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Well, we're very fortunate that today Evan Funky, who is the head chef at Felix and Janet Zuccarini, who is the restaurant tour, are here to talk about the restaurant business and the struggles that they've had during covid. And just talk about what it takes to make a restaurant that serves food is spectacular, not just food.
Everything about that place is amazing. It's just a passion project. And when you hear these people talk, you'll understand why.
Please welcome Janet Zuccarini and Evan Funky government podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, trained by Joe Rogan podcast by Night All Day.
And we're rolling Janet, Evan, what's up, Joe? How are you guys? Good to see you. Good to see you.
Strange times. The weirdest times ever. Yes, but Felix is still intact, the restaurants there.
Yes. We're talking about restaurants that have been just destroyed over the rioting and the looting and the chaos.
And you guys, you got lucky, dodged a bullet. We did. Very happy to hear that.
Well, I think Abbot Kinney got a bit of warning and all of our Kinney boarded up. And so we boarded up. And the National Guard is still there today.
What the fuck does it does? It doesn't make any sense. Like if you told me that something happened in L.A. and people rioting, I be like, well, if it happened in L.A., it kind of makes sense. People are upset. And then you said, but they're smashing businesses and destroying restaurants and destroying small stores and family owned businesses like wait, why? Why are they doing that if there's no rhyme or reason to.
This doesn't make any sense. Well, I understand now why people are pissed that I haven't come up with Stevin. How's my level? You get better.
Yeah, it's I mean, it is what it is. There's nothing we can do about it now, right?
Well, but I also think there's been, you know, thousands and thousands of peaceful protesters out there. So and the press is really not focusing on all the peaceful protests which are right to protest. And there's going to be, you know, a bad apple everywhere. And then you're going to get, you know, hundreds of people that and I think you were saying, you know, on your last podcast, it's a bunch of young people that don't know where.
Yeah. Where is your iPhone made? Where are you going to get your shoes made from? And they're not thinking about that. They're just thinking free running shoes. And this is fun. And we've been locked up and like, let's get out there and weeks.
Yeah, they have it in their house is the perfect storm of craziness. Right. A disease we thought is going to kill everybody. And then so everybody shuts down and it turns out it doesn't really kill nearly as many people as we thought, but we still have to be shut down.
And then, like, when do we get to go back to work? And then all of a sudden, hey, you guys can open up like you guys got no warning, no warning, no warning. I mean, I called Janet up when it happened and I was like, what? You just you get to open like, but it takes ten days to get staff ready. That's what you said, right?
Yeah. I just had a friend send me a text message. Hey, so are you open? I hear you can be open now. And I mean, it was just dropped in the news before, you know, any we could have any time to prepare. And, you know, we don't have the staffing you need. You need we need at least ten days to be able to open our door.
That's really our biggest challenges, is getting our staff back into the restaurant and feeling comfortable in the restaurant with all these new regulations. And you have state regulations. You have L.A. County regulations, you have a city of Los Angeles regulations. And each one of the documents are like novel length. So I'm sitting there at home reading all three cross referencing, and we basically have to abide by the most stringent rules. So I'm like picking apart each one, OK, trying to decipher what we can actually do.
And then on top of that, we're trying to get people out of their houses because they're scared shitless to come back because the wild well, the wild card is the clientele come.
I think people are going to come back in droves. I think if you were open full capacity, you'd be fucking sold out instantly. I really don't think there's any issue at all. I think there's so much fear mongering going on.
But I think the the the actual attitude of people, way more people are interested in going out than are interested in being. I agree with you. Locked up on a longer.
Well, I think it's like different, you know, groups of people. So you have young people who want to go out and they don't care and they'll, you know, be seated at full capacity. But if you have any kind of health risks or you're older, you're not going to feel safe to go out. And, you know, the restaurant business when you're even allowed to be seated at 100 percent is a really, really difficult business. And I think the pandemic really showed the inherent weakness of this industry that we run on razor thin profit margins.
Now we're allowed to be seated at sixty percent. So do we pay 60 percent rent then?
At that point, our costs don't go down, you know, seven percent. We're still paying a hundred percent of our costs, one hundred percent of our labor on a percent of our rent. You know, the cost of food doesn't go down. So we're forced to become extremely creative. And there's one thing that I know about the restaurant industry where we're highly adaptable. You know, we have to kind of play within this game where we have to be unwavering on all of our standards and then be completely adaptable minute to minute from everyone's demands.
And everybody literally expects perfection is also this extreme lack of communication as to like what what the timeline they're looking at and what will be the standards for you to be open 100 percent. The same thing with the Comedy Store, because my store has no idea when. They're going to be able to be open because restaurants are open and they're saying, well, aren't we kind of like a restaurant? We serve food and they're like, yeah, but no one goes to you specifically for food.
Even though they're sitting down, you can't be open. And they're like, but it's not a nightclub, meaning like a bar where everybody just mingles their seats, like, isn't that OK? And they're like, Now we don't think so.
We don't know well, but nobody knows. But nobody knows anything, you know, that's why we have a complete lack of trust. Yeah. You know, and everything in, you know, politics and how the pandemic has been handled. It also handling the businesses, mandating, you know, overnight that we close our doors and go to zero revenue. But there was no Mandi's on how we operate with zero revenue right now moving forward. How do we what do we say to our landlords who deserve to be paid?
So but nobody knows anything. And right now, with opening, you know, the the health department, the it's a 17 page document on how you are supposed to open in a safe way, whether they tell you have to do.
Oh, man. Well, the 17 pages of page one, let's start I mean, we'll start a page one at the very basis of it.
You know, there's there's got to be an employee log. We have to take the the temperature of all of our employees when they actually enter the premises. We have to have a log on that anyone who has direct contact with customers have to wear a face mask and a face shield, a shield 100 percent on the client side.
You have to wear a mask when you're not eating. So that means if you get up to go to the bathroom in the restaurant, you have to put your mask on. Oh, go on and take it off when you get back to the table.
That's so dumb. It doesn't make any sense.
It does. And a lot of it is like completely ambiguous.
Well, why would you have to wear a face mask if you already have a shield over your face? Right. Well, I think there's there's been some reports, so many questions, you can get it through your eyes.
Yeah, but, you know, there's been reports that you get it from touching things and now they say you can't. I know, but they're just, you know, they're saying everything. They're saying anything. And, you know, it's really it's on the honor system. You don't have to do anything in a restaurant, really.
Probably the wording is like consider training your employees to do this. I consider this.
Consider that, like, let people take chances if they want to come. Let them people want to be able to go to a restaurant, just sit down and actually eat.
I have friends who drove to Santa Barbara to go sit down. Yes, I would do it, you know.
Yeah, it'd be exciting. I flew to Texas last weekend to look at houses and stuff, but we went to eat where this place called The Lonesome Dove was fantastic. We ate like regular people sat down. What did we do? It was amazing.
Were you like were the tables separated? Yes, there were less less than full capacity. The waiters all wore face shields. The people that greeted you at the door wore not face shields. There were masks. The people who greeted your the door wore masks as well, you know. But it wasn't that bad. It was great. It was just nice to be able to go to a restaurant.
Yeah. I think, you know, people are dying to get out and we're going to see a lot of people that are going to just, you know, run to restaurants, sit down in restaurants. But, you know, there was a poll taken. I know you love polls, love them.
I know you like polls. You get the opinions of morons. That's Apocalypso. Most morons think the most morons think that six out of ten Americans will not feel comfortable. You know, sitting in a restaurant. I don't know.
I'm not sure how comfortable I would even feel sitting indoors where you come in with a mask, but then you're going to eat, you take your mask off and then, you know, Joe blow two tables over coughs and then you're sitting indoors. Whenever you're inside, you feel like you're in a petri dish.
Yeah, well, it's been that way forever and ever. I mean, just think about my my dishwasher, OK? In the guidelines, those guys basically had to be in hazmat suits.
They have to watch full protection, face shields and mask and then have like, you know what what the equivalent of like a painter suit A because I get it, those guys are spraying down. People spit right. Like all day, eight hours a day. So I get it for them. But it's always been a disgusting job. Seventy percent of being a chef is cleaning, cleaning.
It's cleaning vegetables or cleaning up after people or whatever, like it's cleaning. So this business has always been disgusting. And if you don't love this business to the core, it's fucking terrible.
Well, let's talk nice things. Let's talk let's talk about what you guys have put together is pretty remarkable because thank you for the food there is so good.
It's it's kind of ridiculous. Like your pasta's got voodoo in it. I don't know what you're doing.
It is I, I guess it's because it's handmade. Right.
Because one the first time my wife and I ate there, we sat right next to that open area where you can watch. Yeah. You guys make the pasta.
And it's such a painstaking process. And you you realize you really, truly appreciate that it's an art form, you know, that like making stuff like that, like cutting no corners and making it as good as it could possibly taste.
Well, I mean, that's the ultimate goal, is to create that connection between pasta maker and someone who's eating the pasta. Like if you look through the glass and you see a patio or stay in, there was a difference in a style was made.
So, you know, they're banging out trophies, which is like a coil from Liguria. And you look down at your plate and there's like 160 to 180 pieces and you're like, fuck this guy's.
Yeah, he's got pictures of guys doing a hundred and reps. Just for me, that's a connection.
And once you get it, sometimes a bull, a possible pasta, I get it. But this is something different. This is this is craft. This is tradition. This is continuing this conversation that's been passed down from generation to generation. And all I'm doing all we're doing at Feliks is just a small spoken in a massive wheel of of Italian culinary tradition.
Well, you know just exactly how long to cook it to, which is amazing like that, because I'm the fight and I have got to get it must be because the just the way your teeth sink into it, it's like everything is amazing.
I like to call it toothsome.
And that's what identi means to the tooth. Is that what it means. Oh, dental. Wow. Oh OK. Yeah, some toothsome. So that's part of the experience. Right.
Is the right amount of chew, just the amount of chewing and so on. Each pasta's cooked region specific because they cook pasta very different in Naples versus Rome versus Bologna. What is the difference. Yeah, it's just preference, it's based on tradition. And the thing is this. Authenticity is very personal, right? Your mom makes macaroni and cheese with Velveeta. My mom makes macaroni and cheese with Tillamook Cheddar. That shit's authentic to me. It may not be authentic to you.
Italy's no different, but the differences and the diversity are so specific, not only per region, but town and then house to house. And it's it's been that way for thousands of years. That's why I think Italian food next to Chinese food is the most diverse there is. Hmm. And you could literally study your whole life and not even scratch the surface.
Wow. Now you guys have been open for, what, two years, three years, three years in April. How much prep time is there before you open, like when you have a plan?
And Janet, you've opened up how many restaurants, your tongue, nine restaurants and four under-construction great time to be under construction in the restaurant business.
So crazy. My life sucks.
It could be a lot worse now when right when you're about to open up a place like Felix, then how do you how do you get started?
Did you know, even in advance, did you guys talk before? Like, how do you how do you put together a restaurant like that?
