But I think there is something really important about in any field not getting to the top too quickly.
I'm Shane Parrish, and this is another episode of the Knowledge Project, a podcast exploring the ideas, methods and mental models that help you learn from the best and what other people have already figured out. To learn more about the show and pass gas, go to F-stop Blogs podcast. My guest today is Chef Dan Kluger. I first met Dan when a friend took me to his restaurant Loring Place in New York for a late dinner one night. And like he does most nights, Dan left the kitchen to come out and talk to all the people in the dining room.
That prompted me to get more interested in the food and the business of running a restaurant. We started an email conversation shortly after Dan walked in Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe, starting in the front of the house and working his way back to Prep Cook and then every station in the kitchen. In 1999, he helped open Hablar restaurant and worked his way up to Schefter cuisine. As you'll hear, working his way up and earning his stripes, so to speak, was important to Dan and something that's lost on a lot of chefs today.
In 2010, Dan opened ABC Kitchen as the executive chef and won a whole bunch of awards like the 2011 Best New Restaurant, the 2010 Food and Wine Best New Chef. And in the fall of 2016, he opened Lauren Place in New York, which is exceptional. And that's where this conversation takes place. I highly recommend the Sundays Enjoy.
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You save time and money, reduce stress and eat well. Download the free meal. I'm for your Android or iPhone or check them out on the web at Meulen Dotcom. That's me a l. I am e dotcom. Dan, welcome to the show. So excited to be talking to you. I'm so interested in food, your background and your passion for restaurants and cooking. Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me. Can you tell me? At what point did you realize you wanted to be a chef?
Oh, um. I don't really know, I guess it's better to give a little quick history. I went to Syracuse University not expecting to have anything to do with food, and I was going to physical therapy and ended up taking a bunch of nutrition food science classes as a prerequisite for it.
And then I kind of started to catch this little bug.
And through that, I was open to this lecture series that we put on.
And I met a number of amazing entrepreneurs and restaurateurs, and one of which was Danny Meyer.
And so I went to work for him as an intern, college internship, came back for my, I guess, my senior year and really started to get this excitement over it and realized that this is something that I could see myself doing, being involved in a restaurant.
I don't really know in what capacity.
So I graduated and it was not a culinary program by any means, but we did some cooking and it was right at the another, I think stock market crash, downturns of the economy.
And they made some cutbacks. And the teacher, the professor that did all the cooking classes and all the extracurricular activities with cooking, he got laid off. And so I became sort of a teacher and I ended up taking over some of those classes and getting really involved with cooking and just taught myself how to how to get through. It was working with other cooks on how to do these projects. We did.
But again, I never thought it would be the path I would choose. Went back to Union Square Cafe after I graduated to do some work in the front house, host, maitre d, that kind of thing, and thought maybe there'd be something else for me to work on using my degree really was excited about the idea of doing some packaging products, things like that. So just kind of biding my time to figure out what was going to be the next path.
And I decided on my days off to hang out in the kitchen to learn a little about what that was like at Union Square Cafe, you know, a huge kitchen and a huge kitchen, but very busy kitchen.
You know, at that point in time, it was it was Seagate's number one restaurant in the country or city, whatever it was at that point, you know, year after year.
So it certainly was not it wasn't working in some small little restaurant. I mean, this was eye opening. And I enjoyed the front of the house experience a lot. But the idea of being in the kitchen was intriguing. So I spend a little time on my days off just to kind of understand what was going on. And at some point they offered me a job as a prep cook. So I was making eight fifty an hour peeling potatoes, cleaning calamari.
I worked with the prep crew was strictly Spanish speaking. I didn't speak one word in Spanish. So it was really like, again, very kind of cultural shock for me.
Um, and I did that for a three, three months, four months and started really get into the idea of it. But still was it's just a prep cook. I mean, I didn't know where we'd go to and then I was promoted to, I think, oysters and sandwiches. And then I was doing making all the fresh pastas and I kept working my way up and I spent just under three years there as a line cook and then moved on to OpenTable as a line cook with like Gras.
And so really, it was just it was somewhere around that point that I took this from. It's interesting. And I'm enjoying doing it to I think I'm actually good at this and I should pursue this as a career. I was really right around that time of of finishing at Union Square and opening tabla somewhere in there that I started to look at other opportunities that I did. I want to cook at a small restaurant that I want to do purchasing and do more of a corporate thing.
Did I want to get involved with other aspects of of kitchen and restaurant business, but not be cooking? Because I just wasn't sure. And tabla was an amazing, amazing experience, really. Again, opened my eyes to the food and to cooking was very different than Yuin Square.
How did that experience in the front of the house at Union Square shaped how you acted or behaved or what you created in the back in the kitchen?
Um, well, I think it certainly helped with what we do in the kitchen, but I think it helped more with where I am today and the path that I've taken in terms of really wanting to be a chef owner and create my own thing from start to finish.
And today we're sitting in Lorang place having this interview. And this is your your creation.
This is this is my creation, my baby. All the the blood, literally blood, sweat and tears. I've gone into it.
So I think, you know, for one, if I'd worked probably any decent restaurant in front of the house, I think that experience of being customer facing and.
Enjoying customer interactions would help shape where I am today, but I think working for Danny Meyer and, you know, really being a believer in this hospitality and what was that like?
I mean, there's such a persona for Danny Meyer that I mean, he's he's an amazing person, truly amazing.
And I I was very fortunate that when I started at Union Square Cafe, I think Gramercy Tavern, that opened two years prior, maybe somewhere around there, not even so. He was still very much, you know, involved in Union Square Cafe.
