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The Snow Leopard Departs

The Penland kitchen crew
The Penland kitchen crew in 2015: (left to right) David Chatt, Big John Renick, Richard Pleasants, Day Dotson, Kirk Banner, Y-Sam Ktul, Bill Jackson

Sometime between Penland’s summer and fall sessions, we said goodbye to Richard Pleasants, who has retired after eight years as our food services manager and at the end of a long career working in kitchens, restaurants, and hotels. Richard moved to Manhattan where he is living with his son and family. Under his guidance, the food has been great and the kitchen and coffee house have been well-managed and efficient. Most importantly, however, Richard created a calm and supportive place to work, and he empowered the skills and creativity of the people around him. The affection that developed between Richard and his staff was a beautiful thing to see, so we invited the folks who worked most closely with him to offer a few words of tribute.


To simply say that Richard was my boss would be a complete disservice to his tenure here. Richard was my boss; but he is also my friend, my champion, my life coach, my spiritual consigliere, my guru. He taught me about the kind of manager I want to be, the kind of friend I want to be, the kind of human being I want to be. He taught me to respond instead of react and to look at all sides of a problem. Simply put, he taught me to be better.

When I remember Richard’s time here I think of inside jokes, Neil Young radio, fresh tomato soup, and French macaroons made from scratch. I think of his kindness and his generous nature, his sense of humor, and his willingness to do what’s right instead of what’s easy. I can’t help remember how he would come into the kitchen to work at unnatural hours because he liked the solitude or his desk stacked with so many papers it made my brain itch wanting to organize everything. While Richard was here at Penland he fed us food for our bodies, but he also helped nourish our spirits. Knowing Richard for the eight years he was here, I can anticipate the eye roll that statement will produce. But it’s the truth, and I’ll stand by my sappiness.

Working at Penland offers us all a chance to meet and work with so many people. We overlook that a lot, but in this instance I can’t. Richard made our lives better, and I’ll always be grateful that he wanted to move to the mountains and live a quieter existence. It gave us all the opportunity to get to know an amazing human being. He may not be here in body anymore, but his steady guidance still quietly leads us.

-Crystal Thomas, coffee house manager


Richard for President 2020
The fearless leader. One of the most intelligent, suave individuals on the face of the earth. He is kind, patient, and understanding. He made sure we did everything to the best of our abilities and supported growth in anybody. (He also loves Neil Young.)

-Y-Sam Ktul, former prep crew


Richard, I’m pissed!

Where is my morning coffee? My Neil Young? Who am I going to talk to about Social Security? The 60’s? Arthritis? And our favorite, those cute fifty-somethings in the lunch line? Who? Oh, I guess I have to make the oatmeal and grits now too! Thanks a lot. But don’t worry about me, I’ll get by somehow.

-Bill Jackson, prep crew


Richard, you are an aptly named man, as it was certainly my pleasure to work for and with you these past two years. Thanks for being a kind and caring individual, traits I’d say carry over into your management style. I wish you a joyful next adventure.

-Alena Applerose, baker


Richard Pleasants in the Penland kitchen
Richard Pleasants: master of the kitchen, wearer of berets, reader of many books, honorary core fellow, and a guy you’d be lucky to work for.


Richard and Pearl. Just now I was thinking about Penland without the two of them…

You see…at Penland School the years kinda seem to just slide off the wall in one of those cool, Western North Carolina mountain breezes. Three hundred and sixty-five days will be gone before you’ll ever even know that it happened.

Here in Pearl’s Kitchen and the Penland Coffee House, though, we can rip through ‘em like they’re a cheap, dime store daily affirmations calendar. And each year, as the thin sheets of paper are falling away we see over 7,200 hungry faces fill their plates, countless work-study students learn a new job, nine core fellows trudge through their work requirements while pining for their time in the studios. We help flocks of resident artists and their broods nourish their lives, their art, and their careers. We serve coffee to a ridiculously wonderful and motley gathering of coworkers.

