In this month's 10 Questions, 715 partner and manager Matt Hyde (the restaurant biz veteran also co-owns Ladybird Diner) shares insight into his pop-culture hobbies, fashion influences and days as a gravedigger in Iowa. So, not quite "Tales from the Crypt," but almost.
Here's a condensed and edited version (once again, we are playing fast and loose with what counts as a question and how many add up to 10) of that conversation.
You worked a lot of jobs before landing at 715 — roadie, gravedigger, stockboy, cashier, truck unloader, among others. Any stories you’d like to share?
I got to spend a week in the South with an opening band for Lynyrd Skynyrd. That was exciting. I did all the roadie stuff and tour managing stuff before there were cell phones, so we would use calling cards and maps. There was no GPS or anything like that, so we would get lost on a regular basis. Grave digging was a summer job working for the city of Iowa City at the Black Angel Cemetery….
That’s a hardcore name.
It was the Oakland City Cemetery, but there was this big statue of a black angel (on the grounds)….that’s what they called it. That’s where the high school kids went to get high — you know, at the Black Angel Cemetery. Most of the time, it was just doing landscaping, mowing and all that. It was an old cemetery, so there were a lot of trees, and they’d use a backhoe to dig a lot of graves, but some of them we had to do by hand if they were in a weird spot or the backhoe could only go so far and we’d have to finish it up. Then, we’d get down on top of the caskets after they’d go in to put sand around. It was a real process. There were really bad rains that summer, and because it was an old cemetery, sometimes we’d have to walk around and look for bones that had washed up in some of the spots and then repair those and, you know….
Wait, so, um, I’m curious here. How did you know where…?
Well, places that saw more erosion, in the hillier spots. Because they didn’t bury at the same protocols back in the 1800s that they do today, and so they didn’t have the same type of casket materials and the same depth and all that. And then sometimes, if graves from long ago hadn’t been well-marked, they’d be digging a grave and they’d have to redirect where they’re digging.
Was this before or after you got into food?
I’ve worked in restaurants on and off since I was 15 or 16. I worked dorm food service, I did dishwashing, I did everything. Almost 30 years now. When I was digging graves during the day, I worked as a dishwasher and pizza cook at night.
What was your first job in the restaurant industry?
I worked as a busboy at a pancake place in suburban Chicago when I was really young, but I spilled coffee on somebody and the waitresses were really mean to me, so I quit pretty quickly.
I recently learned that you’re the guy behind all those celebrity birthday shoutouts on 715’s social media accounts. (Bar manager Katrina Weiss also handles a sizable chunk, Hyde points out.) How do you guys go about curating the birthdays?
We just try to find somebody interesting and not too offensive. I really have an affinity for pro wrestling names, so it’s always fun to find pro wrestlers. And for whatever reason, on this website that we look at — you know, we just Google birthdays — it seems to be mostly…they curate it in a way that seems to be mostly Asian pop stars, pro wrestlers and obscure historical figures. We just make (expletive) up. I mean, they’re accurate birthdays, but we want it to be fun. We try to mix it up. Not just movie stars and TV people but more obscure people, just to make it fun.
Whose birthday is it today?
I don’t know. I haven’t looked yet. I usually look after lunch when we’re getting ready to work on happy hour and dinner. So, yesterday it was Frankie Valli. I’m not sure who we’ll pick today. It’s always last-minute. We never plan ahead, you know? (It turned out to be Spanish motorcycle racer Jorge Lorenzo.)
Last week, you tweeted a birthday shoutout to Ace Frehley (former lead guitarist of KISS), and he actually “liked” the tweet….
Yeah, that was a big deal. We’ve also had Thomas Lennon (from Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!”). We’ve had Ron Jeremy, the adult-film star. He shares a birthday with Mitt Romney, so we made a salute to two great Americans. Ron Jeremy favorited that one. Who else? I think Jenny Lewis and St. Vincent, who’ve been here (to 715) before.
Back in 2009, you were featured in a Style Scout column in which you cited your fashion influences as Kid Rock, Anderson Cooper and Billy Mays. That’s a pretty eclectic mix — care to elaborate?