Paul Bowles Bevan, who was his managing partner, was, I mean, really one of the best people I've ever met in my life and really grasped hospitality from from the customer side to the to the employee side, really was just a wonderful person to work with.
And so I was at this, you know, forefront of Danny and Paul and even Michael Romano and all these people that really believed it, practiced it and helped me experience it.
So and that's a service based culture that you're the service based culture, but really the taking care of people both as your employee and as guests.
And I think, you know, the taking care of employees, ultimately, it's a job and ultimately we have to make money.
I think they did a lot to try and make us feel good, whether it was, you know, doing family meal, doing what we what we kind of refer to now as line up, which is, you know, where the whole front of our staff and we also do in the kitchen, they line up and we talk about what's going to happen for the day. And really, you know, just like a big organization probably has small team meetings, it's really no different.
But in the restaurants, it's not always that common.
Now, I think it is. And I think he certainly was probably didn't create that.
But at the forefront of it and, you know, looking at things like the tip pools and all these different things that I think I imagine, again, he didn't start, but he was sort of pioneer, so to speak, in terms of taking big restaurants and making them work this way.
But I think the biggest thing that that he's known for and or at least that that we got from it, we being people that worked there even today, but certainly at that time, is this this hospitality, this feeling of really trying to blow a guest away. What does that mean?
I think it's it's all about how do you take a very average experience or most of us go out to eat.
It's a means to an end. You know, your boys are sitting at the bar now. They're going to have something later is literally a means to an end. It is. They're here with you. We're doing this. They're going to get something to eat.
They don't really care what, when, where and how. They just want something. Yeah. And sometimes we go out because we want to experience something. It's an anniversary. It's a celebration.
Sometimes it is an opportunity to see people you haven't seen in a long time.
Sometimes it's a business meeting. Whatever is ultimately the dining is a means to an end.
And they were really at the forefront of how do we how do we make this special? And it was always just little things. And I think that's always been something that I've taken away. And I mean, again, I remember how little things that had nothing to do with the actual food, but were the experience.
Could change experience for somebody drastically. Can you give me some examples of things like and again, I suppose a lot of Union Square, but took a lot of it a tablet and have taken it on since then, you know, back nineteen ninety eight, if you parked on the street, used to put coins in the meters and I remember guessed it Union Square, and this was not working for the house saying I need some change to go put money in the meter.
I said here, I'll get it for you from the bartender. So why don't you just tell me where your car is and you know, they don't have to give me a key at that point.
Yes, I'll do it for you. Well, no, no, no. You don't need to do that. I don't want to interrupt your meal.
Why don't you sit down, enjoy your meal. Just tell me where your car is and we'll take care of it for you. And I think those little things were weird things that people didn't really do.
It seems so much today that everything runs around the business. And by the business, I mean, it's like the process for the business instead of what is in the best interests of the customer, because being in the best interest of the customer means a lot of variation. And you have to be able to accommodate different things. You have to hire probably differently.
Yeah, I mean, I think in general today we probably accommodate a lot more than restaurants would have 15 years ago. Again, taking taking in a relationship or a restaurant similar to any Union Square hospitality restaurant, but an average restaurant, they wouldn't have done something like that. They wouldn't go out and get a newspaper for a regular sitting at the bar that has, you know, nothing to read. They they wouldn't do those little things. But, you know, now I think we do so much to try and accommodate.
And it's it's not like win this war. It's it's just you're here and I'm happy you're here. It's it is a little bit of a transaction. But I also think, you know, we're at a point where the industry is in a position of raising costs and all these different things that are affecting us, that the accommodation still need to happen, but they need to happen on a sort of non-financial side, you know. Right.
Talk to me about there seems to be almost a rite of passage to become a chef. Right. Like you start or maybe I misunderstand this. I don't know anything about how you become a chef, but it sounds from a lot of stories that I've heard, like you started out as, you know, the lowest of the low in the kitchen sort of. And then you work your way up and it's almost this war of attrition.
Yeah, I'm all very valid.
And I think the war of attrition is certainly a very valid point. And the reason why.
I don't know, I think I grew up in the industry with a lot of very talented people and many of which have gone on to become chefs, but I also can look around and see so many people that I would have thought would be a chef. And they're not today. They went to do something different because it is a tough industry. I do think there's something to be said for working your way up. And it's not just the lowest of the low, but, you know, because that almost sounds derogatory, but.
There's something missing today about a cook that doesn't know how to peel a potato properly, they don't know how to run a dishwasher.
And is that common? I think so, yeah.
I mean, I could I could find, you know, for different examples, whether it's flaying a fish or butchering a chicken or turning an artichoke or something like that, that, you know, solid cooks have not been experienced to do this yet.
You know, they went to school and they butchered one chicken or they butchered six chickens. But they haven't done one hundred. They haven't done 10 cases. They haven't done it, you know, 20 pieces every day for six months to the point where they have now pushed themselves to get so much better. And it goes back to to the whole apprenticeship thing. Right.
I mean, if you think back old world, somebody, any kind of craftsman, any kind of job where you had to learn a skill, you sort of started from the bottom and you worked your way up. If you were a shoemaker, you know, you didn't just start making shoes on day one. You had to work your way up.
If you were, you know, somebody working with steel again, you had to to work your way up thinking about construction. I mean, anything.
So now I think you just watch a YouTube video and you're an expert there.
There is so much of that. And I don't think that anybody necessarily thinks they're experts, but.
