Finding Your Work Family #SOB40
Willow’s Bistro has always been a popular eatery in Winston-Salem and the food has always been stellar, which keeps customers coming back. The open kitchen concept and great atmosphere are another plus. The brunch is one of the most popular in town. Last October, owner Will Kingery scooped up one of the city’s most endearing chefs, Travis Myers. Myers not only loves to cook, but he loves to talk about it too. You can count on Chef Travis for some good chatter when it comes to deliciousness. It’s one of the big things you notice as different when it comes to Willow’s new presence. Myers agrees, “We do a lot of social media here. A lot!” Myers spent ten years at River Birch Lodge, making a name for himself and honing his skills. Participating in wine dinners, special events, cooking competitions, you name it. Myers says, RBL helped him become the chef he is. “I have a great relationship with them, even after leaving. They witnessed everything major in my adult life from meeting my wife Jen to our first child.” He says he loves the fact that a lot of the regulars that dine at RBL are regulars at Willow’s as well.
Myers says he and Will had bumped elbows the past few years and more frequently in the fall. Kingery was dividing his time between three restaurants, Willow’s, King’s Crab Shack, and Silo so he wasn’t able to spend as much time at Willow’s as he wanted. “We just started talking about working with each other,” Myers says. “He wanted someone to reflect his vision when he was a chef at Willow’s. Our son was getting old enough and it became a great opportunity to tap into my local passion and create more farm to table.” Myers says it didn’t take long before he knew he was meant to be in this new environment. “Everybody wants to be here and everybody wants to learn, to grow, and to be local. Front of house and back of house are one complete team who work at just about all three locations, which makes us one big family. The stress level is relaxed outside of the banging of pots and pans during the normal lunch/dinner rush. Everybody pretty much does their job and is not lazy— it’s hard to explain really. We all are one tight family.”
Myers’ duties at Willow’s also fall well beyond the kitchen and keeping the business thriving is a huge part of his goals.
“I’m developing a relationship with farmers, the community and our customers.
I’m also in charge of developing a team but I also have to balance the business needs as well. Now that I have a grasp on the business, I can focus even more on the culinary part. We’re in the middle of launching a new menu in the next month. I want to make a move towards everything being made in-house.” You can see the new, more enhanced focus on local ingredients on the current menu. We have visited twice in the last couple of months just to get an idea of how the menu is transforming. Myers’ creativity is able to shine like never before. From a delightful salad of roasted (yes roasted) olives, to his Bradford Watermelon molasses fries,it’s clear, the chef is having fun with local ingredients. Myers adds, “Nothing here is produced on a large scale and everything is touched by a chef. It matters.”
Myers adds that he wants to create more events as well, but go beyond the typical wine dinner. “Food and service is just part of an event. I want to host events that are created around people. More of a gathering, with food and beverage just being the vehicle for the event.” One such event was last Sunday’s Bourbon Dinner which featured five courses of locallysourced ingredients, like Guilford Mills Grits, Hunter Farms apples, Lusty Monk Mustard, Border Springs Lamb and Fair Share Farms Micro Greens paired with bourbon inspired cocktails. Fifty-two guests enjoyed the night of pairings which ended with an olive oil cake paired with a Bourbon Root Beer Float. Like dessert with dessert! Even local energy drink, Sunshine, was infused with Jim Beam and lime juice for a palate cleanser. Not only did Myers get to show off some of his chef skills, but the innovative cocktails by the bar staff featuring various bourbons and whiskey were also a hit.
Recently, Myers’ former counterpart at RBL, Brent Andruzzi landed at Willow’s as well. Myers says he’s looking forward to working with the chef again. “I feel like we have a lot of the same passion and strive for building relationships with farmers and keeping everything in-house and local. He’s a big part of my team and will be at just about every event I will be at, but eventually he’ll be hosting his own and I will be helping. That’s the ‘team’ in us, just striving, do and get better.” Andruzzi says, “I enjoyed working with Travis and we started talking about it and the time just felt right to join him here.”
Myers says he’s enjoying playing up his new digs as #SOB40, aka South of Business 40. “For years at RBL I would refer to #SOB40 because all the marketing and volume seems to go to 4th Street and now Trade Street. Although, we have a restaurant on 4th (King’s Crab Shack), it is not our goal to take business away from those areas, but to create our very own location down here below Business 40. Kind of like creating our own district.” Myers laughs, “Who knows, maybe one day Alan will listen to my nagging and turn our movement into a district!”
One can only hope. For now, next time you see the hashtag, #SOB40, you’ll know what it means. !
Willow’s Bistro is located at 300 S. Liberty Street, Winston-Salem. willowsbistro.com