Native Memphian and Napa Café owner Glenda Hastings got her start in business by watching her parents. “They started three companies,” Glenda says. “Neither one of them had a college education, but I don’t think I’ve ever met smarter people.” When Glenda was 17, she learned how to design underground sprinkler systems and became the lead designer for one of those companies, a landscaping business. “They set up an office for me in the house,” she says. “They bought me a drafting table and all the things a young architect would drool over. They gave me the tools I needed to succeed.”
During college at the University of Memphis, Glenda found her way into the restaurant business, working such long hours that for a while, she took time off from school to focus on her work. “My parents were mortified,” she says. “I explained to them that I was learning so much about life, myself, business strategy, customer service and leading employees. I knew that I was learning things that no formal education could teach me.” Eventually, she did earn her degree. When the owners of Napa Café approached her to work at the restaurant, she at first declined, planning to make her career in research or sales. “They finally convinced me,” she says. “Four months later, I became the general manager, and two years later, I purchased the business with help from my parents and a family friend.” And now she loves going to work every day.
Tell us about your restaurant. How would you describe Napa Café to someone who hasn’t yet been there?
Napa Café is inspired by the food I have eaten on many trips to California. When you visit Napa Valley, for example, you experience great food with influences from all over the world. The one common denominator in Napa Valley, whether you are eating in a casual place or the most elegant place, is the freshness of ingredients. We try to incorporate those global influences and freshness on our menu. The other thing I would say about Napa Café is that it is welcoming. I love taking care of our customers. I try to instill that same emotion in my employees. The customers are another significant ingredient in the foundation of my business. The relationships with the people who choose to dine at Napa Café are why I love doing what I do.
What’s your very favorite thing about your role with Napa Café?
I love that I get to do so many different things every single day. The business side of my restaurant allows me to put to use my mathematical and analytical background. The numbers are a significant part of the foundation of any business. The fun can’t happen until that’s intact. I am fortunate that my business is food, wine and service. I can go from tasting a potential new wine for the wine list to addressing an employee issue, planning a private luncheon or dinner for a guest, meeting with a nonprofit about fundraising, problem solving a kitchen equipment malfunction, creating an advertising piece for a magazine, deciding what flowers will go on the tables, photo shoots, lunch meetings with business mentors, etc. I also eat at the restaurant just about every day. This is pretty much the scenario every day.
As I mentioned earlier, developing relationships with the customers is wonderful. They start out as someone coming in for a nice dinner, and in many cases, somewhere down the road, they become extended family! I enjoy the relationships I have formed with current and past employees. They have all contributed to the growth of my human spirit and soul. I also love the opportunity to give back to the community. Having a small, local, independently owned business has given me the chance to make a difference in the community. I am a sponsor for the Boys & Girls Clubs’ big fundraiser, Steak & Burger. I also created Napa Café’s signature fundraiser, Heart Full of Soul, benefiting Stax Music Academy. Napa Café is in our fourth year for that particular event, and we’ve raised $45,000 so far.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a restaurant owner?
Maintaining consistency. I am fortunate to have staff members that have been loyal for long periods of time, and this is helpful in creating consistency. I’ve learned that our guests are used to experiencing a certain level of service and food at Napa Café. Once a new employee is introduced to the team, it’s important for them to get very quickly what their role is, as far as producing the food and service expected from our clientele. This means an extra amount of time spent with new employees and following up with guests about the food and service to make sure everyone is enjoying what we are producing.
What’s your favorite menu item at Napa Café, and why is it special to you?
My favorite menu item today (it changes daily!) is the scallop dish. It has everything I love about food. It’s colorful, and there are a lot of different textures and many different flavors. Each bite is different, but every one is just as good and it’s a dish that makes you want to come back again and again. The dish itself has three beautifully caramelized scallops on a bed of silky sweet potato puree scented with a little cumin. The other is on a bed of garlic wilted spinach. There are also three homemade, braised oxtail dumplings to offer a nice savory element, and it gives the dish a surf-and-turf element. Bits of charred mango give the dish a little sweetness. The final touch is the Umami broth poured at the table. It is a savory broth that has a little Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, garlic, etc. It completes the dish beautifully.
What do you like best about living in Memphis?
I love the Grizzlies. I love the growing food culture. I love the history of this city – even the not-so-pretty aspects of it. Our history has deep roots. The struggles we have faced have helped define the strength and character that has and will conquer all adversity. I love the fact that so many people care about this city and passionately support every aspect of it. I love that change is always needed to improve, and the city has embraced that challenge. I also love that this city is big enough to have all the best in technology, health care and luxuries of any great metropolitan city, but still feels like a small town. Just ask anyone – they will say the same!
What’s the top item on your bucket list?
Soon, I hope to travel to New Zealand to hike on the south island, and then stop on the way back in the South Pacific to enjoy the pristine beach. The best of everything.
If you could spend a day walking in someone else’s shoes, whose would they be and why?
The CEO of any major successful company. I would like to see how they interact with the staff, customer base and what their daily routine is like. I would like to know what books had the most influence, what their biggest mistakes have been and the greatest accomplishments. I would ask why they think their company is successful, and specifically what their contributions have been to get it there. I would ask why their company is relevant and what is going to keep it relevant. Lastly, I would want to know what kind of positive impact their company has in the community.
Describe your version of the perfect Saturday.
Gathering goodies from the Farmers Market and Whole Foods, attending a couple of classes, making a homemade soup to enjoy on Sunday during a ball game, going into a packed house at Napa Café where the employees and customers are happy, happy, happy, and leaving in time to make it to another local restaurant for my own dining experience.
What’s your best piece of advice for others?
Always go for the impossible. I don’t mean to seek out “the impossible” just for impossibility’s sake. It seems like what we truly want more than anything are often things that seem impossible because there are so many obstacles and it’s not going to be easy, and yet it’s the one thing we yearn the most for. However, on the other side of impossible are life’s most magnificent things.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
My faith. I know I am here to have a wonderful (and challenging) human experience, but I am certain that I serve a higher purpose. I ask out loud almost every day, “Where am I needed the most today?” I hope I don’t disappoint! Quiet time – yoga, meditation, reading and spas! I must have these things to maintain my energy and enthusiasm for all of my endeavors. These things make me a better person. Adventure in the form of trying something new. I seek out new things all the time, just for the fun of it. I love to learn. Some things stick and other things just quietly go away. I don’t mind embarrassing myself when learning something for the first time.
Thanks to Glenda for taking time to talk to us in the midst of planning a giant yearly event! Also, thank you to Emily Robbins for the fabulous images.