Food visionary

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Kevin Goldsmith is a busy man -- with three restaurants under his belt and a fourth opening this month, he's all about business.

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Kevin Goldsmith, the owner of TakoSushi and Pullman Hall, stands behind the sushi counter at his Augusta restaurant.  Kendrick Brinson/Staff
Kendrick Brinson/Staff
Kevin Goldsmith, the owner of TakoSushi and Pullman Hall, stands behind the sushi counter at his Augusta restaurant.

The 53-year-old entrepreneur is the visionary behind TakoSushi and is revered among his friends as a creative, no-nonsense guy.

"The clichà 'think outside the box' doesn't begin to describe the way his business head works," said Paul Brewer, the general sales manager at television station WFXG (Channel 54) and a friend for 17 years.

He remembers when Mr. Goldsmith first told a group of friends about his idea for TakoSushi. The unique restaurant specializes in sushi and rustic, Southwestern food that Mr. Goldsmith considers to be "New Mexico style."

Mr. Brewer said the group initially questioned Mr. Goldsmith's theory; however, three years later, he seems to have struck gold.

TakoSushi, with restaurants in Aiken and Greenville, S.C., and at Augusta's Surrey Center, will have restaurant No. 4 open this month in Evans.

Mr. Goldsmith's Pullman Hall catering business on Walton Way turns 25 this year. The facility features The Cellar, Mr. Goldsmith's special-event wine cellar for tastings and social events.

"He's obviously a great chef and a very good businessperson," said longtime friend Remer Brinson, the president and CEO of First Bank of Georgia. "He understands the business side of what he does, and he's very creative with the different businesses that he's operated."

How does he do it all? He has a "right hand" person to help him manage the hustle and bustle of restaurant life: longtime business manager Micki Davis. She also serves as director of operations for TakoSushi International, the company's franchising division.

Mr. Brewer said the partners are "the epitome of a team."

"Between the two of them, I think they both work at least 1,000 hours per week," he said. "They're just going all the time, yet they always have time for their friends. "I think they're two parts of an equation.

"I question whether Micki would be as successful without Kevin, and whether Kevin would be as successful without Micki. I think they complement each other very well."

Mr. Goldsmith was born in Baltimore and spent part of his childhood in Pittsburgh. Ed Goldsmith, a nuclear engineer, landed a job in Brussels, Belgium, and moved the family there in 1962 when Kevin was 8 years old.

He and his siblings, Reed and Sheila, received a first-hand education in European cuisine and culture. It was during this trip that he discovered his love for food, he said.

"I really enjoyed all the restaurants. My parents, no matter where they went, they took us, so we got to eat at all the great restaurants," Mr. Goldsmith said.

He learned to speak French and German while in Europe.

After four years, Ed and Harriet Goldsmith returned the family to Pittsburgh. Mr. Goldsmith held on to his passion for food and started working in restaurants at 16. When he was ready for college, he was sure of his calling.

He was accepted into the University of Denver's hotel and restaurant management program in 1971.

"They've got one of the two top programs in the country," he said.

Mr. Goldsmith was also a member of the school's Division I soccer and lacrosse teams.

He moved to Phoenix after graduation to participate in a Hyatt Hotels program, in which he worked as a food and beverage manager. He was transferred to Hilton Head Island, S.C., and came to a realization about the hotel and restaurant industry.

"At 24, I knew I couldn't work for a major company like that. I couldn't take the politics, so I left," he said.

He was planning to move back to the West when he learned about a job opening at a Holiday Inn under construction off Washington Road in Augusta. He was hired to set up the hotel's food and beverage program and operate its bar, which was called Adam's.

During that time, he also waited tables at Calvert's Restaurant in Surrey Center.

Working for the Holiday Inn reinforced his desire to work for himself. He decided to invest in Cafe Natural, becoming one of four owners of the Augusta vegetarian restaurant on Central Avenue. He later introduced meat items to the menu.

In 1979, Mr. Goldsmith branched out on his own by opening The Green Scallion at the corner of Seventh and Broad Streets in downtown Augusta. The breakfast-and-lunch eatery provided catering services, too.

Steve King, the vice president of United Distributors Inc., was a sales representative for the wine and spirits wholesaler when he met Mr. Goldsmith at the restaurant 27 years ago. They became friends and Mr. King has been his supplier ever since, he said.

"We keep our business on one side of the table, and our friendship on the other. It seems to work out fine," Mr. King said. "He's fun to be around, and he's a very likeable person. He and I have never had a bad word between us."

After three years, Mr. Gold-smith wanted to try a new type of restaurant, so he closed The Green Scallion and moved down Broad Street to open Goldsmith's, which served dishes from around the world and featured live entertainment.