For better or for worse, there's so many opportunities now to learn right away, you know, I read a book, book upon book, and I get caught up today in YouTube videos and these amazing food websites that it's like just like that that black hole of the Internet, you just keep going and going, going.
And it's exciting to learn. And I think back if I had had that, you know, when I was starting out, I probably wouldn't have read these books, which would have been detrimental on another part of my career.
You know, I learned so much from reading these books and from experiencing food and food that was being done all over the country. You know, anywhere from from that point in time or early 90s to 20, 30 years before that.
But I think there is something really important about in any field not getting to the top too quickly and really paying your dues somewhere.
And I you know, I maybe I'm not I maybe didn't do it the best way in the sense that I spent a lot of time in a very few number of places. I spent three plus years at Union Square Cafe. I spent seven years at tabla. I spent I think four and a half years at the club. I spent five years with with George and ABC and now doing my own thing.
And, you know, I know a lot of other people who did a lot less and saw a lot more places and were probably exposed to many more things than I ever will be.
So I in some in some respects, I I'm sorry I didn't get that experience. But there's also something to be said about honing your skill and in one place and, you know, gave me the opportunity sort of like take ownership over every place I was at.
I spent so long there that it's hard not to feel like an owner.
Talk to me about how the idea for Lorang place started as a seed and germinated and became reality.
Ultimately, I think from as early on, as you know. The end of my time at Tabla, I started thinking about I'd like to own something, I really I'm committed one hundred percent, that's what I want to do.
But I really want to not only call the shots, but I want to build something from scratch. I've always enjoyed that idea, whether it's the physical building or just the philosophical build something from scratch.
Um, and so I was working at this private membership club called the Core Club. Um, it was amazing experience where I was the chef. And again, while I was an owner, I was I was there long enough and in a position high enough that I couldn't help but feel ownership over it. Right.
I mean, you're in there every day like you're in their blood, sweat and tears.
And, you know, you're responsible for numbers. And you're I think this was a really amazing experience because there's a private membership club that, you know, it was hard. I couldn't invite friends to to eat. I, I think my family came once in the four plus years I was there.
It was private for a reason. And I think in some respects that that was beneficial because it made me have to work that much harder getting staff because nobody really knew anything about it. And there was no New York Times review. There was no, you know, blog posts about it.
So it made me really kind of, I think, work on this philosophy of of creating a tight knit group of people, you know, the employees. And I mean, some of them are still here with me today. And that was twenty five.
Um, so I think while I was there, I was around, you know, some of the best CEOs, entrepreneurs in the world, and I just really spent more and more time thinking about I want to do this, I want to do this.
And I worked on a business plan back and like again, I think twenty six. Twenty seven.
And it was right when stock market crashed and I knew it was going to raise any money.
And I also felt like, you know, I'm still young and as much as I want to do something, it's maybe it's not the right time.
And I was very fortunate enough to meet John George at the farmer's market and went to go work for him and was incredibly happy with what I was doing. But again, there was always this kind of like burning need to do my own thing. And so it strikes me as like they're completely almost.
A creative strength, but they're not commonly found together. I mean, to be a great chef and to be a great entrepreneur at the same time, talk to me a bit.
Yeah, I mean, I think obviously there's there's a number of amazing one Jean-Georges being one of them, Daniel Boulud being another Wolfgang Puck. I mean, there's plenty, some of which have done big empires and some have done small.
But I think a lot of us have that creative bug that doesn't just end with the food. It goes into the dining experience in some form or another. And again, for me, what were the glasses? What were the plates?
I had a vision very early on of what I wanted the plates to be based on a bowl that my parents set tables my parents gave me when I went off to college and said, you know, here we got these in Vermont, really nice little bowls and you can use them for cereal or whatever in your dorm room.
And I still have them today. And they were just as good a shape that I went to the guy that I was friends with that I knew would do the plates. I said, I want to base it off of this.
So the creativity, you know, obviously we need to always be creating food, but I don't think that message gets older or we burn out on it, but always wanting something new.
And so the idea of now starting to create a restaurant and create plates and create the atmosphere and the playlists and all these other things, it was just one more thing to do. Roll the environment into something. Something. Yeah.
And, you know, again, that leads to finding other people that want to be part of that as well.
So I don't know if it's not uncommon to have those things go together, but it is definitely less common. And I think, you know, there's there's plenty of incredible chefs that I know that really, you know, they want the front office experience to be great, but they're not really that concerned about what's the overall package.
And I think, as you know, when you go back to attrition, I think as you watch, there's less and less of those around.
I think more and more people are saying, I do want to be part of the whole package and I want to find a partner front of the house or from those guy finding a partner in an in a chef, um, that again has those same sort of wants and needs of full creation and being involved.
And, you know, full creation doesn't mean it's it's narrow minded. It can still be a team. But being able to say, like, I really want to do all this stuff. I don't want to just work for somebody else. I want to do all this.
What goes into when I come into a restaurant and I sit down, I start reading a menu and, you know, these dishes look amazing. But what goes into the creation of a dish that I see on a menu?
I think it's I think it's different for everybody. What's your creative process for?
For me, there's just a few different ways to use a few different things that kind of come together. And sometimes, you know, we're very seasonally driven and we use a lot of the local farmers Union Square Farmers Market and all sorts of the farmers that delivered to us. But as things are coming in season, walking through the farmer's market and, you know, having this tactile experience of picking up something and then picking up something else and smelling aromas in the air and kind of like I mean, literally, it could be you could pick some up and have a flashback of something you ate ten years ago.
