Southern hospitality a priority for Williamsburg chef

Chef Anthony Frank has been working in the food industry for nearly 30 years, since he was 15. He landed at the Williamsburg Lodge 10 years ago as a conference chef before helping develop the Traditions and Sweet Tea & Barley restaurant concepts there after a major renovation.

The Long Island, N.Y., native became executive chef at the Williamsburg Lodge, overseeing food and beverage operations for conferences and the restaurants, in 2013. His team includes Chef Sean Gonzales at Sweet Tea & Barley and Chef Justin Addison at Traditions.

"It's an amazing thing," Frank said. "We do parties from a single person sitting here to the Virginia room for 800."

Sweet Tea & Barley, which opened in November last year, took home top prizes from this year's Taste of Williamsburg Meets Iron Chef event. Frank gives the credit for the awards to Gonzales.

"Southern cuisine is very hot right now," Frank said.

Popular dishes at Sweet Tea & Barley include the blacksmith burger with fried onion rings, sugar ham and a fried egg, salmon scallops, Carolina shrimp and grits and pretzels and pub cheese. Sweet Tea in the name references a Southern favorite while barley alludes to alcohol, as the restaurant serves artisan cocktails using chef-designed syrups and tinctures, he said.

But it's important to Frank, who lives in New Kent, that Southern hospitality shines through, too. He reads each guest review to see where he can improve.

He's been influenced by John Maxwell's leadership books and became mindful of collaboration techniques and getting buy-in from staff on changes and decisions. When employees have a difference in opinion, he advises not avoiding the problem but rather talking it out.

"You spend more time with your employees than you do with your family when you're in this industry," Frank said. "It's like family. You have those moments but you keep encouraging and you keep moving forward."

Frank views the restaurant business as a team effort where various efforts come together to get the food on the plate in front of a guest. While his grandparents and other relatives worked in the food and hospitality business, his passion for it hit home when he witnessed all the behind-the-scenes coordination while working as a dishwasher at an a la carte restaurant while pursuing a business degree at Virginia Wesleyan College.

"There are so many pieces involved. There is not one person who can make it special," he said. "It's not one person who ever pulls off the whole event."

As director of food and beverage operations, he knows how important it is to give recognition to everyone involved. In the kitchen, he enjoys seeing the food transform from raw vegetables to sophisticated dishes. In the dining room, he loves watching guests react to a dish, particularly during special moments such as weddings.

Before coming to Colonial Williamsburg, Frank worked in various restaurants before attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York on advice of his mentor, leading Hawaiian cuisine chef Peter Merriman. Frank also has served as a sous chef at The Founders Inn in Virginia Beach and executive chef for the Virginia Crossing Resort in Richmond.

How has he been able to move up in his career? "Through hard work and dedication and making the right decisions in building my leadership team and building the people around me to support me so I can move forward," he said.

Bozick can be reached by phone at 757-247-4741. Sign up for a free weekday business news email at TidewaterBiz.com.

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