adler: café on the square
by lisa horak
Adler, owner of Café on the Square, has a very full plate. Nonetheless,
she is always cooking up something new. No, were not talking menu
itemswere talking about life.
busy mother of two manages one of Ashevilles most happening restaurants,
is a founding member of the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association,
and is co-chair of the upcoming Taste of Asheville Festival. Add to
that a dash of notorietyshe is also one of the faces on the Burts
Bees Healthy Treatment Line of productsand you get a glimpse of
both the busyness and serendipity in Tracys world.
Tracys background is in neither the food industry nor in modeling.
She studied plastics engineering and has a degree in business. She met
her husband Mitchel while she was living in Anderson, South Carolina,
making plastic automotive parts.
after they moved to Asheville in 1998, Tracy and Mitchel were eating
at Café on the Square when they noticed an odd coincidence. The
sign outside the window literally had Mitchels name on it. It
was a sign for the Adler Building. Mitchel suggested they buy the restaurant,
and in the spring of 1999 it was theirs.
yet it is Tracy, the plastics engineer, who manages the Café.
Mitchel has assumed the role of Mr. Mom, taking care of the Adlers
two children, Elliot and Rachel, ages three and almost one. I
started doing this when Elliot was eight months old, says Mitchel,
who absolutely loves his new career. Its like Ive
known him for a thousand lifetimes. Theres something about a babyespecially
a first babythat heals you.
arrangement is a win-win situation for Tracy. Both her kids and the
Café are thriving. Café on the Square won Best of
Show in the Asheville Chamber of Commerce Culinary Showcase in
2002, and celebrities like Robert Redford and Sandra Bullock have dined
there and praised the cuisine.
for Tracy, a better indicator of the restaurants success is its
low employee turnover rate, which she attributes to the safe, fun, challenging
environment she has created. Its very important to me that
I cultivate a welcoming, comfortable setting in which my employees want
to work. We have employee contests (which include the kitchen staff
- the group that often gets left out), and we focus on relationship
building and flexibility. I have an open door policy and I try to offer
managerial guidance that doesnt level a persons self-esteem,
explains Tracy, drawing from her business degree from years past.
interaction with her staff gives Tracy her greatest job satisfaction.
Indeed, her staff feels almost like a second family. One of her employees
even called her--instead of his own family--from Europe at 2:00 in the
morning because hed been robbed and needed help getting home.
Now that is an employee who feels comfortable with a boss!
greatest compliment Ive gotten since owning this restaurant was
from a part-time server who told me that he didnt work at the
Cafe for the money but because he felt good about himself every time
he walked out our door at the end of the shift, says Tracy. He
verbalized the very thing Ive tried to create at the Cafe. What
could be more successful than that?
finds owning a restaurant so rewarding that she was one of the founding
members of the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, a group
that bands together to collectively negotiate on food costs, health
insurance, and the like. We cant compete with the money
the chain restaurants spend on advertising, but I really want to let
locals and tourists alike know that there is a food culture here. You
dont have to eat food that tastes identical regardless of where
you are, says Tracy.
To promote the best that the city has to offer, Association is holding
the first Taste of Asheville festival on May 23 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00
p.m. at City-County Plaza. A lot of the independent restaurants
will be selling food and there will be wine and beer from local breweries.
There will be cooking demonstrations, great music, and even an area
with activities for kids, like decorating cookies, says Tracy,
who is the co-chair of theeven
an area with activities for kids, like decorating cookies, says
Tracy, who is the co-chair of the event.
her busy days at the Café, Tracys creative side has recently
re-emerged. But instead of car parts, this time she has created a yum
yum dish, a four-ounce ceramic bowl that is perfect for portion
control. Its sort of the opposite of super-sizing. The idea stemmed
from Tracys post-partum snacking. What bothered me more
than the calories was the fact that I wasnt aware of how much
I was eating. I felt guilty for showing my son this behavior, especially
with childhood obesity on the rise, says Tracy. With the
yum yum dish, its impossible to overeat, unless of course you
keep refilling the bowl. The goal isnt to deny yourself any foods,
just to limit your in-take. Café on the Square now features
one appetizer and one dessert that you can order in the yum yum dish,
which you get to take home with you.
portion control works wonders. Tall and thin with striking red hair
and porcelain skin, Tracys natural beauty caught the attention
of Roxanne Quimby, owner and president of the Raleigh-based Burts
Bees company. This woman came up to me at the restaurant and asked
me to be on their new Healthy Treatment Line, says Tracy. I
love their products, so I was thrilled about it. I love that they never
hire real models, just regular people. Thats me. Im
not going to dye my hair or anything. I want to look like a wise grandma
when I get older.
still got a ways to go in that department. In the meantime, with her
combination of personality, creativity, and business sense, Tracy Adler
clearly has the recipe for success.
lives in Asheville with her husband and two daughters.