he said, “Great. Meet me at noon at Coastal Taco [a former NCR restaurant].” And, after he asked if I wanted to come back that night to see the restaurant in full swing? And, I said “sure.” I didn’t know it was the opening night though!
When I got there, I realized that Aaron [the manager] wasn’t going to have time to answer any questions. So, I figured I’d just keep myself busy, and I ended up helping out the hostesses and busing tables for five hours!
This is before you were even hired?
Yah, I wasn’t even hired yet!
Do you have a personal or professional motto?
I always tell the staff this one story about Toyota. In the 70s, they were not doing well. But, now they’re one of the best car companies in the world. And, back in the 70s, the new owner just told the staff to do their job 1% better today than they did yesterday. I think little inconsectectual changes can make a huge impact when applied regularly.
Funny restaurant story?
The other day, I had a woman complain that there was no steak on her tomato burrata salad. After talking to her, we realized she had misread the menu as “beef with steak tomatoes” instead of “beefsteak tomatoes.”
Favorite thing to do when you get home from a shift?
Take the dog for a ride in the car.
Biggest lesson you’ve learned?
You just can’t take it too seriously. At the end of the day, we’re just serving someone a meal. It’s that simple.
What’s a successful day look like?
Everyone had a good day. Things went smoothly. Everytime we have a great day, when we look down at the numbers, we’re always surprised that we’ve made more money. The sales indicate that we were busy, but it went so smoothly it didn’t feel busy at all. You know, it just felt like we were hosting a party