His athletic build is surprising — it’s not the physique you’d expect to see on a man who enjoys food and has made good food his life’s mission. His husky masculine voice, reminiscent of Ron Burgundy, seems fitting for a hero. But those are the only descriptions I can note as the Tater Man answers my questions from the shadows of one of Russellville’s most celebrated restaurants. His strength lies within the shadows.
He says he doesn’t wear a cape and he can’t fly. He doesn’t do rescues. This is a proactive hero; this is the hero on the front lines of the restaurant world telling us where to go and what to order, changing the landscape of food service in the River Valley with every social media post, with every blog entry… with every click of his keyboard.
His secrecy is a requirement, and an agreement to honor that anonymity was the only way I could secure the interview. But despite his stealth, I did discover a little about this punctilious person possessing a persnickety palate, a man who deems good food and good service not as the pinnacle of a dining experience but as what should be expected.
Like many heroes, a life abroad has as much to do with his origin story as any claimed superpowers.
Born and raised in Russellville, he displayed a knack for the dramatic early on and was involved in theater as a teenager. Heeding the warrior’s call after high school, he joined the military. Deployed overseas, he traveled the world and was among the first wave of troops over the Iraqi border in March 2003.
After his military career, he worked for chain restaurants as a server and became really, really good at it. Like, really good, he says. Shortly afterward, he decided to go all in for food and attended a highly renowned culinary institute where his special skills were honed to a razor’s edge.
He worked as a bellman, a concierge and for an acclaimed restaurant. He worked in the night club industry as a VIP and floor manager. And then he came to an eight-table Italian bistro and oversaw the kitchen there for more than a year… When tragedy struck.
While riding his bicycle, he was slammed — head-on — by a motor vehicle resulting in numerous broken bones, four days in the intensive care unit, and four months in rehab. After a full recovery, his life took on new focus when he discovered that his home city needed him.
And so, after a decade’s absence, he settled back here in the River Valley. Now the Tater Man is on a mission to improve the restaurant experience for all River Valley citizens.
JCS: Tater Man is the hero we both need and deserve here in the River Valley cuisine scene. But what brought Tater Man to life? Why do we both need and deserve the Tater Man?
TM: Let me start by saying somewhere right now there are patrons receiving subpar food and subpar service. This is the reason I am. All restaurant patrons deserve the best for their money, Jonathan. May I call you Jonathan?
JCS: Well, my name isn’t Jonathon. It’s Johnny, so—
TM: Alas, Jonathon, no restaurant is safe while I am on the clock. This city has given me life. This city will know truth and justice in the food service industry.
JCS: Superman’s logo was a symbol of hope on Krypton. Batman chose the bat as a symbol to strike fear in the bad guys. Spiderman was bitten by a radioactive spider. Why did you choose the tater as your symbol? Are you inspired by taters? Did taters frighten you as a child? Were you bitten by a tater?
TM: Jonathan, my youngest son actually deserves the credit for discovering the hero name inside of me. I have three boys, and I could not decide on which to draw inspiration from. I did decide to try to remain neutral but decided to go with the youngest for inspiration. We call him “Tater,” and so one day I said “yes” to the name and added the man because I am, after all, very manly. Also, I love food so much, and when it comes to taters they come in all shapes and sizes and can be processed into so many variations. It made sense to identify with the tater.
JCS: Well, taters typically have a lot of eyes, and I know they grow in the dirt. Do you share any characteristics with taters? Are you nocturnal or subterranean? How many eyes do you have?
TM: Jonathan, taters are such chameleons, and I share this trait. I do have a very important — very important — day job that I must maintain separation from, but during business hours I can still be the Tater Man without raising any suspicion. I am Tater Man by day and Tater Man by night. I am always Tater Man.
JCS: That didn’t really answer my questions, but moving on… Do you employ any special gadgets on a belt or in a fanny pack? Or a Tater Sack? Can you push a fork and knife out of your knuckles at will like Wolverine pushes blades out of his knuckles?
TM: I do carry a special fork, much like a Swiss Army. But no, seriously, no gadgets no toys. My words and computer are my weapons.
JCS: Do you have a secret high-tech headquarters? A Tater Patch, perhaps?
TM: Um… No.
JCS: For many superheroes, the realization of unique powers is discovered by accident; their superhuman abilities are a surprise to them and everyone else. Others trained with grueling tests of strength and courage. How did you come to realize your unique powers? Are your powers unleashed by the smell of fresh-pressed garlic or the sound of brittle parmesan roughed up on a cheese grater? Did you develop your strengths through rigorous training regimens? Did you just eat a lot of food and decide that you were awesome at eating a lot of food?
TM: My powers were passed down genetically. I am the son, grandson, and great grandson of many a Tater. I can remember back to when I was five or six years old, and I could work a gas stove to cook the most perfect scrambled eggs in a cast iron skillet. The adults would just stand there, open jawed at my scrambled eggs. Really, they were perfect.This came naturally, although, I did attend culinary school to further enhance and perfect those powers. Then on one fateful day, I was an unsuspecting guest at Buffalo Wild Wings and received the worst service and food that I have ever experienced in a public setting. It was during this visit that I realized what and who I must become. My powers never leave. they’re with me always. At any moment I must be ready to rant, rave, and review the food and service of any restaurant that I patronize.
JCS: Why the secrecy? Why can’t we know who Tater Man is?
TM: Jonathan, there is really no secrecy. People do know me and what I represent. I am always around. I wear no cape and don no mask. I walk amongst the citizens of this great city so that I may be treated as such. But If any restaurant were to be able to identify who I was, my mission would be compromised and the people will never know justice.
JCS: Bruce Wayne as Batman said that it’s not who you are underneath but what you do that defines you. Actually, Rachel Dawes, portrayed by Katie Holmes, said it first, but she didn’t say it with the panache of Christian Bale. And whatever happened to Katie Holmes? I mean it was, like, she marries Tom Cruise and “blam” she just disappears… but I digress. Anyway, can you speak to what those words mean to you in regards to your relationship to Tater Man? Are you really Tater Man or is Tater Man simply the symbol of what you do? I know this is uber-meta stuff, but is there a demarcation between you — whoever you are — and Tater Man?
TM: My background in food service and hospitality stretches back more than 20 years. I have seen and done most all of it. I know the best of the best and the seedy underbellies in our industry. This experience and knowledge allows me to be a subject matter expert — no managerial facade or excuse from the server gets by me. I can see through all of the lies and deception. Tater Man is I and I am he, people just call me two different names is all. I am here for the citizens. I am the mighty roar of the consumer. I want to spotlight the best of this city in its restaurants and uncover the opportunities they have to become better. When you pay money to dine out, it is not too much to ask to have the best service and food that a restaurant has to offer. We just don’t always get it.
But we will… by the power of the Tater Man… we will.
Follow the Tater Man on his Facebook page, Instagram @taterman.blog, and his blog taterman.blog