Ambassadors,

 

I received a text from Muss around 7:30 this morning informing me that a vendor was not willing to take back $936 in parts we don’t need anymore for our pizza oven at MTH. We have to eat it. It wasn’t too long ago, a message like that would have been debilitating, emotionally and financially. Yet, I was able to take that in and move on with my morning carpool duties in a great mood. One of the primary reasons is a result of starting to write this letter at 5:00 this morning, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and completely unsure about what I would write. I sit here now, on the other side of that first draft and carpool, steeping in immense appreciation for how far we’ve come and grateful for those who have chosen to travel with us along the way.

 

Our first day of business February 8, 2005 Muss & Turner’s and so much has changed, yet in many ways nothing has changed.

 

What Has Changed?

  • When we first opened, we were a gourmet deli and retail store with fancy oils, vinegars, pastas, wine, high gravity beers and an artisan cheese case with nearly 100 selections.

  • Relatively speaking, no one in Smyrna knew who we were or that we were open.

  • When we opened there were only six restaurants within a couple miles of our address and now there are easily triple that.

  • There was no Eleanor’s, there was no bar and you couldn’t drink the wine or beer with your meal in our dining room because we had a retail-only license.

  • I didn’t have any gray hair and we lived, with no children, above M&T in the greenish townhome just to the left of Ivy Cleaners. My commute to work was a 30 second walk.

  • There was no South City Kitchen or Natural Body, the whole front corner building of One Ivy Walk was just under construction.

  • We had a small orange rectangular sign that could barely be seen by those driving past and had a telephone number on it that no one could read.

  • Our parking lot was a construction zone and precarious at best for our guests.

  • We had only about 12 people on staff who were eager to please. We were open until 8pm and closed on Sundays so Muss and I could have at least one day away.

  • Day one, shoot, year one was excruciating. All the friends and family that showed up for the freebies and “cute baby” remarks in our test runs had vanished.

  • It was us, a commitment to building something worthy of word of mouth, no budget and no desire to pay for any marketing or advertising.

  • We had staff holding up signs on the Cumberland Parkway median trying to get the attention of those sitting in rush hour traffic.

  • Our total sales in week one was $2k less than we did yesterday, a Monday.

  • Our total sales in month one would be considered a really bad week for us now.

  • Muss and I went for nearly a year not taking any salary. From day one, we stayed very close to the cliff of our financial demise and by October 2005, we needed to borrow another $10k to make payroll or we were done. That is a call I never want to make again.

  • But…this is when we not only realized but accepted our business model was not working and made the decision to become a full service restaurant at night,  serving dinner, wine and beer. We started pivoting (drink) well before the pandemic made the concept cool and the term completely overused.

  • On Valentine’s Day 2006, all the beautiful wood retail shelves had been removed, our new red (was supposed to be orange) eight seat bar with no plumbing and dining room was open.

  • We stayed very close to the cliff for many, many years, but remained in the crucible, tending to the garden and embracing the suck while figuring “things” out. Thankfully, I can now sleep with both eyes closed.

  • In so many ways, everything we endured and fought through prepared us for the extreme adversity and uncertainty of the last two years. On what we hope is the other side of the pandemic, we could not feel any more fortunate than we do today.

 

What Has Never Changed?

  • We still have that same small rectangle sign that folks driving by can barely read.

  • The parking lot is even more precarious, but for different reasons these days, especially on Saturday or Sunday.

  • Our commitment to working with quality people and products and charging our guests what we needed to in order to survive, pay our debt and hopefully make a few pennies on every dollar.

  • We’ve always been considered an expensive sandwich that doesn’t come with fries. But, we’ve always stood strong by our product and pricing, knowing the quality of what we were serving was / is expensive and unique.

  • We will go out of business before we cut corners and serve our guests inferior, low quality ingredients.

  • Our desire to connect and treat our guests like gold has only grown.

  • The friends and relationships we’ve made are beyond priceless. We can’t wait to see how this continues to grow.

  • We built the place that we wanted to experience in our own neighborhood and we’ve never steered from that North star.

  • Muss, myself and Hall still live locally and have always been proud of being from Smyrna. From the start, our guests or the media would describe M&T as it was in Vinings or Smynings to try and attach some cache to it, but we bucked it.

