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Rivers Delaying Debut of COOP, Advancing Opening of UCF Smokehouse

Written By Scott Joseph On March 7, 2014

Books cooks

John Rivers, headwater of the 4 Rivers Smokehouse company, says that he will flip-flop the openings of his newest barbecue restaurant with the much-anticipated COOP concept.

Speaking Thursday at Books and Cooks, a panel discussion of cookbook authors sponsored by the Winter Park Public Library, Rivers said that the construction of the newest 4 Rivers near UCF is ahead of schedule while the COOP is slightly behind. He had planned for the COOP, a southern-style fast-casual restaurant, to open on or about March 25; the UCF restaurant April 4. As it stands, the two would be ready to open within a week of each other. But because he and his team have more experience opening the smokehouses — the East Orlando store will be the 6th — Rivers decided that it makes more sense to get that one open and running at full speed so that he can concentrate on the needs and vagaries of the new restaurant. It’s a smart move, but it means that fans will have to wait until probably the second week in April for the COOP to come.

Rivers explained his thinking while showing me his wall-sized calendar at his new corporate office space above Winter Park’s Park Avenue. 

And what a space it is, 9000 square feet of offices and test kitchen facilities. The place looks like a loft you’d find in Manhattan’s SoHo district, very modern, very polished.

rivers test kitchen

Rivers offices

The kitchen is drop-dead gorgeous, sponsored by SubZero (that doesn’t mean Rivers didn’t have to pay for the appliances, it means that SubZero gets to bring people in to show it off and have meetings and demonstrations there) and looking like it was designed for television tapings or classroom instructions (it was designed for the latter, Rivers told me).

Would you like to get an in-person peek at it? Let me see what I can arrange.

Books cooks authorsRivers opened the offices up to the after-party for the Books and Cooks event, which was held at the Alfond Inn (which by the way is still head chefless; announcement coming soon). Along with Rivers, the panel included Norman Van Aken of Norman’s; Richard Gonzmart of The Columbia Restaurants; Brandon McGlamery, Luma on Part and Prato; and Hollis Wilder, Sweets by Holly. All of them have recently published books. Bob Morris, whose company, Story Farm, is responsible for some of the books, served as the panel moderator.

(By the way, Van Aken’s latest, a memoir titled “No Experience Necessary,” is a finalist for an award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals in its Literary Food Writing category. The awards will be announced March 15. The book is also a semifinalist for a James Beard Award. So Van Aken has something to fall back on if this cooking thing doesn’t work out.)

Morris kept the discussion lively with fun and serious questions. Wilder had interesting stories from her days of cooking for Hollywood celebrities, and everyone learned that John Rivers will not eat peas and doesn’t believe anyone else should, either, which is why the pot pie at the COOP will be made with green beans.

Would you like to get a taste of it? Let me see what I can arrange.

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