A thing done well

John Updike, when referring to baseball great Ted Williams,  once wrote: “Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill. Baseball is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out.”

I think that the same could be said of restaurant greats.  The restaurant business is one of a relentlessly long, often unending season.  The difference between being pretty good and being great usually happens on those slow Tuesday nites when the covers are few and there is a “tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.”

During my years in the business, the operator that I’m most impressed with is Jonathan Alikakos, the retired owner of Jonathan’s of Oakville.  Oakville is a suburb of Toronto, Canada.  Jonathan’s son, Jason, now runs the restaurant and bistro.

Jonathan created magic there.  I’m not sure how he did it, but I am sure that it didn’t happen by accident. 

Yes, Jonathan has some God-given gifts that are difficult to duplicate.  He is “savoir faire” personified and his culinary skills can’t be questioned.  Jonathan fine-tuned his skills and maintained an incredible passion that set him apart.  He started humbly in downtown Toronto, always made improvements, and more improvements on original improvements.  He moved to Oakville, continued the progression, and his restaurant evolved into a very special place.

In his later years, after success came, he operated like a symphony conductor.  There is a discernable pride, from the kitchen staff, for the food is always unimaginably and consistently good, -to the cleaning crew, the place is always spotless: - and I do mean spotless.  (One night, a fellow diner and I went on a hunt for a spot, a smudge, a trace of dust, of spilled food, of dirt – we couldn’t find any: not a smudge on a shiny object, no dust, mirrors so sharp they seemed to be three dimensional.) 

Ditto for the service staff: they are obviously proud to be part of the team.  They ask for your name once and seem to know it six months from now, six years from now.  How do they do it?  I can’t remember names for six minutes.

The words that come to mind when leaving are: quality, cleanliness, sincerity, genuineness, and of course, delicious.  There is magic in the way this complicated machine, known as a restaurant, runs in sync, -smoothly.

I can’t put my finger on one outstanding thing that they do there, but all the little things, all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, they all add up to a magic that makes everyone not only welcome, but important and appreciated.  Maybe it’s the Greek charm, maybe it’s the perfect blend of science, art, elbow grease and good common sense.  Whatever it is, it creates a magic, and it works.

They do it constantly and consistently, day-in, day-out, week after week, year after year: and yes they find that tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and so-so.

It’s obvious that Jonathan, over the years, has built a rock solid foundation: one stone at a time.  The foundation was firm and solid before the super-structure went into place.  When one stone is removed, there is another fit to size.  Jonathan has retired and Jason takes up where dad left off.  Good stuff.

I’m not telling you about anything you don’t know, you know this stuff.  Now smile, even if you have to fake it, and get back into the kitchen and cook some more frigg’n peas.


Creativity is merely a plus name for regular activity. Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better.- John Updike

Views: 32

Tags: Restaurant, Stuff


You need to be a member of FohBoh to add comments!

Join FohBoh




Social Wine Club for Craft Wineries


Chains make chicken the star of the menu

High beef and pork prices are making chicken the go-to meat more than ever, boosting wholesale prices for producers and spurr -More

Americans continue to eat less fish

The average American is consuming only 14.4 pounds of fish per year, down from the record high of 16.6 pounds in 2004, Ben Di -More


Posting a job or finding a job starts here at FohBoh. Call us about special $25 posting packages to syndicate across all major jobs boards.

National News

Rita's Italian Ice Awards Area Development Agreement for Kansas

Rita's Italian Ice has awarded franchise and area development agreements for Kansas and the Kansas City area, which extends to the Missouri side of the city, to franchisees and local residents Jay Miller, Jeff Miller and Pat Reilly.

Restaurant Sales Bounced Back in March

Restaurant sales posted a solid gain in March, and bounced back completely from the recent soft patch. Eating and drinking place sales totaled $47.3 billion on a seasonally-adjusted basis in March, up 1.1 percent from February's upward-revised sales volume of $46.8 billion, according to preliminary figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

McAlister's Deli Signs Franchise Agreement to Expand to Cleveland

McAlister's Deli announced it has signed a development agreement with an experienced multi-unit operator to develop three restaurants in the Cleveland, Ohio, area - the brand's first locations in the market.

Restaurant Trends - Growing And Emerging Concepts - Change and Activity April 16, 2014

Update from Restaurantchains.net on growing and emerging restaurant concepts

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. Announces CFO Departure in May

The company has commenced a search for Mr. Hope’s successor, reviewing both internal and external candidates. Mr. Hope will assist in the transition of duties to an interim CFO and will remain a consultant to the company through the summer.


If you are looking for capital to start or grow your restaurant, create the next 501c3, develop and launch the next app for the restaurant industry,or want to help your peers in some meaningful way, we want to know about it.


TED: Norman Spack: How I help transgender teens become who they want to be - Norman Spack (2013)

Puberty is an awkward time for just about everybody, but for transgender teens it can be a nightmare, as they grow overnight into bodies they aren't comfortable with. In a heartfelt talk, endocrinologist Norman Spack tells a personal story of how he became one of the few doctors in the US to treat minors with hormone replacement therapy. By staving off the effects of puberty, Spack gives trans teens the time they need. (Filmed at TEDxBeaconStreet.)

TED: Jennifer Senior: For parents, happiness is a very high bar - Jennifer Senior (2014)

The parenting section of the bookstore is overwhelming—it's "a giant, candy-colored monument to our collective panic," as writer Jennifer Senior puts it. Why is parenthood filled with so much anxiety? Because the goal of modern, middle-class parents—to raise happy children—is so elusive. In this honest talk, she offers some kinder and more achievable aims.

TED: David Brooks: Should you live for your résumé ... or your eulogy? - David Brooks (2014)

Within each of us are two selves, suggests David Brooks in this meditative short talk: the self who craves success, who builds a résumé, and the self who seeks connection, community, love -- the values that make for a great eulogy. (Joseph Soloveitchik has called these selves "Adam I" and "Adam II.") Brooks asks: Can we balance these two selves?

TED: David Sengeh: The sore problem of prosthetic limbs - David Sengeh (2014)

What drove David Sengeh to create a more comfortable prosthetic limb? He grew up in Sierra Leone, and too many of the people he loves are missing limbs after the brutal civil war there. When he noticed that people who had prosthetics weren’t actually wearing them, the TED Fellow set out to discover why — and to solve the problem with his team from the MIT Media Lab.

© 2014   Created by FohBoh.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service