“Honestly, it was really happenstance, you know?”
Roberto Ainslie hadn’t planned to land in food & beverage. Way back when, “Ro” as he’d rather be called, was in his first semester of graduate school for counseling while doing some art consulting on the side. He met Scott Walker and Chef David Bull of now defunct fine dining establishment, Congress, by way of his childhood friend and chef, Rebecca Meeker. Starting as a server assistant at Second Bar + Kitchen, he eventually worked his way up to managing Congress. After juggling a year and a half of grad school and managing, he was offered a job in New York.
A stint at an advertising agency as their events manager then led to Michelin-star Betony in Midtown Manhattan. Though Betony has since closed, Ro lovingly talks about the in’s and out’s of fine dining that he learned at his time there. “Restaurants in New York are super, super intense. I was working here, without exaggeration, eighty-five plus hours a week. Everything we did expanded.” New York can take a lot of you, folks. You don’t have to live there to know that the lifestyle, especially for those that work in the service industry, can be tirelessly draining. But when you hear Ro compare a napkin fold be as important as the garnish of a dish is, you can tell that the man really cares about his work.
Eventually, he made his way back to Austin in 2014, working at some wonderful Austin restaurants: Jeffrey’s, opening Gardner, Boiler Nine, and now landing at Olamaie. I had the opportunity to witness Ro at work at this James Beard award-winning restaurant, during pre-shift.
So, here’s the thing about pre-shift in restaurants. You know how before the big game, the team and coach get together to go over their game plan? This is the equivalent for the restaurant industry (sorry I tried to throw a sports reference in there when I know hardly anything about sports but I’m sure you feel me). Back in the day, when I worked in restaurant kitchens in Vegas, I’d try and eavesdrop on pre-shift talk from the front of the house managers and servers, because I was always intrigued by this daily ritual before service.
While I watched Ro in the midst of pre-shift, his staff so attentive, Chef Michael Fojtasek also at the helm of this meeting, it was all overwhelmingly inspiring. They went through the motions, what was available on the menu, new ingredients and rotating wines on their menu, and answered each other’s questions. Literally, you could have picked my jaw up off the floor because this is it, y’all!
This is Southern fine dining at its best in Austin, Texas. Locals love to gloat on how casual it is here and that we aren’t stuffy like them Yankees up in New York or those Californians in San Francisco but if you aren’t looking too closely, you may just miss a fine dining experience that is offered by some of the most dedicated professionals in the food & beverage industry.
They ended their pre-shift with a word of the day, as Ro asked one of the sous chefs for a suggestion. “How about ‘welcome’? Since we have a new team member, I’m back in town, and it just seems appropriate.” On the count of three, the whole team shouted “Welcome!” in unison and broke for what I’m sure was a wonderful dinner service.
Thanks Ro, and thanks to the team at Olamaie, for making it known that there are some amazingly dedicated folks in our industry.