Well, each restaurant that I've opened definitely has a different story. So I have a few Italian restaurants, I have Thai restaurants. I have a Jamaican restaurant in Toronto. So, you know, all very different stories. But I wanted to basically expand outside of Toronto. And I came to L.A. for lifestyle reasons to get out of the Toronto winters and decided, you know, this will be my first place, that I open a restaurant outside of Toronto.
And I had a dream of being on a.. I just love a bikini. Feels like one of the only streets in Los Angeles where it's, you know, like a neighborhood in a street that you can walk down. So lucky, lucky, like. Luckily I, you know, found this location on Abbot Kinney. And it's a long story, but I was working with another chef for about nine months. And then at the 11th hour, I had the location.
We were all set to begin construction. And he just said, I'm going to I've decided to go work with another restaurant group. And I was like overnight, just like left without a chef. And I only had one other name of another chef in L.A. and it was even funky.
And a food writer just sent me an email because I was just out meeting people saying, hey, I'm looking for a chef that has a following, a super talented chef. And this one, Kevin West shadowed. Kevin West sent me an email and said, Evan Funky is an amazingly talented chef and he's available. And so when this other chef bailed on me and I was on vacation at that time, I was in Morocco, of all places. And, you know, I asked for a week off to not to go off the grid for a week.
And then the president of my company contacted me, said, you got to get on the phone. We don't have a chef. And so and so I go, I have one name in my Rolodex.
It's even funky. And I sent Evan. I felt that I had to send him a compelling email so that I could get his attention because I had no other, you know, options. And I said, you know, Evan here, you know, Kevin West says you're an amazingly talented chef. I have a location on Abbot Kinney, which is great. You know, chefs love Abbot Kinney. You know, it's it's a great street, big leagues.
And I said, you know, time is of the essence if you're interested. You know, here's, you know, check me out. I'm legitimate a restaurateur. Check me out. And, you know, we were on a FaceTime call that dropped a thousand times because of the bad reception. I'm like, bear with me. Get back on a FaceTime call with Evan. And I flew Evan to Toronto.
I think it was Skype, actually. Oh, his escape. Yeah, but I flew Evan to Toronto to cook for myself and my team immediately after this vacation that I had. And Evan did just very few items. A lot of times chefs want to just like, wow, you. I'm doing 22 dishes because I want to show you who I am. Evan did just you know, he just did his cutaway pepper pasta. He did his focaccia bread.
He just had very few items because he's confident and he knows. And I ate his food. My team made his food. I said to Evan, food cannot taste better. And I also described his food as Casa Lingga. So I lived in Italy for eight years. My background, I'm half Italian. I lived in Italy for eight years. My father basically was at the level of a chef, his cooking. And so I said to Evan, I said, your cooking is Casa Lingga, which means like the house wife's cooking, like the mom was cooking.
And Evan always described his cooking like that, Casa Lingga. But not many people describe cooking in that way. And so basically, I think Evan felt that I got him and then he just turned to me and he said, you've got to deal with partners.
Wow. I was in Chicago at the time consulting for a rich Melman. Let us entertain you and. I was kind of like on hiatus, relearning the business will probably get into that later, but yeah, I got an email from Janet and I was like, all right, let's go do this. And that was it. I cooked I think I cooked for pastas.
And so for you, like, that's a is it a rare thing to get an offer to run a restaurant or is there offers that you get that you turned down?
I mean, at the time it was rare. Now I get offers all the time once Felix opened.
Yes, yeah, yeah, yeah. You guys nailed it. It's it's great.
You know, I learned from Bourdain from watching his show, No Reservations.
The first show I was like, oh, OK. I have a wrong idea of what food is like.
I had this idea the food just tastes good, like you go someplace, food taste good. But then watching his love of food and watching his deep respect for chefs and and the preparation and all that's involved in making a dish, I was like, oh, it's art.
I didn't of course it's art. I didn't think of it as art. I thought of it as just food, you know. And then watching his show completely changed my perception of what food is.
Yeah, not not every not every chef operates from being an artist. And there's different levels of food. I do have to say, you know, Evan is an absolute master. You know, he's obviously not Italian, but has studied all over Italy. And it's really the dying art of handmade pasta. And Evan is a custodian of keeping this art alive like he's a maestro. He's unbelievable.
Is there a specific type of flour that you use? We import six different types from four different regions.
And now is the word about pasta and about bread and wheat in general is that American wheat is a different kind of wheat.
That's a different kind of wheat. It's also processed completely different. I don't I don't use a lot of American. We just because it's it's just been manipulated so much. And a lot of the the GI just stability of in my opinion, people are going to freak out. But in my opinion, the amount of work that goes into denaturing pasta in order to get it flat via machine has a lot to do with its digestibility. Just like sourdough bread is more digestible because it's broken down in a different way.
So handmade pasta is less manipulated than machine made pasta, in my opinion. So also the types of wheat, the amount of wheat germ, it's in it, the nutritional value. It all has to do with those elements within the and the flour. And to be honest, like I've developed a gluten intolerance because I've been breathing raw flour for the past, you know, twelve years.
So really, as soon as I step in step foot in the lab and I start rolling us folia my stomach to start, it's acid straight up. That's crazy. Just in the rebound. Yeah. Wow. It's like talcum, you know, double zero flour is extremely fine so we have to throw it in order to, you know, put some on the table to roll it out so you breathe it in all day long. We've got extractors, we've got, you know, humidity control and air conditioning and all that.
But so you've developed an intolerance because it's called well, it's called white long or bakers long, bakers long. So do you wear a mask? I do not. Why don't you wear a mask?
I don't know. Sacroiliac like. Like when I don't know. You know, seems like that would be a good thing to do.
Sure. But I don't want that baker's one. Right. I just I don't like masks. Oh OK.
This whole experience, this whole experience is very it's been very enlightening. Wearing a mask, right. Yeah, it's gross.
I have another friend who also has a who Kamara, who was instrumental in my kind of understanding of of modern pasta. I met him in Bologna, a Japanese guy who has a lab in Tokyo called Base, and he has the same thing. He wears a mask all the time because he's just breathing in raw flour all day.
I never would have thought of that, but it makes total sense. I never thought, oh, yeah. Hmm. Yeah, you can flour.
It's like a guy works at a paint shop, like you're going to get sick.
You got to get on the painter things, the big tubes. That'd be so weird.
People like I'm not eating that fucking pasta. I don't know. For me it's part of the it's it's crazy what's in there.
It's preservatives, man. Well, whatever you're doing, keep doing it.
Well, it's the white long.
Whatever you got to clean that should ever tell what you do to get that stop won't stop because one of you just keep going.
Yeah, it's just the pasta is insane. It's so good. It's and it's such a when you have really good pasta and then you have pasta that maybe you enjoyed before you had the really good pasta. It's like it's really it's like having water in your ear.
Like fucks people up. Yeah. It fucks people up it.
Sure. I like I cannot tell you how many people DM me or come to me in the restaurant. They say you've completely fucking ruined me. Thank you so much. Now I. Can't eat pasta anywhere else, and I don't eat pasta in North America whatsoever, I don't eat fresh pasta in North America. I only pasta in Italy. I tried pasta in America, but I don't eat fresh possin. Why not?
Most people don't know what they're doing, but there's got to be some people other than, you know, certainly absolutely.
Like what are good spots. Like if there is a Robbins's is exceptional.
I think it's in Brooklyn. Brooklyn. Okay, this is Brooklyn.
You know, Rob Genteelly in Toronto is great.
So there's a very small amount of people that are doing I mean, there's a handful of people who make pasta by hand, period, and even fewer people who know how to make pasta with the mozzarella, which is the long rolling pin, even fewer.
And when I started, I started doing this 11 years ago, there was nobody. There was nobody. I checked. You know, I moved to Bologna in 2007, Talin in 2007 and started this journey with my Maestre Alesandro, SP's Nikolaevich, You Scrollable and Yansi, and she kind of opened up the door for me to start seeking out other pasta makers throughout Italy. When I came back in 08, I ran a restaurant called Rustic Canyon for about four years.
And, you know, not a lot of people were serving the style of pasta that I wanted to serve. So I started giving it away like a gateway drug.
I would just like send it to tables for free. And they're like, what the fuck? And it just started gaining momentum and gaining momentum.
Wow. So so when you moved to Italy to to learn how to do like what what is it apprenticeship like in, you know, learning how to make pasta.
I mean, it's an apprenticeship, you have to put yourself in the students chair and and be a sponge. I didn't speak any and not a lick of Italian, but the Italians are very expressive. So you're able to communicate through just being Italian, I guess. And I spent three months, you know, six days a week, 10 hours a day just making pasta. Wow. Period. See, this is what's fascinating to me. Things you just you just take for granted, oh, here is a plate of pasta like but what what is involved in learning how to make it that good?
It's not just ingredients. When people sit down at a at a restaurant, people aren't just paying for it, for the experience of sitting there and the cost of food. They're they're paying for the experience of the people that are making the food. That's a big part of it. That's the way that I look at it.
And 11 years of. Making pasta by hand, there's a lot of depth that some of the younger guys just aren't willing to pay the time cost and a lot of the younger cooks out there, they bounce around from job to job. Six months here, three months here. And they think that they've mastered it. But there's just no depth. There's no depth. You know, you have to also consider how labor intensive it is to, you know, hand roll out the pasta and you know what Evan was saying before, like, each one rolled by hand.
You know, when you eat a bowl of pasta, you know, thinking that each one was, like, pressed out by hand. So it's like extremely labor intensive.
And a lot of people when we were opening, Evan did have his own restaurant bucardo before, which was also a basically focused around pasta as well. That's a whole other story.
But when we were going to open up this restaurant and we put in the middle of the restaurant the temperature controlled pasta lab, which is taking up tables. So if you're a business person, a restaurateur, you say how many tables could fit in there? How much is each table worth to your your bottom line you're using of that space to put in you're using that space to put in a pasta lab. Are you crazy? Also, you know, when you're thinking about, you know, training the people and how labor intensive it is, people were saying, like, we're crazy doing doing this again.
I don't think we can make money. Yeah, well, it is a lot of space that the lab is a big space, but it's so cool to be sitting right there. It's a showstopper. Yeah, it really it's it's something special and it's worked out.
We're making money and we were making money.
There's always like pre covid and, you know, and there's no there's no guidelines in terms of like when you'll be able to operate at 100 percent capacity.
No, I mean, in the documents that say it says they're going to reassess in 21 days. So I don't know when that's going to be.
But they might it might even be quicker than that. Right. I think the economic pressures I probably would force them to open without letting anybody know they're out of money, everyone's out of money.
So, yeah, they can't just say, you know, there is a balance between people's health and the economy and they can't just shut everything down and say, well, we're just going to print a bunch of money. We're all going to be paying for this in the end. Right. Right now, it's been two trillion dollars. And, you know, because of covid, they have to get us back up and running and working. And I've said from the very beginning, get your young and your healthy back out and working.
And if you're over the age of 65 or if you have underlying health conditions and you should definitely stay at home, you have to wait for either a treatment or the vaccine. But, you know, they have to open up the economy. And it's been ridiculous how it's been handled.
Yeah, that's what should have been done. It should have been they should have I mean, instead of taking this blanket approach. But I think there was a lot of misconceptions. They thought it was going to be something different than it was. Even at 60 percent, though, at least at 60 percent. I'm not happy you're going to be able to. When are you guys going to open up? Monday, if you figured it out.
Well, then when you were on the payroll of the protest and we had to board up and, you know, I think we were probably another week or so away.
At least it's really about getting staff back in that that's our kind of. So what do protests die down then? A week? Maybe a little.
Yeah, maybe a little more. A little more. But even with the 60 percent capacity, it's we will see if we'll be able to to maintain, you know, and actually not necessarily make a profit. Just stay even.
Yeah, I think I think the the goal has always been when this first started was, you know, your goal is to to survive and to get to the other side of this. You're not, you know, thinking about making money. And when you see these like iconic legendary restaurateurs like Daniel Hume with eleven Madison Park, which last year was the number one restaurant in the world, and he does not think that he will be reopening. So he might be closing permanently.
Or David Chang closing two restaurants, one in New York City, one in D.C. and then he's moving another restaurant, consolidating his company, essentially. And when you so when you see these iconic restaurateurs that are struggling to make it to the other side, it's like extremely sobering. And, you know, some some experts will say they think fifty percent of restaurants will not make it to the other side. I don't agree, but I think 25 percent won't make it.
And even in L.A., one of my last dinners was at Bontemps in downtown L.A., Lincoln, Carson, an amazing chef. I was blown away by the restaurant and he's closed permanently like all that time to open all that capital, to open, you know, you train whatever. You're training 575 people to open and he's closed permanently. Or Orben, another restaurant was getting, you know, great accolades closed also permanently. They just got a finalist in the Global Design Awards.
So they're getting these awards and they're closed permanently. And, you know, so, you know, it's really survival of the fittest right now. So new restaurants, because it's so hard, this business, you're very vulnerable when you're a new restaurant and you just have debt. You're just looking at a bunch of debt and you're closed permanently. You know, you're going to you're not going to make it to the other side. And if a business was not making that much money, so when you see a restaurant in New York City like Lucky Strike that's been there for 31 years, closed permanently because, you know, it just wasn't doing that well.
So all the big. Businesses that were just kind of teetering or not doing very well, they're going to close is survival of the fittest, even with the pandemic and hitting older people, it's kind of like all around in business. It's it's survival of the fittest.
It seems like it's so hard to believe that if you don't make money for three months, it goes under. You would think like, oh, this is a successful business.
Like it's exposed people to the realities of running a business and how incredibly difficult it is to just to stay open.
It's a juggling act, especially for restaurants right now.
This is what what I was saying before is a pandemic really exposed the restaurant business and the restaurant business probably has been hit the hardest. And then next, all small businesses and retail. And then we're going to see commercial real estate really be affected right now. But the restaurant business, the national average of the profit margin is four percent. That's the national average. We don't we don't operate that way.
We we operate we operate at 14 percent, essentially. But 20 years ago in the U.S., most restaurants would make 20, 25 percent, you know, the net profit margin. But it's gone down. It's gone down. And really, the business is broken. The restaurant business is broken. And we should be charging a lot higher prices. But then you're not going to get the customers. So what you do is you just accept a lower and a lower profit margin.
And that's why this business is so difficult. And even 10 years ago, you might have a runway in your bank account to survive a few months. But most restaurants, you know, with that, they have a month and then they're done. They have got nothing in the bank account.
It's a horrible business, nobody should be in a restaurant unless you're crazy and you're so passionate about it, that's you. That's me, both of us.
But but I will. It's all of us. But even million of us. Yeah, well, 11, 11 million of us.
And then you think, you know, and when you look at the supply chain, so we in the restaurant restaurants employ 11 million people in the United States. But then when you add in the supply chain of the farmers and the winemakers and the linen cleaners and, you know, we employ 20 million people and we're the second largest employer in the United States next to the Pentagon. So, you know, right now we have to think, wow, that's crazy.
Restaurants are the second largest employer in the Pentagon's. The first. Yeah. How creepy is the first, Jamie? Jamie, look it up. Just like Amazon be of the Pentagon.
Fuck no. That's that's the number one employer restaurants.
That's so insane that Pentagon's number one, I would never guess that in a million years if you gave me a multiple choice, a board and Pentagon.
No way Jamie's typing away.
I'm sure it's right. I mean, you don't have to I don't know.
I believe or who knows, like, I just read things. But, you know, that's what we're talking about in the Independent Restaurant Coalition. And, you know, we're working together with the government to ask for a certain amount of help. Right. We need we need the right help. Or, you know, when people think, you know, screw you restaurants like we're all we're all in trouble, right? With 40 plus, 40 million plus now, it's like I think 42 million filed for unemployment.
A lot of people are hurting right now. So it's hard to say, you know, romanticise restaurants right now come back and support your local restaurants when a lot of people are hurting. But I think if we think about the economic domino effect right now of essentially 20 million people we like we've got we need help to stay in business and not close down permanently. I think the the economic effect right now will be staggering.
Yeah, no, it's it's something to consider when you think about what you said about the people that clean the linen, the people that make the wine, all the various people that rely on restaurants, you don't you know, it's not just restaurants. And, you know, most people like myself don't really consider that you go, wow, they probably employ 10 people or 20 people or 50 people, whatever it is. But then you don't think of all the trickle down.
That's a massive web, a massive do you see like the the farmers obviously dumping, you know, tons of food and 36 million gallons of milk.
And nobody knew that restaurants are the number one purchasers from farmers, that an institution, schools, institutions and restaurants, and they process a food in a different way for restaurants than they do. You can't just say, like, get the food, you know, out there. They processed food differently for individuals and grocery stores as they do institution and restaurant. So they have to dump all this food.
Now, when you guys get up and running, how do you calculate how much food you buy? That's always I've always been like, how do they know?
Like, how do they know how many people are coming in to the good?
The one good thing about we take a restaurant business is that the metrics, the metrics, whether you have five tables or 100 tables, are the same. It's all math. And if I knew how much fucking math that I'd be doing right now, I'm forty years old. If I knew when I was like a kid, I would study the fuck out of math because I had to learn on the fly.
So as a chef are not just responsible for putting together the meals, but you also Fennimore anymore.
Not enough know you've got to be a businessman. You have to be a marketer. You've got to be a diplomat. You have to be a father. You have to give advice. You know, like the I'm not having kids, but I have sixty kids because I exercise my fatherly duties on a daily fucking basis. I've bailed guys out of jail.
I've given you no beer money to guys like it is a true, true, true family.
And you spend, you know, the majority of your day with these people.
You feel that when you go into your restaurant, though, there's something about that place.
Like there's you know, when the waiters deliver your food, you know that they know it's special. Like there's a feeling like when they put the dollar cake, look you that you were like, huh?
Yeah. It's by no means like by the zucchetto.
You can tell the the the fish stinks from the head down.
Oh yeah. Yeah. The Jamaicans saying the fish rots from that down.
So Jania, we were talking on the phone about what it's like for you to have all these restaurants under construction and you were this unstoppable machine. You're a restaurant machine. Everything was kicking ass. Yeah. And then all of a sudden.
Yeah, well, you know, the only thing I've ever done has been in the restaurant business and out of university. I came from Italy and I opened my first restaurant in Toronto and slowly got a school like.
The older I took my time in school, too, I started when I was I started university when I was 22, so I took my time. But when I opened my first restaurant, I definitely connected to a passion. And I had the slow route of growing this company. So that restaurant open 24 years ago and is still running out, you know, still running today.
That's incredible. What are the odds of that? Well, the average, you know, after you pass a year, you know, you have a life span. Most restaurants of seven years. Yeah. So I've had a few lifetimes with that restaurant. And then I slowly saved my money and wanted to buy the real estate where that where that restaurant is. It's in Yorkville. You know, Toronto, you know Toronto, you know Yorkville. No, I don't.
It's a nice little neighborhood in Toronto.
And I wanted to buy this real estate, so I saved my money to buy the real estate. So I was I was very cautious, growing the company and building a foundation. And then I bought one piece of real estate. Then I bought another building, and then I put another restaurant twice as big as my first restaurant, and then I bought another building. So I've been buying these buildings and putting restaurants inside the buildings until I felt that my foundation was so strong that nothing could happen to me.
So I could only put through the lens back then in the, you know, before the pandemic to say in an economic upturn, people will eat pizza on an economic downturn, people will eat pizza. I'm untouchable. That's how I felt. I felt nothing could touch me. And then we opened up Felix. And Felix has gotten, you know, incredible accolades, you know, in the press and rightfully so on. Evans cooking is off the charts.
And I thought, you know, we're ready to really grow. So let's let's do this. And I built a company where, you know, I have a head office. It's a proper company and I have an incredible team of people. And I felt very ready and very stable and with an incredible, incredibly strong foundation that I said we're ready to do this. And so 20/20 was my big year to open five restaurants in one year.
Wow. So I just I just just before the pandemic flew to Toronto to open a 9000 square foot restaurant to immediately close it, and that caused nine million dollars to open this 9000 square foot restaurant that opened one day, trained 100 people for two months, and then immediately shut that down, shut down all restaurants. So shut down eight operations. And I also have a catering company. So shut down eight, eight operations in Toronto and a catering company furloughed 700 people.
And then I have four other projects under construction. And personally, all of the money in the company out on construction sites. Plus I personally loaned all of my money to build the restaurants because that's that's what I do.
What I do is I buy I buy buildings and then I get mortgages on the buildings. Then I use all the cash that I have anywhere that I can find it to open restaurants. So I might have a temporary, you know, lack of cash, but then, you know, backed by a very strong revenue. So I'm funding all the construction sites by all these restaurants that have extremely strong streams of revenue. So once again, I didn't feel like I was taking a big risk opening five restaurants in 2020.
So I swear to you that the the day the pandemic happened, I had to shut down. It was literally the day before I loaned out.
I wrote a massive check for one construction site, like all of my money in my bank account, you know, out to one construction site. Then we shut everything down. And it was like I was I was kicked in the teeth, like I was brought to my knees.
And I had never felt stress like that because of how conservative I am and how fiscally responsible that I've always been and feeling that I was untouchable. I just thought, you know, nothing could ever happen to me. And, you know, I could never risk anything. But I woke up one day when I had to close everything down. And first of all, the feeling of laying off 700 people when, you know, the majority of your staff live paycheck to paycheck was absolutely heartbreaking.
And that I ran the real risk of losing everything, not only all the restaurants, but all the buildings, because the bank, you know, owns my buildings. I don't own the buildings. And, you know, this pandemic caught me with my financial pants down. Like, I just it's like, oh, my God, this is really bad timing for me.
Do you think if there's a second wave, they're going to try to do this again, shut you down?
No, I think we're going to look the protests. Do you think we're going to have a second wave now?
We very well could. I mean, we are people are not social distancing. They're on top of each other. If anybody's got it, everybody's got I, I don't I actually don't think so.