So so that can start the process. That's one one portion of it. And again, I mean, I can think of examples of walking through the farmer's market and picking up tomatoes and then picking up some peaches.
And I, I love the combination of peach tomato and then picking up some fennel and some onions and thinking about like doing some with all those things together and coming back and working on something and making a dish that's obviously one way. And it's again, very tactile. It's very much in the moment of of the inspiration, as I think sometimes it's it's driven by a need. We know that. I don't know, we know that English peas are coming to an end and that tomatoes are about to happen, strawberries are at the market and have to work on something.
And so then it's kind of like either going to the market or going downstairs and and sort of like just forcing yourself to, again, have this tactile experience of touching and looking and think about things. And sometimes it's literally like walking down the street subway station and picking up a tomato and then going to the next station, eating a piece of cheese and then going to the next station, like taking a little piece of ginger and thinking, oh, wait, all those have kind of like created something interesting in my mouth right now.
And I wasn't planning on a dish, but it became something. And then I think the other one that that sometimes happens and again, it really spawns off of there's a need to change something. But I could literally be. Looking at a magazine and see a picture of something, not even read the caption, no idea what I'm looking at, but for whatever reason, something sparks and clothes and magazine kind of like, never think about that again.
But that made me think I really want to do something with Lam.
I haven't done anything with Lam in a while and then pull from other childhood memories or pull from a dish that you know I've done years before and that becomes something. And for this restaurant there was a lot of all of those things coming together. I wanted this restaurant to sort of be a little bit of an exploration, a little bit of a celebration, so to speak, of restaurants I worked at in the city. You know, I've only worked in the city.
I don't have a cultural background like Danielle Jean, George, Marcus Samuelsson, etc. I didn't have this cultural background that I saw know Flight Karros was a mentor of mine. I saw him pull from this every day. Every day we cooked. He pulled from his Indian background and and was able to talk about something he had as a child growing up.
And so I said, OK, I am not going to rip off dishes from the past, but I need to borrow from them. I need to be inspired by them.
And I think a great example of that is we have a crispy cauliflower dish on the menu, which was really inspired by something we did a tabla and something I did later on somewhere else.
And it's coated in Indian spices that we used to make this dish. I think it was scallops with like this cauliflower puree with tomatoes and I mean nothing to do with what we're doing. But just that, again, thinking about some these combinations made me say, all right, well, I don't want to use X, Y and Z, but the Kumon was amazing with that cauliflower and the turmeric was great. So what if you make a spice piece of that now?
We had some chilies in and now we're going to batter it and fry it now with something that's amazing. It tastes great, but need something else and then thinking about, OK, what are some what are some like more American things? How do I get away from the spice now and pull back?
And we like to we like to use a lot of sweet, sour, spicy, salty, crunchy, like all these things that create these peaks and valleys as you eat. One bite is one thing, one bites another.
So in that one specific dish was like, OK, well, now what are the other components? How do we make something sweet and sour? And we made a lemon jam and then we add some pickled chilies and then we add some cilantro for this strong herb flavor.
And so all these things kind of became a dish, but they're all inspired by something else. And I mean, that's kind of happened throughout the menu. And then a lot of the deserts of taking shape from from childhood favorite things of mine, hostess cupcake, the blizzard and cookies and some of the things like that.
And then I think same for our pastry chef Dannatt's are things that that she's excited about, that she remembers eating or something that seems kind of mundane, like a bread pudding. How do we make it really exciting? And so, again, these little twist that make it really exciting is every day different.
Every day is different. But mainly because of who's coming in, we don't change what we're doing, we're not a restaurant that as much as we do change the menu, we don't change the menu daily and especially create menus just because of who's coming in.
But for me, you know, I think I think for the majority of the staff, every day is fairly similar. There's definitely ups and downs who called out sick? What do we not get today? Do we do we sell a ton of ducks yesterday? And so now we're really behind today. And that's a big project. But for me, every day is very different because a my task list can be because I enjoy the customer interaction. I find that, you know, I can have a night where I know half the dining room and it just the night just flies by, you know, between spending time with people and then just making sure that those experiences are amazing.
And then I have another night where I don't know anybody. And so now I'm challenged to really push. I don't have anybody to to really connect with. So how do I go out and connect with them? And how do we how do we make that experience? How do I put coins in the meter for somebody?
You know, I can't do that. So what do I do? And a lot of that is finding a way to connect through food and see that, you know, again to two boys are sitting at a table. I have a feeling they probably wouldn't mind some ice cream. So, you know, how do we get ahead and do something kind of special for them or overhearing somebody talking about bacon and thinking about, OK, they didn't order bacon, but we make an incredible bacon in house right now.
We send them a little bacon so that all those things kind of make my day more exciting.
One of the things that stuck out for me, I think it was about a month ago that I ate here for the first time we were kind of introduced was how visible you were in the dining room.
And that was an experience that I'm not used to as a customer.
Yeah, I think, again, that goes back to a my love for the interactions I love for the essentially the instant gratification of talking to someone about the food. But certainly my experience of spending time in the front of the house and experiencing that that first impression of somebody walking in the door and how that greeting at the host stand to getting them to a table, how many factors there are in that and how easy it is to really screw that up or blow somebody's mind.
And again, I can think about times at Union Square Cafe. I remember walking people to a table and creating a very quick relationship. I mean, one time I remember quickly, literally, I mean, in thirty steps, having a discussion and realizing that they were from London.
And I was going to London the next month and we connected quickly and I end up going and spending a night with them and cooking with them.
That's also at their house, you know, so that that all those little things have always made it very exciting for me to be part of the front of the house and be part of that experience.
