Ryan Davis’ culinary career has taken him from L.A. to Vegas, but it’s Argyle that he calls home.
Ryan Davis has been in the restaurant scene since the age of 13. He steadily worked his way up from doing dishes to working in the kitchen, where he prepared salads, to the front of the house, where he waited tables, all while learning the industry from bottom to top. Despite his experience and the hands-on knowledge he acquired while a student at Fatima High School, he had his mind set on a career in architecture.
But Davis says architecture was at a turning point, transitioning from a field heavily reliant on mathematics, drawing, and graphing to one more reliant on computer assisted design — and that wasn’t quite as appealing to him.
As an employee at Brunnert’s Pub at the time, Davis was in limbo, unsure of where his path would take him, when owner Tom Brunnert mentioned the possibility of culinary school.
“I had never thought about it,” Davis says. “It wasn’t until the Food Network became predominant that the culinary arts became talked about. But my mom found out that St. Louis Community College had a small program.”
For two years, he attended the culinary arts program at the institution. Still, he found that he had more hands-on learning opportunities and that he was gaining more practical experience at his job with J. Buck’s restaurant.
When his roommate decided to leave school, Davis made the same decision, opting to move back home to Argyle and begin a career outside of culinary arts.
“I found a job working for AT&T, where I was making good money and had no intentions of doing anything else,” Davis says. But then, a chance favor left him with a change of heart. “Someone was looking for a culinary school and asked me to help, so I started looking. I found a school in California that I ended up liking.”
After transferring his job with AT&T to California, Davis enrolled in an intensive one-year Le Cordon Bleu program at the California School of Culinary Arts. Davis successfully balanced his AT&T work schedule while completing a rigorous year of culinary school, which he says he thoroughly enjoyed.
That experience came with many exciting opportunities, including working with Wolfgang Puck Catering, where he had the chance to cater Grammy gatherings and MTV award parties. He also worked with the executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton in Las Vegas, where he started in the catering kitchen. Due to his strong work ethic, he was offered a position in the hotel’s five-star restaurant, where he rotated through all the stations and positions. Ultimately, Davis says he made the difficult decision to return to Jefferson City in February 2005 to be closer to his father, who was ill at the time.
When a man approached Davis about catering his daughter’s wedding after another local company backed out, he researched the logistics of running a catering operation, including the equipment he would need to invest in, and he decided to accept the job. Before the wedding rolled around, he had agreed to cater several other jobs. From there, Davis says his business “snowballed.”
In September 2005, Davis officially launched Argyle Catering, which he co-owns today with his brother, Colby.
“The opportunity presented itself to me, and I pursued it,” Davis says. “Maybe it was an inner calling because I have several relatives that were chefs. My grandfather was a chef in the Korean War and an uncle cooked in the White House.”
Though his Le Cordon Bleu program trained him in French cuisine, he says his fried chicken is more likely to earn rave reviews in his current business.
“There are a lot of foods that have the elegance of French cuisine that won’t travel well in catering,” Davis says. “I travel to all my destinations to serve, which doesn’t give me the same opportunity I’d have if I was serving someone in a restaurant. My niche is feeding people in mass really good food at a reasonable cost. I could do some nice filet mignon and fancier dishes, but a lot of people don’t have it in their budget to pay for that. I can give them something close to that without breaking their wallet.”
Since launching, business has doubled every year, Davis says. He also notes the past 15 years are a blur, and understandably so. Over the course of three weeks this past December alone, Davis and Argyle Catering fed 7,000 people. Typically, he feeds an average of 4,500 people each month at state luncheons, weddings, and the dinner theater at Capital City Productions.
Davis and his brother Colby can accommodate up to four luncheons on a given day. They can also cater up to four weddings on a Saturday, which translates to a 12-hour day of cooking, setting up, and packing up.
“We thrive on buffet settings. That’s what we prefer to do,” Davis says. “We can come in, set up, everyone can eat, and the chef can walk around and talk to everyone while, in the kitchen, we’re cleaning up, packing up, and getting out of there.”
Davis’s father was able to help out in the business until he passed away in 2011, but Davis says he’s fortunate to have a large family and dedicated friends that support him and help him in his business. Four generations of Davises currently work at the business, including his grandmother, 83.
Davis says he encouraged Colby, his sous chef, to pursue a business degree over culinary school because he felt it would suit both his personality and the business more.
“I tell people not to even go to a culinary program unless they’ve worked in the industry first,” Davis says. “It’s demanding. You work long hours and a lot of hours, including holidays, and to cook on a large scale is totally different.”