Welcome back to The Gatekeepers, a feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Heather McCormick [Photo: Adam Larkey]
On a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night through the revolving glass door of Ocean Prime on Larimer Square live music can be heard coming from the piano in the blue lounge. One thing you won't hear though when you walk through the door is "no" because general manger Heather McCormick is there to make sure "yes" is the only answer guests get. From a passion for hospitality and a commitment to finding the best solutions to the constant challenges of the restaurant occupies on the corner of Larimer and 15th street, guests, this GM has one focus: the guest experience. Eater had a chance to sit down with her and talk everything from getting a seat at the restaurant to plating fried oreos.
How did you become the general manager of Ocean Prime?I had been with fine dining steak houses for many years before joining Ocean Prime. When Cameron Mitchell Restaurants approached me I was the general manager of another fine dining steak house. They had just opened up Ocean Prime in Denver and they thought that I would probably be a good fit. After the offer, I looked them up and I was blown away when I started reading about their culture, philosophy and yes is the answer motto. It just really resonated with me and I thought to myself I think this is going to be my home. When I came onboard I was the assistant general manager, then I was promoted to general manager after I was here for one year.
What is your background with restaurants? Where did it all begin? I grew up in Wellington, Kansas which has about 8,000 people. I started in restaurants when I was 16 years old as a hostess and I have been in restaurants ever since. I fell in love with the hospitality aspect and I was able to grow with restaurants. I never wanted to leave.
Explain what a busy night is like here at Ocean Prime? Fridays and Saturdays are typically our busiest. It is incredible high energy. It feels like we are hosting a fabulous party. When the guest comes in I want them to feel like they are walking into something really special. I don't ever want them to feel rushed or that they are not the center of our focus.
What time is it the hardest to snag a table without reservations? Is there ever a time you can't get a party a table? It will ebb and flow. When guests come in there is always going to be a little opening somewhere. We make sure that they know their options; we can find them a seat at the blue bar, at one of the high tops, or the soft seating area. We even have stools at the piano that a lot of our guests love. We have lots of places where we can accommodate them. If you are looking for a tip though the veranda bar upstairs would be one. You can request to have your drink upstairs versus downstairs. Guests go to that bar all night. We want them to be comfortable and have a great time. We have plenty of options. So the simple answer is yes, we can get them in; we want them here.
Besides keeping in mind the additional bar upstairs, what other advice would you give to diners? We want to make sure you have the best experience possible so giving us as much information as they can the better. Is it a special occasion? Do they want us to pick up something special for the table like roses? Or say someone's favorite drink is one of our cocktails like the cumber gimlet; do they want us to greet them with that? We can do all sorts of things. We are always thinking outside of the box in ways that will make our guests know that they are our VIPs.
What is something you have done at the Denver Ocean Prime location that probably hasn't happened at most other locations? We had a guest who wanted fried oreos once so what do we do? We run to the store and get oreos and whip up fried oreos for them. It is just little stuff that we are given the opportunity to do here. I think all of the Oceans Prime focus on yes is the answer and what is the question. We all strive to do that because we believe in it so strongly.
If someone walked up on a Friday or Saturday at 7 p.m., could you accommodate them? Yes, definitely. We could take care of them. We have so many options. If they came in and we were on a wait for the main dining room, then we would get them in somewhere else for example in our blue lounge upstairs while we got a table ready for them in the main dining room. They can enjoy their music. They can have an appetizer and just relax. Sometimes that is fun too, if you want to come in and have a beverage before you sit down. Our guest services are great at letting our guests know where we are. It is full communication. They will let them know if it is about 10 to 20 minutes and what we can do for them immediately. We will always communicate with you what the situation is. I want guests to know that they can come in and they are going to have the same experience. It goes back to that every guest is a VIP.
Do you have any funny stories from past guests trying to get a table quicker with bribes? We have the culture where they trust us to take care of them so I really haven't dealt with that. Overall our guests are amazing. They know that we will get them taken care of. We have that level of trust with them.
What is it like running a restaurant on busy Larimer Square? It is a dream come true. Our location and our community are fantastic. It is a family. We fully support not only our associates and our guests but also our community. We are very involved in anything that is going on and we make it a priority to make sure that they know we are here to support them as well.
How do you manage your staff so they can be the best possible? I let them know that we believe in putting our associates first. Down the line everyone is putting the associates first. We know that when we do that they are going to have a great day every day at work because they know they are taken care and our guest are happy. It makes the perfect circle. The other culture philosophy that I love is attitude, attitude, attitude, because we choose that everyday. If we start our shift each day with a great attitude nothing can really go wrong. Also we are so fortunate to have numerous day one associates who have been here since 2011. We also have several associates that have been with Cameron Mitchell Restaurants and have then traveled to come here and open up the Denver restaurant and have fallen in love with the location.
With all the dinners you have per week how do you continue to keep each dining experience special? I would say it is all about genuine hospitality. People can tell when it comes from the heart. That is something we go over a lot. Our guests know that is where we are coming from. Whatever special request they have I want them to let us know, because however we can go out of our way to make it a special experience, that is what we want to do. That is what it is all about and why I love what I do. I want them to feel blissful. They should feel like they were pampered and that they just don't have a care in the world.
— By Kelsey Colt
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