Restaurant group serving up ‘out of this world’ food from Waynesboro ghost kitchen
By Crystal Abbe Graham
The restaurant business has changed dramatically since COVID-19 entered the picture in March 2020 shutting down a number of restaurants – some for a short while, others forced to close their doors forever.
With the restaurant landscape changing, resourceful business owners found new life with customers who still wanted high-quality food but didn’t want to eat inside restaurants.
DoorDash, an online food ordering company, was likely underutilized prior to COVID-19 in small-town America – used more frequently in large cities to deliver comfort food around the clock. However, even in Waynesboro, it emerged over the last year as a viable place to satisfy cravings with contactless delivery direct to your doorstep.
It’s also led entrepreneurs to introduce new restaurants in what the industry refers to as “ghost kitchens.” In bigger cities, these delivery-only restaurants are often run out of warehouses.
Teresa Gauldin, owner of Harvest Restaurant Group, saw the increased demand for DoorDash as an opportunity to experiment with some niche restaurant ideas and serve them up out of the kitchen of the former Waynesboro Country Club.
David and Teresa Gauldin took over the club in Waynesboro in January 2019, and rebranded under the name Orchard Creek, with a brick and mortar restaurant that re-opened to members in December 2020.
Gauldin and her staff began by adding some of the sandwich offerings from Orchard Creek on the DoorDash app.
“I think people are very comfortable with the fact that they can order now whatever they want to eat, and it’s going to show up at their house,” she said. “It’s been very successful. It has exceeded my expectations. And I don’t think it’s ever going away.”
In fact, orders began rolling in so much for Orchard Creek that the staff started thinking about other food items that might be a hit in the Waynesboro area.
Ricky Shickle, vice president of operations, worked with Fred German, the culinary director, and put their 60 years of combined food service to work coming up with some additional restaurant concepts: The Joint, Franks Artful Eats, Natcho Mamas Biscuit and Freddy Geez.
Shickle and German were used to being told what the menu was they had to serve in previous jobs. Harvest Restaurant Group gave them the opportunity to be creative.
“It was really important to emerge from the shutdown of COVID with a brand new concept for how will you be successful on this new landscape and multiple concepts,” German said. “Ricky and I spent a lot of time preparing mentally, what does that new model look like? And how do we go about making that come into reality?”
The reviews on DoorDash and the calls and feedback they are getting shows they are on the right track. The restaurant group found that they’d get more exposure if they split the brand up into different entities – so people can more easily search for food they are craving.
“When a new restaurant opens, it’s the big buzz of the town,” Shickle said. “It brings joy. The new concept, the new hot dog, the new biscuit, it brings joy to our team. It brings joy to us.”
6 best bets on DoorDash
1. Anything with Joint Sauce
Shickle and German agree on this one. They recommend anything from The Joint with Joint Sauce. “It’s just unbelievable,” German said. “It’s out of this world. I put the Joint Sauce on an oyster this afternoon, and it was amazing. And now I’m like, well, I need to redo the raw bar.”
2. Seven Hills Smash Burger with Bacon and Cheese
You’ll have to order this one from the Orchard Creek menu. With eight other burger places in town, this one “is over the top,” said German.
3. Seven Hills Steak and Cheese
Again, this one is available from Orchard Creek. “I remember when we got the steak and cheese right. I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but I had four of them that week,” Shickle said. “Just incredible.”
4. The Munchy
Order this one on Franks Artful Eats. Your choice of an Autumn Olive Farms pork or Hebrew skinless national all beef hot dog served on a potato roll. Toppings include shells and cheese and crushed JO Potato Chips.
5. Nightingale Ice Cream Sandwich (our favorite!)
Offered on the Orchard Creek DoorDash menu, these are the best ice cream sandwiches you never knew you needed. Flavors vary but this week’s selections include chocolate brownie and banana pudding.
6. Hot chicken with dill pickles, cowboy candy and Alabama white sauce
But you have to wait on this one, coming to Natcho Mamas Biscuit – expecting to launch in next 30 days. “We make our poultry seasoning. We make all of our sauces. So when you experience that fried chicken with our hot sauce, it is really, really good,” German said. “Then when you add the dill pickles, well, that’s even better. And then when you drop the cowboy candy on it, now you’re just next level. And then when you dribble that Alabama white sauce on top, well now you know it’s Natcho Mamas Biscuit.”
The signature restaurant for the club, Orchard Creek, offers members select daily entrees including the tomahawk steak, lamb chops, blackened catfish, shrimp and grits and more.
