You can go out to eat or you can go out to dine. There’s definitely a difference and it’s evident at Webster’s Bistro & Bar in North Tonawanda.
Barb Hughes and her husband, Kevin, own the French bistro known for its bouillabaisse and seven-layer chocolate cake. But it’s Barb’s distinctive approach to dining that truly makes the restaurant stand out.
As senior sales consultant with AAA Travel, where she’s worked for nearly 35 years, Barb has traveled the globe and brings her wealth of knowledge to the dinner table, literally. She encourages guests to immerse themselves in the culinary experience. That’s what led her to open a second business, Webster’s Kitchen, two doors down that features cooking classes and more.
Barb gave me a tour of both venues as she explained her dining philosophy.
Question: Does your bistro concept tie into your global travels?
Answer: Very much so. I definitely wanted a European feel. I wanted a place where people can enjoy the environment, that’s comfortable, with good quality food and wines – a place to spend time together. I like everything on our menu and it’s growing.
Our new chef, Patrick Chmura, is excellent.
Q: How do you use events to share culinary experiences with guests?
A: So much of what I do is cross-pollinated from my career in travel so I’m very event-driven.
We just hosted bartender classes to learn to make Prohibition cocktails. We had an Easter bonnet tea that explained the history of bonnets - we worked with the history museum on that.
I feel that events allow guests to get to know my staff. It’s another approach to food and drink. People want to be immersed when they go to a destination. It’s about the experience more than just food on a plate.
Q: Do you feel that Webster’s has made a positive impact on North Tonawanda?
A: When I started my career in travel, to send people to other destinations around the world, I realized the impact you can have on your own community when you bring visitors to your businesses. People come here to dine and go to the Riviera Theatre and then visit a retail shop so I always try to work in a collaborative way so it’s successful for all of us. A strong community and strong businesses make for a desirable destination.
Q: And now you have two businesses on one block. Can you explain the concept at Webster’s Kitchen?
A: The Kitchen is two doors over. It opened in October. We can seat about 50 with the open-kitchen concept and our private dining room seats 20. We have cooking classes, private events, field trips, birthday parties or showers.
We also offer “grab and go” meals to take home. We do “demo and dine” where people sit around the open kitchen as chefs are preparing meals and pairing wines.
Q: How have you attracted world-class chefs?
A: I had two chefs who I flew in from Tuscany. I knew them from attending their cooking school and they spent a week with me and conducted wine pairings and cooking classes at the Kitchen. People are looking for things to do and food and wine is a perfect connection.
Q: Are most of your customers from North Tonawanda?
A: We’re drawing people from all over. Half are from a five-mile radius, but we draw from both the Southtowns and the Northtowns, too.
Q: How do you balance your travel work with the restaurants?
A: I have an amazing staff with qualified, caring individuals. We’re a family - we work well together and we’re very dedicated. I use what I’ve learned from AAA to create a culture here.
INFO: Webster’s Bistro, 102 Webster St., North Tonawanda, 264-4314. Opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, seasonal patio. Webster’s Kitchen, 100 Webster St., North Tonawanda, 264-4315. Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday, plus events posted on the website or Facebook.
*Read last week's interview by Elizabeth Carey, below: