A photo of Anthony Bourdain hangs framed over the Winter Park kitchen’s entryway. Inside, managers and chefs buzz around stainless steel appliances, preparing meals for customers they may never see.
That’s because, at KitchenAF, you order online, by phone, or, in-store at a kiosk, but the mainstay American favorites are made to be enjoyed at home.
It’s a simple concept that places the focus entirely on quality food and delivery. So, you’ll see your meal arrive in craft paper boxes designed to hold in heat, instead of those Styrofoam clamshells most restaurants use.
Every potential new offering has to pass a 45-minute shelf-life test before it is added to the menu, and upper management ensures that the next generation of chefs are just as passionate about paying attention to details other restaurants may miss. Some of the best talent at AF are featured in chef spotlights, and General Manager Chef JP Peacock even has a featured item on the menu – the JP Stoopid Burger, which involves double jerk barbeque and sriracha aioli.
“We’re very deliberate for as small a company as we are,” says co-owner Jim Marshall.
Every single choice that he and co-owner Dan Weber make is a labor of love, and KitchenAF is the culmination of decades in the food industry.
This means that customers can select from the largest menu – options span Blackened Salmon Pesto to Chicken and Waffles. Oh, and there are countless ways to customize your meal (made-to-order ravioli, anyone?).
The brand-new Winter Park location represents a huge success for the duo, who have known one another for more than 20 years.
“What you see here is what we’ve been working toward since the beginning,” Marshall said.
Marshall and Weber, who have a brotherly bond that means they aren’t afraid to butt heads, are passionate about developing their staff as they continue to expand KitchenAF.
So, what does the AF stand for, exactly?
Always friendly? Aloma Forsyth?
The staff will never tell.
Chief Operations Officer
Dan Weber’s work day begins around 7 a.m. with a cup of coffee, and, by 9, his phone is already ringing with questions to be answered, issues to be sorted through.
“I’m pretty much a fireman, and a problem solver,” he says.
His schedule is packed with trainings and meetings dedicated to growing KitchenAF, The 808 — a Hawaiian themed restaurant in Thornton Park, where he is a partner — and Current Surfboards. He spends a great deal of time coaching his KitchenAF employees, who share his long-term vision for success — more locations, and, ultimately, a national footprint.
Despite his eye for detail and his talent for taking an idea and making it a reality, Weber considers his biggest asset his ability to cultivate positivity in the workspace.
“Everybody here has my number,” he said. “They can call me.”
If he experiences stress in running multiple businesses, it doesn’t show. Weber, who wears a black Current Surfboards baseball cap, is laidback, soft-spoken, and has a hands-off management style that his employees enjoy.
After more than a decade in leadership, Weber has learned the food industry inside and out, and, during that time, he saw just how critical good morale is to a restaurant’s success.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said.
So, Weber gives a great deal of his energy to developing his staff members into leaders, focusing on their strengths and their goals.
“We can really change a lot of people’s lives,” he said. “The ultimate goal is for everyone to grow. I am creating a career versus a job for all of my employees.”
The culinary arts became a refuge for Weber, an Oviedo native, when he was just 15 years old. His father had been a diver who traveled the world, and so Weber grew up eating a wide variety of cuisines.
“I kind of ate my way through life,” he said.
Weber has since built a reputation as one of the top production caterers in Central Florida, sharing his passion for the culinary arts with musicians on tour and film crews on movie sets. He has overseen the openings of countless restaurants and writes new concepts in his spare time.
This wealth of experience is perhaps why he appears unruffled as he manages all the prongs of his business these days.
When he’s not thinking about the kitchen, he’s thinking about the ocean.
“Food and surfing — those are the things that I do. I don’t really spend much time doing anything else,” he says. “I do the restaurants to surf more. Any chance I get, I’m at the beach.”
Weber’s favorite menu item? A simple cheese pizza.
A career in culinary arts was never part of the plan. A movie buff at heart, Jim Marshall meant to pursue acting, theater.
But, while studying his craft at the University of Central Florida, Marshall stumbled into the food business, and he has not looked back since.
For one thing, Marshall took naturally to the industry — he became a manager before he turned 21, and, not long after that, he began traveling and opening new locations for chain eateries.
