Q and A with Blake Smith of Bagby Restaurant Group
1. Bagby Restaurant Group started with Bagby Pizza Co and has expanded rapidly in the last few years. What niche do you see your restaurants filling in the Baltimore area?
From the beginning of Bagby Pizza Co., our goal has been to serve exceptional food from quality ingredients and provide inviting, warm atmospheres where people feel comfortable to share food with their friends and family. Bagby Pizza Co. obviously is a more casual spot and has been growing in popularity with families with kids.
With TEN TEN American Bistro, we wanted to blend excellent food with semi-casual dining. We wanted people to be comfortable coming in jeans as well as having a business meeting. I think it definitely serves that purpose and can be a great romantic date venue or a mellow brunch spot.
Our most recent restaurant, Fleet Street Kitchen, ups our game. The restaurant highlights Chef Chris Becker’s modern New American cuisine and we wanted a space that really connected to his style of food. While it’s a slightly higher price point, we aim at making it accessible to casual diners as well, by introducing a bar and happy hour menu. At FSK, the local ingredients and Chef Becker’s culinary skills take center-stage, but the whole experience is really incredible.
2. What's the most surprising thing about working in the restaurant industry? The most rewarding? The most fun?
I think the most surprising thing has been the work that it takes to make three restaurants run smoothly. We have an incredible staff and I’m still amazed at how hard we all work every week to make everything perfect for our guests. Of course, this work pays off and the positive reception we’ve received already for all three restaurants has been incredibly rewarding. The most fun thing about the restaurant industry is working with people who are incredibly passionate about what they do. From chefs to line cooks, it’s always exciting to people psyched about a new approach to a dish.
3. Your restaurants, especially, Fleet Street Kitchen (which opened in the fall) have an emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients. What are your thoughts, from the restaurant owner and management perspective, on using fresh, local ingredients?
Especially at FSK, we try hard to think about the ecological impact of our food. This is one reason we’ve created our own farm, Cunningham Farms. We really want our chefs and our guests to have a direct relationship with the food they are serving and eating. Further, it allows Chef Becker to really tailor his menu seasonally and work with our farmer, Chris Gavin, for sourcing fresh, local ingredients.
Beyond our own farm, it’s important to us to support local agriculture and food purveyors. I think in recent years people have begun to appreciate supporting businesses such as ours that source from local farmers and help to keep those sources sustainable.
4. What can we expect to see at Cunningham Kitchen, opening soon in Towson? How about Cunningham Cafe and Bakery?
I think we’re mostly excited to connect with the Towson community as well as do some cool things in a much bigger kitchen, like offering our bread for retail. Check out the [upcoming] press release for the main points.
5. What are your favorite dishes to eat at any of the Bagby Restaurant Group's eateries? We love recommendations from an inside source!
The Braised Short Ribs at FSK are ridiculously awesome, so is the Burger on the bar menu.
For TEN TEN, you can’t beat the Fried Brussel Sprouts and Shrimp and Grits. Two really good go-tos.
At Bagby Pizza, I’m a huge fan of our new Roasted Lancaster Mushroom Pizza and our Roasted Pork Sandwich.
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