The DoorDash options don’t offer the select member-only entrees but offer a a wide variety of sandwiches, salads, grilled cheese and more.
“We want a reaction of wow, this looks great. And then you taste it. And then the reaction continues,” Shickle said. “It is some of the best food I’ve ever had, hand down. It causes a reaction where you want it again … you have a craving for it.”
Shickle said the group bought a smoker with an idea to offer something different from what you would get in other places, and The Joint was born.
“We like to source really clean foods that have inherently great flavors,” German said. “So we do a lot of work with Autumn Olive Farm, Shenandoah Valley Organics, and Seven Hills Farms. We make everything in house – all our brines, all our sauces, all our spice rubs, and we smoke everything with cherry wood. So it’s a unique and delicious concept.”
Franks Artful Eats
Though the menu doesn’t spell it out, Franks Artful Eats offers hot dogs – with your choice of Autumn Olive Farms pork or Hebrew National skinless all beef – served on a potato roll.
“The flavor profiles are just insane,” German said. “One of them, we call the Munchy, it has our shells and cheese with our signature cheese sauce. And then we added crushed JO Potato Chips on top of it.”
Other offerings serve up toppings including sauerkraut, baked beans, chili, bacon, sausage and gravy, bbq sauce, pickled red onions and more.
Coming soon: Natcho Mamas Biscuit
It took the restaurant culinary team about 30 days to develop the perfect buttermilk signature biscuit.
“Everything has to be road tested,” German said. “So your biscuit can’t just fall apart upon arrival, because then the customer experience is diminished. You have to have a biscuit that can handle all of our sauces, our products, and the road. We need to make sure that when it shows up, the packaging holds in such a way, that it’s not already broken into pieces.”
Gauldin admits to enjoying Tasting Tuesdays, a chance for staff to try out some of the culinary staff’s ideas for the various restaurants.
“I will tell you this. I’ve never tasted anything like those biscuits,” she said. “It’s going to be something you’ve never experienced before.”
Coming soon: Freddy Geez
This is a developing concept but the team is working to bring sliders and fries to the downtown area through a food truck. There are still some logistics to work out … but it is expected to launch around the same time as Natcho Mamas Biscuit.
Dirt to dirt concept
The buzz words around restaurants today focus on farm to table or field to fork, but German sees it a little differently.
“I believe in dirt to dirt,” he said. “If your soil is not healthy and rich, then everything else is going to be diminished. You have to find people that understand that and are pursuing that and developing that. We are very fortunate to have that all around us. And to celebrate them and celebrate their products is probably the single greatest thing I can do as a culinary artist.”
Supply chains during COVID have been crippled, so Harvest Restaurant Group believes in establishing partnerships with local farms including Farmer Focus/Shenandoah Valley Organics, Autumn Olive Farms, and Seven Hills Farms, who deliver cheese, creams, butters and animals to them.
The care local farms take in the animal is important to the group. “We respect all parts of the harvest from dirt to dirt,” Shickle said. “Everybody that works here has to understand and respect that cycle to dirt. It’s really what this brand is built on, whatever concepts run out of it.
“Both of us are on farms, done farms, we know it, like we live that way,” Shickle said. “And we want to spread that message through anybody that works here. Our front of house team really needs to understand what the products are, where they came from, why they’re so important to us, and present it to the members correctly.”
Perfecting a brand
For Gauldin, getting involved in the restaurant business has been a lot of fun.
“It’s fun to see new products developed. I get to taste them, I get to participate in it,” she said. “And then when it’s successful, it brings me a lot of joy. I feel good about what we’re doing. And it’s a great feeling to offer something of a quality that we offer.”
Club members often get to be the first to try out new menu ideas for the “ghost kitchen” restaurants. The Joint catered a golf tournament at the club. Franks Artful Eats is also going to cater upcoming events.
“We’re introducing menu options to the members slowly,” said Zanny Bandy, the membership and events coodinator at Orchard Creek. It’s a lot of word of mouth, with one member sharing their experience with additional members.
“We are going at a pace we can handle,” Shickle said. “We’re in test mode for a lot of these things. We’re not wanting 5,000 orders a day from The Joint. We want to perfect it and get good at it and slowly build the brand.”
As far as a traditional brick-and-mortar location in the future, Shickle isn’t ruling it out.
“We’re hoping one of them catches fire enough where it forces us to put it in a location,” he said. “That would be great.”