And I think that we have we're going to be living with this virus. And I've said this from day one when this happened, I said to my team, give me the two year plan, what's going on for two years? We have to live with this for the next two years. And I think that we just have to live in a safe way and yeah, wear the masks out and we're going to go to restaurants and people are going. Wearing gloves and masks and maybe take your temperature and we're going to see, you know, be seated six feet apart.
I think this is we're going to just find a safe way to live. But, of course, there's going to be there's going to be a second wave and a third way that's going to keep going until Teyla. But also when the vaccine comes, you have to you have to inoculate, you know, between 60 and 80 percent of the world. How long is that going to take? We're living with this.
Yeah, the vaccine is a weird vaccine to you. Do you understand what it is? An MRN, a vaccine?
Well, that's one vaccine that Moderna is making. But there's different types of vaccines that they're making.
There's multiple trials that are going on right now. Right.
100 different vaccines that everybody's trying to get.
Health officials know new covid-19 cases from Missouri parties.
No additional new. Well, you know, what's interesting is what we were talking about before the podcast when you guys were getting tested for the covid, we were talking about Italy, how Italy has detectable levels are so small, they're so minuscule, infinitesimal.
I just learned that there was a struggle earlier. But I know the the viral load is infinitesimal. Well, sometimes when you read things and you don't say it out loud, then you say it out loud for the first time. You're like, I don't know how to say that word. Yeah, there's a lot of words on that. Never.
Yeah, but yeah, in San Rafael Hospital in Milan, you know, they're saying that the virus is no longer exists in Italy.
That's so crazy. So it just burned through the population. Hopefully that's what's happening here. Hope you know. Hopefully, hopefully. And you know, we're going to see in two weeks. Right. Two weeks are going to see what happened from all this protesting and everybody being on top of each other. Also, the stress of it all. It's got to be terrible for people's immune system as well. Yeah.
I mean, you're like are you are you feeling what we're talking about it earlier? If you're if you're a human being and you have any feelings at all, you're going to feel the stress of humanity right now. You know the stress of the world, because in our lifetimes, we've never seen one of these events. But it's like we have the Spanish flu and the the Great Depression in the 1968 riots happening all at the same time.
Yeah, I think bigger than the 68 riots. I don't think any riots I've ever been this widespread through the entire country and the looting. Well, the Rodney King, I think they had they had a lot of deaths, right?
I think they had they had a lot of deaths in Los Angeles, but they didn't they didn't protest the Rodney King riots in Boston. You know, I mean, worldwide. This is worldwide. Yeah. And worldwide.
The looting, though, seems to be only here and the looting is just insane.
Well, in Toronto today, it's actually quite peaceful. But, you know, in Toronto, while they've supposedly tomorrow, there's some organized looting happening, organized looting, June the 6th.
And, you know, on these piles of bricks are showing up around the city as well.
Yeah, we were talking about that. Like, that's that's so weird. Like big pallets of bricks that are dropped off on areas like and no one really has any understanding of why. There's been a bunch of articles written on it and they're trying to sort it out. And some of them are just coincidence. There were at construction sites and the bricks happened to be there. And some of them, there's no reason whatsoever for the bricks being wooden.
You think as much as as every single building has a camera on it. Yeah. Wouldn't you be able to see who's dropping this shit off? Yeah, it's like here's some rioting supplies. Right. Have at it. Yeah.
Well, the real fear is that it's the police. People are worried that the police are doing it, encouraging people to throw rocks of those people, throw rocks, then the police can come in and break up what would have been a peaceful protest. That's through the actions of agent provocateurs or just giving people rocks and encouraging them, you know, just by virtue of the fact the rocks are there. There was another thing that we talked about that we should probably correct that now.
There were stacks of bricks in front of this synagogue and we thought those stacks of bricks were also the same thing sort of left there because people were protesting. But it's actually even grosser. The stacks of bricks are there to keep people from driving their car through the synagogue.
Oh, my God. So does the synagogue set it up that way just to keep people from smashing through their windows, you know, after some of these hate crimes? So so this is a world almost in pain.
It's fucking crazy time. I am I am an eternal optimist.
And my feeling is that this is a terrible moment for us, but a good one, because I think it's big enough that we're going to change, I think, on a person.
Yeah, there's a real chance. A real chance. Yeah. That people are going to change.
Yes, I really think that. And you're seeing it like there was a video as watching, say, of a girl having an argument with her racist father and she filmed it. You see that? Yeah, that kind of stuff gives me hope. Like a kid who's raised by someone who's got some racial prejudice and the kid doesn't, you know, the the attitude of. It's the attitude of young people today is so much more tolerant than any other generation before, and it's so enforced, it's a culturally enforced tolerance and I hope it's for everything.
I hope it's for all races, all genders, all sexual orientations, all everything, everything. Just we can be better. We can be better. And like it takes something like this to make everybody realize, like there's some fucked up aspects of our society. They need to be corrected and there needs to be some serious refocusing of what it takes to be a police officer and what what police officers can and can't do and what the punishment is and who is responsible.
And then if you're a cop and you see someone do something horrible that's also a cop, you got to step up. You've got to do something. We can't we can't do this anymore.
Did you see Chris Rock's post from three days ago? There's some there's some vocations. You can't have a bad apple. He's like police officers. Police officers are one. You can't have a bad apple, just like you can have a bad apple as a pilot. You can't like some of our pilots like to land.
Others like to go into mountains. We can't we can't have this.
Yeah, that's a I mean, you know, I feel I'm also extremely hopeful, even if I feel I feel, you know, like I've been brought to my knees and I'm seeing other small businesses and friends of mine getting looted right now. And I'm like, it's also senseless. And I and I feel for black lives matters right now is like the most important thing. I didn't think anything could knock off the pandemic, but, you know, it has we're all thinking about this.
But I do feel that it's been an awakening. And I think that it's in our face like it's never been before. And I think. Well, you were saying to to witness a man essentially be tortured is something we can't unsee. And I think it changes you forever. And what you were also saying is for this one man, you know, to reverberate like all over the world, really to see the protests all over the world is really something.
But and I think we have to be super uncomfortable for change. And I think this is a moment.
And I think that cop has been doing that shit since the beginning. He's he's been charged with multiple time, multiple complaints since like 2006. And how crazy is it that one kid, a 17 year old girl, films this puts it out on the Internet and it changes the world.
This one time he imagine if he knew. Imagine if he had any inkling that leaning on that man's neck with his knee for eight and a half minutes or more, even almost nine minutes, that that was literally going to change the world.
I know. It's it's unbelievable.
It's a strange it the the the absolute fundamental core of law enforcement across the board is absolutely fucking rotten. And you just need better training.
And we need people who are not fucking assholes, not racist pieces of shit going into law enforcement.
It's also the job I think is almost impossible. Just from a just just for your mind, I don't think people are supposed to be inundated with that kind of violence and they for sure have PTSD.
I mean, just think about it being on edge all day long, not knowing whether or not someone you're going to pull over is going to fucking kill you. Yep.
And vice versa. Dead people, they see the amount of bullet wounds. And, you know, I have friends that are cops and they tell you horror stories every day.
It's a shock, but so can the surgeon and the surgeon thing. Absolutely. It's really it's really the same thing. So maybe maybe, you know, the reform has to be that mental health has to be looked after.
But there there needs to be there needs to be a different way.
There needs to be redressed. Yeah, there used to be different training.
And yeah, it's not a job like, you know, you could be a garbage man. OK, I'll show you how to do the garbage. Now it's like who are you?
Let's let's sit down. Mike, why do you want to be a cop? You know, like it should be a really difficult thing to get a license to be the most difficult thing to do.
Hmm. You know, it should be the most difficult job to get and should be paid really well.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
We have, you know, you just look at all the systems and it's all broken. Like when we look at the restaurant business, it's actually a broken business and our society is broken and that we pay teachers hardly anything for doing such an important job. And police officers and people who are working, you know, on the front lines and you're mentioning that, you know, the kid that stocking the shelves and he's putting himself in harm's way, making minimum wage, it's all just doesn't make sense.
Yeah, well, before it used to be just a job. Now you're risking your life, you know, if you work in a supermarket. It used to be, oh, you know, I got a good job stocking shelves now.
It's like, oh, I could die from this. But that was on the menu when I first signed up for this.
Yeah. Restaurant business is the same now. Yeah, right now it really is. Because if people are serving people and people are coughing on them. Hmm.
Vitamin D kids get you right on the vitamin C, make sure I use. Yeah.
Get your body healthy but they don't lay again. I'll say they don't know, they still don't know enough about this virus. And you know, every day you wake up and. You know, like, oh, you know, your blood type, so I have blood type A and that supposedly will have a rough time. You know, you have a higher chance of having a rough time needing oxygen if you have type blood, you know, blood type A.
which is we don't know enough. Right. About the virus.
That's been like the most frustrating for me, at least the most frustrating and the most depressing thing is the literal like hour to hour changes of everything. And making long term decisions is literally impossible. And in this business, you have to make long term decisions. You have to project in order to be successful. And that's what's been so difficult is that, you know, just the other day there was a curfew is at 6:00. I was in the grocery store.
It was curfews at 6:00. And then all of a sudden, oh, we changed it to 5:00. And then all of a sudden everybody in the grocery store was working. There was like, fuck, we have to close in 30 minutes and the like, letting everybody who's in line outside in, oh, God. All of a sudden it's packed.
So all the social distancing for people speeding, they just gave it up. It's not really that important. What's really important is get your food.
It's just it's been bananas. Now, when you look so, you have to do all these calculations when you're figuring out how many meals you're going to serve, how much food you're going to order. And you have to kind of guess, like, how do you guess, like how many people are going to order fish? How many people are going to order steak?
It's kind of you get of you have DPAs, obviously, but you get into this rhythm. And Felix, I'm a student of because of consistency and I always have been I learned it at Spago, so I was probably one of the most consistent restaurants in the entire country. And my mentor, Lee Heffter, kind of instilled in me those principles that define the way that I run restaurants now. So you have obviously have DPAs, but you have to look at Pemex, you got to look at what you're selling.
You have to look at what people are enjoying, what people aren't buying. And you really ultimately have to know your clientele. You have to get to know them very much so. And I think that that's a lot of what hospitality professionals are really missing is that connection to the people. Because this is the reason why we do this shit is to see you, Joe Rogan, eat the steak at table 33 and say, fuck, that was the fucking best steak I ever had in my life.
It was the best I've ever had really.
Well, all this talk about pasta. But really, when you came here on the Carnivore diet, well, that was I was surprised you ordered pasta that you come OK. When I when we had dinner together with Brian. Yes. And my buddy Alex Engin. The four of us had dinner and you were on the carnival. Yeah, it was then. Yeah, but even then, I mean the steak was fantastic, all the food was fantastic.
But the second time I went after that, right before you guys got shut down, my wife and I, that was the last service.
Now I think there was a left.
And so I saw you there that night that I had just flown in from Toronto. And that was my last time out. And I think that was your last time out.
