Imagine transforming your entire menu, and doing so overnight. Learn how the talented team behind one of Santa Barbara’s most popular dining destinations did just that and continues to break the mold with their motto – Fresh. Simple. Local.

In 2012, Chef James Siao became the executive chef of Coast restaurant located inside the Canary Hotel in picturesque Santa Barbara. Just one short year later, the entire restaurant concept was flipped upside down becoming the hip, laid-back Finch & Fork, serving up American classics from fresh, local ingredients. Only catch? The entire team, under the direction of Chef Siao, had to make the transition – from a revamped menu to a completely new look and feel – overnight.

“The transition from Coast to Finch & Fork overnight was probably the toughest part, as we didn’t close to flip concepts,” said James. “One day we were cooking one menu, and the next day we had to rollout a completely new menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our preparation in setting up a new line was a crucial part of getting ready for service. Although the initial transition days were long, our great team literally made the vision a reality overnight.”

One of the huge advantages of rolling out an entirely new restaurant concept was starting with a clean slate. “The concept, from creativity and style to taste, was so new we were able to have fun and create what makes Finch & Fork unique, but evolve every day,” said James. “Our daily specials are an example of dishes from the transition, like Tuesday’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken (B.F.C.) and Sunday’s mouthwatering Prime Rib.”

The aforementioned B.F.C. (pictured above) is a perfect example of how Chef Siao has elevated Finch & Fork’s menu, taking classic favorites and revamping them into culinary artwork (the food is literally as delicious as it is photogenic). For the crowd favorite B.F.C., James took the generic fried chicken sandwich and upgraded it with creative twists like honey mustard that he literally smokes.

The chicken is marinated with rosemary and thyme, dredged with cayenne-spiked flour, and then deep fried until golden brown. The bread and butter pickles are made in house, and the slaw is made from kale and cabbage, with a lemon-yogurt dressing.

“I feel our guests and community enjoy the simplicity, yet creative twists on our classic dishes,” said James. “Our approach to the menu is to be able to show our diversity in talents and experiences. Overall, making the whole experience well thought out – from starters to dessert – with a sense of adventure and nostalgia.”

Not only is Chef Siao responsible for the menus at Finch & Fork, he also manages the banquet and in-room dining menus for The Canary Hotel and oversees the entire kitchen staff. Needless to say, James is extremely well versed in multitasking the many different facets of a business. “What I would impart on any chef is the importance of having a schedule and staying organized. Teaching, delegating and trust is also a big part of how you’re able to control and oversee multiple scenarios all at once. The teams and leaders, from the line level to sous chefs, are my keys to success. Everyone plays an important role – we’re all in it together.”

Speaking of being in it together, James’ talented team does a phenomenal job of bringing customers in through various themed events such as Wine Down Wednesday and Pork & Cork. “The creation of such events came from my team coming up with exciting new ways to drive our business to the next level of inventive, but classic themes that would entice the diner,” he said. “We knew we wanted to have a little fun, but build a consistent following from the community. Our most popular themed nights are B.F.C. on Tuesdays and Prime Rib on Sundays. For Thursday’s Pork & Cork, we have full control of the experience, whether it’s themed around a cooking style or a cut of pork, we’ve done it different every week over the past three years. These nights, from Sundays to Thursdays, have shown consistent growth and stability with the given themes for the nights helping us drive non-peak nights, like Sundays and Tuesdays.”

When it comes to marketing their promotions, Finch & Fork turns to the media. “We’ve had great success in how we show up in local and national news and write-ups. All the local papers and magazines have been great supporters and help get the word out about all the themed events, new menu items, reviews, and bar scene. That’s helped us tremendously, as has word of mouth and grassroots marketing. Social media is another great outlet for us like Open Table, Yelp, and TripAdvisor to help our out-of-towners and locals find us when visiting Santa Barbara. Instagram and Facebook helps us get our specials and fun events out quicker to followers who look to see what we do next, which helps drive traffic for the day-to-day business.”

Apart from his “day job,” Chef Siao is deeply involved in serving his community – from supporting organizations like No Kid Hungry, to allowing others to tag along with him on trips to the local Farmer’s Market, to literally hand delivering patrons their dishes on occasion. “Giving back is easy if you truly believe in what you’re supporting, from the environment to ending childhood hunger. I’m simply thankful to have the opportunity to assist in making a difference.”

Relationships are extremely important to Chef Siao – one of which is his relationship with long-time Jordano’s Account Executive, Jeff Vinion. “My close relationship with Jeff has brought consistency and flexibility to our business. When we are in need of help, I can always count on Jeff and Jordano’s to deliver the best service in the industry. He helps our team keep our business on track, not having variables that you could get with other foodservice distributors.”

For more information on Finch & Fork, or find them on Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, and TripAdvisor.

Article by Kiersta Halseth Tibbetts, Assistant Director of Marketing, Jordano’s Foodservice