Clint Eastwood’s inn: an accent on simplicity – restaurant
CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, Calif. — Though Clint Eastwood is not a professional restaurateur, his Hog’s Breath Inn clearly bears the stamp of the well-known actor’s personality.
The restaurant, which is near the very center of this picturesque artists’ colony, is unpretentious, casual, comportable and friendly. It’s also a bit reclusive, located down around the corner of a building at the end of a long inclined ramp. At street level only a small sign with the restaurant’s name is suspended from a wooden post topped with a life-sized carved head of a razorback hog. It stands next to a glass-doored menu case hung on a simple board fence.
Yet despite its unobtrusive entrance the 120-seat English country pub-style operations averages 300 to 400 for lunch and 200 dinners, seven days a week, during the area’s extended summer season. Operating year round, even in the slowest months of the year, the five to six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day when tourists tend to vanish from this vacation retreat, the count only drops to 150 to 200 covers at lunch and 125 to 150 at dinner.
“Clint intended this as a comfortable place to dine out,” says manager Joyce Kutchins. “It wasn’t aimed at tourists or his fans. That business just sort of grew. IT was a place for Clint, his family and friends and the local people to gather and enjoy good food and pleasant surroundings. We work hard to keep it that way.”
Eastwood, with local professional restaurateur Walter Becker and another partner, who later dropped out, opened the restaurant 14 years ago. A no-reservations policy meshes with what Kutchins calls “Clint’s Rule”: The food must be simple, well prepared and tasty.
Although Eastwood doesn’t take a hand in day-to-day operations, the actor lives nearby when he’s not working on a film project. He is likely to be found eating at the booth tucked behind the hostess’ desk in the 60-seat dining room or else relaxing in a corner of the L-shaped outdoor courtyard, which seats another 60.
“You mustn’t think that just because an actor owns it, it’s just a hobby or an ego trip,” Kutchins insists. “This is a professional operation, and we are concerned with the bottom line.”
An evidence of thaT, Kutchins, who has been with the operation since a year after it opened, holds food costs to 30% to 31% and labor costs to 25%. These averages have been consistent for the past three years, she claims.
The menu, hewing to Clint’s Rule, ranges from $2.95 to $10.25 for lunch and from $9.95 to $19.95 for dinner. There are several off-menu specials posted in the street-side menu case and recited by the front-of-the-house staff at each meal. Most of the specials are fresh seafood landed up at Monterey, not far away. In recent years, as the place became known to fans, a per-person minimum of $5 was established for dinner to discourage people from loitering to see the actor/host.
“We are here to serve our neighbors, particularly at noon,” Kutchins says. “Our soup and sandwich luncheon special is probably the best deal in the area at $2.95, and we try to encourage local people to drop in.”
As she spoke, several tourists posed beside the dining room’s 6-ft. X 4-ft. oil portrait of Eastwood in a scene from one of his Sergio Leone Italian Westerns while another visitor took flash pictures. Business people at tables nearby, obviously accustomed to the sight, paid little attention to the picture takers.
“We keep the percentages down, not by cutting down on the quality or quantity of the food, but thight controls on waste and overtime,” Kutchins notes. “When I took over as manager four years ago, that was my first concern–controls.”
Kutchins, who had earlier down, not by cutting down on the quality or quantity of the food, but by tight controls on waste and overtime,” Kutchins notes. “When I took over as manager four years ago, that was first concern–controls.”
Kutchins, who had earlier been a part owner of a restaurant in another area, started as a part-time waitress at Hog’s Breath, then, after three years, bacame assistant manager. The unionized operation uses a lot of part-time service personnel, particularly for the lucheon peak.
“We’re open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 P.M., for dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. We have 20 full-timers on the kitchen staff, with 30–many partime–in the front of the house. There are three full-time bartenders. The bar is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. By forcasting traffic and by closely monitoring shifts, we have essentially eliminated overtime. And we don’t believe in split shifts. That’s why we use so many part-timers. On our evening shift, we have very little turnover. Some of our people have been here since the place opened. We even have bubboys with four and five years’ tenure,” Kutchins says.
