This is The Gatekeepers, wherein Eater roams the city to meet the fine men and women standing between you and some of your favorite dining destinations.
Owner David White and Assistant GM Liz Subauste. [Photo: Jennifer Yin]
David White, Chef Thomas McNaughton, and David Steele opened Flour + Water in May of last year on a formerly vacant corner in a relatively desolate stretch of Harrison Street. Soon thereafter, the lines began to form. Since its inception, a mixed crew: from local families to couples on dates to construction workers, has continued to endure a sometimes-grueling wait for the restaurant's unassuming Italian fare. Despite some diners' crafty attempts to assemble outside the restaurant before it opens at 5 p.m., a wait is tough to avoid at Flour + Water due to a limited reservations policy in which 70% of capacity is left for walk-ins. Here White breaks down the seating arrangements, shares the no-exceptions door protocol, and gives some intel on his next venture, Central Kitchen.
David White Owner and Manager of Flour + Water: We have 58 seats in total. My favorites are the bar and community table, table 17 if my wife is joining me for dinner, and table 11, with my back to the room, if there are four of us dining. It's the only way I can relax. 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? 1 to 2 hours. Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? Nope.
As such a buzzed about new hotspot in town, you've surely been offered gifts or cash, right? Most people are really cool; we are very fortunate with our guests. Sometimes people have tried slipping the host money, but never to me. That obviously gets them nowhere. More often people resort to being pushy and rude -- again not that frequently thankfully -- that obviously gets them nowhere either.
Tell us about your favorite customers. My favorite customers are the ordinary ones, the ones that are patient, polite, mindful of and caring towards those around them. These people make up the bulk of our guests. I love them. Any celebs been by recently? My favorite celeb guests were Michael Pollan and Rosario Dawson, obviously for very different reasons.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables left to give? Everyone is a VIP. We try to deal with everyone in the same way. The wait time is a constant challenge. We do our best to take care of those waiting. If they elect to wait I feel at that moment their well being is then our responsibility as a group.
What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate? We are not that kind of place, we don't accommodate outrageous requests. It is a simple equation. We are equal. If someone came to your home and was behaving in an outrageous manner at the expense of your other guests what would you do?
Where are you eating when you're not at Flour + Water? I don't get out too much, but when I do I love Nopa and Camino. Le Garage in Sausalito is great for a lazy lunch; I had an amazing meal at Frances a couple of days ago.
What's the item on the current menu that more people should know about? Hard to pick one because the menu is always changing. I love the antipasti in general. We are blessed with amazing ingredients, and I love all the light and delicate flavors that come with spring.
Flour + Water has been very well received in the media and the industry. Is there any one accolade or article that you can relate to a spike in popularity? All of these things have an impact. Whenever a big press item comes out, the phones go crazy for a few days. That usually means us saying no to a lot of people. Thankfully we have been been busy since we opened even before the media frenzy.
People are getting excited about Central Kitchen, which you plan to open next year on 20th St. and Florida. How does your current success affect your approach to a new venture? I think whenever you do something new there are nerves associated with that. I have also owned a restaurant [Nua] that did not succeed, so I know the other side of the coin pretty intimately too. Even though the concept at Central Kitchen will differ from Flour + Water the core values will be the same. We have this amazing group of people that make up our team. I am also extremely fortunate to have really talented partners in Tom and David. Though the style of Central Kitchen will differ somewhat, the building blocks are the same. Nothing is taken for granted but the people around me give me confidence.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? Smile.
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