“Eventually, I realized I was never going to get anywhere just going from job to job as a manager,” Marshall said. “So I decided to open my own restaurant — 789 Deli. It’s from the kids’ joke: why is six afraid of seven? Because seven eight nine.”
His irreverent sense of humor, and his affinity for show business, translated well to that restaurant, which became like a stage for Marshall to joke with his customers.
A true extrovert, Marshall’s larger-than-life persona followed him as he dipped his toes into the catering world, and, ultimately, as he opened KitchenAF alongside his longtime business partner Dan Weber.
Marshall, who sometimes communicates in obscure movie quotes, jokes with his staff that they have to watch films like Deadpool or Casablanca so they can better appreciate his comedy.
“It’s a fun atmosphere. It’s an upbeat atmosphere,” Marshall said. “You can’t work with Dan and I and wind up not having fun. It’s just not going to be like that. Quality is number one but the atmosphere is always positive and light and fun.”
And the new Winter Park location, with its sparkling stainless steel and wall of windows, brings Marshall even more joy. He credits his late wife for supporting him in co-creating this dream-come-true restaurant with Weber.
“Without her, none of this would have been possible,” he says.
When Marshall is not at KitchenAF, you can find him sailing or biking along the Seminole Trail on his cruiser, or checking out new dining spots around Orlando.
So, which menu item does this foodie suggest you try? The pizza, because, as he says, it is fire.
Chef Justin Peacock : general manager
Justin “JP” Peacock hasn’t ever worked outside the food industry and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s so cool to see people from all walks of life — a bunch of misfits — coming together for something they all love to do,” he said.
In this case, that passion is to create crave-able meals for KitchenAF.
“I love food,” Peacock said. “It is so cool to see how you can combine different elements to create masterpieces — we create trophies of all the details.”
And because KitchenAF focuses exclusively on to-go orders, he really can pay attention to those smallest details.
“You put the time into the food and then you’re sending it on its way,” he said. “You don’t have the usual distractions.”
When he isn’t working, the 25-year-old father of two (with a baby girl on the way) loves grilling and park-hopping with his family.
He has also created that sense of family at work: “This group is awesome. We all see eye to eye on what the goal is. Everyone is driven to work hard.”
So, what does the general manager recommend you try on the KitchenAF menu?
He loves the Alfredo pesto with Italian sausage and crushed red pepper. But you may also want to try out the JP Stoopid burger, which he invented. The meal involves jerk barbecue and sriracha sauce.
Chef joe Leconte : Chef de Cuisine
Joseph “Joe” Leconte arrives to work each day around 6 a.m., preparing the soups, sauces, and proteins that culminate in the delicious meals KitchenAF are known for. He brings with him decades of experience in culinary arts, and a voracious appetite to continue learning about his craft.
“You can learn something every day for the rest of your life and still not know everything,” he said. “There is always something new to learn.”
That passion is so big it extends even beyond his work hours.
At home, he is treasured for the Risotto and Beef Wellington he prepares for his wife and two daughters.
At KitchenAF, he is known for his depth of culinary experience, which he began cultivating back in the 90s.
“What I love about KitchenAF is that it feels like everybody cares about each other,” he said. “Everybody cares about each other’s success.”
And he’s right.
So, what does the chef de cuisine recommend you try?
His personal favorite menu item is the blackened chicken Alfredo pesto pizza.
Claresa Martin : AF's office manager
For office manager Cleresa Martin, Kitchen AF immediately felt like home.
She began her tenure as a line cook in the Sanford kitchen with a half dozen other employees (back in the company’s early days), and she remembers being struck by the sense of camaraderie that she felt.
“Everybody wanted to get to know you off the bat,” she said. “Usually you have to push for people to want to get to know you.”
Martin, who has a passion for acro-yoga and event management, joined the administration team after impressing them with her strong organizational skills.
“I really enjoy working for the company. It makes a difference to work for people who care about your input. I’m used to working for big corporations so working for a small business has been really refreshing.”
These days, she spends most of her time behind the computer, treasuring KitchenAF’s great reviews, working with the menu, and handling paperwork and emails.
“I’m very detail oriented,” she said. “I pick up on the minute things that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.”
Her favorite menu item? Simple: fried ravioli.