No matter how charming or cheap a building is, or how trained the staff, no restaurant can survive without customers. In small cities, especially one where restaurants aren't a major part of the entertainment landscape, operators walk a tight-rope figuring out how to get enough locals and out-of-towners in the door to make the numbers work.
The power of the press to draw "destination diners" is not lost on Boden, who made a name for himself locally with his first Staunton restaurant and later as the executive chef of Glass Haus Kitchen in Charlottesville, Virginia (which has roughly double the population of Staunton). These accolades — including being named a James Beard semifinalist — put Boden in a good position when he set out to open the Shack. But then he got a national spotlight no chef can plan for: an adoring Esquire writeup by the late Josh Ozersky, with a headline declaring the Shack "the Incredible Restaurant in the Middle of Nowhere."
Actually, Boden planned a little. While biding his time to properly open in a space nicer than the self-described "s***-hole" now known as the Shack, Boden had been doing pop-ups when his friend Craig Rogers, of Virginia's Border Springs Farm, called and asked when he'd officially open. Unsatisfied with the answer, Rogers told Bolden to open earlier. "He's like, 'You know Josh Ozersky? He's coming to do a tour of Virginia, and you're one of the restaurants he needs to eat at.' I was like, 'F***.' So basically I pushed the opening date up three weeks so we would have a couple weeks under our belts before he showed up, and then we got killed with a f****ing huge snow storm. We were delayed and opened three days before Ozersky walked in." It's impossible to measure the impact the article had on the restaurant. "As far as a**es in seats right off the bat, I couldn't tell you because we didn't have any history," Boden explains. "I know what it did for getting us in the public eye. All the press we got was awesome. Ninety percent of it was because Ozersky came in."
Like Boden, Joe Kindred spent years working in the area, developing a relationship with local clientele and press that carried over to Kindred's opening. Beyond clips in local publications, Kindred also got some major national attention from Bon Appetit, landing a coveted spot on its Hot 10 list only six months after opening. "You cannot have the 'If I build it, they will come' mentality in a small town," says Katy Kindred. For Shields, it was a 2009 New York Times piece that "opened the floodgates, and really kept the momentum going." Located nearly the entire state away from DC, and over 100 miles from smaller cities like Asheville and Charlotte, Town House relied on this press to keep the dining room full of guests.