Welcome to The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Jamie Irene became General Manager of Spinasse a few months ago, just after the decorated restaurant invested in a significant expansion and launched cocktail bar Artusi next door. Irene has a vast range of experience in the restaurant industry, from working as a barista to owning a restaurant.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
In the service world I started in the coffee business. I've done everything there from barista to manage to open franchises to develop training programs. I hosted at Canlis for a bit. I ran the Caffe Ladro bakery for awhile. I owned Bizzarro Italian Cafe for a period of time with my ex husband Jack Kelly(owner of Caffe Ladro) and chef partner Mike Easton(currently of Il Corvo). Directly before coming here as GM I served at Pomegranate Bistro for years. Recently finished levels 1 & 2 with the International Sommeliers Guild. I plan to continue getting more certifications when I have a little more time on my hands than I do now.
I also have a creative side. I dabble in several different mediums of art, but mostly work with textiles. A few years ago I made an appearance on Martha Stewart to show her how to make a felted wool owl backpack I do for kids. I don't have formal training in any art I do. I'm all self taught, which is awesome and not awesome sometimes. I graduated with teaching credentials. I did teach for a bit, but got sucked into the service industry and have never been able to leave. I actually love it and came to a point in my life where I picked it as my career.
It's 8 p.m. on a Saturday night: what's the wait for a table?
Best case scenario with a wait, usually 20 minutes, worse case 2 hours.
Do you see many VIPs or local celebs?
David Beckham - the story is that the host at the time didn't recognize him and essentially turned him away! We figured it out and were able to get him in. I'll have to ask around on other stories.
Tell us about some of your favorite regulars.
Honestly. we have so many regulars to point out a couple wouldn't be fair. Having only been here a little over 2 months, I'm still personally developing those relationships. I do love it when other industry people come in. Brian Canlis and his wife come in a lot. I feel really good and confident about our place being a treat for people in the industry - from food to service. It's a real big compliment too when industry folks pick us as their place to go out.
What are some of the challenges you face?
We love diners that like to linger, because it usually means they're having a nice time. However, it's our biggest challenge when they do. It puts us behind with the next reservation on their table and sometimes there's simply nowhere to adjust to. It's like solving an ever changing puzzle. When you win that game it's utterly satisfying.
What are your personal favorite things on the menu?
Poached egg with parsnip puree and chanterelle mushrooms, Tajarin with butter and sage, Rabbit meatballs wrapped in caul fat with caramelized turnip puree and horseradish condiment.
What about when you're not at work?
What does that mean? I'm always at work. Actually you can find me doing Kareoke somewhere - Bush Gardens & Rockbox usually. I'm not afraid to make a complete ass out of myself and belting out a good song is a release for me. There's no telling how many times I've been on my knees singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart". I also frequent the Melrose Market. I love being in there and supporting all the vendors.
So, what's your most important gatekeeper tool?
OpenTable for sure. We really utilize it to keep notes on our guests. We already know what their preferences are before they walk through the door. It's also really user friendly for the logistics of running the floor. It really helps us to have a great visual of what's happening on the floor at all times. However, we wouldn't be able to use OpenTable to it's potential if we didn't have a great staff passing along the information that we put into it.