I really like food, fun food, fair food, gourmet food, cart food, finger food, and any food I find good. That is why I am a member of the Nashville Cooks! Meetup Group, newly lead by our great food seeking leader Mike! He has come up with a couple great behind-the-scenes tours of some local favorite restaurants, and this month, he got a lucky bunch of us a tour of the O'Charley's Inc., Culinary and Beverage Innovation Center, AKA the O'Charley's R & D kitchen and bar. I jumped at the chance to see and meet the leaders of O'Charley's and see what they are all about.
As you know, I am usually not about the big corporate restaurants, but O'Charley's is a little different. I found out this week, O'Charley's is based right here in Nashville, and the business office and R & D kitchen is nearly within spitting distance of my office. And behind every big company, there are the people and jobs. O'Charley's employs a lot of people in the Midwest and South from wait staff, to payroll, to line cooks, to managers, to food suppliers, to growers at over 240 locations. Those are people who are working, and I really like it when people are working. I akin some big companies and their spending to how I see James Cameron. James made the most expensive movie, Avatar, to date. But, while the press boo-hissed on the expense, James said all that money spent on production was paying people, and a lot of people for years. People worked on that movie from catering, hair and makeup, janitorial, suppliers, set builders, computer programmers, and of course the actors and more for years. O'Charley's keeps a lot of people working and has been for years.
Stephen Bulgarelli, VP of Culinary Innovation at O'Charley's Inc.
and capable staff seen working at O'Charley's in Mid-TN
Also, another tidbit about O'Charley's is that they stepped up to participate in the Eat Out For Nashville
flood relief fundraiser that I helped promote. Amerigos and jounalist Chris Chamberlain started the idea for Eat Out For Nashville on May 17th, when participating local restaurants pledged 50% of their earnings to go to flood relief and the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. One of 2 big chains to step up was O'Charley's. O'Charley's offered up every O'Charley's and Stoney River restaurants (that did not get flooded) to participate. From Clarksville to Columbia, every restaurant participated. O'Charley's also gave every single Mid-TN employee a full day with pay to help flood relief, whether it was friends, family or community. That meant a lot to me because in my neighborhood, there is Browns Creek that backed up to heights I NEVER want to see again. My neighbors with basements had water into their basements, one block closer to Browns Creek those houses got inches of water into their 1st floor, and those 2 blocks from me, right on Browns Creek had their homes completely inundated (10 feet that is TEN feet) with water, mud, silt to the rafters, and their cars, sheds and anything not nailed down, and some that were nailed down floated away. Devastating. Just Devastating. I was speechless it was like nothing I have seen before (people who know me, know I am never speechless). O'Charley's stepped up and did the right thing for the Nashville community which includes my neighbors who lost their homes to Browns Creek flooding.
cheese and chips (has to be one of my favorite foods)
And Nashville flood relief is not over, and neither is O'Charley's commitment to helping Mid-TN. After the flood, O'Charley's stepped it up again and pledged 10% of every gift card sold from Mid-May through June will go to help our community and continued flood relief again! So, on Wednesday July 21st, O'Charley's got the finally tallies of the amount of gift cards sold, and wrote the checks to two solid non-profit and charitable organizations: $10,000 went to the Red Cross, and nearly $45,000 went to Second Harvest Food Bank. It is late-July, nearly 3 months after the 1000 year flood event, it is hot and sunny now and the complete opposite of flood, and many people, who did not get flooded, have forgotten about the flood. I still have co-workers unable to go home, my neighbors will likely never be able to return to their homes, and I have friends struggling to find money to pay back the SBA loans that paid to fix their homes. And then there is O'Charley's continuing on to do the right thing and remembering that flood relief continues on past the month of May.
hummus and pita chips
Originally, during the Eat Out For Nashville grassroots effort, I went to a couple of my favorite local chef owned restaurants who signed on right away. The local joints had employees, including themselves, to have various amounts of flood water in their homes, and they signed on with earnest because of the need to help employees, friends, family and neighbors. Once I saw that O'Charley's and another chain signed on, I thought the world is open to ask other big restaurant companies. So, I set off to ask a handful of Green Hills chain restaurants to participate. I could see the employees in these places really wanting to participate because they too had flooding in their homes, and they knew it was the right thing to do. NOT ONE of the chains located in Green Hills, that I asked to participate in Eat Out For Nashville, did because their corporate didn't care enough about Nashville to participate.
I am rather loyal to people who do the right thing, and on the flip side, I can hold a grudge better than most (what is the saying, hell has no fury worse than a woman's scorn). With my scorn, I will not willing go back to those corporates that said, "NO." If given a choice, I AM GOING to O'Charley's or Stoney River 100% because they did the right thing, they answered the call for help, the people behind the O'Charley's corporation genuinely wanted to help from day 1, and O'Charley's continue to help, even after all these weeks after the water subsided. The O'CHarley's folks have also been really nice, and as I have mentioned in other blog posts, nice goes a long way. Thanks O'Charley's and everyone behind the charitable efforts.
taste testing table
And about the R&D kitchen you may be asking? Right, on with that part of the story! On Stephen has many years of culinary experience starting at the C.I.A. in Hyde Park, NY, then working for a few international food ventures for many years, and finally landing in Nashville a few years ago to head up the O'Charley's Culinary and Beverage Innovation Center. Stephen said that the meat and fish are fresh and never frozen. The burgers are delicious because (fat conscious people - don't read this sentence) there is a slight extra fat content that makes the burgers juicy, moist and flavorful. My take is that it does take fat to keep protein moist, and to carry the fat soluble flavors as well.
As for the O'Charley's menu, sometimes certain dishes may get retired, and new dishes come on the menu. There is a a lot that goes into the design of a new dish for the menu, and it could take a year or more to get to table. Stephen briefly walked through some of the steps to a make a new dish. The dish has to be do able in any of the 240+ O'Charley's kitchens, and it has to be appealing to the diner. So, a new recipe starts out. Can the test kitchen line make the recipe, which the test kitchen has the same equipment real restaurants have. Do the taste testers like the dish. Can suppliers supply the quantity and quality to make the dish. The recipe gets tweeked by any comments and supply issues, and it is tested again. This can go on and on and a lot of recipes never make out into the restaurants. Sometimes, those limited edition dishes you might see on the menu, those are newly developed dishes that made it to limited release to certain restaurants and there is a "live taste test". Sometimes those menu items stick and go to all the restaurant locations, and sometimes, what was appealing in the test kitchen just doesn't make it to general release. That is the fun of R&D to create new and fun foods to see what people want to eat and enjoy.
That's it. That is what I am thinking about O'Charley's -a company with a nice charitable arm. Maybe I will see you at the O'Charley's near me on White Bridge Road.