For his part, Scully was ready for something big. He had been cobbling together work in kitchens around Asheville, but discovered something that a lot of newcomers realize. “It’s a common thing here in Asheville,” says Scully. “If you haven’t made your money already, you’d better be imaginative about what you do for a living.” While he was excited to be living here, he was also feeling a bit penned in by the small market opportunities—or lack thereof. “Once you’ve been an executive chef at the United Nations,” he says, “when you come to Asheville there’s not a whole hell of a lot for a guy who’s able to run a $15 million food operation. I was really stuck here professionally.”
In the meantime, the company that Westmoreland worked for was sold. The day he was given severance was the day he and Scully signed the lease on 3 Boston Way, the 1890’s building in Biltmore Village that would become Corner Kitchen. “That severance money was some of the seed money for the restaurant,” says Westmoreland.
The partners quickly found a supportive restaurant community. They’re members of Asheville Independent Restaurants (AIR), an organization that brings together the owners of local independently-owned restaurants to support one another, elevate the business climate, and share marketing opportunities. Restaurateurs from other cities may be amazed to see how AIR breeds collaboration over competition, but to Scully and Westmoreland it’s a no-brainer. “The reason we do it is because there’s no downside,” says Scully. By uniting and sharing best practices, the economic force grows and everyone gains.[quote float=”right”]“It’s a common thing here in Asheville,” says Joe Scully. “If you haven’t made your money already, you’d better be imaginative about what you do for a living.”[/quote] Scully and Westmoreland are also adamant about sourcing local ingredients and working with local groups whenever possible. They proudly list Hickory Nut Gap Meats, Troy & Sons Distillers, Annie’s Bakery and other local businesses as partners on their website. They’re excited about the Field to Fryer to Fuel Project (F3), which creates a chain between locally-grown canola oil, restaurants, and biodiesel producers. And they’ve been long-time clients and supporters of Danny’s Dumpster, a local waste hauler and compost processing facility.
But they also just find it’s more fun to have a business that’s driven by face-to-face relationships, instead of by defaulting to the cheapest option. “We like to have Frankie from Inland Seafood come in so we can all talk to Frankie, because we like Frankie,” says Westmoreland. “He’s the driver, but to me, he’s Inland Seafood.”
In the end, the partners are doing their part to contribute to the kind of place they want to live in—for Scully as a transplant and for Westmoreland as an Asheville native. They support local nonprofits like Eliada and Manna Food Bank by donating food and money and serving on boards. They embrace the connectedness of this small city and the myriad of personal relationships it incubates. And they work to maintain the quality of life that Asheville is famous for by finding a healthy balance between business concerns and family priorities.
The restaurant business is notoriously brutal—it’s financially high-risk, physically demanding, and extremely time-intensive. Westmoreland and Scully have purposefully built a partnership that shares those burdens and enables them to maintain active family lives as well.
“A lot of restaurant owners are single partners,” says Westmoreland. “They are the single person who runs everything, and the quality of life is not always there. We made the decision that we’ll each take less money home, but we’ll have more time to see our children.”
There’s no doubt that they have long work days, both up before sunrise, responding to texts, calls, and emails constantly, and checking in at both restaurant locations. Right now they both spend a majority of their time building their burgeoning catering business. But they make sure that the evenings have a more personal focus. While their customers may see them at one of the restaurants at dinner time, it’s not because they’re working, it’s because they’re dining. And they claim that more often than not, they’re eating dinner at home with their families.
“It’s a fundamental difference between us and many restaurateurs,” says Scully. “We will not do more restaurants and take on more businesses if it compromises our ability to deal with the most important thing in our lives, which is family.”
This is not to say that their ambition has run out. While for now the focus is meeting goals with their current businesses, their eyes are always open to the future. Westmoreland says, “We’re not there yet, but I think we have at least another restaurant in us.”
They get calls about opportunities almost weekly. Over time they’ve learned not to jump on every opportunity, that more will come along. But the temptation can be strong. For Scully especially, an empty space feels like a creative canvas and he immediately starts imagining the possibilities. “It’s hard because I’m a kid inside,” he says. “I see a place and want to turn it into something else.”
But what they’ve learned from their current restaurants and from looking at other spaces is that it’s best not to come in with a preconceived idea. Back to the idea of craft, the same way a tree trunk tells a wood carver what kind of figure it should be, a location can communicate its essence to a restaurateur. “Chestnut said what it wanted to be,” says Scully. “Same with the Corner Kitchen. The next building will tell us what it wants to be, too.”