Take me behind the scenes in the kitchen. What does it look like when the kitchen's working exceptional? What does it look like when it's a struggle? And what are those differences?
A lot of it comes down to being prepared and then communication. Ultimately, if we are prepared, it's well, can I use the analogy of going into battle?
We're prepared for battle. Right there, you know what's amazing saying is half the battle, right? I mean, being prepared sets us up for success. And from there, the next part of the struggle is the communication. And it's it's literally like somebody is having a bad day.
They have a cold.
They can't hear you properly. The dining room is just really boisterous and loud tonight, and it's seeping into the kitchen. It's interfering. All those little things can play a factor in how we're communicating with each other.
But, you know, assuming everybody's prepared, which is as simple as having all the Arabs you need and and having all the letters you need and having the ducks ready and all those things or not, and then basically just having constant communication. It's it's a rhythm. I mean, you talk about the peaks and valleys, the food, that the rhythm of the kitchen is very much the same thing. It's up and down, up and down. And so, again, there's so many factors is how how's it going in the front of the house?
Did you show up on time for your reservation? Were you late for a reservation? Where you supposed to be for people in your six people? Were you still see six people in your four people? You know, you'd think that those things don't really matter, but they actually have a huge impact on what we're doing. And so, you know, again, there's so many factors. But assuming that things are falling into place, we really just kind of going up and down an up and down and call out a ticket and you fire four things and everybody says, great, eight minutes will be in the window.
And now assuming that they're communicating, communicating properly, eight minutes later, everything goes in the window. And somewhere in between that eight minutes, you're flying the next group and literally is just up and down, up and down, up and down.
But it doesn't it doesn't take much to throw a wrench in things. You know, you burn something, you run out of something again. Something happens to the table. You know, we're really I think the industry is in an interesting space right now in terms of that sort of thing.
I just people kind of losing sight of, as we talked about earlier, it's a transaction. You know, if you have tickets to Hamilton, you're going to go. And if you have strep throat and you don't feel well, you're going to find a way to either go or sell the tickets off.
And I certainly don't advocate, you know, selling a reservation and I don't advocate coming in sick.
But no, but it is hard to get a reservation hairbrained. It's hard to get a reservation. And it really is.
I mean, we're seeing more than ever, I think, a huge shift in, you know, tables just not showing up, canceling five minutes before people showing up late and then wondering why they can't be. That happened last night.
And I'm so tempted to say, when's the last time you were late for a flight? Yeah, never.
I mean, you didn't get on that flight if you were. But yet I'm going to hold the seat for you. I'm going to I'm going to lose a transaction to somebody who's actually waiting in the hopes that you're going to show up. So, again, all those things are to say that we've had nights where it's slow and it is just it is a haul all night long.
You know, you can never get out from underneath it. And then we've had nights where it seems incredibly busy and you look at the number at the end and you turn around and say, I would have thought, this is like one hundred less covers. It was so easy. And a lot of that is just if the rhythm just keeps working and working and working and the prep is there beforehand to make the.
So some nights you actually know you're probably going to have a slog right before dinner service because you're not in the place that you want to be. Yeah.
Which again, going back to that, no days are the same. We have a lot of systems in place and we have an amazing team that then looks and says, OK, it's five, 30 and we still need X, Y and Z. OK, I'm going to keep this person to do this. I'm going to do this myself and I'm going to give these three things up to these other people because we know that, you know, especially on a Friday or Saturday, whatever day that we really if at five, 30 you're not ready, it's going to be downhill for not just that one person, but for everybody around them.
Talk to me about Dan, the boss, in terms of like how you the end of the night, something didn't go well.
You got a debrief. You got to fix it because you don't want it to be a repetitive problem.
How do you handle that? Um, we do a couple of different things. I mean, for one for for one, we try and communicate through a lineup at the end of the night, you know, hey, these things didn't go right.
Whether it becomes one on one with one specific person, but most the time it's a team thing and then we do a lot sort of on the back end with all the managers with recaps so that the next morning, whoever's opening that wasn't here knows that the three things that were significant problems are all picked up first thing in the morning. So seven thirty eight o'clock in the morning, those things are going to be addressed. So hopefully come five o'clock the next day, whatever that issue was is not an issue again today.
We really are trying to do a lot of that.
Ultimately, you know, we want to get better. We want to smooth things out. But I can tell you that there is a lot less today of the, you know, kicking and screaming and throwing things because something didn't go right. Like nothing's really worth it.
Is that OK? Is the team stable across years or.
I think I think certainly I've matured. I think the people around me have matured. I think I have more on the line today than I ever have. But so you would think that would be the opposite?
I'd be even more high strung about it. I think ultimately, you know, we've all started to realize that. It's not the way to go and you know, that that adage of you get more bees with honey than vinegar. It's really the same sort of thing. I mean, being in a pissy mood is not going to get anybody anywhere do a lot of coaching.
We spent a lot of time coaching people and sitting people down and talking about performance.
And I think that sends a serious message that, you know, this isn't just a we're not we're not just going to yell at you and throw some of you. We're going to take the time or sit down. We can tell you what's going on. Here are things you need to improve on here, things that I'm sorry, I'm not going to mention again, that you just need to figure this out yourself.
Seems like some cases the performance would be black and white. Like you burn this, you didn't cook it properly and in some cases a totally subjective.
Yeah. How do you handle that? I mean, I think it's the same thing with, you know, everything else in life.
I mean, think about your kids, certain things that your expectations are very black and white. You brush your teeth the morning you get dressed in the morning, you clean up your room in the morning, you eat dinner at night, you go to bed at night.
