By Shereen Siewert
WESTON — When Debra Leitermann first met Anna Anderson 27 years ago, Leitermann didn’t like Anderson one bit.
“She was difficult to like,” said Leitermann, who met Anderson on the job at The Hiawatha. “She was tough.”
Slowly, Leitermann said, dislike turned to grudging respect for Anderson, who spent 25 years as bar manager at Hiawatha. Now, the two are best friends, closer than sisters.
“She’s got the key to my safety deposit box,” Anderson said. “She’s family. There’s no other way to describe it.”
This month, the duo teamed up again when Leitermann left her job after 45 years to join Anderson at The Palms Supper Club, which is undergoing a massive reset under new ownership. On May 14, Tony Snoeyenbos officially purchased The Palms, with Anderson at the helm as general manager. Anderson, who has full control over the operations of the restaurant, said she is grateful to have inherited such an excellent staff. But she knew one thing was missing: Leitermann.
Persuading her friend to make the switch wasn’t easy. Holding back tears, Leitermann said that leaving her customers after 45 years on the job was a tough decision.
“It’s emotional,” Leitermann said. “Our customers are like an extended family. They’re friends.”
And that, Anderson said, is what makes Leitermann, who joined The Palms staff this week, so valuable.
The Palms is perhaps one of the area’s most iconic restaurants, well known for its fine food and servers. With such potential, Anderson said, she knows she has a winner. But that’s not to say changes aren’t being made. Walking through the doors, the transformation is already unmistakable, with a new logo, new sign, new flooring, brighter colors, and tables adorned with handmade napkin holders designed by Anderson herself. And a delightful array of locally handcrafted artwork is displayed throughout.
The juried artwork is submitted via email by local artists within 60 miles who are chosen to show their work for a four-month block.
Chefs David Bartram, formerly of Greenwood Hills, and Matt Lawson, formerly of Hiawatha, are working to create a wholesome, fresh menu using locally-sourced ingredients as much as possible. With the area’s only charcoal grill, that means the steaks have fantastic flavor, while ingredients for soups, such as roasted red peppers, are freshly grilled rather than bought in a jar.
“Anything we can make in-house, we make in-house,” Anderson said. “Soups, salad dressings, sides. And Matt (Lawson) is a baker, so he’ll be baking our bread in-house starting soon. It’s a little more labor intensive but absolutely worth the effort.”
Anderson has other changes planned. The back room is already lighter and brighter, but workers this week are installing a full service eight-seat bar with a pass-through window for drink service on the back patio, which was so rarely used that most customers don’t know it existed. New patio furniture is on the way.
And Anderson is actively seeking a used baby grand piano to renew The Palms’ former tradition of having piano music in the bar.
Though time-tested favorites will remain, Anderson does plan some tweaks for the menu this fall.
“A lot of people want things that are lighter, and we’ll follow that trend,” Anderson said. “We’ll still have potato salad, but we’ll make it; we won’t buy it in a tub. There won’t be big changes, but things that make sense.”
Snoeyenbos clearly trusts Anderson and values having Leitermann aboard. “I see you’ve met my bosses,” he joked, nodding his head at the pair. “Those two are terrific.”
Anderson said she learned a great deal about how to run a successful restaurant from the late Roger Jamgochian, who she worked for at The Hiawatha until his death in 2013.
“Roger always said, ‘Just make sure the customers are happy,'” Anderson said. “When the customers are happy, everything else will fall into place. And it does.”
The Palms, 5912 Hwy. 51 in Weston, is open seven days a week, serving food from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday. Catch Leitermann over the lunch hour and on Wednesday and Friday nights.
Top photo: Debra Leitermann, left, worked at The Hiawatha for 45 years before leaving to team up with her former boss, Anna Anderson, at The Palms Supper Club. Credit: Shereen Siewert