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Well Known Roanoke Chef Opens Blue Apron / Red Rooster

by Keisha Graziadei-Shup

Perhaps a bit crazy for attempting the riskiest kind of business venture amidst an economy that is bumpy to say the least, Scott Switzer, 37, alongside his wife, architect Ashley Tayloe-Switzer, has stepped up to the challenge and opened Salem’s “Blue Apron Restaurant and Red Rooster Bar.”

The duo’s decision to open a restaurant was preceded by years of Scott’s restaurant experience—especially in fine dining—which includes his degree from the Culinary Institute of America. Ashley’s resume reflects a different skill set that she brings to the venture; she has a master’s degree in business construction and bachelors in architecture from Virginia Tech.

After five years as executive chef and owner / partner with Andy and Janet Schlosser at Metro! in downtown Roanoke, Switzer said that “burn-out” was what brought him to a fork in the road;  he either needed to recharge his commitment to Metro!, find another employer, or start his own business. He believes that most people will experience this in their career at some point—losing some of the passion after several years in a job and having to determine whether to retool or head in a new direction.

After a month or so of watching him mull it over, Ashley challenged Scott to make a decision. He decided to work for himself. The process of planning their new business had begun.

“You romanticize opening a restaurant early on,” said Scott, “but then the real world kind-of hits you in the face and you go to work.”

To help ensure he was ready for the challenge, Scott prepared himself by working 125 hours per week for minimum wage at the Ryland Inn on a Relais Chateau property where the employer didn’t care whether or not he showed up for work. Once he felt he could handle that, the next steps ensued.

Opening a new business in a slow economy is not something to be taken lightly, but Scott says, “If I worry about the economy, I’ll go out of business . . . worry is something you can’t do. The challenge is to create a system that has all the elements to survive if [things] get bad.”

The Blue Apron is distinguished by its variety within a wide range of price points. They serve a fabulous lunch where patrons can eat in a high-end fashion or have something casual and inexpensive.

“You can come in and spend a couple hundred dollars—or not,” Scott remarked.

An integral factor in the business’s success, Scott maintained, is a sort of “balance” in contrasting variables. Impeccable service, quality and atmosphere are top priority, which is why he chooses his staff carefully. On hiring, Scott’s refrain is, “I’d rather tame a racehorse than kick a mule.” He continued, “I need [an employee] to be self-motivated.”

It is in this delicate balance of quality production both in what the customer experiences and in employees’ confidence in themselves and in their employer that provides the restaurant’s ability to operate at its peak.

“It’s like riding the crest of a wave and this place just sings,” Scott asserted.

Pointing out that it is common for restaurant owners to pay rent for a property, Scott and Ashley decided it wasn’t their best option and purchased their own building, hopefully to be in a better position financially. The building, originally constructed in 1880, resides on East Main Street in Salem near Macado’s. It consists of two smaller buildings; the main section is the dining room, called Blue Apron, and the Red Rooster Bar is its annex. The kitchen is centralized and the set-up is modeled after their own home built in 1918 that is reconstructed with modern amenities.

Most people would certainly consider the restaurant’s offering to be fine dining but Scott says the restaurant offers “authentically modern cocktails and cuisine.”  Its modernity is juxtaposed with classical elements like the chandeliers that hang beneath the thirteen-foot ceilings in the dining room; lamps reflect soft light from brick walls, and the music is modern and up-beat. One will find entrees like seared Hamachi with fried oysters and fondue and butter braised Maine lobster on the menu–to be followed by a dessert like chocolate soufflé cake.

Owning their own place gives the couple a chance to be more creative in their approach. Customers will not be disappointed with the result.

“The goal was never to be unique; it was to be who we are,” Scott said. “If it becomes unique, then we’re doing something right.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. We had lunch at the Blue Apron on a very rainy Friday. Thank heavens I called on Wednesday and the hostess recommended reservations. Our lunch was absolutely outstanding! I had a lobster fettucini and my husband had oysters. We love how the coffee is served in a French press. The food, the service, the atmosphere was excellent. We can wait to go back for dinner!

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