Oh yes, there are others we serve as well: Penland trustees, teachers, volunteers, interns, grade school kids, at least one of almost any ethnic group you could imagine, every gender and sexual orientation possible, as well as every age group you could think of. There are state, national, and international dignitaries and maybe even a few local folks from down in the holler or from over the mountain.

Yeah, The Pines is a busy place. It takes all different types of people to keep it running. I have personally been involved with that rat race in some form or another for going on twenty-five years. And you know what? I never saw anyone slide so easily and effectively into a leadership position than when I first saw Richard walk down that stone path from The Craft House on a cold winter’s day in February, some eight odd years ago. Nor have I ever seen anyone exit so graciously as when he quietly slipped out of town just as this fall was rolling in on the wind. But ya’ll want to know what sticks in my craw? It’s that there ain’t been nobody that’s been missed more up in this kitchen since the lovely and esteemed Pearl Grindstaff, herself, passed away.

Bless her Heart!

And ya’ll know what else? I think we should just go on ahead and bless ol’ Richard while we’re at it, ‘cause although he still walks among the living, he is moving on up to New York City and he might just need the blessings over there…

But, yeah, anyway…
I sure do miss ‘em both. Pearl and Richard, ya know…
I miss ‘em both…really, really bad!

Big Love, Richard!

Big John

-a.k.a. John T. Renick, III, interim food services manager

Editor’s note: Pearl Grindstaff was a wonderful and wise woman who worked in the Penland kitchen for 75 years–a remarkable tenure that lasted until 2009.


I was recently asked as part of an interview process to name someone I had worked for in the past whom I admired or particularly enjoyed working with. It was not hard to answer. A few years ago, my life needed some shaking up and the irregular ebb and flow of my art income was not going to be reliable enough. I was more than a little apprehensive as I contemplated a return to the work-a-day world after having spent the previous twenty years as a studio artist. I found out that Penland was in need of a baker and reached out to Richard. I was not sure he would have me and learned later that some had cautioned him not to hire me because I would probably not last the summer. Richard decided to ignore that advice and offered me the job. I arrived with some trepidation of my own. The changes in my life had left my confidence a little bruised. I need not have worried. Working in Richard’s kitchen was a perfect fit for me at a time when I needed it the most.

When the person conducting the interview asked what it was about working for Richard, I said he created an environment that made all of us who worked for him want to do our best.

I have come to love Richard, not just because he offered me a soft place to land in a tumultuous time, not just because he ran one of the best kitchens I have ever had the privilege to work in, not just because of his impressive mane of snowy white hair, though all those things are worthy of admiration. I love Richard because of the way he treats his people and the way he managed to create an environment where people felt valued, supported, and free to be a little weird. If I am ever in a position where other people rely on me for leadership, I hope I will remember how it felt to work for Richard and provide that kind of generosity for someone else.

Richard, thank you. I am better for having had the chance to work with you for those four years. I hope the next chapter of your life is the best yet. Please keep in touch. I love you like someone we both know loves a go-plate!

-David Chatt, former Penland baker


Richard’s parking spot. Sign by Ian Henderson and Daniel Beck.

I swear Richard has led dozens of lives. He is as likely to launch into a story about dining with celebrities in the Caribbean as he is about a penniless stretch on the streets of DC. There was the time he was a personal chef to a jet-setting billionaire and the time he’s awfully vague about that involved multiple crossings of the Mexican border. The point is that he is a changeling, renewing himself regularly, and, I hope, endlessly. And when his abilities combined with the transfigurative powers of Penland School of Crafts we got our Snow Leopard, for a too short eight years—leader, reader, kneader, and as good a friend as I ever expect to find. He’ll be sorely missed around here, and I believe he’ll miss us, too, though I’m sure he’s already transformed into some timeless hep cat on some Manhattan street corner with a devoted following wondering “where did this magical creature come from?

-Ian Henderson, metals studio coordinator and former core fellow