During this time, he bought Pullman Hall, which he operated simultaneously. At age 30, he decided to sell Goldsmith's and concentrate his efforts on Pullman Hall.

Catering to public

Unlike other catering businesses, Pullman Hall is inside a 160-year-old train depot. Mr. Goldsmith was inspired by the historic site, so he named the business after the Pullman railroad cars.

The facility's large ballroom and banquet room have served as a destination for many local parties and events.

Mr. Brewer said that he met Mr. Goldsmith when his company used Pullman Hall's catering services. Mr. Goldsmith still cooks all of his own food.

"We were looking for the best in town, and I think we got that," Mr. Brewer said.

Mr. Goldsmith, a "self-taught" chef, said he enjoys cooking. He serves dishes such as heavy hors d'oeuvres and traditional dinners of chicken, carved meats or seafood. Being a business owner also comes naturally to him.

"It's a way of life for me. It's always nice to know if something goes wrong, it's only one person's fault," he said.

Mr. Brewer believes that Mr. Goldsmith's honesty is one of his greatest strengths, both in business and in his personal life.

"Kevin is the most up-front, honest person you'd ever want to meet. He never pulls a punch, and there's no such thing as a hidden agenda," Mr. Brewer said. "For the people who love Kevin, that's why they love him. They know where they stand."

Ms. Davis joined Mr. Gold-smith's team at Pullman Hall 11 years ago. Mr. Goldsmith considers her to be a great asset.

"She's my right hand. She's my liaison for everything -- she's my go-between," Mr. Goldsmith said. "She's very level-headed, very sweet. It sort of makes up for me being a little rough sometimes."

Ms. Davis said that working for Mr. Goldsmith has "been a great learning experience and an adventure."

"He's one of the most intelligent people I've ever met," Ms. Davis said.

Mr. Goldsmith is "demanding and a perfectionist," she said, but he can often be playful and has a huge heart.

"In my opinion, he's a type A personality, and I'm just the opposite, so we balance each other. We work well together," she said. "I've often said that we danced well together in business."

Like Mr. Goldsmith, Ms. Davis worked at a restaurant during college and pursued a business degree. Unlike him, she never thought she would end up in the food and beverage industry.

While attending Augusta College, she took a job at French Market Grille at Surrey Center, where she worked her way up to general manager.

"She's one of the best people, if not the best, I've ever had to work with me. She's reliable, self-motivated and takes her craft very seriously," said Chuck Baldwin, the owner of French Market Grille.

He said that Ms. Davis was also his "right hand person."

"Whenever I wasn't there, she was in charge of everything. She went as high as she could in our organization without being an owner," he said.

Ms. Davis' husband, Joe, worked at French Market Grille and, along with Mr. Baldwin and his wife, opened a restaurant called An American Diner in the early 1990s.

The California-style restaurant ended up closing, and Ms. Davis thought she was done with the restaurant business. She received an opportunity to work with Mr. Goldsmith, though, and has remained in the business ever since.

Mr. Goldsmith's family moved to New Mexico after Ms. Davis started working at Pullman Hall. He commuted back and forth for six years, but relied on Ms. Davis to help with day-to-day operations.

Today, she's responsible for all administrative and accounting duties, procurement and event planning for both Pullman Hall and TakoSushi.

Mr. Brewer's wife, Barbara Coleman, a marketing professor at Augusta State University and Ms. Davis' close friend, admires her abilities.

"She's probably one of the brightest, most thoughtful, intuitive individuals that I've ever been around," Ms. Coleman said.

Ms. Davis has an "innate ability for thinking through problems and coming up with great solutions," she said:

"She's one of those quiet persons who makes things go. Kevin has the vision, and it's Micki who operationalizes it. You can count on her to follow through and finish."

Outside the box

About six years ago, Mr. Goldsmith had another idea. He wanted to install a wine cellar, The Cellar, at Pullman Hall to share his love of wine with the community.

He held tastings and food-and-wine pairings there until he opened his TakoSushi restaurants, but the facility is still open for events.

"It was great to have a wine cellar in town. I had one of my wife's significant birthday parties there, and everybody still talks about what an incredible evening it was," Mr. Brewer said.

He said that Mr. Goldsmith takes pleasure in introducing his friends to "really good, but inexpensive wines. ..."

"As the old saying goes, 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating,' and it seems like pretty much everything this guy tries is a home run," he said.

In 2005, Mr. Goldsmith introduced the community to probably his most successful idea to date -- TakoSushi. The restaurant serves a combination of sushi and rustic, Southwestern food.

"It was a combination of his two favorite foods," Ms. Davis said. "He's the brainchild behind the concept and name."

