Tony Foreman is the business mind behind the Foreman Wolf restaurants Charleston, Petite Louis Bistro, Pazo, Cinghiale, and Johnny’s. He also owns the Bin 604 Wine Sellers in Harbor East and Bin 601 in Annapolis. He took the time to discuss his past, present, and future fine dining ventures.with GayLife in August of 2012.
GL: How did you get into the restaurant business?
TF: I started washing dishes and doing food prep in 1979, when I was 14.
TF: Yes, in a very nice place on Eutaw Street. I’d grown up with a great grandmother who was born in the rural south, in 1890, and I spent a lot of my childhood cooking with her, and eating her cooking, and learning about food with her. But I started working in the business to make cash when I was in ninth grade.
GL: I understand you went through a restaurant/hotel management university program. Did that prepare you for the realities of restaurant work?
TF: There were things that were interesting, but I do not feel that in any way, shape, or form they were essential. I found some people I went to school with were not motivated or inspired. I know they were making choices base on business or lifestyle reasons, as opposed to the weird neuroses that I had, or the level of professional competitive need. So I’m not sure I found that particularly necessary or challenging. I had been a liberal arts major who finally had the realization that I like this more than anything else, and if there were nuts and bolts that I didn’t know, I might as well get my degree in it.
GL: Would you recommend this path to a young person today?
TF: I would recommend they be an English or a history major. I go out of my way to look for people with a background in the arts or a background in communications or language and culture. For me, that is always the most attractive thing.
GL: From my personal experience, the level of service in your restaurant always seems very good. How do you train your staff? Does it take them a while to get to that level?
TF: We can train them on the food and wine and technical aspects of service, but we can’t train them on what their mothers should have taught them. We don’t choose people based on any level of experience they’ve had, but based on whether they’re really nice people—do they care about food, do they care about taking care of people. In the end, what we do is cook for people and clean up after them. You have to like that; you have to have that in your heart. If you don’t, it’s not going to go well.
GL: You have three wonderful restaurants and your wine shop, all within a stone’s throw of Harbor East. Are there any disadvantages to having them in such close proximity?
TF: Not really, because they are all enormously different from each other. They serve different purposes, they have different kinds of faces, different vibes. Culinarily they are enormously different. A lot of guests—because they know how they’ll be taken care of no matter where they choose—will have a cocktail in one and dinner in another. I think that’s a fun thing for them. There are so many advantages.
GL: But no disadvantages?
TF: I don’t think so. Especially for someone as Teutonic and controlling as I am. It’s much easier to keep an eye on things, to be able to support different people doing different jobs, providing a presence for the diners coming into the restaurants reassuring them when they see me.
GL: I read about your collaboration with designer Patrick Sutton. He’s created dazzling spaces; Pazo has an amazing interior. When you first worked with Patrick, he had only done residential design; how did you make that leap and get him involved?
TF: I’d known him as a client for a number of years. He’s a super intelligent guy. We always got along well—which is hard to imagine because he’s one of the only people I know who is absolutely as fussy, if not more fussy, than I am. When I was looking at the space for Pazo—I always know a few years ahead what something can be, what it should feel like, what it should look like—I talked to five different architects who walked through what was at the time a working machine shop. And they all thought I was out of my mind. When I talked to Patrick, he not only understood it, but he started compounding what the ideas were and helped me refine the ideas. And I thought, “Here we go; finally I have a proper design partner.” Every project after that we designed very quickly.
GL: What can you tell us about your next restaurant?
TF: The new place, Johnny’s, is a restaurant we will open at the end of September on Roland Avenue in the same building where Petite Louis is.
GL: What’s the concept?
TF: I do, but I don’t like to talk about it because I don’t want people to pre-judge things before they are in place. We don’t even put out a press release until after we open. My biggest worry is people presuming they know something about some place that no one’s been to. I would like people to come and enjoy it. The first day it’s going to be really exciting and we’re going to put forth our best efforts, and it will be even better the second day, and the third, and the fourth.