Valdosta Daily Times

January 16, 2013

Reeling in the crowd

Mackie dishes details about Pikes Landing career

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

MORVEN — Erik Mackie, co-manager for wild-caught seafood restaurant Pikes Landing in Morven is a key part of the team that keeps the business functioning. His knowledge of the food service industry gathered over a 16-year career helped owner Dan McLeod establish the restaurant which continues to offer a unique culinary experience to South Georgia residents.

Mackie started his restaurant management career in Valdosta, working at the original Wooden Nickel “right out of high school,” he said. It didn’t take him long to work up to becoming the manager, and then continued his management career in Atlanta.

“One of the restaurants I managed was Java Monkey,” he said. “It was a wine bar and coffee house. It really doesn’t matter what you’re serving, restaurants are all the same beast in a sense.”

Every restaurant, no matter its style of food, runs into problems, according to Mackie. All restaurants involve heavy customer interaction and deal with the same issues of time management and preparation, he said.

“You always have to keep the food on hand, and make sure it stays fresh, and you have to be consistent,” Mackie said.

“People need to know what to expect when they come in.”

At Pikes Landing, Mackie and McLeod both cook, and Mackie measures the level of success in his performance by the customers’ inability to tell who cooked which dish.

“With just the two of us, it stays pretty consistent,” Mackie said.

The restaurant runs on an interesting dynamic. McLeod, who has a commercial fishing license, catches freshwater fish out of local lakes and saltwater fish out of the Gulf of Mexico during the week, and Mackie does the prep work and kitchen management, he said.

Mackie’s favorite fish, as well as his favorite dish, is mullet, which is so versatile it has become a Southern delicacy and one of the restaurant’s featured items since it opened three years ago.

“It’s an interesting item,” Mackie said. “You can eat the backbone, the gizzard, the roe, the fins. The fins are great; they’re like a little fish potato chip.”

Mackie conceded that these items were an acquired taste to some people, but for those who enjoy them, Pikes Landing is one of the only locations to serve them.

The restaurant offers a variety of choices fresh from the water—salmon, Apalachicola oysters and shrimp and grits to name a few. About 80 percent of what appears on the menu has been caught by McLeod himself, Mackie said, and the rest is still wild-caught.

“We serve traditional southern-style fried fish,” Mackie said. “And everything is fresh. We don’t even have a walk-in cooler.”

All that fresh fish means a lot of hands-on labor, which Mackie completes through the week. McLeod reels them in, and Mackie prepares them for cooking, which can take about two days.

“It’s a lot of hours for me and for Dan,” Mackie said.

In spite of this labor, Mackie loves the restaurant business and cooking, which has been a passion for him for as long as he can remember, he said.

“I’ve always loved to cook,” Mackie said. “And if you can do what you like and be successful with it, it makes it that much better.”

Mackie’s other passion is bicycles. When he lived in Valdosta, he was a member of the cycling and alleycat racing community. Three years ago, he opened a bike courier service, Horse and Carriage Courier, which is still in business.

Mackie took the job with McLeod after breaking his collarbone in a cycling accident in Atlanta. He returned to Valdosta to be with his family while he recovered. Since the accident, he rides recreationally, but no longer races, he said.

Mackie’s time these days is divided between the restaurant and his wife and 18-month-old son, who come into Pikes Landing on occasion during the week. The job is very “family-oriented” from both management and customer service, he said, which makes his work more rewarding.

“Food is something that everybody has common ground in,” Mackie said. “No matter what your belief structure is, no matter where you come from, we can always sit down and have a meal together and have that bonding experience.”

Mackie enjoys making people happy with food, and  he tries to do the best job he can. The fact that he and McLeod “care about every aspect” of the restaurant sets Pikes Landing apart, he said.

McLeod built the restaurant “from the ground up” and did most the woodwork himself, Mackie said. McLeod has a furniture shop as well.

McLeod’s friends thought he was crazy to open a restaurant because he had little experience managing restaurants, but with Mackie’s help, Pikes Landing continues to be a success, according to Mackie.

“Dan had never owned a restaurant, but he had a vision to build one,” Mackie said. “Just because he loved to fish and loved to cook. He would always have fish fries at his house, and enough people enjoyed his cooking that he decided to go into business.”