Mari Bork's dream was to go to law school. Throughout college and after, she worked in restaurants and tended bar. She assumed she would eventually pursue her real dream, but this industry has a way of sucking you in and keeping you there. After a while, she realized that what she enjoyed about the idea of being an attorney was immersing herself in stories. As a bartender, she'd listened to and gathered many great stories, and ended up falling in love with the restaurant business. After working at Scratch for owner Connie Naccarato for 12 years, Bork was presented with the opportunity to buy the restaurant in 2019. It was a natural transition, and the journey has been educational.
RESTAURANT WEEK: How do you challenge yourself and your team to stay creative in the kitchen and the industry?
BORK: Sometimes creativity happens for me! I give my chef the freedom to be creative and express himself, and he's been great. He's been shopping around at Green Bluff and using that creative flow to put together something for Restaurant Week that is really unique. Throughout the pandemic, we just tried to stay relevant even though our fine dining menu didn't necessarily "take out" as well as we wanted it to. We tried to present our experience in a new way, and I listened to people because there's always someone who will spark something in me.
What's special about the region's culinary scene right now?
Right now as restaurants reopen, they're feeling more creative and like they can do things a little bit differently. It's almost like a chance to start over with a unique idea or a different concept, a restart. People are also so eager to get out! They're happier and more patient because they're thrilled to not be in their homes. Everyone is excited, including our crew.
What are the biggest challenges you faced over the past year, and how did you overcome them?
I just never let it stop us. It wasn't something that ultimately was going to end us, because I wasn't going to let that happen. We've also had so much support from the community. Even on days when I thought we weren't going to be able to do this, there was always someone who reminded me that we were going to be fine. No one wanted us to fail. That was big for me.
Looking to the future, how do you think the industry will shift because of the pandemic?
People really embraced to-go drinks, meal kits and meals-to-go during this time. I think we'll see more restaurants putting together little meal kits and people cooking more at home with ingredients that they get from a restaurant. I think there will be more cooking classes, but there will also be a greater appreciation for nights out — because we're never going to forget this past year. We've all learned a lot about what makes restaurants work — it's the people.
What are you most looking forward to during Inlander Restaurant Week?
I think it's so fun! People love it and come out to experience something new. You get a good variety, and I'm excited to see what our menu holds this year! ♦