Local eatery on ‘Fire’Published 10:49am Thursday, September 27, 2012
The lights are down low and the fireplace flickers in the background as the maitre d’ unfolds your dinner napkin for you. Meanwhile, servers in three-piece suits quietly make their rounds serving different meal courses to guests off rolling carts draped in a red satin-like material.
The most impressive part of it all? It is going on every night right here in Atmore at Fire restaurant, located inside Wind Creek Casino and Hotel.
Manager Gene Schnell, who has led the small group of hosts, servers and chefs, for four years at Fire, said the restaurant is a hidden gem the people of Atmore should be proud to have in their backyard. And Schnell says he can back that statement up with some prestigious awards the restaurant has recently garnered.
“We have been blessed to receive some awards, including the prestigious Four Diamond award,” Schnell said. “The Four Diamond award is not an easy thing to earn. The entire hotel had been named a Four Diamond winner and then it came along where the company decided ‘okay, the restaurant reviews we’re getting and the type of guests we’re getting, the very high-end dignitaries, everybody’s raving about the restaurant,’ so they decided to put us in for it.”
Schnell said the process used to determine if a restaurant is deserving of the Four Diamond distinction was a grueling test that involved “spotters” sent in to secretly observe all aspects of Fire over a long period of time.
“They looked for service, the appearance of the room, the attitude of the staff, professionalism and the actual fine-dining etiquette,” Schnell said. “They look for a superior wine list, which we have. Of course, that went on for months, being graded. And then it came back that we had received it and we’re just very blessed.”
Schnell said Fire has also recently been given very high marks by another food service rating agency.
“Southern Gaming Magazine also had spotters come in and check us for three nights,” he said. “They went back collected their information and they did their sheets and endorsed us as the number-one steak house in Alabama, as well the second top restaurant in the entire mid-south states.”
Schnell said he and his staff of 14, all of whom have been with him since Fire opened (others longer – moving from states like Minnesota and Nevada to part of his new Alabama-based crew), are most excited about the awards because of what it means for their guests.
“To be the only four-diamond steak house in the state is quite an honor and we’re blessed because we get to bring it to Atmore,” he said. “I think it’s really unique to be in a great city that is a small town with great people and to pull off an award like that is more for them. So we’re very proud of that.”
Schnell said he is also proud of the clientele Fire currently attracts, but has a deep desire to see locals enjoying the restaurant as well.
“When they go back and tally the votes and if every visit isn’t perfect, you don’t get the award, which is another reason we’re so proud of it because to be in the upper three percent of restaurants nationally, it’s great for Atmore because we’re bringing something to the area that no one else in Alabama has.”
Schnell said he is aware his restaurant has a stigma of being very pricey, but added his staff is putting together new menus and services to make the Fire experience available to everyone.
“Everyone hears about how pricey we are, but we have also bundled the menu,” he said. “We have an ala carte menu, but we also added an all-inclusive menu for a very reasonable price. So we offer that also for the locals. We have a great wine list. We have wines that range from $1000 to $38.”
Room Chef Jesse Bell, who came to Fire from the Beau Rivage casino in Mississippi, said it is the experience, as much as the food, that people should have a chance to enjoy.
“We’re here to go above and beyond,” Bell said. “We have kind of a slogan here on the property about fulfilling fantasies and that’s what we do. What we do here is what people see on TV. They see it in the movies and for most of the people that come in here it’s really nice that we’re able to fulfill something that they might have thought they would never have the opportunity to experience.”
Bell said he knows Fire may not be a regular outing for a lot of local people, but added it’s the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion.
“We’re your birthday, your anniversary and things like that,” he said. “When you want to go out and treat yourself, this where you would go. If you are looking to impress somebody. If you’re looking to have a good time and you want to be catered to then I would recommend us.”
Schnell also pointed to the service Fire provides for the local community, giving visiting companies considering Atmore’s Rivercane development property as a possible home for their businesses, a place to be wowed.
“We have a lot of companies that send liaisons in to check us out to see that we are what people say we are and then they bring people in for a sales pitch,” Schnell said. “I can’t tell you how many sales we have helped close for major corporations in this room.”
Schnell added that, as Airbus begins the hunt for supplier locations, he believes Fire will continue to impress, in turn helping the town’s overall economy.
Schnell said his biggest hope is that Atmore residents and people living in the surrounding area will give Fire a chance to show them why people and companies nationally are taking notice of them.
“We have amenities that other steakhouses don’t have,” he said. “I’m from Las Vegas and ran four of the top restaurants in Las Vegas for over 19 years. This food is as good, if not better.”