That was March 13th. Did I hear. You outed. I doubted myself. You Canadian right there.
Yeah, I had posta that said sensational, but that still this day is the best I've ever had.
What are you doing different. What are you doing? How are you cooking steak. Salt. Talk to me. Don't know. Black peppers, the food. Hot fire. That's it. Violent but it's where. It's where the meat comes from.
Unrest, really. I mean, you have to you know, in my opinion, 90 percent of cooking is ingredients, 10 percent technique. Yeah, that's it. So just buy the best you possibly can and try not to fuck it up. You need some some, you know, instruction. You need some technique. But a lot of people I think the the biggest ingredient that is missing in a lot of cooking today is restraint. Restraint, don't fucking manipulate it, just let it do what it does.
The farmers have taken great pains. The ranchers have taken great pains to get this product to where it is, to where it's ultimately its peak of perfection, its peak of ripeness, its peak of marbling or whatever. Just put some salt and some black pepper on it and apply heat and then watch it. And you kind of have to have a little bit of an internal calibration to understand what's going on. Do you use a timer? No. No.
All by feel. Well, you love it. I'll feel well.
You can mock me. Can we? I mean, we use scales, we use timers. But to cook meat you have to. You have to do it a lot. Repetition is the mother of all skill, whether that's pasta making or cooking on the grill, do use an internal do you have any sort of a thermometer? At the beginning, I did, yeah, but not by feel.
So it's just you just how it gives when you touch it. Yeah.
There's things you can learn by touching, you know. Yeah. Like that's medium rare. So if you use your pinkie ring between your middle finger like this. So this, this, this, this. So this is rare, this is amidror, this is medium and that's well so this is what we're doing for people just listening, squeezing different parts of your hand where it's more firm.
Right between the thumb and the index finger.
What do you do if someone asks for a well done steak? Do you tell them to go fuck themselves?
Huh? No, listen, I think if that's what they want out of the experience, listen, sometimes people just want to yell at you and that's what they want out of the experience of the restaurant. So you got to give it to them.
That's part of hospitality. They want to take it. They want to complain.
They think some people are just incorrigible. Yeah. And you just have to say, I hear you. Thank you so much for your feedback. Oh, do you really?
I mean, internally, I'm fucking screaming, right? Like, can I. I love you. I pepé but I hate black pepper.
Say what? Like black pepper pasta, pecorino Romano, that's those are the three ingredients in it.
Is that the pasta is a vessel for the black pepper. Yeah. How could you say that? People do all the time. All the time.
And they have to talk. You have to talk to these people. They say, I'd like to speak to the chef. Oh, no. I have people to buffer me from them.
Oh God. I can only imagine. But still in hospitality. I mean, you know, I you know, we train our our team to just, like, not make anything about you. And, you know, you just look at someone and say maybe their mother died today. And if you just so easy to diffuse and it's really a lot of psychology being applied to people where, you know, you people need to be heard and understood. And so you just let people vent and, you know, there's ways to kind of mimic people's, you know, bodily movements and stuff to show that you've heard them.
And it's just really powerful to diffuse that. And so inhospitality, you can't take anything personally. It's never about you. Nothing's ever by you.
I could only imagine why I used to honestly, like when I first started cooking professionally as as a chef. I used to read, like, the the Yelp reviews and whatnot.
Oh, no, I haven't read I haven't read a Yelp reviews since 2006.
Joe's a big fan of reading all comments. Yes. Super important. No. Here everybody when when you like. I don't have kids but so these restaurants and I feel like I do have a lot of kids that work for me, but my restaurants feel like my babies. And then in the early days I would read reviews and it would be like somebody saying, your baby's ugly, so ugly and you feel like crushing.
No, you can't. You can't read, especially for chefs like chefs put their heart and soul onto the plate. You know, everything that I have inside of me goes onto that plate. My history, my family, my heart, my soul, my emotion. Cooking is emotion. If you if you don't have emotion when you cook, then you're not doing it, right. Yeah. And when you put it out there on the public stage and people says, this is this sucks.
Fuck you, this sucks. This is an authentic blah blah blah. Cooking food is so personal to the person who's receiving it. And like we said, authenticity is very personal. So sometimes I just have to say, you know what, Felix is just not the restaurant for you, my friend. And we fired customers before.
So you don't let them come back.
Yeah, we have. Do you have a photo of them feel bad or.
I think it's just, you know, I think if you're in the business of pleasing everybody, you please nobody. Yeah. And sometimes you just, you know, this is how it is and we're not going to change it. If somebody asks for the ketchup with less pepper, this is not the case. This is not the place where you should be having ketchup. Sometimes we just also do that. And to respect the art of Evan's cooking.
Yeah, well, I think it's what I was saying earlier is that it took me watching Bourdain s love for cuisine to understand what what food really is, what being a chef really is. That fucking guy.
I'm a fucking guy, too. But but I think many people don't ever have that experience where they do make that switch in their head, like, oh, this is art. This isn't just food. You know, I think there's a lot of people that it's like everything else. If you don't do it, you don't really have an appreciation for it. If you don't study it or really deeply try to understand it, you don't have an appreciation for it.
That's like everything else, like like how kids treat society in general, how a lot of people just take things for granted.
I think people take food for granted, but I think there's been a lot of focus on food over the last, you know, maybe call it ten years. You have the the chef's table and people really appreciating the art of cooking.
When I started cooking, it was a blue collar job, man. Yeah, there were very, very few celebrity chefs. Like there was like Admiral and Mario when I started cooking and like overnight it became like the hot shit to do. And all these culinary school start opening and just meat grinder just churning out these ill prepared, entitled kids.
And usually they sell them a bill of goods when when they go to college because you like you graduate from here, you're going to be a chef.
What I didn't know as soon as I got to Congress, I was making seven dollars a fucking hour, seven dollars an hour, you know, peeling fucking carrots and potatoes and picking parsley and shit and like. You've really got to love it to to get to that point and you got to do it for 10 years to get good at it, and then you got to do it another 10 years to start making money from it. And that's it, and a lot of the younger kids are just not willing to pay the fucking cost and they want to skip rungs in the ladder, and that's the case with every art form.
We find that with comedy, stand up comedy, there's a lot of kids that they they want to do stand up and they develop a YouTube channel and they get a following for making fun of YouTube videos. And then they think they're a stand up comic and like, hold the fuck on.
They're like, where's my Netflix special? Yeah, like, exactly the demand it. Yeah.
With comedy and food, the proof is in the end result, it's either good or it's bad. You might be able to make one dish perfectly one time, but can you do that shit 10000 times. Right. With 98 percent accuracy. Right. That's where that's the rub.
There's also a thing in I think in being a chef, what you're talking about, making seven dollars an hour peeling onions and stuff that that's real similar to comedy that you got to do the road. You know, you've got to work these show to make some of these bands and you might hate it while you're doing it. But one day you look back and go, oh, that was really important for my development.
It's it's pure and simple as foundation. Yeah. Just you can't build anything without a strong foundation.
Now, when you create your menu, how often do you change it? Felix, I think we we cook specifically with seasonality. So if the market changes, we change. And that's really how the Italians have cooked for thousands and thousands years. You know, seasonality is a real buzzword in the U.S., but Italians have been cooking that way out of necessity for thousands of years and so many other cultures. But I really take, you know, my inspiration from tradition and try to pay homage to those culinary traditions in Italy.
And I try to put as a minimal amount of ego and a minimal amount of manipulation towards the traditional product. And all I want to do is present whatever it is, whether it's kosher pepper or tagliatelle or Bolognese, the truest form that you can possibly get. And the U.S., that's what I want to put forth. And if you take my Bolognese, the inspiration from that.
Do you have the Bollo at Feliks? I'm sure of that, yeah.
That shit should tastes like the streets of Bologna, the diesel fuel, cigarette smoke, really the melting pork fat weight like that.
Italy, Italian food is so there's no time for this.
So is so environmentally driven.
Italian food is so environmentally driven and it's hard to accomplish that if you're in the Ascender fucking Culver City. So you have to coax out these nuances from products that are born in the place that you're trying to evoke, you know, like Persia to palm mortadella, the bologna. So like it needs to taste of that place. If you're sitting on the island of Capri and you're eating a catchphrase, a salad drink in a glass of wine with the person that you love and the ocean breezes on your face, and then you eat a crazy salad it Joe Schmoes place in fuckin Inglewood, it doesn't read the same way.
And that's that's really where the difference between good restaurants, bad restaurants and great restaurants really lives.
And what about the wine? Like, how do you know what wine to buy that's going to go with the meals that your serve?
Again, it goes down to regionality and someone who has a great palate. You know, our wine director, Matt Wrobel, has done an exceptional job at choosing wines that are specific to the regions that were inspired by him. And you got to taste it. And that's what I mean. That's the fun part.
But like, you just have to taste everything, taste it. And there's a lot of shit wine out there, but there's a lot of exceptional wine that is made by very small family farms that are sorry vintners, that the allocation is so small that they barely have enough to send to the U.S. Army.
So does the wine director look at your menu and then say, you know, this is going to require a hundred percent, it's just total.
It has to be collaborative, you know, so you'll show him the menu and then you have a dialogue about like what kind of wine? Exactly. And then do you try it? Do you, like, make a dish and try the wine with that dish and we'll taste multiple wines, multiple wines.
What could possibly go with whatever you're making? What if it if it's a new new dish or a new wine or it's the same menu and an old wine, a different vintage, a different area of the region where the wine is grown like there's so many different elements to to choosing wine and then on top of it, training the staff to make suggestions to clientele like, hey, what do you really like? And that gets back to that conversation between us and the clientele.
And knowing more about our clientele and who likes to come to Feliks gives us better, you know, a better standpoint.
How many people do you think are returning customers?
I would say at least 75. Eighty percent. Wow, absolutely, that's crazy, recognize people, of course. Wow. I mean, you saw me. I stand at the pass up. I'm in the dining room. Yeah. And I check every single plate coming out of the kitchen. Wow.
You know, your bread and butter is really you're turning customers in any restaurant. You're going to have an element of people that come in because they're traveling from other parts of the world and they want to check out your restaurant. But, you know, imagine right now we're traveling's really hit. So if you don't have your local customer base built up, then you're in trouble.
Now, for someone like you that has so many restaurants, you have so many plates spinning, how do you not go crazy? Like, how do you how do you manage all that? I can't imagine the stress that's on your head, the weight you're carrying on your shoulders, running that many restaurants.
Well, I have an amazing team, so it's not I'm definitely not alone in this and I have amazing people. And we're in this together. And I think I had a moment where I was brought to my knees. I felt stressed like I had never felt before. I was thinking, like, could I have an aneurysm right now? I was just feeling uncontrollable stress, you know, with the thought of just losing everything that I had built up and my personality being so conservative, I just couldn't I couldn't believe it was overwhelming.
