The Charlottesville 29

If there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29?

At Your Service: Campbell Era Ends at Beer Run

Jay 2

Today we break from our usual focus on food to recognize something that can be all-to-difficult to find: great customer service.  Why today? It is the last day of work for one of the standouts in customer service in the Charlottesville food industry over the last half-decade: Jay Campbell of Beer Run.

Dennis Miller has a classic rant defending restaurant “employees of the month” and mocking the notion that it is somehow uncool to do one’s job well.  “Make that person feel good,” Miller urges of an employee of the month, “because he is the last thin blue collar line between a frayed but still functioning society and full-blown ‘We’ll be there anytime between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. or maybe we won’t even show up at all, assface’ anarchy.”

In Charlottesville, as elsewhere, we certainly have our share of disinterested, clock-watching servers, biding time to collect their beer money. But, we also have people who just get it.

And, Jay Campbell gets it.

Campbell is not without flaws.  For one, he indulges in obscure story-telling with the courage of Cliff Clavin.  Got a few hours to kill?  Ask Campbell about the origins of every Major League ballpark, or the evolution of the various spellings of a “nonic” glass.  But, Campbell’s virtues far outweigh his flaws. In fact, the list of Campbell’s virtues reads like a manual on the basics of customer service.  Many servers would be wise to read it.

First, Campbell is empathetic.  Sure, he understands that the purpose of customer service  – the sole purpose in fact – is to serve the customer.  That is fundamental.  But, Campbell actually enjoys serving customers’ needs and making them happy.  It makes him feel good.  No matter what he is doing – whether unloading inventory, pricing beers, or dreaming up employee nicknames – his head is on a swivel, as if to mimic his beloved Peyton Manning.  Instead of an open receiver, though, Campbell is scanning for unmet customer needs. Find one, and Campbell rushes to meet it, and get his fix.

Next, Campbell is knowledgeable.  His role buying beer at a top beer bar and store requires the expertise not just to buy the best beers but to match them with customers’ tastes. So, he reads about beer, studies beer and, yes, drinks beer. A lot.  Ahem . . . a lot. (I’ve omitted details of the frequency of his beer drinking, so as to avoid a referral to the Department of Pots and Kettles.)

All the while, Campbell is humble.  Despite his knowledge, he never speaks down to a customer, even the ones who ask him to recommend something similar to Coors Light.  His humility makes him a team player, too.  Hired as beer buyer, Campbell quickly became a jack of all trades.  Cashier, host, bartender, bus boy, jig dancer — no job is too small.

Relatedly, Campbell is loyal. Though employee loyalty flows first to the employer, customers benefit as well. Ever heard restaurant employees openly malign fellow employees within earshot of customers? This is a cardinal sin of customer service, and happens way to often. Not only is it off-putting to hear, it signals to customers that the business is flawed, even poisoned. Who knows what Campbell might say about his fellow employees when he goes home to his wife each evening? But, at Beer Run? Not a bad word. Like any good employee, he realizes that the team sinks or swims together.

And, finally, Campbell is happy.  This is an often overlooked aspect of great service, but some top restaurateurs tell me it is the number one thing they look for when hiring servers, above even experience. It is almost impossible to excel at customer service unless you are happy. Ever been impressed by the service of a scowling, miserable, misanthrope? Me either.  Sure, some servers can fake interest in their customers and enthusiasm for their job, at least for a while. But, there is no substitute for genuine joie de vivre.  Campbell loves his job and loves his life.  That, above all, is what has made him such an asset to Beer Run.

He will be missed.

Jay 1


Five Finds on Friday: Thomas Leroy


Photo by Milo Farineau.

On Fridays, we feature five food finds from local chefs and personalities. Today’s picks come from Thomas Leroy, chef of the new Kardinal Hall, now open. Leroy’s picks:

1) Gambas al’ Parilla at MAS Tapas. “Huge jumbo grilled shrimp in their shells with alioli. The cooking in the shell process makes the shrimp retain their juicy texture, sprinkled with coarse sea salt.  I personally enjoy the crunch of the shell and the blend with the rich garlicky alioli.”

2) The Superman at The Juice Laundry. “Always a great start of my day to get a smoothie from those guys.  The lineup of drinks uses organic fruits and it’s vegan. Nor only are we neighbors, but those folks are awesome people.”

3)  Prosciutto Pizza at Lampo. “I love the Neapolitan-style crust and burnt edge that gives a smoky flavor to each bite.  I’ve known a few of the owners for a long time and you can tell they put their soul into their food. Everyone can make a pizza, but they are the best for this particular style.”

4)  Cheese from Flora Artisanal Cheese.  “Pretty much anything Nadjeeb passes me over his counter to taste at Timebrcreek Market is gold. I remember our days at Whole Foods and I could always count on him to understand the value and depth of what the people here call a ‘stinky cheese.'”

5)  Jack’s Java Stout from Three Notch’d Brewery.  “I’m not a huge dark beer fan but once Dave Warwick gave me a sample at a beer dinner we did together I was hooked. It’s basically drinking a strong iced coffee espresso with the added bonus of alcohol in it.  It’s hard to pick one beer from Three Notch’d, because the entire lineup is solid and the brewmaster’s passion is felt in every sip.”

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