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The sons take over

Chambersburg, Pa., eatery in new hands with well-schooled, proven family touch

Chambersburg, Pa., eatery in new hands with well-schooled, proven family touch

January 29, 2003

Chef Q&A: Orchards



1580 Orchard Drive, Chambersburg, Pa.

Appetizers range from Grape Leaves to French Onion Soup. Entres include seafood, steak, veal, poultry and pasta, with prices ranging from $9.95 to $33.95. A menu of specials rotates every two weeks.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

For information, call 1-717-264-4711.




The dimly lit bar of Orchards is empty save for one or two employees watching early round coverage of the Australian Open tennis tournament on an overhead television.

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Meanwhile, out of unseen stereo speakers comes a soft, smooth flow of standards like Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa."

Chef/co-owner Michael Kalathas, 23, settles into a side booth of the Chambersburg, Pa., restaurant he owns with cousins Nick and Charlie Kalathas.

The trio, all graduates of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., took over the business from their fathers, Tom and Charlie Kalathas, in 2001.

"That's where we all grew up working. It's like a farm whenever you're in the restaurant business," Michael Kalathas says. "We started chopping onions, making potato salads and grew into the business."

For years, the family operated a downtown eatery where the boys cut their teeth. In 1995, the elder Kalathases decided to expand, building a larger facility on Orchard Drive that includes a dining room, private party rooms, a ballroom and the lounge where Michael Kalathas sits, every so often shifting his eyes to catch a bit of tennis.

In addition to learning the fine art of cooking, attending CIA included classes in high-class waitering. So when the Kalathas boys took over, Michael volunteered to work the front of the house.

"One of us had to come up front," he says. "So I decided to do that."

On Tuesday, Jan. 14, Staff Writer Kevin Clapp sat down with Michael Kalathas to discuss his move out of the kitchen and what it takes to make any restaurant successful.

Do you miss working in the kitchen?

Sometimes, yeah.

How come?

Because that's where I was all my life, in the back of the house, not in the front of the house. So I like to hop back there and make those little amuses. (Editor's note: For more on the amuse, see recipe below.)

Does your time in the kitchen vary from night to night?

It depends on who walks into the restaurant. Usually, 90 percent of the time, I'm in the front of the house. But if there's a table I want to impress, I'll hop back into the kitchen and whip something up for 'em.

What makes you stick with the restaurant?

Just growing up with it. ... (I said) If I don't play basketball for the NBA I guess I'm going to be a cook, which I know I wasn't going to play basketball for the NBA.

Do you think about switching careers?

Now that I'm this far into it, no. I kind of enjoy it. I kind of enjoy pleasing people and success.

What is the key to success?

Consistency.

How so?

It's difficult to be consistent when you have 200-some people a night. Whenever a place is busy, they seem not to have enough people to take care of the customers as you'd like.

So how do you ensure customers are taken care of?

I go to every table in the house and ask 'em how it was, please them some way or another with an amuse or whatever.

And sometimes you don't please them. Sometimes they walk out of here unhappy, and that hurts in a way.

How do you get past that?

If you have their address or phone number, you call them up or write them or give them a gift certificate. Make them feel as if the next time they come they will have a good experience. And if you don't have that (information), you make sure the next time they come they do have a good experience.

So you go to every table every night?

Yeah.

How come?

To make sure everything was perfect. You can't depend on the server to tell you. You have to make sure yourself.

It's a small touch...

Knowing their name, recognizing someone, they love that. I love going to a place where the owner knows me, where I know I'm going to be served well and treated right.

Is it a constant process?

Yeah.

What's the hardest part of your job?

Keeping everybody happy. The customers and your employees, your kitchen staff. Everybody.

Because there's a lot of people to keep happy and to keep a customer happy you have to push an employee.

What is the role of atmosphere?

Good question. The ambiance, to me, is very, very important. One of the most important.

I'm good at that. Ambiance, to me, is making the customer feel as if he is at home. You want them to feel comfortable. When you walked in here, what did you think of first?

The word that came to my mind was elegant.

Elegant is where I'm trying to go. ...

I know one thing. I know that, like, you never want to take anything away from the food.

Charlie Trotter, a Chicago chef, in his restaurants he doesn't even play music because he thinks that takes away from the food. He doesn't even have pictures hanging on the wall because he thinks that takes away from the food.

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