Oh, did I? I honestly have no recollection, because that must have been right after we opened the restaurant and I think I must have been pretty sleep-deprived. I remember seeing the picture but I don’t remember getting the picture taken. That sounds about right, though. Probably less Kid Rock, more Anderson Cooper. Well, Anderson Cooper in his casual (wear)….he can get overly dressy.
So, you’ve become a little more refined — a little less Kid Rock — over the years?
I would say so. As I’ve gotten older, for sure.
Billy Mays isn’t in the mix anymore?
No. He kind of crashed and burned toward the end there. His enthusiasm was contagious, though.
So, you were drawn more to the personality and less to the sartorial choices?
In the first two installments of this feature, we asked the subjects for their favorite places to eat in Lawrence. We didn't ask Hyde this time around, but he offered up a few favorites anyway:
- Taco Zone, 13 E. Eighth St.
- Leeway Franks, 935 Iowa St.
- Hank Charcuterie, 1900 Massachusetts St.
- Rudy's Pizzeria, 704 Massachusetts St.
- Ladybird Diner, 721 Massachusetts St. ("of course")
- WheatFields Bakery and Cafe, 904 Vermont St. (the croissants are his "ultimate favorite in this town," Hyde once told us)
- Limestone Pizza, 814 Massachusetts St.
- Little Saigon Cafe, 1524 West 23rd St.
- Checkers Foods, 2300 Louisiana St. ("best grocery-store fried chicken and ribs in town, by far")
This week's Lawrence Libations is a no-brainer. As an uncool, curmudgeon-y old man metaphorically trapped in the body of a twentysomething, I'm all about newspapers (obviously) and crossword puzzles — and, as I learned this week, cocktails named after such things.
Ladybird Diner's "NY Times Crossword Puzzle" is a drink after this reporter's own heart. It's located on the restaurant's "Good morning...Let's DRINK!" (well, OK, if you say so) menu, along with such breakfast classics as mimosas and bloody marys. The Times boasts a refreshing blend of gin, grapefruit juice (another favorite of the elderly) and lavender simple syrup.
The lavender is subtle, and so is the gin. I'd say the alcohol content here is just strong enough to get a buzz going without taking away the competitive edge needed for taking on the actual New York Times crossword puzzle — with a pen, because everybody knows drinking leads to a false sense of confidence.
The hard stuff: Gin
Where it's served: Ladybird Diner, 721 Massachusetts St.
What you'll pay: $5.99
Other libations at this location: More breakfast-y cocktails, including the Morgan Freeman ("personable, likable, with a distinct voice," Ladybird advertises) and the Ladybird Sunrise, plus hot drinks (tequila-laced hot chocolate sounds especially appealing in these chilly temps), boozy coffee and "fussy cocktails" with names like Quantrill's Ghost and Wreck-Ya Float.
— Drink up. Stay classy. Don’t forget to tip your bartender. And let us know if you want to suggest a libation for this feature — email email@example.com or Tweet her at Twitter.com/hlavacekjoanna. Cheers.
Local caterer Dianna Keller third Lawrencian to appear on ‘Guy’s Grocery Games’ this fall; also, ICYMI, Lyle Lovett’s visit to Ladybird
If Dianna Keller had it her way, the Nov. 8 airing of “Guy’s Grocery Games” would be watched quietly, “in the comfort of my home,” perhaps with her husband keeping company.
But Keller can’t fault her family’s enthusiasm for this particular episode of the Food Network show.
“They’re my biggest fans,” the Lawrence-based caterer says of her grandkids.
On Sunday, Keller’s family will cheer on their beloved “Nana” as she competes on the yet-to-air episode of “Guy’s Grocery Games” named “Grandmas That Can Cook.” They’re hosting a watch party for the occasion (everyone’s welcome, Keller says) from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Lawrence Masonic Lodge, 1301 E. 25th St.
Of course, being the devoted grandma she is, Keller’s doing the cooking for her own party — “Isn’t that crazy?” she says with a laugh.