I mean, that's black and white, but there's always things in between that that make it a little bit gray. And so I think we kind of look at it the same way, you know, that if you burn something that's pretty black and white.
Again. We have to look at why is there any reason behind it before we react to your brand new on the station?
I have to expect that you're going to burn some things. And so then that means that we got to do a better job training. You know, a lot of it comes down to training as well, you know, trying to take a step back. We're just talking about this five minutes ago that, you know, somebody that we're looking to hire and where do we put them? What do we do with them? And, you know, my whole thing now is being really cautious about not setting somebody up for failure.
And I mean, obviously, that that should be plain and simple. Nobody wants to do that. But it's harder and harder to find really great staff.
So I'd rather struggle a little bit taking a step back than to just think that we have this amazing new Band-Aid. And the reality is it's going to, you know, bite us in the ass later on.
What would you say is the biggest misconception people have about chefs? I don't know. I think. There's probably a bunch out there today, obviously, one is that that we all eat very well.
I think most of us on our days off don't really want to do too much cooking.
Um, I think because of the Top Chef, Gordon Ramsay, all those kind of things, I think the perception is that we all scream and curse and throw things. I mean, do I curse? Yes, I try not to curse in general. I try not to curse around my kids. But once while I call them smart ass and you know, that sends a message to them. It's sort of the same thing here. Again, fairly black and white in terms of expectation.
And so when we have to look in between the lines, it's it's somewhat acceptable in my book to act a little differently, if that makes sense.
I think the other I don't know if it's a misperception, but again, I think those those books and that sort of like mentality is that, you know, we're all partying rock stars.
And again, I don't think that's necessarily the case. I think there's plenty of people that are doing that. But I think there's plenty of us that, you know, after work, we're not going out and drinking to four o'clock in the morning and we're just going home and going to bed and waking up and doing all again the next day.
But what is your typical day like? Like what time does it start here? And then what time do you kind of get out of here and then you have to wind down when you get home? Or is it.
Um, yeah. I mean, my my days have changed a little bit. I now live in the suburbs, so the commute is kind of helped with the winding down. I'm a lot better today at turning off. I start somewhere between 11 and 12 depending on what's going on. I work all day and then again, depending on how crazy it is, I'll be here typically to about 11, sometimes on the weekends. A little bit later I try and take two days off and typically I try and take Saturday, Sunday off, but sort of find myself in between a five day and a six day and, you know, working Saturdays and then the next week taking the two days off.
Um, so I finish here typically around 11, 12, and then it's about forty five minutes hour commute home. So I wind down and then get home, do some emails, kind of review things from the day, go to bed, wake up around six thirty and do some more emails, go to the gym and come here.
What's your favorite thing on the menu. I don't have any. I love all of them equally, just like my children. Um, I don't know. I it really depends on what mood I am and I certainly can never pass on a piece of pizza. I can almost never pass on a French fry.
Is that your go to when you're at home. No comfort. No, not at all. It's just I mean I get to do my own or the pizza's pretty good. It is. It's amazing. And the French fries are pretty good.
But, um, I mean, pretty much every day I do like a piece of fish and some vegetables.
And is that part of the family meal beforehand or.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you know, again, I pack my day kind of snacking and non-stop, so I try and take and try and take about ten minutes at some point just to do one thing for myself that's healthy and smart in that respect.
What are some of the strange requests that customers have? Um.
I don't know, I don't I don't think I don't feel like we get that many, and I think in part because the menu is so vast and so easily flexible, I mean, you know, gluten free, dairy free, you know, so many things on the menu that you can choose from.
So a little variation is no big deal.
I think the weirdest thing I've been asked is the gluten free dairy free thing a steady or is it?
Yeah, I mean, there's there's a few every night and it's a challenge, but it's actually I don't mind it by any means.
I mean, we do a veggie burger at lunch that over the year I've kind of done a veggie burger for years and years now and every restaurant's obviously a little bit different in this last version. We've made it gluten free and now we've done a dairy free bun and a vegan mayo. So, you know, thinking about how to how do you cater to those needs and how do we make it even better than it was before?
You know, my my whole thing is I don't have a problem sort of catering to the needs, but if I'm going to do it, then I got to do it my way and just make it better than what the perception would have been. And this goes back from even, I guess, as far back as the Cork Club when we kind of were adamant that this wasn't going to be country club food.
And Tom Colicchio was a consulting chef. He hired me for it.
And so we said it's not country club food. We're going to do a real restaurant. And we did. And and then because of demand, we start to see the need for the entree salads and turkey club and all those things.
I said, fine, I have no problem doing it. But, you know, the chicken's for the salad are going to be organic chickens from a small farmer that we roast and we pick it and we marinate it and some amazing greens and all these different things. And the Turkey Club is going to be like the best turkey club using Turkey that we roast every day. And I think it pays off in the long run. Again, that's that's not groundbreaking.
People are doing that everywhere now.
But I think at that point in time, it was it was a little bit of a challenge.
And people kind of they wanted there there are more, you know, deli meat version of the turkey club.
And they didn't really care about freshly roasted organic chickens. They just wanted a chopped salad that was chopped really small.
It seems like different cultures have different relationships with food.
New York is super busy and you have almost two extremes, right? There's the sit down social. Let's celebrate and connect or let's grab this fast food and take a walk and eat as we go. Whereas French culture seems way more, it's only on one end of that, which is sit down and let's have this food together and let's bond over the food. Talk to me about what you want people to experience, I think.
