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Cary McDowell (left), executive chef at Winslow's Home for the past four years, has joined Euclid Hospitality Group, the parent company of Pi Pizzeria and Gringo restaurants, owned by Chris Sommers and Frank Uible. McDowell's title will be corporate executive chef, and it's expected that he could be on board as early as month's end.
Though this news might come as a sudden surprise to the local dining community, it was not a case of a sudden dust-up, irreconcilable differences, or even differences of opinion with Winslow's Home owner Ann Lipton. McDowell says that although he wasn't seeking other employment, from time to time, he and Lipton would discuss the fact that there would come a time when Winslow's Home "could succeed without him, and that's what he was working to do...to get Winslow's to that point, sometime."
That sometime is now.
According to McDowell, performance reviews have just been completed, and after summer vacations, Winslow's staff is rested, strong, and at full capacity, with two able sous chefs in command. It also didn't hurt that Sommers and Uible (right) made McDowell the proverbial offer he couldn't refuse.
It was McDowell, "an inspired burger cook from Tenessee" (as he referred to himself in this SLM Q&A), who got local diners craving the Winslow's Home brisket sandwich, who showed us how to fast-cook a Thanksgiving turkey in this video, who won the Whole Foods Grass-Fed Beef Burger Cook-Off for the past three years running, and who blew away 50 guests at a certain dining editor's farm-to-table wedding celebration three years ago at Winslow's Farm.
Lipton says McDowell had indeed done what he'd set out to do, leaving Winslow's Home with a kitchen "full of good, strong people." If one measures success in numbers, then Winslow's sales have increased 25 percent per year for its entire five-plus year existence, according to Lipton, who reflects that she was fortunate not to have grown too fast or changed the focus. "We've always been about the food and the experience," she says. "We're now in a position where I don't see that changing."
While Lipton might not be looking for an immediate replacement, she will now begin the process of, as she said, looking for someone who can "build on a solid foundation, one with a lot of unexplored potential." Winslow's Home does offer something unique. Her working farm, Winslow's Farm, is located in nearby Augusta and affords a chef literally acres of organic foodstuffs. It's a dream situation for the right person.
McDowell says he looks forward to the opportunity to help grow a new company and expand the Pi brand. Sommers sees him as a mentor to those in his organization, as the veteran in the clubhouse, aiding in both staff development and retention. "There are so many strengths that Cary brings to the table," says Sommers, "things the public never sees." (Look for more on this in a future Relish blog post.)
The humble, ever-gracious McDowell says he only hopes that he'll be remembered as part of the back story of Winslow's Home, as part of its success.