  • We love Smyrna and always wanted to do our part to put our little corner of the world on the culinary map, grow roots, become valued citizens and good stewards in our community.

  • We always intended to bring Smyrna fine dining “white table cloth” food from all over the world without the need to dress up, spend two hours and $200.

  • We always felt the pomp, circumstance and pretense to get slow food and drink was and is ridiculous.

  • Good food is for everyone!

  • We still make our aioli from scratch, cook our own corned beef, smoke pork shoulders for 12 hours and apply the knowledge, skill and time to make things the right way.

  • We are still buying our pork and ground beef from our friends just up the road at Riverview Farms as well as buying from other local farmers.

  • We were doing “local” way before it became a thing and the masses started to care about where their food was coming from.

  • We’ve always aspired to take what we do seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.

  • We still rely mostly on word of mouth, but we do have an amazing marketing team that does a great job keeping us top of mind with our guests.

  • We’ve never believed politics nor religion ever had a home in our temple for great people wanting to connect with great food, drink and other great people.

 

Our People

We are still attracting nice people who care about taking care of each other as well as our guests and are passionate about what we do and why we do it.

Our willingness and ability to adapt is sharper than ever because of the team of people we’ve been fortunate to surround ourselves with since day one.

Their commitment and love for M&T has been the constant source of fuel for our internal fire. We started with the privilege of employing 12 and that privilege has grown to 52 who rely on M&T to pay the bills and put food on their table. We can’t ever let them down. Now more than ever with the labor shortage, they have a choice to work in any restaurant and they’ve chosen us. We never have and never will take that for granted.

 

Eleanor

Eleanor has been with us since day one when she was 63 years young embarking on a new culinary career. She was attending Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School and saw the job ad we posted on site, as there was no Craig’s list or Indeed. Me and our OG Chef De Cuisine, David Sturgis, interviewed her in early January while still under construction and after 5 minutes we hired her on the spot. She was employee #2 and for more than 6,209 days she has been beyond committed to helping us succeed in every way possible. The amount of patience, tolerance, time, energy, candor and love this woman has been willing to give to us and our families has been one of the greatest gifts we will ever experience. As I tell our new staff like a broken record, there is a reason why we built a shrine to this woman nearly 10 years ago. Investigate it as that doesn’t just happen. I also explain that if you don’t invite that woman to share some of her wisdom with you over a glass of red wine, you are missing an opportunity of a lifetime. I invite you to do the same. eleanor@unsukay.com  At 80 years young, she has reduced her hours and scope of work, but is as committed as ever to the success of our restaurants. We are so fortunate this incredible woman chose us. Happy 17th anniversary Eleanor and thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

 

Our Guests

We have always had the best guests. Period. The ownership, advocacy, protection and patience this community has been willing to give us since day one brings tears to my eyes as I type. Post pandemic, we are now officially on v.4 of M&T and that doesn’t happen without the extreme loyalty and support of our guests. We are so proud of the breadth of the diversity of the people who have been attracted to us and keep coming back because they felt welcome and at home. On any given shift, you will see guests from all walks of life dining with us from various genders, ages, ethnicities, religions, industries or sexual orientations. It makes the fabric of our existence so wonderful, warm, rich and strong. We have also been keenly aware that in seventeen years not one of our guests has been asked nor would they be willing to sign a contract obligating them to dine with us exclusively on a regular basis. We’ve never lost sight of knowing that we are as good as our last shift, not guaranteed anyone will show up when we open our doors daily and we are entitled to jack i$ht. That is one of the primary reasons why so many perceive our business as hard and therefore risky, but it is the hard that makes it great and worthwhile. The challenge to earn your trust, respect and loyalty is in fact the opportunity for long term relationships and subsequent sustainability. You haven’t given up on us even if we’ve let you down. We see that and even if we may not cross paths as often as we once did, I see you. Thank you for choosing and believing in us to whatever degree you have within the last 17 years! It all matters, it all counts and whether you realize it or not you’ve contributed to a remarkable journey that continues and we are forever grateful.

 

On behalf of my partners/ brothers Todd Mussman and Chris Hall and our entire M&T family. Thank you!

 

To great food, drink & people,

 

RT

2024 WINE TASTINGS ARE LIVE!

X