When the first customer walks through Tiger Lily’s door this Friday, they’ll be stepping into not only the newest restaurant in Easton but will also be part of one of the most anticipated openings this year. It will be the time when all questions we’ve heard being asked around town will be answered. Questions such as: Who owns the restaurant and what kind of food will they be serving?
Located at 206 N Washington St., across from Talbot Town Shopping Center and next door to Harrison Liquors, Tiger Lily took over the space formerly occupied by Taste. But the three people involved in this restaurant, Ketan “K” Patel, Austin Smale, and Tyler Heim, are no strangers to each other or Easton or even to the property. For one, Patel owns the building housing Tiger Lily and Harrison Liquor, which is how he met Smale, who was Taste’s General Manager (GM). The last day Taste was open, Patel realized Smale had a huge following and that it was not only the restaurant that Easton would miss. They started talking about ‘doing something in the space,’ even though Patel had no restaurant experience.
And then COVID came along……
The two remained in contact, coming up with ideas, even as Smale took a job as GM at Limoncello Italian Restaurant in St. Michaels. That’s when Heim entered the picture. “Tyler and I have come in contact throughout the industry for many years,” said Smale, “always at different places. But we’d like to think we got the same creative mindset.” For Heim, who worked at Bluepoint Hospitality for a couple of years, that creativity revolved around food, and when Smale and Patel offered him the Executive Chef position, it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
Now for the menu. Call it Tiki Fusion, a mix of Asian and South American culture but heavily taco-centered. “We will dip into the traditional tacos, but I’m a foodie,” says Heim. “So, we plan on being pretty creative. We definitely want to be approachable because we have a vast clientele in Easton. But we do want to bring people on to some new things that they might not have heard of.”
They plan on locally sourcing their food as much as possible and appealing to a broad audience. “We kept in mind different dietary restrictions when creating the menu,” said Smale.” We can accommodate gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and pescatarian. Whole 30? We can make it happen.”
Just how much influence did Patel, someone not in the food industry, have on the menu? “The tastings,” said Heim, “are his favorite part. It seems like whenever I’m trying out a new item, K shows up.” “Seriously, though,” says Smale, “he’s handed over all creative control to us. He’s taking a chance with us, obviously, but he is literally 100% in it to win it with us.”
“It’s about having good faith in them,” says Patel. “We just make a good team.”
So, on the menu (and Patel approved) are items such as the Wild Steer Taco (braised chuck roast, coleslaw, crispy leeks, & guajillo BBQ) and the Happy Boar Taco (roasted pork shoulder, pineapple fresno salsa, & queso fresco), or the Crispy Mushroom Taco (cabbage, guajillo BBQ, pickled onion, fennel slaw, & lime-cilantro crema). Not feeling in a taco mood? Try their signature Tiger Lily Garden Roll (a favorite of Heim) or the Ceviche. And check in daily for their featured Rice Bowl.
Having heard about employment issues facing restaurants, we wondered if they were worried.
Said Smale, “COVID was a blessing in disguise; we have been able to form our business plan and the kitchen layout around that fear. We brought in a Combi Smart Oven to help reduce labor costs in the kitchen. We brought in a point of sale system called Toast, which has QR codes that you can order through if need be. On top of that, between the three of us, we have a pretty solid reputation.”
“Austin and I come from an interesting vantage point,” said Heim. “We’ve been managers, and we’ve been employees, and we know what it takes to be a good employer and what it takes to work at a place where you want to be. I think one of our main focuses is to build a family. We’ve had many people coming to us asking for a job, and I’m not worried. And we also have a good place where people can come and be excited about working here. We like feeding off of other creative excited people.”
That creativity extends beyond the food. The three painted and decorated the walls and put together the tables and chairs in the restaurant and on the patio. The Tiki ambiance, they hope, should make you think of tropical Polynesian jungles. After all, the restaurant, Tiger Lily, is named after the Southeast Asian flower and classic Tiki cocktail (pisco, yuzu, elderflower, grapefruit, honey syrup, and bitters). Yes, that drink and other exotic classics, along with new creations, are on the menu. And by the way, there’s something to be said about a restaurant owned by the person who also owns the liquor store. You can stop next door, pick up a bottle and bring it with you to the restaurant.
There is a lot the three are looking forward to. Patel likes the idea of spending quality time with clients, more time than his liquor store business has allowed. The trio can’t wait to have live music, both outside and inside (now that a new sound suppression system has been installed). But mostly, they want to bring a unique experience to the area.
For now, Tiger Lily will be open for lunch starting at 11 am Wednesday – Sundays and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The kitchen will remain open until 9 pm on weekdays and 10 pm on weekends. However, there is no closing time for the bar, as they are going by their unspoken rule, which says they won’t shut down as long as people are there. “We would love to be open until 2 am with everyone having a good, good time,” says Smale.
Their goal is to have a place with a cool vibe, where people can come and relax, a new place to enjoy the nightlife. No wonder this is such an anticipated opening.
For more information see their Facebook page
Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.