I want them to experience essentially whatever they want, because it's like what I said, you it's a means to an end. I mean, if I go out with my kids for the most part, I just want to eat and get out. I want to feed is all. I want to have something that I am excited that I spent the money on. I had a great bottle of wine. I had wonderful service.
They understood that I was with two kids, that we're not going to have a long attention span. They helped me make something special for them, but I got great food, real restaurant food in the setting that I wanted. So I see the need for that.
I also, you know, the the odd occasion that I do date night, I don't want to screw it, that I want to be able to take my time and relax. And so we try and read that as well and understand, you know, is this a business meeting? Is it is it an occasion? And how do we alter the experience for that? Do we go faster? We go slow.
So ultimately, I think especially in New York, you know, you have to be flexible with that and you have to understand that people are going to want different things out of that experience.
And essentially, I have no problem giving that to them.
One of the things I noticed that you guys do differently that I've never seen done anywhere else before, but it's probably more common than than this.
But talk to me about what goes into I noticed when you open up when somebody orders a bottle of wine, you actually open it and taste it before it gets to the table.
Yeah. How did that come about?
The I mean, I think that is common, but maybe because the wine stations serve front and center. You see it.
I think it's important.
I mean, it's, you know, with the kitchens or the same thing, we have checkpoints or what we would call lines of defense. You know, when it's made it's it's tasteless checked. It's signed off on. When it comes up to the station, it's tasteless. Checked it, signed off. I went in the window. It's checked and signed off on. And so you kind of do the same thing with with the beverages, the wine, you know, you'll see the bartenders mix up a cocktail and then put a straw in and take the straw, obviously not sipping off the cocktail, but sipping it from from the side to see that it's made.
Right. Because, you know, if there's nothing worse than if you are excited about this bottle of wine and it comes to your table and it's corked that transaction now of saying I don't like it makes an uncomfortable experience for the guest.
So we should try and catch that beforehand.
And, you know, sometimes maybe we don't or sometimes we might not agree with with your perception. But ultimately, if you're not happy, then we want you to be happy and we take it away. But I do think it's really important to try and capture that ahead of time, because, again, these are all parts of the transaction. And just like the first impression of when you walk in the door, how you're greeted all those things, then how do you get to the bar then?
How do you get your table? All those parts of of the experience are part of the transaction. So, I mean, it's certainly not beneficial if the steak comes out or the bird comes out and properly cooked or the the pizza doesn't have on it what's supposed to have on it or the salad doesn't have, which was to have all those things would be detrimental to the experience. Same thing with the with the wine.
I was talking to somebody about it and they were blown away. They were like, I don't know why every restaurant doesn't do this, because I hate it when they open a bottle of wine and they pour it in my glass and then I have to be the one that decides for the table.
If that's good to know, I will certainly start paying more attention when I go out to eat, that's for sure.
What are the things that you wish customers knew more about? Obviously your attention to detail, but yeah, I mean, I think some of that attention to detail is taken for granted.
I think the sourcing, everything that goes into everything we do, I think is often not understood or maybe taken for granted.
I mean, the the pizza's the bread. The pastas we m. almost all the flour in-house using grains from local farmers. Why does that matter?
Because to me it was part of sourcing the right product and making the best thing that I could. And I think by doing that, it has a slightly nicer flavor.
I think there's a there's an overall benefit to it. And so to me, that was one of those attention details was one of the steps that we would take as part of the business. And so I think, you know, if you just try and compare apples to apples, well, I had a pizza at another restaurant and it was two dollars less. You can necessarily do that using using so many products from local farmers, sending a guy to the farmer's market and paying him to walk around the farmer's market for two hours, collecting vegetables and the best strawberries he can get and the best herbs, and then paying for an Uber to bring it over here and then unpack everything.
I mean, be so much easier to have everything just shipped to the door, but that's not what we want to do. And again, I think, you know that that can be taken for granted. People don't realize how much goes into it. And I think in general, restaurants work very hard at trying to create good experiences and try and source profit and all those things. And I think there's a lot of restaurants that don't and not in a negative way.
It's just, again, means and then it's not what they want to do. And I think it's very easy to to try and group apples to apples. And it's not so easy in the restaurant business. I mean, if you think about your wine experience here. That's an extra step, cost some money in some form or another, it slows things down. It's it's somebody's time.
That's something we want to do. That's something we believe in.
But you won't see that on most occasions. You're not going to pay attention to that. And so, again, so it's all things that that get taken for granted. It's interesting because in some cases, I mean, there's a story about what you're consuming in terms of like where it came from and what went into it and the craftsmanship, which is amazing.
And in some cases, it's the absence of error or awkwardness that's really interesting. But those are hard to kind of, I would imagine, educate customers on because it's the lack of a feeling, not the feeling itself.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I would I would say if somebody doesn't like something, I'd rather them not like it because it's not their taste them for them to not like it, because it didn't meet the expectation of another restaurant they went to or something they'd heard or they think it's too expensive. You know, again, it's really hard to say that these restaurants are apples to apples.
I look at prices of other restaurants and I'll say, oh, well, there duck is the same price of ours or their duck is three dollars more or whatever. It's not fair for me to even judge it because I don't know what goes into it. I have an idea of what they're buying, but I don't know what goes into it.
They could have, you know, a process that raises the price to hundred percent.
So, again, I think it's very easy for us to to just say, well, just try and compare, just like how subjective are the prices?
Like, is it a cost plus pricing or is it.
