It has now been over 8 years ago that I was asked to create a second “NORMAN’S”. But I can instantly recall how it all began…
Some of the senior management from The Ritz-Carlton Companies were having dinner in my Coral Gables restaurant one evening back then and a rather tall gentleman asked to come see me in my kitchen. I was expediting the tickets during a very busy night when he entered the cramped old line we had in that place on Almeria Avenue. I was used to a visitor or 3 most nights so I kept yelling for the plates as I also made conversation with the gent. I had no idea about the party being from the Ritz group. For all I knew he was another avid home chef and he wanted to get a bead on the frantic action of a professional kitchen. Either way he was a guest and I always enjoyed it when one was intrigued enough and wanted to visit my band of ‘pirates’!
He was really happy with his experience and was telling me so. It made me happy too. He explained about being from The Ritz-Carlton at that point. He asked me if I would consider coming up to Orlando to discuss the possibility of doing a restaurant at the new resort they were building. He told me, “It will be called Grande Lakes. It will be very beautiful! We run great hotels but we really would love to have a great restaurant like this along side”. Quite honestly I thought he was feeling…. expansive…. due to the night in Miami and a good meal and didn’t assume it was a firm offer. It turned out that it most certainly was! In a few weeks we were up in Orlando and being given a grand tour of the still under construction property. It was “GRAND” all right! From our humble beginnings on this quiet little out of the way street off the beaten track we were going here? My grandmother and mother were surely smiling!
Time flies. But even today…after the airplane trip from Miami… when we arrive once again for about the 50th visit in the 8 years I will see the side-by-side buildings, (from literally miles away!) of The Ritz and The J.W. Marriott my eyes will widen at the majesty they invoke. One would almost have to imagine the castles of Europe and the life affirming VISION it takes to build something like that. What optimism! Unlike Vegas where buildings of such fantasy and arc are stacked on top of each other in a kind of ‘top this’ mentality on an asphalt strip out in the desert ours, (yes it feels good to say ‘ours’!) are ensconced on a rich and vast ‘carpet’ of green with lakes, trees and broad expanses of sky all around them. The feeling of peace and tranquility embraces you. As the cab delivers us to the front and the smiling men and women who are there to unfailingly greet us we are embraced again… as if we are first time guests as well… But it is even better because the valets, bellman, hosts and front desk personnel at The Ritz-Carlton know us and ask about our family and travels with earnest inquiry. Today and all through this weekend we will celebrate our 8th Anniversary of being there and many of the folks I’m talking about have also been there all throughout that time and we know each other by first names. It is a loyal ‘family’ of folks who work at ‘The Grande Lakes’. And it all started with a single meal in a restaurant on a sleepy side street.
You just never know what might come your way in this life… so do your best and who knows!