And then I gave myself I just gave myself a few days to be that way and have, you know, that that reaction. And, you know, I'm an entrepreneur and I'm greedy. And I just gave myself essentially a few days. And then I pick myself up and I said, what are we going to do? And I'm not alone in this. Everybody in my industry, the industry has been decimated. And to know that we're in this together and to look at solutions where you have to adapt and innovate and renegotiate so, you know, how are we going to create these other new revenue streams?
And so I got back into working mode, working around the clock with my team and a lot of my restaurants in Toronto. You can buy all of your groceries and essentials and just looking for other revenue streams to survive.
Have any of them opened up in Toronto yet? Not for a sit down. And we're behind the U.S.. Really?
Yeah. Yeah. Why is that?
Well, because the the the virus lagged in, you know, in the spread. It started here sort of spreading in New York City before Toronto. So we were just, I think about three weeks behind everything happening here. So and I think we're a little bit more conservative with reopening. And we like you know, it's all everyone's telling me they can't get the even the antibody test anywhere in Canada. So we're we're behind on these kind of things.
So we don't know when we're going to be allowed to be open for seated to be seated. You know, and I think the one good news we're going to summer, a lot of my restaurants have a lot of patio space and we know that you're safer outdoors, obviously, for obvious reasons. And in with Felix, we went to the landlord to ask if we could use the back area spacers like a little pocket. So we're going to use outdoor space behind the restaurants.
And it's all about making people feel safe. People will come out if they feel safe. There's going to be your young customer base that doesn't care. But as more and more restaurants open, there's just going it's going to be spread amongst fewer restaurants. So we're not out of the woods here. We're not going to be you know, and again, our goal is to survive this.
Now, do you look at these new restaurants you're about to open? Do you put them on pause? Do you just continue ahead once you get the green light and just say, let's make it happen while each project again is, you know, is very different and I have different amounts of money invested in each project.
So what we're doing is negotiating around the clock with, for example, if we have landlords in certain places where renegotiating the leases right now and we're asking to put it on pause, put the entire project on pause till we come out of this and I can start building the company again and have some revenue to put back into the projects. So some some landlords have been unwilling in the beginning, but now they're they're more willing as they realize who can take my place.
If somebody who I've got a very strong record, I've never closed a restaurant. And that's amazing.
That's really amazing, isn't it? Like, it's pretty amazing.
I am talking what is the average restaurant? What percentage of 80 percent, 80 percent failure. Yeah. Yeah.
High failure rate. Very tough business. Don't go in. It goes nobody.
Nobody. Yeah. No I love it. I love it. It's passion for us. And so we do it. But you know landlords maybe initially were saying just put you got to pay your rent even on construction sites. My rent was kicking in. I'm like I'm not even open and I got to pay rent. I so I can't do that. So take the keys. And so some of them were like, why would you want to waste your investment?
And I'd be like, I'm like in triage and I got to save the restaurants that are open. I can't be like building a worse time to be building a restaurant. So I had to be willing to walk away. And in negotiations, your strongest position is being willing to walk away. So I'm like, just take the keys. I can't even be concerned about this. Even if I've got millions of dollars out on construction sites, I'm like, take.
The keys, and then they come back and they say, well, I guess we don't have anyone else to come in our place when, you know, restaurants have been decimated. What retail like, are you going to get, you know, Neiman Marcus in there that, you know, J.Crew who's coming in my place? So once they start to realize that, they're saying, OK, let's sit down at the negotiation table and work this out.
So I'm working through every project so I don't have the answers right now, but I'm willing to walk away if I can't, you know, negotiate to be something that I can actually, you know, survive in the end and not just pour more money into something that I'll just lose my shirt. I want to pause on on the construction sites.
It seems like there's going to be a long period of time before anybody considers opening up a new restaurant.
Oh, my God. Well, who would be surprised?
Think so many people are going to just jump in some gangsters. But the thing is, this is there is no restaurant life without restaurants. And this is a revolving door to just get philosophical as far greater.
Evans, I mean, that it's just it it's the way of this game. And it's the unfortunate fact that from extraordinary these extraordinary circumstances, there's going to be a lot of leases that are available and there are a lot of people who want to open restaurants because it's the hot thing to do.
I 100 percent agree. I just think that there's going to be a lot of young people coming now because commercial real estate is going to be very affordable and they can come in. So I think a little bit there's going to be a changing of the guard.
Well, restaurants in L.A. have very unique personalities to this, like celebrity spots, which I'm always, like, super wary of.
And they always seem really gross, you know, like I've eaten that catch before.
And there's like paparazzi waiting for you as you walk in and you know what those places are done like.
But by design, yeah, they're flashy and whatever. But we've always tried to create a safe haven like a sanctuary for the celebrity clientele. You know, if you need to go out the back door and, you know, because there's paparazzi outside. Absolutely. Let's go through the kitchen, whatever you need.
And and I think that's a lot of the reason why celebrities are attracted to Felix is that. I'm just here to feed you and make sure you have a good time, and then if you need anything further on top of that, we're willing to supply that, whatever it is. And on top of that, the food's pretty good.
But, yeah, the food's amazing, but it's like scenes. Those are weird. Like those are engineered weird.
They're engineered so that they probably tell the paparazzi, come hang out here. They probably have some sort of a weird deal with celebrities, celebrity or celebrity friends.
And celebrities do go there to be photographed. And it happens. It happens all over the place. But only L.A. This is L.A..
Yeah, I was always in these dummies talk and they were like, we on the couch. There was no one famous. They're like they went there just to see famous people.
It's bizarre. It's fucking weird.
It's fucking weird. Yeah.
When you look at all the restaurants in L.A. is a really good place for restaurants.
Would you agree with I think L.A. is the best place to cook right now. Real in the United States. Absolutely. Why so?
Just because, you know, for very for a very long time, L.A. wasn't really respected as a as a bona fide place for people to cook people. Why was that? Just no respect. It just no respect. And it was always San Francisco is always New York.
And they pulled the Michelin guide out of L.A. The Michelin guide existed here. And then they pulled it out and they just brought it back last year. Why?
What did they didn't think it was good, seriously?
Well, I think it's really for real because we just have a different style and approach to dining. Fine dining has its place in Los Angeles, but there's literally a handful of fine dining restaurants. And that's what Michelin is really geared towards. Rating is fine dining restaurants. You have to do certain things, a certain criteria that you have to hit to get a Michelin star. That's all there is. And they focus a lot on French and Japanese style restaurants and which is big in New York.
It's big in San Francisco, it's big in Chicago. So they they focus on that. So they pulled it. I think it was 2009. They pulled pulled the guide.
They just didn't take a seriously good enough L.A. but they came back last year. Yeah. Was a lot of backlash when they came back. OK, we think you're good enough now. A lot of people in L.A. were like, this is not going to hold.
Well, how does one get a Michelin star? Like how does that work? They come down and they just decide the tire company sends people out.
How weird is that? Is people to tire company?
That's like French tire company, is it? Yeah, Michelin from France for a man. But it's a strange thing that a tire companies the most respected.
Yeah. They send inspectors are supposed to be, you know, anonymous. There's certain criteria that they they also dying. You know, they it's always a two top. They always like do special reports. The top two tops, two people, OK, or produce and talking restaurant talk.
And, you know, they ask for birthday candles, they ask for special adjustments to their meal. They always order a bottle of wine or two glasses.
It's just there's a lot of hidden kind of things that they do that give you the heads up that they're there.
Well, in my opinion, I don't think Michelin actually came to Felix and that's why we were left off, because it couldn't get a reservation real.
Yeah, man. We're booked out twenty eight days in advance at Feliks and for every day of that month, we have over 500 people on the waitlist for that day.
So does it matter if you're on a Michelin star? Does that mean to me to, you know.
Yeah, I don't do it for them. I don't do it for accolades. I do for the people who show up to cook there and work there for my team. And I show and and we do it for the people who come to eat.
Well, just as a client or a customer, if you're not a list, that list is bullshit.
Really? Yes. You said that list is bullshit.
Like if you tell them where the best restaurants in L.A. is and your restaurant's not on it, nonsense that you have a nonsense list like you get a reservation.
Son, I just think the criteria is a little bit archaic.
Yeah, that's a little bit archaic. And they had an exceptional chance to really create some, you know, some support for the list in Los Angeles. And they really created animosity throughout, like throughout the city.
Is there any other established methods of judging restaurants, everyone who sits down?
Right. It's immediate word of mouth, word of the real. Yeah. And that's I just say scoreboard, man, scoreboard. I'm busy every night. I crank every night.
Your best work is within your four walls and people walking out and word of mouth. Right. Do you. Right. Do you like you know, we're I can take out advertisements to say come to Felix, you're going to have a great plate of pasta is going to be your friends telling you. How did you come to Felix the first time? Callon. He never called me up. Listen to me.
Listen to me. The best the best restaurant on Earth. Felix in Venice. It's on Abbot Kinney. You're going with me. The best restaurant. Trust me, Mike really took the best. The best. This is Brian. The best.
And my cook, like Brian is a real foodie.
When Callan tells me something amazing and I saw him the other day picking up to go. Yeah.
When he says the best, like really. OK, like what if he calls me. You must he must eat there. You must. It's the best. He's right. Favorite. It's the best. That's the best.
That's the best compliment. People show up every day and that's all that you know. That's all that I need. Yeah.
It's like Kevin Costner Field of Dreams. Build it and they will come. They will come. Yeah. I mean, it is a beautiful thing when things get out purely by word of mouth, you know, it has more staying power that way.
I mean, we just after we opened, we had an incredible accolade in Esquire magazine which named us the number one new restaurant in America that held that house and restaurant America, Esquire. Wow.
So that's so that's what they're talking about. Thank you. Michelin. Yeah. Certain accolades like that. You know, that's why we have a you know, people will say about Felix. The complaint is they can't get in because we had we've had certain accolades. So anyone traveling to L.A., they're like Esquire magazine number one new restaurant. They want to they want to check out Felix.
So have you guys thought about making a larger version of Felix, or do you like the fact that it's all manageable, small?
It's exclusive. You know, I like to keep my eye on everything and then restaurants just big enough that we can be busy. We can employ a good amount of staff members and we can serve a significant amount of people per night.
And anything over that is just, you know, I think it loses some of the specialness of the restaurant. You know, that restaurant is it's a jewel. It's a total jewel.
And there's an adage in business, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Mm.
You gonna open another restaurant, do something else. But there's only there's only one Felix on it, McKinney. And that's how it's going to stay now when you create a dish.
So if you.
Is this something like whether it's a pasta dish or anything, is it something that you've already cooked before or do you experiment, do you create things based on like what you already know about food? And you have an idea?
That's a good question. I mean, honestly, I try not to create obviously I'm putting my my own not a spin, but my own fingerprint on it. But I'm really just drawing from thousands of years of tradition and just trying not to fuck it up and pay homage to the people who created it and anything on the Felix on the Felix menu. I've learned from someone in Italy like I don't make pasta shapes that I saw on YouTube, because for me that's cheap, it's cheap.
There's more value to me to learn it from a grandmother in Italy, in their region, in their house, and pass that knowledge on to me so that I can authentically present it and and the best way possible.
