Tucked on the second floor of a historic downtown building sits Swift’s Attic, a restaurant serving eclectic shareable plates. The building, originally occupied in 1905 by Swift’s Premium Food Co., offers antique pine wood floors, brick walls and a 100-year-old painted mural that add to the intimate space’s aesthetic.
C.K. Chin, co-owner and general manager at Swift’s Attic, makes his guests a priority. He strives to create a wonderful experience for them by making sure that the food, the atmosphere and the service at his restaurant are all top-notch. “I take peoples’ feedback very seriously,” he said. “When I read a review that says somebody didn’t have a good time, that hurts me to my core.”
Chef Mat Clouser’s menu features modern American small plates, ranging from antelope steak frites with chimichurri and tarragon yogurt to foie gras and niman pork belly bahn minis. Chin wanted to incorporate the shareable and social aspects with the food served in his restaurant. “For me, when I go out to eat, even if it’s not meant to be shared, I’m sharing,” he said. “That’s the way I like to eat.”
Because Chin hailed from a modest upbringing in Houston, it was a special treat for his family to eat at restaurants. “If you messed up my night, on the one night a month that we got to go out to eat, it bummed me out,” he said. It’s exactly why he understands that he has the power to make or break his patrons’ night.
Chin’s first experience working with restaurants was when he was 14. He worked “off the books” for $3.25 an hour at a “little bootleg Chinese-American place.” He didn’t need to work but wanted the extra spending money. “I joke with people of how I grew up in the ghetto, but at the end of the day my family made up for it with compassion and love, so I never felt like I was ever lacking anything,” he said.
Chin originally pursued a degree in veterinary science at Texas A&M University but soon changed degree paths to elementary education. In his last semester of college, he had to student-teach five days a week, which prevented him from working at his usual day jobs. Needing a way to pay his bills, he answered an ad for a nightclub bouncer. Because he was 6’5”, he was hired on the spot as security staff.
A calm, benevolent guy, Chin hated having to break up fights every night. He saw that not only did his bartender co-workers make more money, they also got to interact with people. He soon worked his way up the ranks, becoming a bar back at the nightclub, then finally a bartender. “From bartending, I ended up running that nightclub,” he said. “It was my first foray into the management side of the service industry.”
After working at the bar for three years, Chin left the club scene in College Station and a future in the education field to become a service manager at Fox and Hound Bar and Grill in Austin. A couple of years later, in 2004, he was hired as an assistant manager at Kenichi. Six months after that, the general manager was fired, opening up an opportunity for Chin. He asked the Kenichi owners to let him take over the general manager position for 90 days. “Give me the title, give me the responsibilities, and let me prove that I can do this.”
The first month that Chin was the general manager, Kenichi broke its previous sales record. This was repeated two more times. In three months, he helped bring in nearly $1 million in sales. Needless to say, he got the job and ran the place for three years.
In 2009, Chin began consulting for Paggi House, in which his friend and now business partner, Stuart Thomajan, was an investor. Many times the two had talked about collaborating on a project. After managing Paggi House for 18 months, Chin and Thomajan began creating the concept for Swift’s Attic that came to be a reality in May 2012.
Chin is a great supporter of the gay and lesbian community. He even officiated at the wedding of his friends, Renee Bennett and Andee Hamm. “Standing up there at their wedding made me realize that just because the city or the state doesn’t say this is a marriage almost makes the fact that they still want to do it, that much more real,” he said. “It’s almost more pure than doing it for tax reasons.”
Chin’s wish is not to run a restaurant empire but to help his colleagues who wish to one day run their own bar or restaurant in any way he can. “Success is worthless, unless you bring people up with you,” he said. His goals for the future include starting a family and continuing to bring happiness to his Swift’s Attic guests.
“Food is not serious,” Chin said. “I want people to come in here, let their hair down and have a good time.”