As a restaurant shift winds down, you hear people yelling the number 86 a lot. When you 86 something, that means it's all gone: 86 filets, 86 onion rings, 86 mushrooms, 86 cheesecake.
Eighty-six Backstage Steakhouse. In quieter tones, if you don't mind.
Saturday was the last night for Kent and Beth Hayner's restaurant on Texas 71 in Spicewood, the one they opened in 2002 as an extension of the 28 years they catered to stars like Janet Jackson, KISS, Van Halen, even Rick Springfield and Frank Sinatra.
I pulled a shift in the Backstage kitchen that last night, running onion rings and chicken-fried steaks, even lobster, to the only working fryer. Just a month ago, I worked there for a behind-the-scenes story, roasting tomatoes, shredding duck, hauling trash and falling into bed reeking like a soup can. But then the story changed into an epitaph.
The last night was huge, the biggest at Backstage in three years. Tickets chattered on the kitchen printer like angry insects, filling one rail and swarming to the next. This was supposed to be the Hayners' night, when they could circulate among friends and say goodbye. A band called Ken Davidson and the Fabulous GTOs muscled up some rock and soul on the patio, and the Longhorns played on the big screen.
But so many people came. By 6:15, Kent Hayner was in the kitchen prepping smoked beef appetizers with chipotle mayo. And halfway through, Beth Hayner was running dirty dishes in a shimmering blouse that belonged at a symphony gala. She dragooned a few well-dressed friends to do the same. Some kid called 911. Ordering turned into an act of attrition: You can have anything you want as long as it's halibut or a 16-ounce strip.
The bittersweet cheer evaporated. The place was getting slammed.
Some of the people from that last night, the angry ones who waited an hour for steaks and got whatever side dishes the kitchen had in stock, will say it's no wonder the place went out of business. But it was like asking a minivan to perform like an Indy car for one last night. No way, no matter how many of us got out to push.
When they started Backstage, the Hayners made a high-end commitment by hiring chef Raymond Tatum, who had run kitchens at Jeffrey's, 612 West and Jean-Pierre's Upstairs. When Tatum applied, Kent Hayner told him, "We can't afford a chef of your caliber." Tatum's answer? "You can't afford not to have a chef of my caliber."
Before the recession, Backstage had 28 employees and a million dollars' worth of business in a year, Kent Hayner said. Both of those numbers dropped more than 40 percent afterward, he said. Backstage became a luxury people decided they could do without. And low lake levels from two years of drought kept away wealthy clients with summer homes on the Highland Lakes, he said.
And the paperwork wore him down. Too much government in his life, with health-care reform about to add to the load, he said. Kent Hayner, 66, said he'd like to do nothing for a while. Beth Hayner, like so many of the people who worked for her, will fall back on her day job with a surgical supply company.
"I feel like we're tin cans tied to a bumper," she said after all but the diehards had left. "We'll just go wherever it takes us next."
There are many versions of "next." For Tatum, the future will be written in pork, sold from a trailer window. He's trying out names with nursery-rhyme allusions, analyzing numbers and looking for a shady place to cook braised pork-belly sliders with soy-maple reduction and Asian pancakes with sweet and spicy pork shoulder, for starters.
His No. 2 man in the kitchen, Rene Rodriguez, has worked with the Hayners for 20 years, starting with a Janet Jackson show in 1989. He once walked right into the frame during a photo shoot for Zeppelineers Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. They were cool about it, he said. The photographer was not. Rodriguez said he'll stay out of the restaurant business awhile, maybe return as a baker.
Matt Alves, a pantry cook, said he'd like to "go Kerouac" for awhile, maybe hit the road. More realistically, he'll try to pick up more hours at Tony C's, the pizzeria at the Hill Country Galleria where he works with fellow Backstager Paul Brodsky.
Brodsky is the head waiter at Backstage. He's squared away, stoic and moves with the economy of a jungle cat, dressed from the neck down in sleek waiter's black. The next day after the finale, over lunch at Asia Cafe with the core of the Backstage kitchen team, he's the one with the full sleeve of tattoos on his right arm, sunglasses pulled up on his head, the coolest guy in the room.
Billie Dixon's a weekend warrior at Backstage, with a full-time gig at Whole Foods Market. He worked his final shifts with a torn Achilles' tendon. To him, the Hayners are "mentors, bosses, friends, parents." Or just "Mom and Dad."
Expediter Chris Linscomb will go to his brother's car lot in Oak Hill. Waiter Ian Perry just got a promotion at P. Terry's Burger Stand. Pantry cook Jimmy Thomas said he'll apply at H-E-B or somewhere in the Galleria. His brother, dishwasher Joey Thomas, just shrugged. His sinks were too full to think about it.