Columbus, Ohio USA
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A reflection on taste – and Tasi Rigsby
By Karen Edwards
January/February 2013 Issue
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The brains and beauty behind Tasi Café, Anatasia Rigsby. Photo © Larry Hamill
Tasi Café sits just a block off the “beaten path” of High Street – on the corner of Brickel and Pearl in the spot once occupied by Pistachio bakery. Step inside Tasi and chances are good you’ll stay awhile. Chances are even better that once you leave, you’ll be back.
Just ask Pat Lewis who is one of the café’s regulars. She and a group of friends, organized by Charlie Pace, meet there each week to have breakfast, and they’ve been doing so since Tasi opened. That’s been a while, now. In November 2012, Tasi Café celebrated its fifth anniversary.
“We meet there every Friday at 7 a.m.,” says Lewis. “We’re usually the first group there.” They come, says Lewis, for the food – she’s partial to the black-bean cakes with poached eggs – but also for the atmosphere. “It’s just a warm and comfortable place,” she says.
In an economy where restaurants come and go as fast as food trends, an eating place that offers the powerful combination of first-rate food and a friendly environment is already following the recipe for success. But there is one thing you need to know about Tasi Café – something that separates it from other restaurants in the city. Tasi is a direct reflection of Tasi herself. To have a meal there is to instantly know the woman behind the name, which is, more properly, Anastasia Rigsby.
Yes, Rigsby – as in Kent Rigsby, owner of the eponymous restaurant just over a block and slightly north of the café. Tasi is Kent’s wife – but don’t misunderstand. She knew she would be a restaurant owner long before she married her chef-restaurateur husband. In fact, it had been a part of her dreams even when her life led her, initially, in a different direction.
On her toes
When you grow up in San Francisco, with a father in the restaurant business and a mother who dances ballet, as Tasi Rigsby did, you have two enticing career paths laid out before you. But why limit yourself to just one?
“I always knew I would open a restaurant,” says Rigsby – even while she was studying ballet under her mother at the San Francisco Ballet School. “I apprenticed with the company at 13 and a half,” she says.
Rigsby also recalls many happy childhood hours spent in the kitchen – helping her father with catering and cooking chores for the restaurant, but she also remembers time spent in the kitchen of her parents’ home. Sometimes, she’d be joined there by a household helper from Guatemala, who would cook the kinds of ethnic foods she grew up with. “I was always around food,” says Rigsby.
But ballet was also important to her. Rigsby danced throughout her high school days, then auditioned with the Pennsylvania Dance Company, based in Philadelphia, at the age of 15 and a half. She received a contract. “I never thought I was actually going to join the company,” Rigsby says. “It was just something I had to do for myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I was good at ballet and not just moving ahead in San Francisco because of my mother.”
Rigsby, who had been taking advanced courses in high school through the University of California at Berkeley, accepted the contract. Straight out of high school, she was already on the path her mother had chosen, that of a professional ballet dancer.
Yet, even while dancing and touring with the Pennsylvania ballet company, Tasi Rigsby was still fascinated by the path her father had taken – so she set out to explore food and restaurants and both fine and casual dining. As a ballerina, she had the opportunity to experience all types of food as she traveled the country. “You don’t always want to eat with everyone else in the company,” she says, so she would go off on her own or with a friend to see what foods a city had to offer. She would take mental notes of what a restaurant did right, what she would change, how her restaurant would do things differently. She felt most comfortable, she says, in restaurants where owners seemed genuinely pleased to greet people and to serve the best food they could.
It was while dancing in New York that she met John McFall, the former director of Columbus’s Ballet Met. He wanted to bring her to Columbus to dance with his company, but Rigsby wasn’t sure Columbus, a mid-sized Midwest city, was the right place for her.
He convinced her to pay a visit, however, and during that visit he took her to Kent Rigsby’s restaurant to eat. Tasi and Kent were introduced, and, as they say, the rest is history.
During their early years together – when Tasi wasn’t dancing or Kent cooking – the pair would travel, back to San Francisco and often to Greece, the homeland of Tasi’s father, but to other foreign destinations as well. Again, Tasi Rigsby was dining at restaurants, cafes and eating places, taking note, dreaming dreams.
The family grows
Rigsby’s dancing career eventually came to a close as the chapter on family and motherhood began. Rigsby still keeps a toe in the ballet field – coaching at Ballet Met, where her daughter Elena-Christina studies (she danced a role in the recent Nutcracker). But family is important to Tasi Rigsby. She says her most important and enjoyable role in life is that of being a mother.
In addition to 18-year-old Elena-Christina, Rigsby is also the mother of 13-year-old Zoe, a budding baker, and she is stepmother to both of Kent’s sons – Forbes, who works at Rigsby’s alongside his father, and Robert who now lives in Denver.
It may seem like a lot of family to juggle, but it never stopped Rigsby from pursuing her dream of owning a restaurant. And after all of her travels, after all of her dining experiences, she knew exactly what she wanted.
