Walking the Talk
New Members-Only Club Commits to Local Food
By Lacey Thacker Photography by Kat Wilson
The upcoming members’ club BlakeSt in Bentonville embodies lofty principles and big goals: to be well-fed and well-informed. Executive chef Simon Brown says, “It is ambitious; anything worth doing usually is. It’s also simple: We support you–and your neighbor –in the pursuit of a personal best.” To that end, BlakeSt will offer relaxing dining, a bar, a gymnasium, a pool, spa area, library, game room and a soundproof music room, all intended to create a space where members can spend time developing into the person they want to be. Active networking will be prohibited in the club; only organic relationship-building will be allowed.
Members will be treated to the cuisine of Chef Simon, who moved from Mississippi to open Blake Street’s restaurant, but he moved from even farther before that. Simon was born in Dunfermline and raised in Dundee, Scotland, a most lovely corner of the world where fresh ingredients—including hand-dived scallops and fresh salmon—can be found aplenty. After a bad knee injury sidelined his plans for a professional football—soccer, to Americans—career, he had to make a different plan. Simon worked at a local hotel called The Milton, where he washed dishes and “… was mesmerized by the action of the kitchen.”
But when Chef Simon asked the head chef what it took to become a chef, “He slapped me on the back of the head and told me to stop being stupid. I guess I never listened. I went on to work the fry station and thought I was a top deal,” he remembers with a smile.
In 2009, an American woman named Jen moved to Glasgow to study for her master's degree at the University of Glasgow. She and Simon had a mutual friend who encouraged Jen to call Simon “because he had a car.” She and Simon are now happily married with a toddler. In 2011, the couple moved to the United States to live with Jen’s parents in Louisiana. At the time, their aspiration was to move to Nashville, Tennesse but now Simon says they’re loving life in Northwest Arkansas. The Arkansas topography isn’t dissimilar from Scotland’s, and Simon says he feels right at home among the hills, farmers and four-wheelers. Simon grins as he says that Jen has been known to remark that, despite being from the South, she had “to go to Scotland to marry a redneck.”
His family isn't all he brought with him to Northwest Arkansas. “I met Jacoby Burks when he was a cook for Seafood R’evolution in Ridgeland, Mississippi, almost five years ago. He had such great determination and raw talent.” Simon recalls loving the way Jacoby conducted the line during service, and when Simon was made chef de cuisine, he asked Jacoby to be his junior sous chef. He gladly accepted. Jacoby’s hard work paid off, and he became Simon’s number two, taking over for him after he left. Simon says, “I am extremely proud of him. One of the busiest days of the year at Seafood R’evolution was the owner’s Christmas party, the last Sunday before Christmas. It was a very high-profile party and probably the wrong time to tell Jacoby that I was leaving.”
But Simon had seen the position at BlakeSt on a recruiting website and thought cooking in a members' club sounded exciting. He spoke with the general manager, Doug Lapuc, and the director of operations, Kurt Berman, and says it just seemed like a perfect fit.
When Simon told Jacoby about the opportunity in Arkansas—and that he was allowed to recruit his own team and would love for Jacoby to join him in Arkansas—Jacoby accepted. The two have become good friends over the years, and Jacoby is excited about the opportunity to continue working together. “Simon is an extraordinary chef, friend and family man. He gives 100 percent in all aspects of his life. At BlakeSt, we hope to provide an unyielding sense of community for the greater good, so that everyone can become their personal best,” Jacoby says.
“I was so happy when Jacoby accepted, and we are now looking forward to opening another venture together,” Simon says. “It’s like being back home again where people are interested in food and want to experience new food adventures. Using local farmers and producers to fill the menu is amazing–it’s like a blank canvas for a chef. Plus, supporting and showcasing local farmers and producers is a must. As I said, I’d rather support a family than a CEO buying a third vacation home.”
On a tour of BlakeSt, owned by Ropeswing Group, of The Preacher’s Son, Pressroom and The Holler successes, Simon’s excitement is contagious. Highly energetic and always free with a funny story, Simon says the wait to open BlakeSt was worth it to see a top-notch facility built that provides real value to members.