So when you were learning. And you were you were in Italy doing this, did you have this understanding that all this would eventually play out like that and that you would become a great chef and that this is the idea that you're putting in the work?
Or were you just enamored by the passion of making?
I absolutely fell in love with the Italian approach to cooking, the Italian approach to living there, their reverence for land and tradition. And when I got you know, I classically trained French, you know, French food. I went to Le Cordon Bleu, whatever I cooked for seven years, French and Asian techniques at Spago in Beverly Hills. And as soon as I went to Italy, all of that went out the window. And I adopted this approach because I just absolutely fell in love with the country.
And I've you know, that that loves you know, it burns hot. What about that?
Why does that resonate more than, say, French cuisine or because French food manipulates, they manipulate, manipulate, you know, Suvi it and and turning, you know, a tomato into something else to look like something out or tastes like something else.
I just don't I don't get that so much goes into growing something that's already naturally perfect. Why wouldn't you just slice it open, put some sea salt on it and drizzle it with fine olive oil and eat it like that's fucking perfect.
Why would you want to fucking puree it and then put jellyfish in it and put it into, you know, like, why I just don't get it? So I just left it all behind. All those manipulative techniques that are very, very popular in a lot of a lot of the world and a lot of the restaurants in the world. I just it doesn't excite me. That's his personal preference, personal because some people love French cuisine. That's all the weird little for me.
That's that's like how many times could you go to a movie? You know, how many times can possibly Abby's friend Adria's now closed restaurant and essentially the godfather of molecular gastronomy. And, you know, how many times can you go there and and have the experience and say, fuck, I want to go back to that place because this was so good? It hits you in a different way. When you make food that people crave on a daily basis, it just hits different.
It gets inside of you. You never forget that steak that you had it, Felix. Never. And once it's in there, once it's in your mind, I'm like, fuck, I want to have that again. And that's really my goal as a pasta maker, as a chef, is to create dishes that hit different. You know, and and and to ultimately, like, evoke memory, do you have the culture of Pepé at Felix?
Yes. OK, yeah.
So my goal is like if you have cut your Pepé at Felix and you've been to Rome and cut your Pepé, I want you to be like, fuck, this is better than Rome. Or remember that time we were in Rome, we had cut peppered this is better or this is worse or whatever. You evoke memories and you make them. And that's really the ultimate goal is, is to get inside people's heads so they come back. It's a weird thing.
Food, the mouth, pleasure. It's a very strange thing like flavor. It's like you're you're playing games with the inside of people's mouths.
You know, that's a fact of where to say, but it's really what it is. When those flavors come together, you like you savor the body like are like. And for that brief moment, while it's in your mouth and you're chewing it either it's really amazing pleasure, but it's also it's also a drug and a lot of chemicals changing your chemical.
There's nothing like it in the world now. It's so important and got to appreciate it so much. I appreciate going out to a restaurant so much because this pandemic and I'm I always appreciated it. It was always a wonderful treat to be able to go to a nice restaurant.
But God, I appreciate it so much. Now, when you don't have it and I like cooking, I cook all the time, I enjoy it. But there's something about not having it that makes you go, Oh, I'm going.
I appreciate this so much when you get to do it again. Yeah, it's great. Well, that gives us hope.
Yeah. So from here it's just waiting out the protests and then putting it all together again with the staff. How do you bring this. Is everybody available. Did you are you going to be able to have the same crew.
Some are. Some are not. Some are not comfortable coming back, but they're not ready. And that's because of the disease. Yeah. Are they getting unemployment?
I think a lot of them are, yeah.
I mean, the Carers Act really up to the unemployment, you know. You know, when you're making 600 net a week and your decision is to, you know, to keep taking this money or do I put my life at risk. And it's going to be a certain percentage that they don't want to come back to work.
I don't blame them. Yeah, I know what you're saying. I wish there was more emphasis by the government put on having you use take strategies to strengthen your immune system and explain to people how important it is to stop eating so much sugar. Stop drinking so much. Get some exercise. All these things have a real measurable effect on your immune system. But yet it's all fear. It's all over your face. Wear a shield. Don't touch this hand sanitizer.
It's like there's weakening the system. Exactly.
It's well, I don't know if your immune system gets weakened because of noncontact or get strengthened because of contact. If it really does get weakened because of noncontact. You're dealing with a bunch of people with severely compromised immune systems going out, marching together, stacking on top of each other. You know, the really kind of a crazy experiment to see where covid is right now because of these these Marcha, that's for sure.
Yeah, that's for sure. So you guys optimistic? Yeah. Always, always, always, 100 percent optimist, salt, forward, assault, assault forward.
We have to move forward. We have to go. Yeah, we have we don't have a choice. We must move forward. If we don't, we die. Once you stop moving, you die. And that's it. It's like. You just have to push and you have to be working at it like, you know, there's a lot of restaurants that are closing and a lot of great restaurants that are closing to no fault of their own because, you know, again, for so many reasons, right?
If you're a little bit weak, if you're a new restaurant, you're going to have a hard time. If you're an old restaurant in your sales are kind of weak, you're going to close. But right now, if you sit down and just kind of wait it out and you're going to die, but if you, you know, Feliks, in 48 hours became a takeout and delivery restaurant, there was no takeout and delivery because pasta we didn't even have containers dude make.
But in 48 hours, you know, here are your pasta kits and you can have a perfect experience at home. You know, just boil bullier water in three minutes. You have a Feliks dinner. But that was created by the team at Feliks in 48 hours. A lot of restaurants, they just like they're sitting around and they're not you know, they're not being proactive. And it's also about renegotiating with the banks and renegotiating with your landlords and looking for new revenue streams.
So you have to be doing you have to be doing all of that work right now or you will not survive.
I thought it was remarkably flexible that a lot of restaurants were putting together these kits that that that became a thing. It's really very interesting. They just adapted and said, OK, how can we give these people instructions and then put together this food.
And then what we did, we we created the the kits specifically geared towards shelter at home so that you could get restaurant quality pasta and just literally boil water and you're there.
So you continued to make the pasta basically the same way. And then do you send it to them with like very specific instructions? Absolutely. Put salt in the water the whole bit.
Yeah. The whole bit is basically heat up the sauce, boil the water, add this amount of salt, boil it for three minutes, added to the sauce, boom. Add the cheese. You could go. It's been it's been successful and and I think a lot of restaurants took. Took you no notes from us and started doing the same thing because it's really kept us alive and obviously people fucking love pizza. Yeah, and I think, you know, one upside to this is we we weren't necessarily known for how good the pizza is at Felix, but now people fucking know how good the fucking pizza is a feeling you guys make good everything.
But like, so if someone orders a steak, are you cooking steak or are you sending them steaks to keep sending them prepackaged cryovac steaks with with instructions that, you know, everybody likes the steak cooked differently. So we give general guidelines and tips of how to rest and you know. Right. We send them Salsa Verde and we send them, you know, steak, salt and whatnot.
So are you telling them to cook on a frying pan? Like, how how are you getting them to cook at high heat, either the grill or in the frying pan?
Just high heat is your thing.
High heat and high heat and then just intervals high heat. Take it off, let it rest.
High heat, take it off so you cook more, especially the T bones. So when you do that, so you're not doing it in one shot, you're kicking it a little bit and then letting up to an hour to cook like a 35 ounce Tiba.
Really? Absolutely. Why do you bring up the temperature? Very slow and gradual.
But you're doing it with high heat. Yeah. In these y high heat because.
Yeah, that's all you got in restaurants. High heat low is typically for braising, but if you're dealing with dry heat, it should be violent, should be quick and then let it rest, especially bone. You've got to start the T bone on the actual bone. Right. So vertical started on you. Oh yes. Trager. Yeah. That's how you do it.
You start on the bone so that the heat can radiate gently through the bone and out towards the meat. So if you just throw the T bone on side and then sign it, you have a part that's connected to that actual T bone, the separation bone. It's going to be raw and everything else is going to be medium rare, medium rare. But if you started on the bone, the heat is gently radiated through the meat. So halfway through we take the the filet mignon off and cook the New York side a little longer.
So how long do you make it sit on the bone? How long do you have it stacked vertically.
Like ten to twelve minutes. Oh wow. Yeah. I never even thought of that. Yeah. Man B stick a Fiorentino.
The master is Dario. Who's that, Darry Cecchini, he is one. He's like the most famous, you should look him up as one of the most famous butchers in all of Italy. He quotes Dante's fucking maniac. But I went to this restaurant two years ago to Florence.
It's in I want to say I can't remember that. Yeah. Oh, there he is. There is what's good there. You look at them. Yeah. Amazing face. Amazing. So happy.
He said, well, yeah. You say he's a wild man. He's a wild man, but he starts the t bone on the bone. So he's oh Jesus.
He's my fucking absolute master. That's preposterous. Absolute master. And so you learn from him.
So I did not learn from him. You know, I've been we've been cooking, you know, I've been cooking for twenty years. So you pick things up along the way, cook. He's just like like and you know, it's like a practice. Okay, you got a doctor. You got a lawyer. Right. You learn the fundamentals. And then throughout your career, you upgrade those fundamentals with new and relevant techniques or laws or whatever. Cooking is the same thing.
You get a foundation and then you upgrade new and relevant techniques.
And so are you using a grill that uses wood? Are you cooking on wood?
Yeah, we're cooking on California almond and and white oak.
Almond, almond, almond for the smoke because it'll go to fire like that because it's so saturated with almond oil and then OK for long and slow cooking. So it's burned super hot. So the the almond burns really quick and the OK burns very slow.
And so you put different woods in four different times like. Yeah.
So you started off with the start with almond and then we add OK, and then we add almond and then we add OK and it's just kind of fire maintenance is 90 percent of wood fire cooking.
So it's just about how hot it burns and the distance, how bad, how deep the coalbed is and how, you know, evenly dispersed the heat is, will have a cool side and hot side and then a fire side all within like a you know. Two square feet, is there images of your grill set up online? I don't think so. Even your 10 percent technique right now is not something like 10 percent of your cooking.
It sounds a lot, right? Yeah, like, hold on a second.
How could that be? Debra said, rotating the fatty 10 percent.
So did you set up this grill is well, because like you, that's the only way you cook steak.
You prefer to cook it over wood or the design of Felix. The actual shoebox of a kitchen that we have is really you know, the design was based on the restrictions of the size. So we've crammed a hell of a lot into I think it's just just under 220 square feet, something like that. There's a fucking pizza oven and there's wood fire grill burners as a fryer and you cook five, 500 meals a night in the room.
I think Top End is like 350, 350 people. So if you times that by three or four different different plates per person. Wow. With some more than that, it's built for speed.
I build restaurants for speed and I know some restaurants. They have those crazy like it's like a gas broiler.
Yeah. You know, and some of them have shit. Tastes like gasoline does it. I can't stand. It's like a Boston broiler top and bottom with the Boston broiler. It's like, it's like a draw.
You pull it out. It's steak on a lot of like Mastro's and an old school steak houses have them because it cooks with crazy intense heat from top and bottom at the same time.
