Lemons into lemonade
Top Austin chef flips new restaurant into at-home experience
What do you do when you’re about to open a restaurant and a global pandemic hits? If you’re chef Page Pressley, you pivot.
Six weeks ago, the chef and his business partners were preparing to sign a lease for a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Austin when the novel coronavirus began sweeping across the country. "I talked to my broker, my business partner, and it was a hard stop, but actually, really — a hard stop," Pressley says.
After nearly a decade working in kitchens like Emmer & Rye, Swedish Hill, Uchiko (not to mention Mexico City's Pujol and Sante Fe's Trattoria Nostrani), Pressley had spent the past six months working on his own concept: Foxtail, a high-end supper club/all-day cafe. In the current climate, when established restaurants are struggling to bring in revenue and commercial real estate is at a virtual standstill, opening a physical restaurant was impossible.
At this point, when asked if he took even a moment to stew in self pity, Pressley says, simply, "No." Instead, he says, he threw himself into his restaurant consulting work and volunteering.
"The facts are that the timeline changed, and us as restaurants and chefs and business owners are asked to adapt and figure it out in real time," Pressley says. "You develop that skillset pretty acutely [as a chef]."
He also began working on a pop-up collaboration with Assembly Kitchen, Comedor's at-home meal kit delivery service developed in the wake of COVID-19. (Pressley and Comedor pastry chef Philip Speer are both Uchiko vets and members of the Comedor Run Club.) It was while working on the pop-up that Pressley got his aha moment, that elusive lightning bolt of inspiration for which every creative searches: turn Foxtail into an online supper club.
"People needed a way to celebrate, a way to connect, a way to break up the monotony," he says. "We’re creating a restaurant without a restaurant — the website is the restaurant."
Foxtail Supper Club, launching May 7, is part meal delivery service, part Zoom party, and part cooking class. For $150, diners receive a box delivered directly to their door with ingredients for two meals. Optional add-ons, such as wine pairings and special occasion packages with flowers, chocolates, birthday cakes, cards, etc. are also available. The menu will change every few weeks to reflect seasonality and ensure everything is as fresh as possible.
Boxes — available nationwide — are sent out about 48 hours before the dinner party along with instructions for storing and prepping the food "so when we hop online, we’re all starting from the same place." That is followed up with an email link to join Pressley and 10 other guests for the virtual supper club.
For now, in the age of social distancing, the chef will "host" the supper clubs from his South Austin kitchen. Guests will learn about the ingredients — all sourced from Austin and the Texas Hill Country — and finish making their respective meals.
"Part of this experience is we get the chance to talk about every dish," Pressley explains "The work has been 90 percent done, and [guests can finish] composing a beautiful, thoughtfully prepared meal."
Along with the meal kit and supper club experience, diners will also be offered access to the Foxtail Supper Club website, featuring recipes, instructional videos, and behind-the-scenes content. This, says Pressley, was the missing piece to ensuring the longevity of the restaurant. (And because why not create a mini media empire in addition to developing, building, and launching an entirely new restaurant concept in six weeks?)
"This can’t be a COVID restaurant," he says, "it has to be timeless."
Online, visitors can find meal inspiration as well as behind-the-scenes videos of Foxtail team. To help produce the content, the chef turned to Austin-based Helms Workshop, who also developed the Foxtail Supper Club logo; Andrew Thaggard, a local musician, producer, and whom Pressley played basketball with in high school; and Ben Schwartz, another longtime friend.
The production aspect is something that will continue after Foxtail Supper Club opens its brick-and-mortar, a dream that has not been abandoned in the wake of recent events.
"We'll be moving into that space when the world’s a little more certain," Pressley says. "As you know, I’ve never been one to follow trends."