We had the good fortune of connecting with Erin Willis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Erin, what’s one piece of conventional advice that you disagree with?
The customer is always right. Being in this business for as long as I have and particularly now owning my own restaurant, I couldn’t disagree with this statement more. I have found that some people feel entitled to be bossy, all knowing and rude to not only myself but to my staff. Our goal at RM is to create a dining experience in a wonderful, small neighborhood, one like no other. We give a great experience from the time a customer walks in the door to when they leave. Yes, we do make errors and yes, we mess up on food. What we don’t do is take rudeness for a mistake. We are in unprecedented times and my staff is my second family. They depend on our customers and don’t need an added insult or an ill-mannered customer making their life harder. If there is something wrong, we want to remedy it on the spot. Not after the fact. We can’t fix if we don’t know right then. And please, for the love of God, don’t post on Yelp! If you can’t be nice, then don’t say anything at all and don’t go behind the scenes of a mass social media outlet to state your plea. Email or pick up the phone. That is what’s right.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I got into this business by watching my grandmother work two jobs. As a housewife and a grocery store owner. She had an incredible work ethic. She was an astounding cook, which was our favorite thing to do together. She taught me that food can be simple, anyone who could read could cook, and nothing brings people together better than food. As I grew older and dipped my toes into many things, I still came back to cooking. Trying to get into cooking school showed to be too expensive, so I was given the opportunity to work at a restaurant in Dallas after being a server from high school until after college. I worked hard for 3 years, starting as a dishwasher then gradually moving up the chain, learning my way around the kitchen in every aspect. From there I worked for families, other restaurants, a university, a catering service, a resort to finally being approached about doing something on my own. All of my experience lead me to where I am now. I wake up every single day still passionate about what I do. I believe that was my grandmothers thought as well and, I try to carry that legacy every day.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Well, Dallas has some of the most amazing restaurants. I actually have a group that meets on our mopeds and we just scoot and eat our way around the city! So, I’d take my friend on the scooter and we’d start the day eating breakfast at either Oddfellows in Bishop Arts or Company Cafe on Greenville Ave. we’d then head to Cibo Divino in Sylvan 30. Danielle and Cristina are friends of mine and man, that guy can cook a pizza just like I like it. They also have a great outdoor seating area where you can nosh on charcuterie and enjoy their Puleo wines and proseccos. Literally one of my favorite places. We’d then head to Miriams by Klyde Warren. Have to get the ceviche as it’s one of my favorites. Miriam is a DELIGHT and if anything, just go to see her smile. Truly contagious. Once we leave there, we might make a quick stop to José on Lovers for their “Usual” which, to me, is the best Ranch Water in Dallas. Their chips and hot sauce also are the bomb. You wouldn’t think we’d want dinner/dessert but we do! Momo’s Italian is a great stop as they have a great selection of Italian wines at a reasonable price as well as great Nigroni cocktails. Wende and Aaron are the perfect hostess/host and if you dare leave and still need dessert, hope that you’ve picked up anything from Haute Patisserie or Bisou Bisou. If by chance we go at it again the next day, Resident Taco in Lake Highlands will satisfy any taco craving. Purely ambitious and creative ways to eat them. And/or, Hello Dumpling in East Dallas. There is NO better place to get dumplings as June knows exactly how do make them. You will definitely sleep well!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I could NOT have done this without the support of my family, friends and my incredible staff. I am blessed to have the same staff since we opened. The book that mentored me and anchored my core beliefs in this business is “The Dichotomy of Leadership” by Jocko Willink. Everyone who owns their own business should read this book. Very powerful and so sad that more business leaders don’t take what they teach into their own leadership skills. I said from the get-go to my staff that RM 12:20 Bistro would NOT be like most restaurants. We are different. We care for one another. We respect each other. From the dishwasher to the head chef.
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