Leading Role | Seven Days Vermont

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Leading Role 

Work: Donald Imgram, Floor manager at Leunig's Bistro and Café, Burlington

Published May 5, 2010 at 7:47 a.m.

Donald Imgram has worked a dozen years in the restaurant business, but his theater degree from Skidmore also comes in handy during his shifts as floor manager at Leunig’s Bistro & Café in Burlington. With the busy Church Street restaurant as his stage, Imgram directs a cast of waitstaff, bartenders and bussers through fast-paced drama five days a week.

Leunig’s regulars know Imgram as the smiling maître d’ who greets them when they enter. His charm and years of experience may make the job look effortless, but restaurant work is a pressure cooker — especially at a place like Leunig’s, where presentation is paramount and the food has a reputation to uphold.

After college, Imgram worked at a New York City talent agency and flirted with studying interior design before heading north for the less hectic pace of New England. He landed in Burlington, bought into 135 Pearl, the now-defunct queer-friendly nightclub, and launched his career in the restaurant biz.

Imgram has worked in restaurants all over Chittenden County. He managed the Daily Planet before coming to Leunig’s four years ago. When he’s not on the job, he loves to garden in his yard.

Known for his out-loud fashion sense, Imgram didn’t disappoint on the day Seven Days chatted him up about his job: He wore a bright paisley shirt, smart slacks and alligator-skin shoes.

What are your duties as floor manager?

Greet and seat. I try to get everybody who comes through the door seated as quickly as possible. Remember those little square puzzles that had one little piece missing, and you had to move all the pieces around to get the picture? It’s like that. That puzzle never has an end, until the end of the night. But I love those puzzles, so for me, it’s a great job.

How do you determine how long the wait is going to be? Is that science, or is it art?

It’s pretty much science. It’s how long diners have already been there versus how many names are ahead of them for that size party versus how many reservations [are] already taken. It’s a lot of math.

What’s the longest someone’s ever waited for a table?

Four and a half hours. It was during Jazz Fest, when we don’t take reservations. So every single person, whether you’re a regular who’s been coming 30 years or a stranger who’s just come into town, had to wait in line.

What does a maître d’ do?

The maître d’ is the conductor of the orchestra, so you’re giving feedback to the kitchen and the servers and the guests. It’s really kind of a heady job. You’re just trying to make people happy all the time. When your shift is nine hours, that’s a lot of happiness to try to spread around.

Do you get cold in winter standing by that door all the time?

Freezing would be the correctword. Every job has its positives andnegatives. That’s one of the negatives. Fortunately, it’s not that cold for that long in the winter.

What would you compare your job to?

[Cruise director] Julie McCoy from “The Love Boat.”

Do you speak French?

Un peu. I took four years in high school.

Ever have to bounce a rowdy customer?

At Leunig’s? Not so far. But I have at other places.

Is it rude when people make reservations and then don’t show up?

It’s discourteous.

What’s the strangest cocktail you’ve ever made?

There was something with curdled cream. I don’t know what it was. It wasn’t here. It was brown liqueur and curdled cream. And I thought, You must have a cast-iron stomach.

Does your job have an element of theater?

It’s complete theater — and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. In theater, you always have to think on your feet. Yeah, it’s rehearsed. Yeah, it’s scripted. But when somebody messes up their line, you’ve got to cover for them, and it’s got to seem absolutely flawless. A lot of people say the restaurant business is all smoke and mirrors. It’s not. It’s really very transparent, as is a play. But what you don’t know as an audience member, you’re never supposed to know — because everybody on stage has done their job so well that you don’t know so-and-so forgot their lines.

Do you have a favorite restaurant-themed book or movie?

Waiter Rant. Read it. It’s hysterical. It’s 100 percent true. It takes place in the New York City metro area. It’s just a mess of collected stories that are [the author’s] and that were shared. I would never want to be in this business in New York.

What makes Burlington better?

The people here are much more real — infinitely more real. That’s one reason I left New York.

Come and Get It!

One day it’s snowing; the next day half the population of Burlington is dining al fresco on Church Street. What better time to call attention to Vermont restaurants? This week, Seven Days publishes its annual dining guide, 7 Nights. Next week, from May 14 to 20, the paper presides over the state’s first Vermont Restaurant Week. More than 50 area restaurants — from St. Johnsbury to St. Albans — are offering prix-fixe deals in an effort to make dining an affordable adventure for everyone.

The concept has taken off in hip food cities such as Seattle and New York City. We couldn’t let the land of artisan cheese, microbreweries and community-supported agriculture be last to the table.

What does Vermont Restaurant Week mean for diners? At Junior’s Italian in Colchester, 15 bucks could buy you a salad, spaghetti and meatballs, and cannoli. At Café Shelburne, $35 could get you mussels in puff pastry, duck confit with potato gratin and chocolate fondant with pistachio crème anglaise.

But there’s more to it than gorging on delicious dishes. At The Essex: Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa, a panel discussion of local and imported luminaries digs into what makes Vermont products and restaurants special — and what opportunities we’re missing.

What’s dinner without a movie? The Food & Wine Film Festival at Merrill’s Roxy Cinema should give diners plenty to chew on with showings of the documentaries Fresh and Food, Inc., as well as foodie-friendly fiction films.

Other events help food lovers expand their tastes along with their perspectives: a wine dinner at 156 Bistro in Burlington, a spread of craft beer and gastropub fare at Montpelier’s Three Penny Taproom, and a pairing of artisan cheeses with unique condiments at The Essex.

To whet your appetite, this issue of Seven Days digs into the subject of food. More and more, local eaters are going public about their palates. Alice Levitt sought out seven “citizen reviewers” who post critiques on our 7 Nights website and discovered what drives them to praise — or knock — an eatery. For advice on what makes a useful online review, we turned to Lara Dickson, owner of graphic- and web-design biz Deep Dish Creative.

Suzanne Podhaizer spoke with two out-of-state gourmets visiting for Restaurant Week: Chef Rob Evans, who will appear on Saturday’s panel, and fromager Tia Keenan, the artist behind what promises to be the most unusual cheese pairing the state has ever seen. Both are big fans of Vermont’s culinary culture.

Want more? Andy Bromage commandeered a table at “Vermont restaurant central” — Leunig’s Bistro — so he could interview the maître d’.

A meaty insert provides detailed menus for each participating restaurant, as well as a full calendar of Restaurant Week events.

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About The Author

Andy Bromage

Andy Bromage

Andy Bromage was a Seven Days staff writer from 2009-2012, and the news editor from 2012-2013.


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