Yeah, but you don't know. Don't like it. Not that it's analog. I like to do as many things analog as possible.
I still write with pencil. Really? Yeah, well, it's interesting because all this attention to detail, like it's kind of shocking, not only shocking, but surprising. Oh, OK.
Well wow Ongman and then OK. Huh.
But it makes sense if you eat. There you go. OK, someone has to put an insane amount of attention to detail, to make dishes that are that satisfying.
Well, the simplicity kind of belies the the background of the dish. You know, it looks really fucking simple, but there's 20 years of experience behind it. And that's that's that's like the ultimate goal should look simple, it should be delicious. But, you know, do you necessarily need to know about the wizard behind the curtain? No, I do want to know.
But it's also Evan Procurers, absolutely the best product from everywhere and has the best relationships with the best farmers. And he's like, when you go to the farmer's market with Evan, he's like he's like the king of the farm is called the mayor or the mayor.
The farmer's market is very funny and they're like, we've saved you, but little has everything is handpicked.
I go Wednesdays and Saturdays, not recently, obviously, but everything is handpicked. We don't do preorders. I go there. And that's that's the the very basis of cooking Italian sort of them.
Are all your ingredients at the farmer's market?
I would say 90 to 92 percent of all the vegetables that we use. Wow. Farms not nothing outside of 500 miles.
So you have these longstanding relationships with these farms. Absolutely.
And do you talk to them in advance and they say, OK, we've got great that we talk about whether we talk about soil content, we talk about water content, we talk about if it's going to rain, what's coming up? What do you have in the ground? What are you planning? For three months from now? I've smuggled seeds back from Italy so that they can, like, plant stuff that you had to smuggle. Yeah, and people are listening.
So some things are allowed.
But like, I brought certain species of, you know, bitter greens and different varieties.
You know, I give them the farmers equal to to different like microclimates because California's great, right. They have a ton of microclimates.
So say, for instance, we buy broccoli sprouting broccoli. I'll buy broccoli from three different farms in three different microclimates with three different soil contents. Right. So I'll buy broccoli from Concow in Fresno and then I'll buy broccoli from James Birch and Florella, which is Three Rivers, and then I'll buy broccoli from Romeo Coleman. And all three of them have different soil contents. So James, all of James has water in Three Rivers, comes from melting snow caps.
So it has a huge amount of mineral content in the soil. And then you buy Cong's broccoli in Fresno. It's super hot with cold nights, complex sugars. So it's very sweet. And then you buy Romeo's broccoli, which is less than, I think a mile and a half from the ocean high salinity content in the broccoli. You mix all the broccoli together and it's like broccoli on fucking steroids.
Could you tell if I gave you a piece of broccoli from each place where it came from? That crazy rain, like a Somalia like Somalia is, can tell you they can sip wine and a really good one can tell you where it's coming from. It's like so it's a little easier to do with wine, is it really?
Yeah, I think so. So you can't.
But, you know, there is a difference if you say specific, it's terroir. It's terroir. Just like wine you are talking. It means the territory, the ground, what's in the ground, the term Mars is specific to where that thing is grown. And it terroir exists not only in wine but in fruits and vegetables, all of it.
And the same approach to meat.
Like what kind of 100 percent if if if you're raising steer's in Colorado versus Utah versus California, California has very, very little grass and all the grass that's down tastes like dry ass fucking grass because there's no water. So the beef tastes of that place.
And if you're finishing cattle on corn or feeding it 100 percent corn, it's going to taste completely different. The marbling is going to be completely different. The steaks I brought you today are 80-20. So eighty percent of the of the steer's life is grass and then they're finished on corn because America is literally in love with corn fed flavor and that mouthfeel from the fat.
Yeah. So it's 80-20 but corn makes cattle sick. Right.
That's why they pump them full of antibiotics. So, you know, the, the good ranchers who practice animal husbandry, they do it in a way that doesn't make the, you know, the animals sick.
So they're just doing it in the last stages of their life. Correct. Is that what you prefer? Did you have you tried different kind of 100 percent grass fed grass finished?
There are certain cuts of the of the Steyr that benefit from grass fed beef are just 100 percent grass diets. Typically Shank's working muscles because working muscles have way more flavor than non-working muscles like Filumena. And filet mignon doesn't taste like fucking anything to me. Right, because it's non it's a non working muscle versus a shank is working all the time.
That's why it's tough, right? So if I was to eat you, Joe Rogan. Right.
If I was to break you down like an animal, I would choose the working muscles and then braise them because they're they're stronger versus your filet mignon. I don't even know where the fuck that would be on our human, but like, it would taste different and it would have a different texture.
Mm. Cavils. Same way. Non-working muscles versus working muscles. Have you ever gotten hold of any wild boar, 100 percent? Yeah, I was huge in Italy. Do you do?
It's a hard sell on Abbott Kinney. Is it really? Yeah.
So some people don't enjoy the the nuances. People would call it gamey, but I don't find a game if you treat it and apply certain if you apply certain herbs and certain I wouldn't call them spices but play certain ingredients to it. It takes the game in this all the way. So for me, if I cook wild boar, I think Tuscany, I think of Abruzzo, I think of, you know, wild country. And for me, the the hills of Tuscany smell like wild fennel and rosemary and dirt.
And you want to bring out those again back to the terroir and give those types of elements to the wild boar. And it makes it sing, man makes it sing.
I brought that up because of the whole idea of the working muscles like this. That's a working animal. It's a tough yeah. It's a tough animal. Most pork that's on the market, they don't really do anything, right?
Yeah. They just sit around. They just sit around and eat the get fat. And that's what people are really looking for when it comes to pork.
But wild boar ragout has been pretty trendy for the last, I'd say, a few years. It's a weird thing to call it boar, too, because Borbor just means a male pig. I'm sure there's a lot of female pigs in there, too. It's for sure it's wild pigs, but they really should call it.
But for whatever reason, people like the word boar is a weird one, right? It's a weird one. Now, what about game?
Do you serve venison or any elegant anything like the hard sell?
Is it hard sell on that? McKinney I love venison. I love elk. I've cooked it in the past, but yeah, it's a hard sell and it goes back to knowing your clientele. You know, just because I want to put some ego into the menu doesn't mean that that you you don't want anything that's a hard sell.
You want anything something that's going to want just to spend gravity.
Well, so the menu at Felix and the the entrees a second, it's a very small section because our kitchen is very small. So there's only going to be usually about two proteins on the menu. So you don't want to if you have a much larger menu, you can be a little bit more creative or put on those cuts that aren't as popular.
But when your menus that short, you have to look at, you know, sales and also meat of any kind, whether that's fish or whatever, is extremely expensive.
And, you know, going back to the conversation of charging an accurate amount of money for a dish, it's it's it's hard, you know, take a look at lamb lamb wholesale. It's like. Fucking eighteen dollars a pound for me, that's wholesale costs. That means I need to charge you 65 bucks for three bonds of Iraq lamb, 65 bucks. That's for me to cover the cost of running my kitchen out of that one dish. That's so crazy.
And every single item on the menu is costed in that way we have a cost.
Then we have to figure out how much it costs to make that dish. And then we have to figure out our lights and our utilities and our rent and all that other shit, and then we got to put a price on it. So when you go out to eat, you're not just paying for the ingredients. You do that home.
You're paying for the experience, the staff, the lights, the water, all of that.
How people take that into consideration when they eat at a fine restaurant.
I really do think it's you know, I think people just people don't know. But right now, people are talking about the restaurant industry because, you know, we've been hit so hard and to understand that 90 percent of all of our revenue goes back out into the economy. So you're taking your money and you're paying your staff and you're paying your rent, you're paying your food costs.
So a lot of it goes right back out.
Most of it the majority, 90 percent. God, it's such a crazy business. Just hearing you guys talk about it sounds like such a balancing act. And then to be hit over the head with something like this pandemic and everything getting locked down, it's you know, restaurants are so valuable to me.
And it's it's one of the things that I worried most about this pandemic other than the lives, was like businesses that I enjoy and then restaurants specifically because it's such a great way to spend time with someone.
I mean, it's one of the great pleasures of life to be able to go to a place and have a fantastic chef, sit, you know, sit you down and cook some amazing food and you enjoy it and. That if that goes away, well, you know, I think over the last few years, restaurants in general have really in North America will say have really reached a pinnacle of cultural prevalence right now. And but it has to be reimagined.
We're not we're not going to go back to that for the next little while. And, you know, there's going to be you know, there was one restaurant in the Netherlands who has a robot.
Did you see that with a little robot in the robot Food Maastricht in the Netherlands? A little robot that comes in is the best person cleaning the tables and also bringing your food. Look it up, the robot, the robot robot Netherland's restaurant, it cleans the table, cleans the table, brings your food. Yeah.
And a reopened Dutch restaurants using robots to implement social distancing by serving and seating customers. That's fucking creepy.
Look at that face. Look at that face. That is weird. Murderous eyes. But they say they can be customized.
And I know I don't know, I. I do have faith. I do have faith in our community. I have faith in our industry that that we are creative enough to to get through this. And and we're just fucking stubborn as fuck. We're all so stubborn. We do this for for the love of doing it, for the love of making people happy.
You work so hard and anybody who knows anybody that works in the restaurant business understands it's a long grind.
I have faith in you guys. I just don't have faith in the government.
I don't have faith in what the way they've handled this and why should we.
Yeah. I just listen. There's just there's a complete lack of of leadership at the top. Complete fucking lack of leadership.
And it's at it's fucking depressing. Yeah, it's fucking depressing. And again, the fish stinks from the head down. Well, listen, I'm in your corner, I know you are, and we we appreciate you and I know that you've mentioned Felix a couple of times on the podcast. And, you know, it's really it's really appreciated. And we all need help. Restaurants in general. I'll need help.
I just love when someone does anything with the kind of passion that you guys display at your restaurant, whatever it is, whether you're making music or you're writing books or you're making food.
I just love when someone does something like that because it makes me excited about all the things that I do. I think we and, you know, as human beings, as we interact with each other and we explore each other's lives and what other people do for a living, what their passions are, you get energized by that. You get energized by other people's work, by their enthusiasm. Their enthusiasm is really contagious, you know, and that's one thing that I've really got out of your restaurant.
It's it's very contagious. It's very obvious. You guys take extreme pride in what you do and you do it so well. Yeah.
Thank you. Know, it's it's what keeps me going is is the like you said, it's the enthusiasm of our staff and the people that come back to our restaurant again and again. And it's what keeps us going, you know, that's our reward. And we're so used to that immediate reward of sending the food to the table and seeing people enjoy it. That's like the drug to us is making people happy.
It's it's immediate and the camaraderie of everybody working together to provide that.
Yeah. And the good news is we're not going anywhere and we know now that we are going to make it to the other side.
Beautiful. I'll be there. We can't wait. I hope so. Thank you to thank you, guys. Thank you so much. Thank you, Joe. My pleasure. Can't we do get can't wait to have.
We did it. Thanks. Bye bye bye.
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