At 39 years old, Ian Hock is the head chef and restaurant owner of Codex located on Granby Street in Norfolk, VA. We had a chance to sit with Ian and learn in-depth about the meticulous details that went into creating restaurant’s ambiance, his plans for change in the area, and more. Read the full interview below.
TPP: Tell us about yourself. Your name, what you do, and where we are right now?
Ian: Ian Hock, owner of Codex, and right now we’re in Codex.
TPP: What’re your goals with Codex?
Ian: With Codex we want our work to add to the progression of Norfolk. The city that we have come to love. We want to try and help push things along and bring more attention to this city and all the great things Norfolk has to offer. One of the ways we are trying to show progression is through our service charge. We started doing this during the pandemic to make sure that we were able to take care of all of our staff and that they were able to support themselves during that time. We have since decided to keep that as our model to insure all of our staff makes a living wage.
TPP: With owning a restaurant and being the head chef, what are the pros and cons of that role?
Ian: So being Chef/Owner there’s a lot of positives, like getting full creative control of everything– you’re kind of your own worst critic as it always is– and getting to really cultivate what you want to do. Instead of working for somebody else and working into their vision, you get to really work for yours, so that’s a major positive of it. Also just being able to be your own boss. I think y’all understand that that’s definitely a perk that comes with its own pros and cons for sure, because you’re held liable for yourself, and the whole team. I couldn’t do any of it without the great team we have. It was a big change initially making the jump from an employee to an owner and all that comes with that.
That leads into some of the negatives of it, such as always being on call, never really having a true day off, I mean, every now and again you can get one when the restaurant is closed– that’s why we close on Mondays so that we can take a full day off. Even with that though, I’ll go in and do some ordering and stuff or whatever else is needed, but for the most part, it’s a day to just chill out, relax, regroup, and get stuff ready for the next week.
The one thing blaring in everyone’s face right now is coming out of the pandemic, and that was tough for us also you know, I’m very thankful and really lucky the way things were positioned for me, and the way things were set up allowed us to come out with our feet on the ground. We definitely suffered in the pandemic as most did. I was doing a pop up at the time it was Codex, but it was in the Pendulum building, and we did pop-ups on the evening’s Wednesday through Sunday, but being in there, being able to transition and not being full scale, not having all the overhead we would’ve had in our own building really made it work for us in that aspect. That also led into pros with little things, nothing major, but you think about the snow days we had this year, and having to close for that we’re able to transition like ‘heyyyy let’s do these to-go meal kits.’ Overall I think it’s lessons to be learned in the good and bad.
TPP: So how important is it for restaurant owners to be involved in the community?
Ian: Extremely! The community is your market, it’s your base, it’s your clientele. So if you’re not able to get there and show face in the community, get out no matter which way– you’re giving back monetarily, whether it’s giving back with food, or just being out meeting people networking. I think that’s a huge part of it because there’s… I don’t know how many restaurants in this area… there’s so many places to choose from, so you’ve got to keep yourself on people’s radar – and I think that being involved in the community transitions into another thing, just making sure you have a clean brand, a recognizable brand. So when you go out people see it and say, ’oh yeah that’s Codex.’ – I’m not asking you to come in every week and eat a big dinner, but stop in, have a drink, eat some snacks, you know that’s what it is and just chill out. I think that’s what us creatives all strive for, just sitting down having a conversation that sparks somebody else’s interests, inspire them in some way maybe here and there. It’s not just the one single lane we’re going for, you know.
The community is your market, it’s your base, it’s your clientele. So if you’re not able to get there and show face in the community, get out no matter which way– you’re giving back monetarily, whether it’s giving back with food, or just being out meeting people networking.
– Ian Hock
TPP: What are some things you focus on when selecting the artwork that goes on the wall, the lighting, or even the music in the restaurant?
Ian: This all goes back to the name Codex, it’s derived from a series of artwork my father did. He was an artist for years, I mean he was until the day he died honestly. So Codex actually comes from artwork he did back in the mid to late 80’s on Polaroid transfer, and even before then codex is like an index. So what pops did, his stuff was all in grids, so he told stories left to right and it was kind of an amalgamation of things he’d learned, images he’d seen, and putting stories together. So after he passed, when coming up with the name, I was like, that’s kind of dope. Thinking more on that, and thinking back on his life and everything else, it was like, that would work perfect for the restaurant because now this is my kind of iteration of that and this is kind of my index of things I’ve learned and things that I want to do. So that being said the only art really up right now is in the main dining room and it’s a big piece of his. We have it under the spotlights to emphasize it. Furthermore, getting back to involving the community, in the bathrooms we have a piece by Dathan Kane aka ‘Seeing Shapes,’ and Korey Jackson, he works with our marketing team and is also a phenomenal photographer. The image hanging is actually the project we worked on together at The Veil; the street soccer event, which was a great community event, and I just think that it really kind of shows what we’re trying to do with that.
Then going into music, lighting, and everything, I think so many people take it for granted man, like nobody wants that fluorescent light bulls*** anymore, you know what I’m saying. You got to create an atmosphere that people want to be in. It’s kind of like that term people say, ’just make it sexy man.’ Just make it inviting, warm, and not overbearing so people can sit back and relax. I think it’s so often taken for granted and that rolls right into the music having the same vibe. We usually jam out to some lo-fi old school hip hop and just keep it mellow and smooth. I think it’s something everybody can get down with. It’s not necessarily in your face but it’s back there if you want to just sit back, have a drink, and vibe out to it.
TPP: Is inclusivity important for the restaurant industry?
Ian: Absolutely, The restaurant industry has often been a space where anything goes and unacceptable behavior has too often been tolerated. If we want this industry to continue to thrive we have to make some changes. We’ve made a conscious decision here to make sure everyone feels welcome and safe, I, staff, and patrons included.
TPP: What’s your take on restaurants maintaining traditional etiquette and dress codes?
Ian: I think it’s garbage, personally. In certain aspects, which most know, we should all act a certain way at certain venues, restaurants, etc., there’s a time and place for everything, but as far as dress codes go, what does it matter! The world has changed dramatically in the past two years of what people are wearing. With working from home, I think people have become more into experiences rather than material. I know we’re all into material to a certain extent, but I think at the same time, I’m not going to put on a suit and tie to go eat dinner… that was back early in my career. I would do that so many times when I went to a nice restaurant, like I had to dress way up, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’d go to a restaurant ‘slobbing out’ but at the same time, my money is green. Everyone’s money is green, ok. If you’re coming to experience something, I don’t care what you’re wearing, come on in and have a good time.
I think that’s a big thing, and it goes more into what we talked about previously, that kind of systemic racism in place is targeted towards the black and brown community. When you look at most of the dress codes they are: no sweatpants, no sneakers, no jerseys, no hats, plain shirts, etc., and most of the time that stuff costs more than your $7 TJ Maxx polo. The money’s there… So I think when it comes down to it, at the end of the day, yes, we’re doing something for the community, but ultimately when you start a business, there are a lot of pros and cons and we’re all doing it to make something back. Luckily enough I’m able to do what I love and get to share something with people.