The Untold Truth Of Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar

If you live in certain cities in Texas; Tampa, Florida; or Oklahoma City, you've probably at least heard of Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar. (And if you're a Hell's Kitchen fan, you might recognize the restaurant as the workplace of season 19 contestant Mary Lou Davis.) The restaurant is named for its signature dessert: an English toffee torte made in its in-house bakery, soaked in bourbon anglaise, and topped with vanilla whipped cream that is made from vanilla aged on-site in whiskey barrels. 

Its signature drinks are, not surprisingly, whiskey cocktails and flights, and the food is farm-to-table (think: chicken and waffles or salads made with local greens). The distinctive, quirky restaurant chain caters to regional food tastes with individual menus at each location. Chefs and line cooks cook over grills, smokers, and spits, according to the Whiskey Cake website, and its values are freshness, and scratch-made, honest food, with an emphasis of buying as much from local sources as it can. Launched in 2010 in Plano, Texas, Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar has been described as "bar food done right" (via Zagat).

Whiskey Cake is a chain of restaurants

With local farms, artisans, and purveyors named on its menu, you might be under the impression that your local Whiskey Cake is an independent restaurant. However, Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar is a small, but growing chain of nine restaurants, each of which has been able to operate somewhat like an independent restaurant. 

Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar is owned by Dallas-based Front Burner Dining Group, which describes itself as a "restaurant innovation lab," according to a recent press release. It operates more than 100 restaurants, including the likes of Mexican Sugar, Velvet Taco, Ida Claire, Haywire, The Keeper, The Ranch, wine bar Sixty Vines (via Front Burner), the new Son of a Butcher, and of course, Whiskey Cake brands. 

It also created and runs Legacy Hall, a 55,000-square-foot Dallas destination that features its own brewery and beer garden as well a live entertainment space and, fulfilling every foodie's dream, more than 20 artisan food stalls selling wraps, brisket, ramenbratwurstshawarma, craft cocktails, and more.

Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar worked with a brand designer

Although Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar has a casual, "thrown-together" look, its aesthetic is no accident, but the result of very meticulous and thought-out branding. Whiskey Cake's parent company, Front Burner, contracted with PlanB Group to create a farm-to-table comfort food and craft cocktail concept, according to PlanB Group

The agency created everything from the dining rooms, which are designed to look "as if we found an old, pre-prohibition warehouse and just kind of walked in and started cooking bootleg style," according to Whiskey Cake's concept chef Aaron Staudenmaier on Restaurant Business magazine's "Menu Feed" podcast. Each restaurant even features an old couch you'll swear was once in your great-aunt's living room.

In addition to architecture and interiors, PlanB Group also helped generate Whiskey Cake's name and logo, artwork, signage, the website, the tabletop look, coasters, menus, and uniforms. The agency even curated the music played in the restaurants.

Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar takes local seriously

According to the company's website, Whiskey Cake describes itself as a neighborhood restaurant serving "craft cocktails and farm-fresh comfort food." It says the company "source[s] flavors, ingredients, and ideas straight from the farm." Each of the nine restaurants has super-local menus and partnerships with neighborhood food vendors. According Whiskey Cake, the nine restaurants contract with more than 50 local farms and vendors in the four metropolitan areas it serves. It also has small produce gardens at each restaurant for herbs, strawberries, tomatoes, and the like.

The more local, the better is the Whiskey Cake philosophy. On the "Menu Feed" podcast, Staudenmaier explained that the closer to the earth the food comes from the better, so in a large city like Houston, the individual restaurants have their own individual growers and purveyors, giving each restaurant its own unique "artisan profile." Even the herbs for cocktails are grown at each restaurant or bought from local farms, and chefs train bar staff in how to use this produce for infusions, juices, and syrups.

Staudenmaier says that buying hyper-local is a big job. Even before construction for a new restaurant starts, an "advance team" begins scouting the local food and farm scene, getting to know local growers and artisans it might partner with. "We go out and meet the goats," he joked. It even has entire days devoted to tasting local ice creams. Tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Signature chicken and snacking are are menu cornerstones

One of the most popular entrees that's offered in all of the Whiskey Cake restaurants is the Rotisserie Farm Bird (a rotisserie chicken), and it is the cornerstone of much of the Whiskey Cake menu, according to Staudenmaier (via "Menu Feed" podcast). 

The locally-sourced chickens are brined for 24 hours, then marinated for another 24 and cooked on a wood-burning rotisserie. The juicy, smoky meat is carved and served with crispy bacon Brussels sprouts and celery root puree. Any leftovers from the process can be tasted throughout the menu in everything from chicken salads to chicken stock. Staudenmaier says if they were ever to take discontinue the Farm Bird, "we'd have to rewrite half the menu."

Ever tempted to just order a bunch of apps when you go out to eat? Us too, and Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar is down with it. It has a large snack section on the menu and likes to see big groups enjoy the communal tavern experience. Sitting down with an entree is a "very solo experience," Staudenmaier told the "Menu Feed" podcast, adding that the tavern experience is about little bites that you can share. The Local Board is a favorite, featuring meats and sausages, cheeses, and honeycomb, all locally sourced, plus mustard and house-made pickles. Another popular snack: pulled pork sliders with apple slaw and crispy onion strings. He says Whiskey Cake will continue to add to its snack section.

Whiskey Cake's head chef got his start at 14

Aaron Staudenmaier is the concept chef for the Whiskey Cake chain. That is, he's the creative force behind each of the restaurant's menus. It's a dream job for aspiring chefs. How did he land this plum position? Like a lot of chefs, he started young, but in his case, very young. 

As many of these stories go, Staudenmaier started as a dishwasher. A dishwasher in a great restaurant? Nope. He began his restaurant career at a truckstop in North Dakota. Staudenmaier told the "Menu Feed" podcast, "That was the one job you could get as a long-haired, anti-social punk rock kid back in the day."

Strangely enough, it was there that Staudenmaier met two chefs, one French and one German, who were opening a restaurant and offered to bring him along as an apprentice. Staudenmaier was just under 15 when he became an apprentice, "I had no idea that some of those things were not the way things were exactly supposed to be...[people] throwing things and swearing at you all day," he says. He confesses that he got hooked on kitchen adrenaline, though, while learning which "personal skills to avoid."

There are many more Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bars to come

According to Restaurant Business magazine, Front Burner Restaurant Group recently hired the former president of Dallas-based Del Frisco's Restaurant Group, Ray Risley. Risely serves now as president and COO of Whiskey Cake and has a goal of expanding the chain.

Restaurant Business reports that Front Burner CEO Jack Gibbons said Risley was brought on exactly for his experience in growing chains and for his ability to lead Whiskey Cake as it became "a nationally recognized brand." Risley said he is a passionate gardener, growing tomatoes, herbs, and peppers in his backyard, according to Restaurant News, which makes a farm-to-table restaurant kind of his dream job. Risley is also a believer in growing talent from within, so whether you're looking for your next job or a new dining experience, watch for a Whiskey Cake to open near you.