“I wanted a restaurant with a casual, family feel, something comfortable and also a little funky,” she says. She recalled Greek diners she would eat at in San Francisco and wanted to emulate the same kind of warm, welcoming atmosphere. “I wanted communal tables,” she says, “Because it brings people together.”
Ray's Living Room serves as an art gallery, catering space, and Tasi's office. Photo © Larry Hamill
Rigsby opened her first café in New Albany. It wasn’t the most advantageous beginning. “We opened just two months after 9/11,” she says. And New Albany was not the best fit for the kind of place she wanted to run. Rigsby knew she needed a place with a neighborhood feel, one with a real sense of community. Someplace like the Short North.
When Pistachio moved out of its Brickel and Pearl location, Tasi Café moved in. But five years ago, Tasi had a very different feel.
“I wanted to do home replacement meals for people who didn’t want to cook or clean,” says Rigsby. So, in addition to an in-house menu and tables and chairs, she also had refrigerator cases of prepared food available for people who wanted their meals to go.
“I do remember the refrigerator cases,” says Pat Lewis. “I remember the lobster mashed potatoes.”
What Rigsby came to realize, however, was that neighbors who didn’t want to cook or clean, didn’t want to eat at home, either. They wanted to go out. And, says Rigsby, “They wanted a breakfast joint.”
At that time, Tasi Café was open until 9 p.m. Of course, if you’re familiar with the Short North, you know the evening can be a difficult time for parking. Tasi Café only had three free parking places – and while off-street parking and meter-parking is available, it can be risky. “We’d watch as cars were towed away. My car was towed away,” says Rigsby. So the idea of opening early for breakfast and closing at 5 p.m. took shape. The change was implemented after about a year.
“Tasi has grown along with our patrons,” says Rigsby. “The people of the Short North helped create it.”
Tasi Café has evolved into a neighborhood restaurant that serves fresh, local, seasonal and delicious fare to its many customers. This time of year, you might find roasted spaghetti squash, lamb and citrus fruits (if Rigsby can find good ones) on the menu. She doesn’t spend much time looking for local vendors. They come to her.
The refrigerator cases are long gone. More seating has been put in their space, and a new bar has been created. “Nurses like to come here after their late-night shifts for a mimosa,” she says.
And it probably comes as no surprise that eight couples who met at Tasi or included the café in their dating plans are now married. Tasi Rigsby has even catered some of their weddings.
Rigsby is proud of the restaurant that she’s created, but she’s no longer hovering in its kitchen the way she once did. “I removed myself from the business. I realized I couldn’t micromanage everything, and when you do step away, you allow the people who work for you to open up to their own creativity,” she says.
That doesn’t mean she isn’t available, however. Her office, which she shares with her two energetic poodles, is in Ray’s Living Room which sits catty-corner from the café. There, behind a desk stacked with papers, she conducts her business, then runs off to pick up her daughters, coach a ballet class, or goes home to fix dinner.
And as if wife, mother, restaurant-owner and occasional ballet coach isn’t enough to juggle, Tasi also manages to fit in an array of exercise classes, including hot yoga and Zumba (which means she’s up at 4:30 a.m. to make the eastside 6 a.m. class). Then, there’s the occasional spin on the dance floor.
“I still like to ballroom dance,” says Rigsby. She has even competed in the activity. No, not with husband Kent who is too busy in the kitchen to take off an evening. She dances with a fellow Greek named Mina who has been her partner for two years now. “I’d like to get back to it. I miss the performance aspect of dancing,” she says.
She’s not really tempted to return to ballet, though. “I live vicariously through my daughter, now,” she says. The same way her mother lived vicariously through her.
Tasi’s to come
But her father’s path – the restaurant owner – is still very much on her radar screen. Rigsby envisions other Tasi Café locations over the next five years. She’s looking at Bexley, Arlington, and Dublin. Wherever she lands, she says, Tasi Café will reflect the neighborhood. If that means dinner hours and refrigerator cases, so be it.
“I’ve always considered myself approachable, even when I was a dancer,” says Rigsby. That means she wants to hear how she’s doing – what else she could do to make your visit at Tasi’s more special.
“I love feedback,” she says.
And there’s no question that she wants you to feel at home – as part of her family. There is a custom that the Rigsbys have initiated in their home. Everyone eats dinner together. “It’s a reflection of my own home. My mother would always say, ‘Put it on a plate and sit down to eat it.’ We always had dinner together.” That meant two younger brothers and an older sister as well as Tasi and her parents would sit down and share a meal. Every day. “Kent’s family didn’t eat together,” says Rigsby. But it’s something she insists her family do. Even if Zoe doesn’t return home from gymnastics until 9 p.m., dinner isn’t served until she arrives. “It’s a good way to close out the evening,” says Rigsby.
It also explains why Tasi Café feels so comfortable for so many people. It reflects Tasi Rigsby, her zest for life, her food and dining philosophy. No matter who you are – young, old, gay, straight, male, female – Tasi Café has a seat for you. And it sometimes feels as though they’re holding breakfast – or lunch – just for you.
© 2013 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.
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