Get a piece of cheesecake, quick, before it’s gone.
That’s the advice two friends offered to a visitor to their table Friday while they were dining at one of the tidy white tables inside downtown Longview’s Hick & Frog Bistro. Gail McBride was sitting with her friend, Pat George Mitchell, Longview Ballet Theatre’s founder and artistic director, as they recalled how quickly the cheesecake sells out — it took them a year to finally grab a slice, the women said.
“The cheesecake is my favorite,” McBride said after thinking for a moment about which one of the restaurant’s dishes she likes best. Mitchell recalled times when she would grab a slice to take to McBride and other friends.
“I love the Harvest Salad,” she said of her favorite dish, as it was delivered to the table where she sat.
“I’m going to miss her so much,” Mitchell said of Hick & Frog owner Anne Kelt.
Kelt opened Hick & Frog in March 2017 with her husband, James. They named the restaurant Hick & Frog as a nod to her French origin — “frog” is a derogatory name for French people — and his West Texas roots.
On Thursday, she announced on Facebook that she would be closing the restaurant Sept. 13. She’s moving to a different kitchen, where she’ll be training up the next generation of chefs as a culinary arts teacher at Longview High School. The news sparked a flurry of people planning their last meals at the bistro.
“I want them to enjoy one last time their favorite dishes,” Kelt said Friday. She had stepped momentarily out of the kitchen and was quickly greeted by one diner who said, “Sad face,” as she motioned that she had tears over the restaurant’s closing.
The closing is a hit to downtown Longview, which was given a boost recently by the opening of Roma’s Italian Kitchen in the building that formerly housed the Tyler Street Bistro and Alibi Eatery & Craft Bar, which opened about four months ago across the street from Roma’s.
Hick & Frog is next door to Roma’s.
Kelt said on Facebook that the restaurant was her dream, but it was one that she fulfilled through 60- and 70-hour, six-day work weeks. Kelt and her husband have two children, one who still attends Longview High School and the other who is in college.
“I dreamed of a place where wholesome food would be served. Everything would be made from scratch, from start to finish, with flavors we may not be all that familiar with,” she said on Facebook. “That particular dream has had a cost though. It is a time-consuming monster that has engulfed in its wake any semblance of family and social lives I may have had in the past. I am worn out, y’all. I can’t take those hours anymore, it’s as simple as that.
As fate would have it, a culinary arts teacher position opened up recently at Longview High School. The school graciously gave me four weeks to put my affairs in order as far as the restaurant is concerned. So, here it is: Hick & Frog will be open until September 13 included.”
She wanted to give her staff as much notice as possible, she said, but she realizes that also meant that it could be just her manning the restaurant in the final days. She praised the people she worked with, her husband for his help with the restaurant and her customers.
“Of course, none of this would have been possible without you guys. I have loved cooking for you, meeting you,” Her Facebook message says. “Some of you even became friends. I will miss the lunch rush, the sound of the kitchen printer spitting orders, and the dance we perform in the kitchen around each other, always pushing to send dishes in a timely manner. It is a gruesome job, and I have loved it, but now seems the perfect time to pass along all the knowledge I have acquired over the years to the younger generation.”
On Friday, Kelt said she had already checked out the curriculum Longview High School uses for culinary arts, noting that it focuses on things she’s already familiar with, such as menu building.
“Kids are fun,” she said of her move to teaching, as she made plans to teach students about the importance of preparing good food with good ingredients and another lesson she knows first hand.
“You have to work hard no matter what you do,” Kelt said.
Melida Heien, Longview’s Main Street coordinator, said it’s sad to lose a member of the downtown community, noting that some losses have nothing to do with the economy of a community.
“Which is precisely what’s happened here. I totally understand. Owning a business is a consuming thing,” Heien said. “Sometimes you get an opportunity to do something else but still do what you love, and I’m excited for Anne and I think it will be a great thing — and maybe she’ll teach the next great chef that we have in town.”
Heien is optimistic about the possibility of a business filling Kelt’s Tyler Street location. It’s already prepared for a commercial kitchen, meeting all the requirements for a three-compartment sink and kitchen ventilation, for instance.
“For someone who wants to come in and get something going or have a different concept of something they already have — it really is a great space for that...” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll get something that can go in and utilize that space and get going.”