Warm and calm are not the adjectives most people would use to describe restaurant managers, but Diane Kauker of Folk’s Folly is both. For her, running a tight ship and abiding by the Golden Rule are not mutually exclusive. Spending at least as much time in the restaurant as she does at home, Diane considers her staff a second family. She has high expectations, but she’s quick to share her team’s success and her own with everyone in the Folk’s Folly family. In October, she won the Tennessee Hospitality & Tourism Association‘s 2017 Restaurant Manager of the Year Award in the independent restaurant category. Meet today’s FACE of Memphis, Diane Kauker.
How did you get into the restaurant business?
While I was at Memphis State University, my dad was a walking horse trainer, and one of his customers was a server at Folk’s Folly. She told my dad that they were looking for some staff, and he told me to put an application in and get an interview. So I did.
Folk’s Folly celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. Have long have you been with the restaurant and in what roles?
I’ve been here 33+ years. I started as a hostess and quickly realized I could make more money working in the bar as a cocktail server and then a bartender. I was also working for Mr. [Humphrey] Folk’s construction business doing some accounts receivables during the day. When I was about to graduate in December of ’87 with a degree in marketing, the restaurant needed more management staff. They knew my work ethic, so they offered me the assistant management position, followed by a promotion to assistant general manager. After the partnership of Thomas [Boggs] and Humphrey in 2003, they promoted me to general manager in 2004.
What’s your favorite thing on the menu at Folk’s Folly?
If it were my last meal, I would get the calamari, a Porterhouse with crabmeat béarnaise on the filet, our spinach casserole and finish with our bread pudding. Add a big ol’ glass of red wine, and I’m good to go.
Which qualities have enabled you to succeed in such a competitive, fast-paced business?
My philosophy is that you treat others like you want to be treated. I don’t want to be yelled at in front of other people, so I am certainly not going to do that. If there’s an issue that needs to be addressed, there’s a time and a place to do it. The other thing is that I will not ask somebody to do something that I’m not willing to do. Trying to lead in those two ways has been part of my success.
What range of duties do you carry out on an average day?
Once a week, I’m working “in whites,” which allows me to spend time with those in the back-of-the-house departments. I make sure we have all of our goods and that everything is dated, rotated, fresh and presentable. You don’t want to have 300 people and only 200 plates. Also, we do a full inventory once a week. At 5 o’clock, I feel like I clock out of one job and go to another. I greet the staff as they come in and make sure their attitude is good. I make sure everything is prepped and all stations are ready. Then, I greet the customers, walk the floors and make sure everything is perfect for their dining experience. Later, I wish them farewell. Then, we set up for the next day.
Working in the restaurant requires long hours and physical stamina. How do you stay balanced between your professional and personal life?
It has to be a team. I didn’t get here just because of me. One of the attractive parts about working with and for this company is that we’re closed on all major holidays and then some. Mr. Folk always said you need days with your family. We could certainly open, especially on Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve and do a tremendous business. We get the calls, but it feels good to be able to say, “We’re going to be at home with our families.”
How many staff members do you have?
Just under 100, including dishwashers, valets, servers, bar, kitchen, management and office. Among our staff, we have 880 years of experience at Folk’s Folly. At five years, you’re still a rookie.
What qualities do you look for in your employees?
Personality is a big thing. Of course, I’m not saying that there’s no skill required — you can teach a skill, but you cannot teach a personality. I look for someone who is genuine, someone I would want to be around.
What are you most proud of in your work?
The bar renovation in 2010. The bar used to have only one side with four seats. Now, it’s a U-shaped bar with 10 seats. I wish so much that Mr. Folk [who passed away in 2004] could have seen the busy-ness of that bar, because Folk’s Folly was his baby.
What is something you wish more people knew about Folk’s Folly?
We are affordable. Yes, we have those $85 steaks, but we also have portions that can be shared. And we have great burgers in the bar on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays — a half-pound burger with Gruyère cheese.
Do you and your staff do anything special for the holidays?
At Christmas, we usually adopt a family [in need]. We buy things off their wish list and wrap them. Then, at our holiday employee lunch, we draw names for what we call the “basket of cheer,” which is filled with goodies. Staff members buy tickets for the drawing, and all of the money we raise goes to a scholarship for that same family. In the past few years, we have partnered with Resurrection Catholic School, and we donate all of that money to the family’s tuition. We also go to the grocery store and fill up a cart for them; that’s usually my contribution.
Other than Folk’s Folly, what are some of your favorite Memphis restaurants?
What is your best piece of advice?
The best advice I’ve been given that I would give to any youth is to work hard. That was one of the things my dad instilled in me. He didn’t complete an eighth-grade education, yet by hard work, determination and diligence, he was successful.
What is something not many people know about you?
When I was a youngster, I used to ride motorcycle dirt bikes on the hills at Sardis and Pickwick.
What are three things you can’t live without, aside from faith, family and friends?
My morning breakfast routine — a fresh egg from my chickens on a toasted English muffin with cheese and coffee; a week at the beach each year — that’s my relaxation, the only time I can clock out; and pasta of any kind.
Thank you, Diane, for sharing your story with us. If you would like to learn more about Folk’s Folly or make a reservation, visit folksfolly.com.
Thank you to Micki Martin for today’s beautiful photos of Diane.
Meet more amazing Memphis women in our FACES archives. Click here, and prepare to be inspired!