A restaurant's first year is always the most emotionally taxing, but few restaurateurs have faced a first year the way Renata's Sandra and Nick Arnerich did.
Just six weeks after its soft opening, The Oregonian named Renata "Restaurant of the Year." Then, just two months shy of the restaurant's first anniversary, the Renata family lost an invaluable friend, when sommelier Chris Wright died after a short bout with cancer.
We recently chatted with the Arnerichs about what they've learned from their first year in business in one of this country's best—and most competitive—eating cities. Here's what they told us.
On the Surprises and Challenges in Renata's First Year
Without a doubt the most challenging thing that we've experienced is finding consistency with staff, our guests, purveyors, etcetera. Building the culture of a new restaurant is difficult and finding staff has been a challenge. By talking with other fellow restaurateurs it seems like they struggle with the same thing.
On Being Named The Oregonian's "Restaurant of the Year" Six Weeks After Opening
We always say that we were learning how to walk, and all of the sudden we had to run a marathon! Winning restaurant of the year was an unexpected honor that came with a huge responsibility. Guests expectations were so much higher and everything we did mattered because we were under a microscope. We went from serving 100 guests a night—and that was hard for a new restaurant—to serving 220 guests a night, over night. The biggest lesson we took from it was the understanding that regardless of what the publications said, we had the power to show that we are about one guest at a time, every single night.
On Losing Sommelier and Beloved Friend Chris Wright to Cancer
Losing Chris has been by far the hardest thing we've had to deal with. Chris was not just our employee, he was also a dear friend and family (Nick and Chris worked together for around 60 hours every week for the last six years straight). Chris was a fundamental part of Renata. He was there from the first design meeting. His voice and energy were part of all of it, so his loss is heartbreaking and we were left devastated.
Having such a deep pain in our heart and having to open the restaurant regardless everyday was very challenging. We have not been able to look at this and find a lesson, yet. It's still very raw in our hearts. The most valuable thing that came out of it, without a doubt, was the love from all the community in Portland. People showed us support and love and that was very touching for us.
On Whether Renata Has Hit Its Stride
I think Renata has evolved to be a very good restaurant. We're happy where things are, but that doesn't mean there aren't things we want to do better. We want to always be evolving, because that's what keeps it fun and exciting. Our whole animal program is a great example of that. Relying on what the animals offer to write our menu every day is logistically very hard, but we feel that it's the best way to deliver the experience we want to give, and people will know they will always find new things.