Bryan Dayton and Steve Redzikowski of Oak at Fourteenth reflect on their one-year milestone following a fire that left the restaurant in ashes
And now that he and Dayton have hit their one-year milestone -- Oak reopened on December 14, 2011 -- Redzikowski says that he's gleaned a few more insights: "Never take for granted a busy night -- there's nothing better than being busy," he warns. He tells his cooks, too, that restaurant reviews are secondary to the feedback of guests. "If you're filling seats, and it's busy, that's what runs deep with these guys. We've got fourteen staffers in the kitchen, and they're all beasts -- and they realize, as do I, that Boulder has been really great to us -- everyone has."
Redzikowski, whose culinary pedigree also includes coveted mileage at Frasca Food and Wine, Jean-Georges, Le Cirque, the Little Nell and Cyrus, says, too, that he's learned to delegate. "My main sous chef, Vincent Burns, is amazing, and I've learned to really trust him and let go of some of my responsibilities -- it's freed me up to see the bigger picture -- and when you put your trust in your staff, that's when a restaurant thrives," he explains, noting, too, that his line is bereft of egos "We're all on the same page here. No one thinks they're better than anyone else. We're here to cook and dominate service, and everyone is here because they're passionate and want to build a career. These guys aren't here for the paycheck."
And since rising up from the ashes, Redzikowski has more confidence in his menu, too, significantly expanding it and adding a slew of shared plates to complement the big ones. "The menu has become a lot larger, and I've learned that I can bring in just about any product so long as we're smart about it. You have to use your head, and you can't abuse your ingredients. We have to run a business, but we also want to offer value, so we meet our guests in the middle," says the chef, adding that his "goal is to keep dishes that guests can relate to, along with dishes that on one else on Pearl Street is doing -- combinations that make you wonder how they're going to play out, and then, once you eat them, realizing that they work really well together."
For his part, Dayton says that Oak has "really it its stride" since reopening. "We've changed the menu a lot," he echoes, and the "accolades have been great, but I'm most proud of the team that I've put together," he says. "Both the front-of-the-house and back has really taken off, especially recently, and we've hit our groove and have a culture that we really enjoy."
The staff, stresses Dayton, "has a terrific work ethnic, and they can see the vision that Steve and I have created -- to provide an amazing guest experience every single night. That's in our our heart and soul, and we really believe in that. It's awesome."
But, he, too, was nervous about the second installment of Oak. "There was definitely a lot of apprehension," he admits. "I remember unlocking the door and wondering if anyone was going to come in, or whether we were going to get beaten up." The second time around, he confesses, was "definitely more difficult than the first."