“In the kitchen, we watch waste carefully. If you forecast accurately, buy the best and prepare it properly, there should be little waste,” she observes. “It’s the details that count.”
The owners also pay attention to details. Eastwood is particularly concerned that the service be consistently quick and cheerful. Becker goes down to the wholesale market every morning and personally picks out the produce for the day.
There is a family feeling among the staff. It’s particularly apparent in their watchfulness where Eastwood is concerned. “When he’s outside in the courtyard, or in the bar, it’s a sort of unspoken rule that he can take care of himself,” Kutchins says. “But when he’s eating at his booth behind the hostess desk, we make sure he isn’t bothered. It’s amazing how adept we get at blocking the curious.”
The family feeling extends from the Hog’s Breath T-shirts worn by the service personnel to the part everyone takes in naming new menu items after Eastwood films. The menu abounds with them: the Dirty Harry burger ($5.25), the Sudden Impact (broiled Polish sausage, cheese and hot peppers on a roll, $5.25), the Mysterious Misty (hot tunafish sandwich, $5.25) and the Eiger roast beef sandwich ($5.50) for lunch.
At dinner, a ground chuck steak with mushrooms is the Dirty Harry dinner ($9.95); Coogan’s Bluff is a 12-oz. New York cut ($16.95); For a Few Dollars More is the 16-oz. New York cut ($19.95), and the prime rib is called the High Plains Rancher Cut ($19.95).
The 21 regular luncheon entrees, which also include vegetarian and health food selections (omelets, sandwiches, salads and fresh seafood specials), come with the soup of the day. The more limited dinner menu (11 regular items, in addition to the chef’s and seafood specials) includes in the price soup or salad, a vegatable and a baked potato or rice.
The operation does little advertising or publicity except for display ads in the Yellow Pages and occasional ads in local newspapers. Until recently most of the business was built by word of mouth. But since a Barbara Walters TV interview of Eastwood filmed scenes in the restaurant, the Hog’s Breath gets plenty of tourist and fan attention. “We get calls for Clint now from all over the world,” Kutchins admits. “They don’t know where else to reach him. So they call here. We refer the legitimate calls to his agent or his production company in Southern California.”
Because of the tourists and fans, Hog’s Breath does a booming business in tan T-shirts with the restaurant name on the back and a racing razorback hog logo on the front. “We sell both men’s–with a crew neck–for $9 and women’s–with a V-neck–for $12. It provides visitors with an inexpensive souvenir of their visit here.”
Another tongue-in-cheek collectible specialty of the restaurant is Chateau de Hog, an inexpensive California champagne labeled with the operation’s racing razorback logo, available in bottles or half-bottles.
The decor is english country pub, with the dining room below street level at the back of a building, facing out across a stone-and-brick courtyard to the bar, which occupies a separate building. Both dining room and bar are done in dark wood paneling with stone fireplaces, mounted boars’ heads and rough plank floors.
“We’re about to replace the worn floors in the dining room,” Kutchins says. “As usual, with our remodeling, it will all be done at night, after closing. We’ll all troop in early every morning and get everything cleaned up so the customers won’t be inconvenienced. That way we don’t have to close up or close sections off.”
Spread across the building wall that forms one end of the courtyard is a giant mural of a sunny sky over green hills and farmland. Except when it’s actually raining, which isn’t too often in this California oceanside community, the courtyard is in constant use, either by diners or by spillover from the bar–which has only 20 seats. Overhead infrared gas heaters keep the area comfortable, even on foggy days. Brick-and-stone fireplaces also burn brigthly on cold days. There are five outside, two in the dining room and one in the bar.
“You should see this place in late January, when the Crosby golf tournament is running at Pebble Beach,” Kutchins suggests. “Clint is usually a player, and after the day’s play, it looks like everyone comes over here. There are sometimes so many people in the courtyard that our staff can’t get through to serve them. We set up an auxiliary bar at one side and just work the edges of the crowd. Somehow they all seem to get served.”
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