The Rusty Spoon
By Kristine Thomas
How often do we duck into a local restaurant for lunch or dinner with only the thought of food and proximity in mind? We may have read a rave review or two, but in Orlando, we as locals (even visitors) can get overwhelmed by the advertising abilities of those larger national restaurants. How do small but awesome restaurants begin to promote themselves without access to national advertising budgets? My thinking is that if you really understood the story that went into some of these local restaurants, your search for a new lunch spot might lead you in a more thoughtful direction.
There is a certain form of culinary excellence and training present in every dish. So much thought is put into preparing the meal before you sit down. I think if you really understood the journey the food, and the chef, have made to get where they are, you would have a newfound appreciation for just how amazing our local Orlando food entrepreneurs are.
Kathleen Blake of Orlando’s Rusty Spoon is an outstanding example. I have heard nothing but stellar reviews about the The Rusty Spoon and wholeheartedly agree with each raving fan. I’ve read all about the location of the restaurant in the Church Street District, the simple rustic, yet elegant style of the interior, and of course, all about the delicious food. Everything from a butcher’s plate made at the whim of the chef and a Caesar salad, to a “Dirty South” consisting of Canaveral shrimp, local catch and little neck clams in a rich shrimp-peanut broth, and of course, every tasty bite in between.
The Road to the Rusty Spoon
I feel like I know all about The Rusty Spoon, from its food to its layout, I know everything except for all of the effort it took for Kathleen Blake to bring the restaurant to life and the many challenges she has had to overcome.
This Iowa native certainly has the chops to compete among the world’s greatest chefs, earning three James Beard Award nominations (2013, 2015, 2016) and seven Silver Spoon Awards. After working at several prestigious restaurants across the country, always with a focus on quality ingredients, Kathleen began her Orlando food career by accepting the role as Chef de Cuisine of Melissa Kelly’s Primo at Orlando’s JW Marriott Grande Lakes.
It was during her time at Primo that she began her partnerships with many of Florida’s local farmers, including the beloved Lake Meadows Naturals and, with the help of her husband, William Blake, built and maintained an organic garden at Primo Orlando.
In 2011, Kathleen’s entrepreneurial spirit emerged, and she, along with her husband and business partner, opened The Rusty Spoon. When asked why she wanted to open her own restaurant, Kathleen said, “We decided it was time to do our own thing and showcase some of the best ingredients in the place we call home – Central Florida.”
Opening a restaurant isn’t all cooking and eating; there’s a great deal of business know-how required. “The biggest surprise was the cost of real estate. Orlando is much higher [in cost] than other major cities,” she said. “Then there are those unexpected costs no one plans for, unraveling business partnerships and impact fees, to name a few. Then there is the challenge of staffing and the changing foot pattern downtown.”
Despite these challenges, The Rusty Spoon prides itself on “Keeping it simple with the most AHHHHHmazing ingredients!” and has just celebrated its 5th year in Downtown Orlando. This is just one of Blake’s most meaningful accomplishments, in addition to raising four healthy, independent and accomplished children. When asked who has inspired her most, she replies, “My family and the incredibly resilient people I’ve met throughout the years as a chef. The stories I could tell!” Certainly many of us would love to hear those stories.
Just as she has found inspiration in others, many foodies and entrepreneurs are inspired by Kathleen. When asked what advice she has for other ‘foodpreneurs’ wanting to start a profitable business, she responds, “The best advice is make sure you have a good attorney, be persistent, dream BIG and always remember, ‘if you build it…they will come.’”
Kathleen has certainly built her business without compromising the things she values including local, fresh, quality food (not to mention tasty, too!). In return, the Orlando community, and people from around the world, celebrate Kathleen and her accomplishments as a true Orlando foodpreneur.