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INDEPENDENCE — In tough economic times, people are quick to give up many things, one of which is eating out.
Taphne Taylor owns and operates the Davis Bourne Inn and Journey's End Restaurant in Independence, and knows all about the hard times. In recent months, she has been working overtime to come up with new ideas to bring business to both her restaurant and inn.
One recent change was to hire a new chef to cook at her restaurant.
Chef Rich Ridgely is what Taylor calls a “classically trained chef,” who brings a different style of cooking to the table.
Ridgely brings more than three years of professional cooking to the restaurant and cooks a bit lighter than most chefs.
Taylor feels that Ridgely's higher level of quality food and presentation, and using more and more local food products, will help attract customers.
“The restaurant business is one of the toughest businesses to be in,” Taylor said. “When the economy gets bad, eating out is one of the first things given up.”
Ridgely comes to Independence from a resort cooking background in Charlottesville, where he had the opportunity to learn from some of the best chefs in the business.
While hiring a new chef was the biggest change, Taylor said she's made changes to help both businesses adapt — one of which was the restaurant “going green” this past year.
Last fall, Taylor had the idea to turn her inn and restaurant into an environmentally conscious business, but not only to save the earth.
She was thinking of another type of green — money.
While it wasn't easy, Taylor began recycling everything she possibly could, including glass, steel and aluminum cans, plastic, office paper, toner cartridges, newspaper, cardboard, packing supplies, fluorescent lamps and batteries.
Journey's End began recycling wine bottles and gave them to a woman who is building a cord wood building using a technique that includes stacking wood to form the walls. The bottles will be used to make windows and add color.
Other changes to both go green and save money included purchasing EnergyStar-rated appliances, having high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning, using natural lighting and lighting sensors, as well as preventative maintenance plans for both heating and cooling units.
On top of physical changes made to the two businesses, Taylor began to learn new techniques to market each to more potential customers.
Taylor said she simply doesn't have the money to do as much advertising as she used to, and instead is reaching agreements with other businesses to swap links on each other's Web sites and listing her businesses in free online directories.
Taylor also has been taking part in local VECTEC classes, which teach various marketing techniques. The classes train business owners how to use electronic marketing to its full benefit and how to use alternatives that are either free or less expensive.
Along with the changes on the Internet, Taylor is taking reservations for the Davis-Bourne Inn on her Web site.
This has enabled her to not miss any potential customers if she happens to be away from the telephone.
Not only has Taylor reservations easier, but she also lowered the price of a room in hopes to make it more affordable for everyone. A room now goes for $95 a night, seven nights a week.
Taylor added that she hopes to finish two rooms upstairs in the inn this year, as well, to maximize the space she has available.
Last year, she missed out on 68 reservations because the inn was full. “It's tough when you know you have the space there.”
On the restaurant side of the business, Taylor said she is open to the possibility of serving meals for parties of five or more on any night — with reservation, of course.
Currently, Journey's End is only open Friday and Saturday evenings, but is available by reservation any time.
Another way Taylor is hoping to attract more business is by marketing the restaurant's ability to cater to any special needs and/or diets. Taylor is deathly allergic to peanuts, and therefore she feels like she can relate.
The restaurant is able to work around any ingredients that a person may be allergic to, so long as the group making the reservation lets them know ahead of time.
As always, guests of the inn are able to have dinner cooked for them in the restaurant downstairs, as long as they inform the cook.
To get more exposure for Journey's End, Taylor is expanding its off-campus catering to festivals and events — anything to get the name and business out there in these tough times, she said.
Taylor has started partnering with other local businesses to offer restaurant referrals to try and attract more of the local crowd. “I can't depend solely on tourists,” she said. “People tell me [the lack of local support is] because of our prices, but it's not.”
Taylor said while her prices might be slightly higher than the cost of a meal at Applebee's, customers are given twice the portions, quality and service.
And, the restaurant uses local beef, lamb, cheese and other ingredients. If the chef can purchase it locally, he does.
Ridgely said he has found in his experience behind the stove that people like to see the local foods available.
“And our prices are not as expensive as people think,” the chef said.
This spring, Journey's End will begin planting its own herbs and vegetables.
While they won't be able to plant nearly enough to furnish all the needs for the year, Taylor said the locally grown heirloom vegetables will be used for nightly specials.
While times may be tough in the restaurant business, Taylor said she is doing everything she can to keep her head above water and make a living.
As for now, she is committed to spending as little as possible. “If it costs me money, I can't do it this year.”
• Journey's End Restaurant is open Friday and Saturday from 5-8:30 p.m. After Mother's Day, the restaurant will be open on Thursday, as well, and offer Sunday brunch. The restaurant is available for parties anytime. Anyone interested in booking a dinner or room can call (276) 773-9384.