We'd been "Joey'ed," our bread waiter told us as he picked up an empty crock in the center of the table. Talked into dessert by our waiter, Joseph, we were given directions to first sip a glass of sparking rose, take a bite of the crème brulee, then take a sip of Grand Marnier-it was a the perfect palate-cleansing, sweet-tasting, then palate coating endcap to the sort of meal that sets you on a food high for the evening.

We'd been "Joey'ed," our bread waiter told us as he picked up an empty crock in the center of the table. Talked into dessert by our waiter, Joseph, we were given directions to first sip a glass of sparking rose, take a bite of the crème brulee, then take a sip of Grand Marnier-it was a the perfect palate-cleansing, sweet-tasting, then palate coating endcap to the sort of meal that sets you on a food high for the evening.

This ability to make something as overdone (and typically underwhelming) as crème brulee feel special is what The Refectory has mastered. It's the whole package. Classic French foods crafted from Central Ohio ingredients. Attentive servers who, between romantic stories about the food (like guests who fly in just to try the paradoxically creamy, yet light Mussel Soup), talk with fluency about ingredients, preparation and wine pairings.

There's a standard to live up to when you're known as the special occasion spot in the city; when you're selling not just food, but an experience. And The Refectory flawlessly delivers every time in its old-school historic church shell.

No doubt, it's staff loyalty that breeds consistency from the bar to front and back of house. Writer Jill Moorhead speaks with some of the longtime Refectory staff about the key to creating a dining experience.

Back row, left to right

Scotty Crabtree

custodian

30 years

"I find things that are left behind. Sometimes money, watches, jewelry. I turn it all in."

Laura Greco

service bartender

10 years

"My job is to serve my servers. We go through 1,205 wine glasses in an evening. I'm in closed environment, isolated from everyone. I close the door, and pump everything out a window, fruity drinks in the summer and red wines in the winter."

Chris Antczak

server & lead trainer

11 years

"Our service style is a combination of five-star and standard French service. When I first came here, we wore full tuxedos, which intimidated the guests. We want to make them as comfortable as possible. We switched three years ago. Now we wear black pants, a white shirt and a black vest."

Elizabeth Knodt

server

29 years

"There are a couple of appetizers that take a long time to prepare, but they're worth the wait. It's a balance between letting people know that it will take a little time, but not dissuading them from ordering them. Two of those are scallop timbale and the escargot terrine."

Alfredo Caceres

sous chef

10 years

"We have staff meals every day, standing in the kitchen. Chef always likes a big crunchy salad. We eat as he does: entree first (starch and meat), salad last. It's always great … I was so excited to come work here, to be his sous chef. There haven't been that many. The one before me was here for 15 years."

Jeff Elasky

general manager

34 years

"The people coming in have heard of our reputation and it's hard to meet their standards. They want us to live up to every expectation. From the plating to the service to the reservations, they are disappointed if there's a slight flaw. They expect us to be perfect."

Front row, left to right

John Saunders

server

32 years

"I recently retired as a teacher. For me, serving is a psychological relief. It put my kids through college and allowed me to have a wine cellar. You can't have a wine cellar on a teacher's salary. I'm the last of my kind and I say that in a benevolent way. I've been here at 3 or 5 a.m. with guests who came in for late reservations. It's about service, a sense of humbleness."

Kamal Boulos

owner

36 years

"I tend to put the staff above the business to some degree. I think that may hurt the business, but those are the things that are important to me. We are very flexible with the management staff. If they have something personal they need to do, they can. That's the benefit of being an owner without having investors that expect a rate of return on their investment. I'm not driven by our business having to perform at a certain level."

Audrey Strange

server

10 years

"My favorite side work is polishing glassware, because a group of us can sit around a bucket of hot water and talk about what's going down. It's a chance to sit down and relax before a busy shift."

Sandra Losco

business manager & community affairs director

34 years

"My favorite event is the one I'm doing at the moment. My mother used to say, 'My favorite child is the one that needs me the most.' For me, it's every event."

Richard Blondin

executive chef

21 years

"We are trying to be different and we hire motivated people. For our staff, it's a passion and a profession. Not just a job. A few people left for a short time, but they came back. It tells me that wherever they went is not as nice as here."

Benjamin Allen

chef, garde-manger

6 years

"I came here with the mindset of studying chef Blondin and his work and trying to pick apart every detail in his head. I know his favorite kitchen utensils. I study his methods and the techniques he is an expert in. I try, humbly, to copy, to mimic."

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