Ned Atwater baked his first cake — a birthday cake — at age 9. It didn’t turn out too well, the chef and restaurant owner recalls, but that meant that he and his siblings just consumed more ice cream. After making breads and pastries for markets, shops and restaurants for four years (and to a much better reception), the first Atwater’s opened in Belvedere Square in 2003. Since then, the restaurant has brought its soups, sandwiches, breads, jams, Pimlico cake and other delights to five more locations across the city, from Catonsville to Canton, and also have opened the Big Kitchen in Morrell Park to centralize production.
What was your first restaurant job?
I made donuts one summer in high school, but my first real restaurant job was serving as an apprentice at King’s Contrivance (in Columbia) under a classic no-nonsense French chef. We learned discipline, repetition, manners, cleanliness, organization, efficiency, respect and also how to cook.
What is the part of the job that gets you excited to go to work each day?
It’s not one thing, but two. Making food with your hands and to imagine someone enjoying it, and serving someone food they love and remembering how rewarding it was to make it.
What is the one thing about working in restaurants that has surprised you?
How you can travel all over the world without leaving the kitchen, just by meeting new people.
You got in on the local ingredients, farm-to-table movement earlier than many and now Atwater’s has its own farm. Tell us about that.
The farm to table movement is nothing new. It’s as old as restaurants, we are just trying to do it well. After 15 years in business, we realized a dream of owning our own building where we make traditional food with the great ingredients we purchase from family farms, mostly local, but from afar as well. Here, at the Big Kitchen, we bake bread daily with certified organic flours, pastries from scratch, jams with farmer’s market fruit, cheese from local milk, soup with all kinds of ingredients, chicken salad, hot pepper sauce, salad dressing, pickled vegetables, cookies, biscuits and whatever else a staff member may feel passionate about. Our Big Kitchen farm started with a few raised beds here for growing herbs for our soup. Last year we partnered with the Samaritan Women to farm two and a half acres of their land (in southwest Baltimore). We are growing lettuce, kale, arugula and tomatoes this year. The Samaritan Women receive fresh produce each time we harvest and there are opportunities for their graduates to work part time on the farm as paid employees.
What advice do you have for a new business owner who also wants to make a social impact?
I think your social impact starts with your staff and how you treat each other and moves on to your customers and then your community. And remember, you have to stay in business to have a social impact through your business.
What is Thanksgiving like at your house?
I love to cook, so Thanksgiving is at the top of the holidays. And it is an opportunity to hand down recipes and traditions to the new generations.
What is your favorite item on the Atwater’s menu?
A good piece of bread, a little cheese and jam, and a big bowl of soup.