Welcome to our newest feature, The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tables.
Photo of Rick Blumberg [Justin Phillips/4squarephotos]
If you've been making your rounds around Atlanta's higher end establishments, you surely recognize Rick Blumberg's face and his genuinely kind energy. Blumberg graduated with a degree in Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional management from Penn State and has been working in hospitality ever since. In Atlanta, he worked with Emeril and, subsequently, went to work for Linton and Gina Hopkins at Restaurant Eugene as the General Manager. There, he worked to improve the bar scene and brought in Greg Best from Emeril's. Blumberg went on to help open Holeman and Finch Public House and then H&F Bread company, before leaving to help Anne Quatrano open Abattoir with partner Josh Hopkins. Now, Blumberg is at Woodfire Grill and the service, of course, exemplifies exactly what you expect of a restaurant of this calibre.
What brought you to Woodfire Grill? How long have you worked there?
I had known Kevin Gillespie for a few years, during my day’s at Eugene. He had set up a dinner at Eugene for a new potential owner of Woodfire Grill Bernard Moussa and Nick Quinones. I had no idea that I would be working for those guy’s back then, I knew that they had a great time, but I must have made an impression. After Kevin was on Top Chef, their business had quadrupled, and they needed some help. I was the first one they called, and after several meetings I couldn’t wait to join the team. This January will mark my second anniversary.
What brought you to Woodfire Grill?
My draw to Woodfire Grill was that there was a true sense of hospitality, a big focus on the things that matter to me the most. Service, food, drinks, and atmosphere. Our service is extremely detailed oriented without being presumptuous or arrogant. We believe in educating our service staff in all areas of the business, as well as supporting them through the evening.
What's your favorite table in the restaurant?
Table 35 is the most romantic; I like to seat this table at 5:30 and 8:00. This way more than one couple can enjoy it. For the foodies, I love table 21 and 31, the two tables next to the grill. For parties of four that would like a little more privacy-62,63, and 64 (the most secluded table in the restaurant). For parties of 4-10, rowdy parties, bachelor or bachelorette parties, and celebrities-the private rooms of 71,72,73
What's your favorite thing on the current menu?
My favorite thing on the menu is always the Five Course Tasting menu. I love it because you’re never sure about what is going to come next. But anyone who really knows me will tell you that dessert will always come first. The Sticky Toffee Pudding by our new Pastry Chef, Chrysta Umberger (formerly Rest. Eugene, and Fourth & Swift) is what I like the most.
It's 8 p.m. Saturday, can you walk in and get a table? If not, what's the wait?
I always leave room for walk-ins, especially at 8:00. I have to because of the way our menu is designed. With the three menu options you just never know how long a table will need for the evening. It is pretty rare that everyone in the house would order a tasting menu, but it can happen. So I have to anticipate that everyone will need 2 to 2 1/2 hours for dinner.
Do people ever try to slip you cash or anything for tables? Has it happened to you — ever — not necessarily at Woodfire Grill?
It hasn’t happened in a very long time where people have tried to slip me cash for a nice table or even just a spot in the restaurant. It maybe 5 or 6 years since that’s really happened. I have never liked it. I will always work hard at getting everyone a table, and I will always give the best table first.
Do you have regulars, and what are they like?
We have several regulars here at Woodfire, some are from a long time ago with Michael Tuohy, and some are from my past. They are all great, they love to hear and see what’s new on the menu. Some even know our families and ask how they are doing. We try to create that connection of family with all of our guests whether they are first time visitors or 198 time regulars.
Do you get a lot of celebrities coming here at all?
One of the things that I love about this business is how many people I do get to meet. I have met celebrities all through my career. We do seem to see a lot of celebrities here. It’s a good mix of athletes, actors and musicians. We have seen a lot more actors lately thanks to all of the filming in the area.
Anyone in particular that you remember?
Too many to list honestly. I would be afraid of offending someone if I left them off of the list.
What happens if the restaurant is packed and a VIP comes in?
I do like to think of all the guests as VIP’s, anyone who is considered to be a little more regular than others and walked in is usually understanding if they have to wait a few minutes before I can seat them. I will always try to get everyone a table; my hope is that everyone has a really great time.
What's the strangest request you've ever received from a customer?
I think it’s a little strange that men would like us to put a diamond ring into the dessert for a proposal. I just think about all the money they spent on the ring and covering it up in chocolate, that’s a little silly. I do try to talk them out of that. We have had someone who wanted to serenade there date in the middle of the dinner. He got a few funny looks.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job?
My gatekeeper tools that I rely on are first my smile and my Faith. I love this business and I want everyone around me to know that. If I’m smiling and things are a little hectic, I hope it gives a little assurance to those that are working with me that everything is going well. I want all of my guests to be smiling, and I know that it starts with me.
· Woodfire Grill [Official Site]