Mr. Goldsmith said that he was initially approached by a friend to open a sushi restaurant at Surrey Center. He wanted the restaurant to offer additional food choices, though, and when his friend eventually backed away from the partnership because of personal obligations, Mr. Goldsmith decided to move forward with his own idea.

"The name just popped into my head, and that was it," he said.

His friends had never heard of such a menu combination, but Mr. Goldsmith didn't back down from his belief that TakoSushi could be a success.

Today, TakoSushi has been so well received that Mr. Goldsmith opened TakoSushi II in Aiken in 2006 and TakoSushi III in Greenville, S.C., with a partner last year. TakoSushi IV at Evans, the largest of all the TakoSushi restaurants, will open its doors this month.

"We both said that we would never get back into the restaurant business," Ms. Davis said. The idea has caught on so quickly, however, that Mr. Goldsmith has opened a franchising division for those interested in starting their own TakoSushi.

Mr. Goldsmith prepares food at his TakoSushi restaurant at Surrey Center.

"Everything is topped with red or green chili. No hamburger, only shredded brisket," he said about his Southwestern food.

He was inspired to serve the "New Mexico style" dishes from his time spent in the Southwest.

He preps all sauces and desserts at Pullman Hall, and even cooks meat and makes ice cream for his restaurant at his catering business.

Class act

When Mr. Goldsmith isn't behind a desk or a stove, he likes to enjoy the great outdoors. He loves to bike and go fly fishing, and even today, he's known for his athletic abilities.

"He's a natural athlete," Ms. Davis said. "He says that he doesn't play golf, but he could go once a year and beat whomever he's playing. The same thing with tennis -- he never plays, but when he does, no matter who he's playing, they can just forget it."

Mr. Goldsmith's friends said he is a great father and a quiet humanitarian.

"He's a very giving person," Mr. King said. "He's one of those people who would give you the shirt right off his back. He's very passionate about people's health and family, and he's always interested in kids -- what they're doing in school and how they're doing.

"He's always extremely willing to help out, and if you need something you can pretty much count on him."

Mr. Brewer said that Mr. Goldsmith donates a tremendous amount of time and food to charitable organizations, though he rarely mentions it.

"For instance, at Thanksgiving he does a huge meal for the less fortunate, but he never talks about it. He doesn't do it to get mileage; he does it because he genuinely cares. That's rare for this day and age," he said.

Among his many attributes, his friend Mr. Brinson admires that Mr. Goldsmith always makes time for his sons, especially with his hectic schedule. Their children grew up together since the second grade and have now entered college.

"He's really involved in their lives, and it's nice to see someone who can balance their personal and business life," he said.

Though 15 years have passed, he's still in awe of his friend's business and cooking talents.

"It's an art and a science, I guess," Mr. Brinson said. "And he can do both of them."

Reach LaTina Emerson at (706) 823-3227 or latina.emerson@augustachronicle.com.

KEVIN GOLDSMITH

TITLE: Owner, TakoSushi restaurants and Pullman Hall

BORN: June 12, 1954, Baltimore, reared in Pittsburgh

EDUCATION: University of Denver, bachelor's degree in hotel restaurant management

FAMILY: Sons, Sean, 23, and Cary, 19

HOBBIES: Biking, playing with his dogs, traveling, fly fishing, spending time with his sons

MICKI DAVIS

TITLE: Business manager for TakoSushi restaurants and Pullman Hall, director of operations for TakoSushi International (franchising corporation)

BORN: March 3, 1964, Augusta

EDUCATION: Augusta College, bachelor of arts degree in public administration and political science, master's degree in business administration

HOBBIES: Traveling, cooking, playing with her dog, attending cultural and arts events, wine tasting, gardening

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blaze
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blaze 05/05/08 - 08:52 pm
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This doesn't sound like the

This doesn't sound like the man I knew of in the late 1980's. He was arrogant and less than the pillar this article makes him out to be.

voiceofconcern
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voiceofconcern 05/06/08 - 12:00 am
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granted, kev is sort of

granted, kev is sort of arrogant, but most highly successful folks are arrogant. the writer penned him out to be what he is. his background is quite surprising. i never realized he's had such extensive experiences. i'm very impressed with this guy. nice positive, uplifting story. nice writing job, too. never lost my interest.

whyme
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whyme 05/06/08 - 08:01 am
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When I was affiliated with

When I was affiliated with MCG, I had to line up a caterer on a tiny budget (maybe $300?) for a huge # of people. I called him and instead of blowing it off as if it was too little $, he was very helpful and made a beautiful reception for us. I didn't find him arrogant; some people find a little sarcastic humor off-putting but I didn't. I also remember Micki from the late 80s/early 90s when some of us joined her and her husband on a trip to Edisto. I wish her well also!

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