- Justin Vann is the executive chef at Calvert’s, a restaurant near the Masters in Augusta, Georgia.
- The restaurant is booked solid during Masters week with pro-golfers, NFL stars, and more.
- Here’s what Vann says it’s like working during the golf tournament, as told to writer Kaila Yu.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Justin Vann, a 37-year-old executive chef and manager in Augusta, Georgia, about working during Masters week. It has been edited for length and clarity.
My grandparents brought me to Calvert’s ever since I was a kid, and it was the first place I had in mind when I decided to get into the restaurant business. I’ve been the manager here for seven years and became the executive chef last year. My family and grandparents still come in with my five-and-a-half-year-old son and make new memories.
Many iconic golfers have been coming to the restaurant for years because we’re literally across the street from Augusta National Golf Club. Champion golfer Frank Urban “Fuzzy” Zoeller comes into Calvert’s every Masters on Sundays. He talks to everybody — he’s a straight shooter and an Indiana farm boy. The last time he was here, he gave my son his green sunglasses as a gift, right off his head.
Although I love working at the restaurant during the Masters, it can be challenging. We work 14 straight days going into the event, and then everybody’s working 12- to 14-hour days. Weather is also a factor — yesterday, we had a huge thunderstorm, so everybody was kicked off the course. It ruined their day, but we tried to help salvage the night and serve everyone a great meal.
People come back year after year for our food and ambiance
All our meat, from filet mignon to tomahawks, is hand-cut. Customers especially love our whole Maine lobster served Savannah-style where the lobster meat is diced and stuffed back into the tail shell and baked with shrimp, scallops, and cream cheese sauce. After a long day on the course, they also appreciate our wine list — we carry more than 300 labels and more than 1,200 bottles of wine.
We don’t start taking reservations for Masters until the beginning of the year. Many large groups return every year and book multiple nights, and we’re fully booked from Sunday to Sunday by March. We can only seat 100 to 110 guests at a time and only half that when we had to follow pandemic guidelines, but we still had great crowds for the previous two Masters during COVID-19.
There are always bribes offered by people trying to snag a reservation, but I just say, “Do you want to stand here and eat your food out of a to-go box?” If there’s not a single chair in the restaurant that’s available for you to sit down at, it doesn’t matter how much money you try to give me.
Another tactic often used is name-dropping a celebrity, and then the star never shows up when the group checks in for their table. But for those lucky enough to snag a reservation during the Masters, it’s like being a kid again — you never know who you’ll see.
For many years, the living legend Arnold Palmer came in every Monday
He’d sit at one of our booths next to the bar and talk with fans all night — that was his thing. Everybody would try to pile in on Monday nights because they knew he’d be here every Masters. We’ve also got NFL players and celebrities coming in this week, although I can’t give their names out.
This year I’m looking forward to seeing all our regulars and new faces. They’re so excited to attend the tournament, pop into our restaurant around the corner, enjoy the food and atmosphere, and maybe hang out with an icon or two.