I just returned from a trip to Queenstown, New Zealand to see my friend’s new gourmet sandwich shop. Yep… committed myself, wife and one-year-old daughter to over 50 hours of airports and planes to eat sandwiches on the opposite side of the world. Why?
Two years ago, we got married in New Zealand and had the single best dining experience of our life there at this tiny restaurant right on the water of Queenstown. When I asked to talk to the chef (which I have never done before anywhere else), out came Ramy Abu-Yousef… a non New Zealand, non chef looking guy who grew up in Iowa, went to Michigan Law School, worked at a big law firm in LA, and THEN decided to put on a backpack with his girlfriend, go to New Zealand, and pursue his real passion – cooking.
So with no formal training, Ramy worked his way from the bottom up to being the head chef and manager of the Bathhouse which we were taking full delight in. Each dish had something about it that made it like nothing we had ever experienced, the atmosphere of the place was uniquely intimate, and the wait staff were joyful. We were so blown away by Ramy that we asked him if he would come to Colorado to cook for our wedding reception a couple months later.
Ramy didn’t cook for our reception, but we did stay in touch, and he started reading this blog. Then last February, after deciding not to buy the Bathhouse, Ramy announced he was going to open a gourmet sandwich shop in town (with a moustache theme for the fun of it)… Johnny Barr’s.
Then in September, I got an email from Ramy saying the shop had been open for just three months and was so well received that it was already profitable. And he asked if I would be interested in getting involved in further growth. I knew nothing about sandwich shops, but there was something unique about Ramy’s passion, that compelled me to go to New Zealand to learn more.
To make a long story longer, what I discovered after spending a week at Johnny Barr’s with Ramy and his lovely girlfriend and business partner Syndey, was an incredibly beautiful passion they both have to share their love for great food with others. Everything about the shop breathed their desire to delight others, from the warm atmosphere of the hand-picked brick walls, to the smiling excited folks working behind the counter, to the constant ongoing food experiments to come up with the best corned beef recipe or homemade granola bars that are a big hit with the 1.5 million backpackers that come through town or the borscht soup made by their Czech cook named “Easy”. Even after working in the shop all day long they would come home to cook even MORE amazing food for us.
It made me realize that having a passion for something is one thing, but using that passion to be of service to and delight others is divine. I have a poster hanging in my study at home that says “The World Needs More Stache”. Thanks Syndey & Ramy for sharing your “stache” with us!