Business Spotlight – Gamekeeper Restaurant

Published Friday, May 16, 2014 at 1:13 pm
Owners of Gamekeeper Restaurant since 2000, Ken and Wendy Gordon make a good team. Photos by Ken Ketchie

Owners of Gamekeeper Restaurant since 2000, Ken and Wendy Gordon make a good team. Photos by Ken Ketchie

By Jesse Wood

May 9, 2014. The elegant yet unpretentious Gamekeeper Restaurant, famous for cuisine that fuses the traditional with the exotic, is back open after a two-month hiatus to address what was essentially bad luck on top of the costs of doing business.

Just over a year ago, the owners of the Gamekeeper Restaurant had to dig a new well because of a planning oversight that occurred years before Ken and Wendy Gordon bought the restaurant in 2000. While the old well was still pumping 10 gallons per minute, the new well isn’t producing the amount of water to operate a restaurant seven days a week. To conserve water, the Gamekeeper is currently open five days a week, while chef owners Ken and Wendy figure out another way to bring in water.

After absorbing some financial woes throughout the ordeal, the couple finds themselves back in the kitchen and loving every minute of it.

“We closed for most of March and all of April – those are our two slowest months – to take care of things, rearrange how we do things,” Ken Gordon said. “So one of the things we realized was that we missed being in the kitchen. When we started 13 years ago, we were totally in the kitchen as much as we could be together, always juggling kids. So at this point, we are finding ourselves back in the kitchen and its fantastic. It’s a lot of fun to be in there, doing our thing.”

A picturesque setting, the building that houses the Gamekeeper Restaurant is the old headmaster's cabin of Yonahlossee Girl's Camp.

A picturesque setting, the building that houses the Gamekeeper Restaurant is the old headmaster’s cabin of Yonahlossee Girl’s Camp.

Like many couples in the High Country, Ken and Wendy met while attending Appalachian State University and married in 1990. They moved down the mountain to work in the Piedmont, where Ken learned the culinary arts under Jim Noble, who was described as “one of the best chefs in the South” in The New Southern Cook. Throughout his time in High Point, Ken soaked up knowledge in the kitchen and cookbooks, knowing that one day he and Wendy would open a restaurant in the Boone area.

Initially and ironically, the plan was to open a vegetarian diner in a downtown area. But after a friend mentioned that the Gamekeeper was for sale, the Gordons checked out the restaurant located along Shull’s Mill Road in between Boone and Blowing Rock in 2000. The building housing the Gamekeeper was the headmaster’s cabin of the old Yonahlossee Girls’ Camp, which was developed into a mountain resort in the ‘80s.

“We walked in and said, ‘This is it,’” Ken said. “So we rolled with it, and it’s been a great thing. We would be just another restaurant I think, but the game part has set us aside. It’s been a good 13 years.”

While wild game – such as venison, bison, duck, ostrich and pheasant – has dominated the menu since the restaurant’s inception, Ken and Wendy focused on acquiring local meats. They also became perhaps the most ardent supporter of New River Organic Growers, a nonprofit cooperative of farmers in Western North Carolina. As a marketer of New River Organic Growers told The Appalachian Voice, The Gamekeeper “by far buys the most from us and is the most committed to supporting local agriculture.”

The Gamekeeper annually ranks as one of the top restaurants in the state. It is the only AAA four-diamond restaurant in the High Country and has held that designation for seven years. Asked for what’s contributed to the success of the Gamekeeper, Gordon mentioned that relationships have been at the heart of the mission – not to mention the beautiful setting.

“It’s beyond the fact that it is just a gorgeous place to be day in and day out. I am sitting on the deck right now, listening to the birds, checking out the clouds, trees and mountains. That’s one part. What is at the heart is definitely the people that we work with and all of our friends that we’ve made throughout the years. This is where they find us and they keep coming back and almost every night we are reconnecting with people and our staff. It’s an enjoyable place to work. It’s fun,” Ken said. “So what does everybody want at the end of the day. They want to be happy. There are so many reasons to be happy while we are at work. We don’t have to wait until we get off.”

As for the customers, Ken said that the goal is to make the customers happy when they leave. Ken talked about borrowing a method from another restaurant where the back and front of the house communicate and rank the customer’s happiness.

“How is that table? They are a seven? Let’s make sure we get them up to an eight or nine before they leave here. That’s always the goal. No matter what state of mind they arrive in, hopefully they are feeling better by the time they leave,” Ken said, adding that the customers are allowed to take their time and enjoy themselves without feeling rushed.

The Gamekeeper is open Wednesday through Sunday from 5 to 11 p.m. and offers catering at Camp Sky Ranch. Check out the menu here or a sampling below:

Appetizers include soup, flash-fried oysters, artisanal cheese and homemade crackers, grilled tiger shrimp and a “mixed game grill” plate of choice game meats and dipping sauces. Salads include Buttermilk Blue, Grilled Escarole and Mixed Greens.

Game entrees – such as Venison Denver Leg, Field and Stream, Long Island Duck Breast, Ostrich and Fettucine with Sauteed Pheasant – are cooked on a wood-fire grill. Other entrees include beef tenderloin, lamb rack chop, basil-seared corvina, mountain trout and the “best veggie plate in town.”

The menu also features a slew of wine and beer options.

The Gamekeeper is located at 3005 Shull’s Mill Road. For more information, click to http://gamekeeper-nc.com/ or to its Facebook page or call 828-963-7400.

The Gamekeeper opened in 1987 and the Gordons bought the restaurant in 2000.

The Gamekeeper opened in 1987 and the Gordons bought the restaurant in 2000.

 

Ken and Wendy Gordon

Ken and Wendy Gordon have two kids 16-year-old Gus, who enjoys working at the Gamekeeper whenever he’s not skateboarding or snowboarding, and 12-year-old Josie, who gets teased by her parents when Ken and Wendy say that she’s “going to own this place.” She might come around when she is older.

A picturesque setting, the building that houses the Gamekeeper Restaurant is the old headmaster's cabin of Yonahlossee Girl's Camp.

A picturesque setting, the building that houses the Gamekeeper Restaurant is the old headmaster’s cabin of Yonahlossee Girl’s Camp.

The Gamekeeper offers a full menu of wines and beers.

The Gamekeeper offers a full menu of wines and beers.

Gamekeeper has multiple seating options.

The Gamekeeper offers catering at Camp Sky Ranch.

Gamekeeper has multiple seating options.

Gamekeeper has multiple seating options.

Gamekeeper has multiple seating options.

Gamekeeper has multiple seating options.

Gamekeeper has multiple seating options.

Gamekeeper has multiple seating options.

You haven’t fully experienced the Blowing Rock, NC region until you’ve dined at The Gamekeeper. It’s a true gourmet restaurant, with an engaging blend of upscale elegance and mountain charm.

You haven’t fully experienced the Blowing Rock, NC region until you’ve dined at The Gamekeeper. It’s a true gourmet restaurant, with an engaging blend of upscale elegance and mountain charm.

Famous for an evolving menu that blends the traditional with the exotic, The Gamekeeper features a selection of perfectly prepared game, fish and vegetarian selections using humanely farm raised meats, and locally grown organic produce.

Famous for an evolving menu that blends the traditional with the exotic, The Gamekeeper features a selection of perfectly prepared game, fish and vegetarian selections using humanely farm raised meats, and locally grown organic produce.

Staff prepares for a Thursday night. Gamekeeper is accepting applications right now.

Staff prepares for a Thursday night. Gamekeeper is accepting applications right now.

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