By BECKY HARRIS

LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

Mike Coats, owner of Michelangelo’s Italian Ristorante, is celebrating a milestone this week.

The restaurant opened in 2007, a "scary year" for starting a new business, Coats said. Throughout the five years, however, he has found many reasons to be optimistic.

The townsfolk have embraced the burgeoning Downtown, and Mike’s Place and Michelangelo’s are a big part of that appeal.

Both restaurants are the site of many special events, especially on the Rooftop at Michelangelo’s.

Coats is celebrating his anniversary by introducing a new menu, a new chef, a new young staff and by "reinvigorating" his enterprise.

To celebrate five happy years, Coats will be introducing some of the new dishes on the new menu prepared by new chef David Moore.

The collar of Moore’s chef coat has four red stars, meaning he’s a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. He’ll get the fifth star when he owns his own restaurant, a hope for the future, he said Friday.

But now he is thrilled to be where he is, fixing beautiful plates of exotic dishes of fish and beef.

"He knows how to get a good plate of food out of the kitchen," Coats said. "Quality every time."

Coats said he has "reinvigorated" his enterprise by surrounding himself with staffers "smarter than I am."

John McNamara is the director of operations for both restaurants, and Paul Quinn is the general manager of Michelangelo’s. Heather Price and Justin Lee are kitchen managers and proud of what they present for hungry diners.

Coats has known hard work. His first job at age 12 was delivering the morning newspaper, followed by sacking groceries in South Louisiana. He unloaded lumber for 11 hours a day at a sawmill near Fordyce.

He became interested in cooking as he studied the family cookbook, "River Road Recipes, the Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine," by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, still a popular source for lovers of that style.

Coats worked for Red Lobster for 13 years, sent around the country to study what works at the best restaurants, the best job he could have had for learning the business, he said.

In Conway, he led the staff at Conway Country Club and Marketplace before beginning the work at Mike’s Place that required restoration of a 100-year-old building and a bit of politicking to allow private club dining and the sale of alcohol by the drink.

"Alcohol doesn’t dominate our environment," Coats said.

His goal now is to encourage local farmers to raise crops he can buy.

Local sustainability is a goal, he says.

"Tomatoes to begin; Faulkner County beef in the future," he said.

An old Cajun saying fits Coats’ philosophy:

"We must get the roux right, and we must do it first. Too much is at stake."

(Staff writer Becky Harris can be reached at becky.harris@thecabin.net and 505-1234.)