Keller, whose menu at Dianna’s Kitchen Catering consists of seasonal and regional dishes as well as “classic family favorites,” is the third Lawrencian to appear on “Guy’s Grocery Games” within the last month.
In late September, Ladybird Diner chef-owner Meg Heriford took home $14,000 in an episode aptly titled “Blue Plate Blues.” And just last Sunday, Mel Roeder, the chef-owner of Café Beautiful, emerged victorious from her segment entitled “When Guy (Fieri) Gives You Lemon Bars.”
Aside from constructing a dish made from the ingredients of a lemon bar, among other challenges, Roeder says the trickiest aspect was fusing traditional Spanish and German cuisines in the final round. Her winning dish — a Spanish paella with German sausage and pumpernickel bread — led to a mad-dash through the grocery-store set in which Roeder had two minutes to collect as many of the 20 items on her shopping list as possible.
The chef ended up netting $12,000 out of a potential $20,000 (hunting for Fuji apples stole a considerable chunk of time), and plans to use her prize money on a recent hand surgery and an improved heating system for Cafe Beautiful.
"It was a hell of an experience," Roeder says of her turn on the show, which filmed in January. "The best part was meeting all the chefs that I got to work with and compete against — the camaraderie was just amazing."
Keller flew to California in February to film her episode, which pits the 67-year-old against three other gastronomic grandmothers and airs at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8.
“That was just way out of my comfort zone, to do anything like that,” Keller recalls. “Because it was so darn unique, it was just one of those opportunities that doesn’t come around very often.”
Of course, she’d seen a few episodes before, but never expected a Food Network representative to call her out of the blue one evening last November. They’d seen her catering website, and asked Keller if she’d like to apply.
She wasn’t able to reveal much about the experience — Keller says she’s had to keep the results secret, even from her “hyped” family — but says it’s one she’ll likely never forget.
She’d even do it again, if Food Network asked her.
“The whole crew of people there were so kind and caring and thoughtful,” Keller says. “Even Guy himself.”
Despite the Food Network host’s signature spiked hair, skull-and-flame adorned attire and generally “extreme” (my words, not Keller’s) antics, “he seems like an everyday person,” she says.
Who knew, right? (For the record, Roeder also commended Fieri's "pleasant" personality and work ethic.)
As for her fellow grandma competitors, Keller says she’s contemplating a “Guy’s Grocery Games” reunion sometime after the episode airs.
“It would be so fun to see how their experience went,” she says.
Lyle Lovett at Ladybird
In other Ladybird/local-folks-having-a-brush-with-fame tidbits, it appears the downtown diner received a visit from country crooner Lyle Lovett last Friday afternoon.
If you don’t remember, Lovett and singer-songwriter John Hiatt were in town for a gig at the Lied Center that evening.
From the looks of Ladybird’s Twitter activity, Lovett (no sighting of Hiatt) stopped by the restaurant and even snapped a few pictures while there.
As for the meal itself, Lovett shared via Instagram that he and tour manager Mike Sponarski split the restaurant's chicken-fried steak and eggs, plus a slice of coconut cream pie. Ladybird chef-owner Meg Heriford also sent them home with a whole pie, also coconut cream.
"Next time you're in Lawrence, stop in," Lovett captioned his photo of Heriford. "You'll be glad you did."
I’ve reached out to Ladybird staffers to hear their own take on the experience, and will let you know if they decide to share any details with us.
Last weekend was something of a watershed in the way of Lawrence culinary news, it turns out.
Monday, we reported on Free State Brewing Co.’s gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Joining Free State in the winner’s circle is Ladybird Diner’s very own Meg Heriford, who beat out three other chefs to win $14,000 in an episode of “Guy’s Grocery Games” that aired Sunday on Food Network.
In case you missed it, the episode — aptly titled “Blue Plate Blues” — entailed three high-stakes rounds, the last of which asked competitors to create a pork dinner using an ingredient from each aisle of the titular grocery store.
Heriford’s episode airs again at 3 p.m. Saturday. Until then, I’ve reached out to the Ladybird owner-chef to hear her thoughts on the competition. (Given my complicated fascination with host Guy Fieri, this really can’t come soon enough.)