Local restaurant aims to make fine dining an experience everyone can enjoy

Scott Benjamin, owner and chef at 4 Olives in downtown Manhattan, discovered his passion for wine while working at a winery as a teenager, which eventually led him to open 4 Olives, the only restaurant in Kansas to achieve the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence. His wife, Rachel, operates the 4 Cakes bakery next door. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

Many wine experts say the best wines are made in vineyards, not cellars, according to Scott Benjamin, owner and chef of Manhattan restaurant 4 Olives.

Benjamin said he takes this same mentality to the food he serves. It is all about starting with interesting and great ingredients.

4 Olives, located in Downtown Manhattan on South Fourth Street, is a contemporary upscale restaurant, according to its website. Benjamin spends his time experimenting to create new menu items for the restaurant by using fresh, local products and combining the familiar with the unfamiliar.

“There are so many wonderful things out there; it’s our job to get them to the table without messing them up too much,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin said a recent example is local lamb he plans to have on the menu. He will start with that and, knowing the flavor profiles, add a side he knows, such as a rosemary roasted potato. From there, he will add something crazy as long as it works. Benjamin said he is always coming up with new ideas.

“I try to write menus when I’m hungry,” Benjamin said.

In addition to unique menu items, 4 Olives also features an extensive wine list. Jack Melton, general manager of 4 Olives, said the menu currently has more than 750 wines and 350 spirits.

Benjamin began a life around wine as a teenager when he was employed at a winery, which is where he discovered that he liked selling wine. From there grew the idea to open a restaurant when he started advising other restaurants on things they could do to integrate wine into their menus. At some point, he decided he should actually show them these changes could be done.

Now, Benjamin’s passion for wine has led him to being the only restaurant in Kansas honored with the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence.

“It means a lot,” Benjamin said. “When I left Standard Beverage, I told my boss that award was my goal, and he said ‘You’re insane.’”

Benjamin said the award gives him a lot of opportunities, such as when he travels to California, where there are wineries that normally wouldn’t see him now will.

The best way to describe a typical day for Benjamin is that there is no typical day. He describes his life as “shifted back;” he goes to bed between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., so he wakes up a little later as well.

Benjamin said his atypical schedule also leads to a different relationship dynamic with his wife, Rachel Benjamin. Rachel Benjamin opened a bakery next door to 4 Olives, named 4 Cakes. He said that while she’s awake baking from 5-11 a.m., he’s asleep, and that there’s only an hour or two when they pass each other each day.

“Now that we opened the bakery, we’re on totally different schedules; operating at opposite times of the day,” Rachel Benjamin said.

4 Cakes opened Feb. 6, 2014 when 4 Olives moved from its previous location in Westloop to the Historic Downtown area, Scott Benjamin said.

According to Melton, the move downtown has made the restaurant much more visible, and they’re seeing a lot of new faces.

“I think the biggest thing is making people understand that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time here,” Melton said.

He said that they want to be able to show that you can go to 4 Olives on even a college budget.

“Fine dining doesn’t have to mean a lot of money,” Melton said.

According to Melton, 4 Olives has a special on Tuesdays, where every bottle of wine is half price. Additionally, 4 Olives offers doggy bags to take the remaining wine home.

With the success of wine and cocktails at 4 Olives, Scott Benjamin said he is looking forward to his latest venture, the speakeasy opening in the basement of 4 Olives. Having always really enjoyed the drinks of atmosphere at speakeasies, Scott Benjamin said the speakeasy will feature new cocktails, while 4 Olives has more of a “classic grand hotel feel.”

Opening the speakeasy, however, will ensure that he won’t see his family for six months or more. As with 4 Olives, Scott Benjamin said a restaurant opening means 24-hour days.

That dedication, though, is something others expect when it comes to Scott Benjamin and his restaurants.

“It’s the extra step in service; not just two olives, but four,” Melton said.