Inside Starky’s Authentic Americana

Tuesday Jun. 1st, 2010

Many Mondays when he is not in Starky’s Authentic Americana, General Manager Danny Hicks will sleep in until noon, and wake up with a warm cup of French Press Coffee clutched in his hands, as he sleepily rises from gritty layers of slumber in his downtown Bozeman apartment. These mornings, Danny and his wife will drink coffee in bed and talk about politics, music, the endless day that stretches ahead of them like a long silent yawn. Despite his dedication to only be at work at work, Danny and his wife end up talking about Starky’s, as though they are right there, above the din of music and cutlery clinking intermingled with the white noise of dinner conversations.

Let’s go to Starky’s for dinner tomorrow night, but you are there as a guest, not the General Manger.

“Okay.” Danny grins at his wife. Danny with a head of curls and teeth that remain a testament to his Irish roots has the humor and audacity to allow his wife to brag about his most infamous feature, his forehead. Like his career, his forehead can be punched with a closed fist, without feeling any pain: long hours, arguments, and at times difficult decisions under the duress of multiple owners demanding multiple things. When Glen Stark hired Danny, he spoke with one of Danny’s former bosses, Erica, the District Manager of the award-winning restaurant, Le Pain Quotidian. Upon hearing that Glen was considering hiring Danny for the General Manager position, Erica said, “Hire him. Now what questions can I answer for you?”

Danny began his restaurant career 17 years ago, at the ripe age of 16, as a sandwich maker, determined to raise the $32.98, he needed for new guitar strings. From there, he went on to work for a Mafia owned Italian joint tucked away in the sunny suburbs of Southern California. In between, serving tables, washing dishes, and eaves dropping, Danny surreptitiously found the restaurant industry to be both invigorating and a great forum for telling stories. Eventually Danny emerged as a manager for a chain restaurant in California. Noted by the corporate HR for his ability to navigate through chaos and emerge unperturbed, even happy, Danny was delegated the task of going into the chain’s restaurants that were failing and reviving their poor lost souls. Danny efficiently resurrected 7 of the chain restaurants that were failing, and re-established them as thriving functioning profitable establishments.

Though being a manager worked for Danny, seven years into his management career, Danny was pulled away by his unrelenting urge to pursue his creative talent as a chef. He took a sabbatical and attended the Le Cordon Blue certified Culinary Arts School in Pasadena California. Upon graduation, Danny worked as a pastry chef for a bakery in Southern California and then as an executive Chef in a resort along the coast of Mexico.  Eventually, founding himself in NYC, working as a manager for the second most profitable restaurant in a chain of 100, Le Pain Quotidian in Bryant Park. Amidst the rapid fire selling of 65,000-70,000 dollars worth of organic lunch food a week, he met his wife and together they decided to take a road trip. Along the way, the car broke down in a tiny town called Bozeman. In a deep state of exhaustion, with a couple of dollars to their name and a day filled with sunshine and big skies, Danny and his wife decided to stay. Initially Danny was hired as a consultant for Starky’s and soon thereafter, Danny Hicks’ marriage to Starky’s Authentic Americana was firmly cemented with a handshake and a hug, Starky’s style.

When asked, why he chose to work for Starky’s, Danny replies, “When I met Glen and Kathy, they were running the restaurant I wanted to own in the way that they treated their staff, in the fluidity of their decision making, and the fact that everyone who works for them, loves them. It is a family. They have a genuine concern for the emotional wellbeing of everyone who works for them. I have never worked for a restaurant that pays their employees as well as Starky’s, and that is really big to me. They pay their employees better than in restaurants that I have worked for in Beverly Hills and NYC. You walk into Starky’s and there is such a good vibe, there is a lot of love in the food. We all just love to be there.”

It is a cold snowy Tuesday evening in early spring, when Danny and his wife arrive at Starky’s Authentic Americana. The place is packed. Danny and his wife are quickly seated and soon afterwards, Liz, a painter by day and waitress by night, asks what they would like to begin with. Danny orders his favorite appetizer, the Potato Latkes, three crispy potato cakes served up hot with house-made applesauce, sour cream and chives. And then his wife orders her favorite, the Wild Garlic Shrimp, decadence sautéed with garlic butter and swirled into angel hair pasta, lemon vinaigrette, and Parmesan and spring greens. The couple eats and chats for a while, soon Drew, comes over and apologizes for interrupting them and asks if he could make a schedule request, Danny obliges, and memorizes the request. Liz returns and asks how everything is and if they would like to order the rest of their meal. Then his wife orders, the Steak Frites, a perfectly seasoned flat iron steak over seasoned fries and Danny orders the Wild Mushroom and Asparagus Polenta, oven roasted mushrooms and asparagus on velvety baked Polenta with a zesty tomato sauce and parmesan crouton. The meal is perfection. Everything is made from scratch and simply delicious. Danny and his wife make sure to save room for dessert, and decide to share the Real Doughnuts served hot to the table with chocolate and vanilla dipping sauce or as the General Manager down the street, one of their best friends, describes it as “The best dessert I ever tasted, Period.”

Zoe Hicks, M.A. is a counselor in town providing therapy for children, adolescents, adults and couples on the weekends and evening hours.