The math just didn’t add up for the owners of Corner Kitchen in Dayton's Oregon District.
No matter how the restaurant’s owners, Jack and Natalie Skilliter, ran the numbers, their old way of doing business — with meticulous full table service in a limited space with an extensive menu of complex dishes — was not going to work financially with the greatly reduced seating capacity required by social-distancing guidelines forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
>> ALSO NEW TODAY: ‘WE ARE OPEN:’ Buckhorn Tavern quashes rumor of its demise
So when Corner Kitchen reopens this Friday, June 19, diners will discover a significantly revamped menu and will order their meals at a counter rather than at their table, the Skilliters said this morning in a release. Reservations will no longer be available. Even the restaurant’s slogan has changed from “A finer diner” to “A faster finer diner.”
One thing won’t change: Corner Kitchen’s commitment to provide high-quality, locally sourced and house-made food and drinks, the Skilliters said.
“This new menu preserves the ‘soul’ of Corner Kitchen,” Jack Skilliter, Corner Kitchen’s executive chef, said in a release. “We’re committed to serving carefully sourced and thoughtfully prepared food. This new format allows us to make gourmet food more accessible, and portable. We are bringing the same intention to this new counter service model as we did to the ‘finer’ full-service model.”
Guests will place their order with a cashier upon entering the restaurant and will receive a number to identify their order. They will then find a table and will receive their food and drinks from food runners and managers.
“With the new restrictions around COVID-19 and social distancing necessities, we had to devise a way to make our ‘restaurant math’ work,” co-owner Natalie Skilliter said. “Many other restaurants have extra space they utilized only for private events that they could simply expand for a la carte seating. We do not have the luxury of that extra space.”
“As many people are aware, profits in restaurants are paper thin; we were already bursting at the seams in terms of capacity before we closed in March,” she said. “With a huge reduction in seating capacity, we vowed to not increase our prices and add expense for our guests. We had to introduce a new way for our business to be viable, and this counter service model is our solution.”
The new counter service model is built for speed of service with a focus on carry-out and delivery, the Skilliters said. The restaurant will retain 100 percent of its staff, and expects to add new employees, the owners said in a release.
“Sure, I’m very sad about eliminating our old full-service model,” Natalie Skilliter said. “I’m sad to say goodbye to the carefully curated wine-bottle list, the exciting nightly specials, the intimate service our professional team provided. But, I’m excited for this new model, not just because we believe it will allow us to remain in business in these times, but because it provides greater accessibility. ... What we were offering before was very old-school from the pay structure to the service standards. We will continue to maintain very high service standards, but it will be a different kind of service and experience. This feels like the future for us and our industry, and that’s exciting.”
Casualties of the Corner Kitchen menu overhaul include such items as the restaurant’s Mussels & Frites and its popular burger. The new menu includes biscuit sandwiches, tacos, nachos, and fries served poutine-style with toppings, along with soups, salads, and entrees such as meatloaf, chicken breast and grilled salmon. Cocktails, beers and wines also will be available.
“A burger is something we might incorporate in the future. But for now, the CK burger doesn’t fit our new quick-service model,” Natalie Skilliter told this news outlet. “We hold our burger to a very high standard, but it takes a good 15 minutes to cook our burger to a medium doneness, and 25 minutes if you want it well done. This new CK is built around speed, so that 15 minutes is just too long in this model.”
“We’re focused on our biscuit now. They will be delicious. Jack’s homemade biscuits are so flaky and light with a perfect crust. These biscuit sandwiches are going to satisfy the same way the burger did.”
The husband-and-wife team opened Corner Kitchen in July 2015. Jack Skilliter is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and Ohio State University, and previously served as executive chef at what was then the Dayton Racquet Club. He also previously worked at Le Petit Bistro in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and served as sous chef at RIS, a restaurant co-located with a Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington D.C. Natalie Skilliter served as as floor manager and director of catering for Terrapin Restaurant & Catering in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and as general manager of RIS restaurant in Washington D.C.
Corner Kitchen will be open Tuesday-Saturday evenings and will be adding lunch on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the Skilliters said. The restaurant is located at 613 E. Fifth St. at Wayne Avenue.
Corner Kitchen’s owners are requesting guests wear masks or face shields when not eating or drinking, including upon entering, ordering, and moving around the restaurant, and using the rest room. All employees will be required to wear masks.
“Keeping the restaurant’s workplace and dining room safe is a collective effort,” the Skilliters’ release said.
For more information, check out Corner Kitchen’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/CornerKitchenafinerdiner. The restaurant’s phone number is 937-719-0999.