High-end eatery to develop hospitality virtuosi
By Jason Koler
Marathon’s newest bistro has it all – an ocean view, meticulously trained servers in crisp white button-downs, mood lighting and carefully folded cloth napkins. The only obvious omission is a disclaimer: Warning! Sunlight reflecting from our brilliantly polished silverware may cause corneal flash burn.
The setting and mission is exactly what Marathon Culinary Arts Director and Chef Anthony Green had in mind when he conjured the idea for the Dolphin Bistro four years ago. He dreamed of a space that would inspire high-end table service and a setting that would attract a particular crowd to self-sustain one of the high school’s most popular programs.
“I didn’t want the typical Keys restaurant with fishing nets, crab traps, thatch and beer signs,” said Green. “I wanted something of a higher caliber.”
He called the family-owned design-build firm, D’Asign Source and Liz Samess – an interior designer and FSU graduate to help create the eclectic décor for under $20,000.
Inspired by Key West’s Tavern & Town, she implemented a design concept and color story of luxurious and warm finishes and textures to achieve the look for which Green had been searching. The budget was stretched to accommodate the achieved look by inlaying vinyl faux travertine tile and vinyl faux wood plank flooring, natural woven Roman shades, and a two color faux finish wall treatment created by Lynn D’Ascanio.
“When you are in the space, you don’t feel as if you are still in an institutional school-place setting,” Samess said.
A service station, constructed by MHS grad Anthony D’Ascanio is wrapped in vinyl faux wood planks and illuminated by a dozen LED candles floating in dark brown faux leather display cubes. Nostalgic archived MHS photographs circa 1960 flank the walls of the restaurant.
After a few hundred dollars of private donations trickled into the classroom, grant monies helped pick up the tables and chairs, and D’Asign Source donated design time, accessories and building materials. The bulk of the funding came from hosting luncheons and dinners for organizations like the Middle Keys Marine Association (MKMA) and Leadership Monroe County. Most of the capital was raised during the all-you-can-eat Friday night feasts prepared by the culinary program in the courtyard of the high school.
Green still remembers the first outdoor smorgasbord and the hundreds of hungry patrons who descended on the campus for the initial buffet.
“We did not expect 500 people and for them to eat the way they did,” he smiled. When the program was established in 2007, Green was handed 150 students and a $1400 budget.
With the recent opening of the Dolphin Bistro, the program gains yet another avenue to raise money and pulls double duty as a training center for front-of-the-house education.
Last Friday, patrons like Frank Greenman, Katrina Wiatt and Hurricane owner Mari St. Pierre were impressed by the table service of MHS Senior Nicolette Smith.
“The only way her service could’ve been any better is if she were armed with a water gun,” joked St. Pierre. (The Hurricane’s staff is known to spray water at the more unruly patrons.) St. Pierre did admit the service and kitchen would go head-to-head with any establishment in town and that her server “was very attentive and very prompt.”
Green said the students are learning how to enhance a patron’s dining experience through eye contact and interaction.
“We have done role playing, and I had them talk to the plate without laughing,” he said. “They must learn that sometimes your customer is not going to give you any feedback to make you feel good, but a server must remain positive at all times.”
Green said his original intent when he developed the curriculum was to change the entire food service “by targeting those who will be in the industry in 10 to 15 years from now. We are so dependent on hospitality, so why not take a proactive step to do something about it,” he said, referring to the numerous area restaurants.
The opening of the Green’s Dolphin Bistro is a bittersweet milestone for the popular teacher. At the end of the school year, he will be rejoining his wife and children as they start a new life in Iowa.
Green said he is sad to leave his students and school, but is confident the program will continue to thrive and grow under the tutelage of his successor, Kari Snell.
“Whether or not the school decides to fund us, we have a plan in place to keep it going,” he said. “The school was built based on the needs of the community and the program should be the same way. There are 52 restaurants in Marathon. There is definitely a need because the program is full every year.”
The Dolphin Bistro is currently taking reservations for the May 19 dinner. Some menu items include Tomato and Roasted Pepper Gazpacho with Crab and Caramel Covered Pumpkin Custard. Other menu choices include hummus, beet and goat cheese salad, roasted chicken with risotto and many more. For more information, to view the complete menu or make reservations, please call or visit www.mhs.keysschools.com, call (305) 289-2480 x 55422 or email [email protected].