Yeah, pretty much everything is some kind of cost plus which calculates in your labor and your rent and all those things. Again, I think about what the customers realize or don't realize. I mean, restaurants in general, it's a it's a very costly business and it's getting even harder and harder and harder.
What's making it harder? Everything from the cost of goods to the cost of labor to insurance.
I mean, this year alone, the cost of labor went up drastically. Cost of insurance went up drastically.
Cost of goods have gone up, you know, a marginal amount. But it's we're not we're not doing we're not doing a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year in purchases.
We do a substantial amount. So you had ten percent onto it. It's a very big number.
You add in the the increase in minimum wage, which I totally respect and understand. But it is a it is a substantial difference. You know, if if I was driving around in a Lamborghini, I could understand saying that this is an unfair variance and that's not the case. I think all these things are important for us to look at and understand. And the right cost of living is valid and fair. But there's a lot of, again, sort of trying to compare apples to apples.
So it's probably a whole nother podcast.
But, you know, if you think about a worker at a local diner, a server at a local diner and what they make versus a server here, that's not apples to apples. You can't just group them as servers. If you think of a cook at McDonald's and a cook here, they can't be grouped as apples to apples. And we're kind of forcing ourselves to do that. I mean, a cook at a restaurant like this has fifty thousand dollars in school loans to pay off between college and culinary school on average.
Yeah, I'll cook at McDonalds is not necessarily have the same thing. So there's a lot of things, I think, in this industry that that are getting harder and harder.
And I think we'll see more shifts in some form or another, either more restaurants closing than we want or prices going up even more and people eating out less.
I'm not sure what it's going to be yet, but you sense the changing kind of landscape.
Yeah. I mean. Costs costs are different, and this isn't a non-profit, you know, not doing this to get rich by not doing it to be non-profit.
I have investors to pay back. I have friends and family to pay back. And so do my fellow chefs, restaurant tours managers who have gone out to do the same thing. And we were all griping about the same thing in some form or another. We're in the same boat.
What was the scariest moment that you've had since opening place, the moment when you thought you were going to fail or the world seemed to be just pushing it on you?
And how did you recover from that?
I mean, I don't know if anything I would say was scary or felt failure.
I think the hardest thing is the review process, because part of you wants you to say, I'm doing what I believe in and screw everybody else.
Now, the other part of you says, OK, well, these guys unfortunately matter right now.
People are paying attention to them. And it becomes kind of the struggle of what we're always trying to be perfect, whether you're a viewer or not, because we don't necessarily know who it is.
We're always trying to be perfect and we always want the service to be right and the food to be right. So it doesn't matter.
And then at that same token, this feeling of, OK, you know, you're getting judged. It would be like. It would be like going to take your SATs and. Your scores only based on five questions that you don't know about.
You take a test with, I don't know, two hundred questions in it and only five of them mattered. But you don't know which five they are.
So for years, you know, we worked so hard through this process of reviews, I mean, means I think almost five months changed the menu multiple times. I mean, really, we're working hard at fine tuning everything. And ultimately, the reviews were based on a handful of dishes. And, you know, we've gotten good reviews and I can't complain about that, but there is a feeling of why do we work so hard to have an amazing Brockley?
Nobody talked about the Brockley. Why do we work so hard to have an amazing halibut?
And nobody talked about the halibut or whatever the case was. You know, you're sort of just judged on, again, when you're a restaurant that has forty something items, you're judged on like 10 of them, it can be hard to stomach those opinions. And I think ultimately, again, we were very happy and I think the staff was happy.
But I think it was certainly the hardest time in my life in terms of really trying to stay focused and then go back to care about them. But I don't care about them doing what I believe in.
I'm cooking from the heart and I'm building something that the team that's here wants to be part of. And wherever the chips fall, they fall. So trying to have that mentality, but then also saying, yeah, but they still matter. So, you know, got to get to always keep that in mind.
And it's just a it's a struggle then matter because they drive traffic or they they determine outcomes in a way. I think both. I mean, I think, you know.
We had plenty of chatter and we had plenty of press, but, you know, the reviews that theoretically matter and I'm not even sure how much they matter today, given the new landscape of social media and blogs and so many other things out there. I mean, you know, you have a social media influencer with a million followers.
I would be interested to see the difference between that and the. The amount of subscriber subscribers that looked at X, Y, Z magazines review, right? I mean, it just it, again, hard to balance, but I do think they they helped to drive traffic.
They helped to give a little bit of sense of not meaning, but sort of recognition like you worked really hard.
And here's a stamp of approval or in some cases a stamp of disapproval. Ultimately, it's one person's opinion, but it does make a difference. And so I think that was the hardest thing for this. I think just getting getting the doors open, that whole struggle of I mean, the construction was a beast and it just felt like we would never, never get open.
You couldn't couldn't get inspections, couldn't get gas, couldn't get construction finished up, you name it. And all the while and like literally just see that proverbial bank account going lower and lower and lower. And it's like negative balance every day. Meanwhile, you can't you can't stop what you're doing. You have to keep pushing forward, spending money to to train and recipe test and to get ready to open. And when you open, you open. At that point, it's again.
Now the focus is like, I got to move away from all that negative I to go back to being positive. And I got to worry about the reviews.
But I can't worry too much whether it's all like a I think a big head game. When are you happiest. When am I happiest. When I'm here, I'm happiest when. I have.
Create a great experience for for a guest or an employee employee that, you know, say thank you for cooking next to me or I'm really excited I got to work on that today, or that was a great event, whatever it is like getting getting that interaction or server coming over and saying, so I love waiting on your friends or I loved waiting on that table.
I think those things certainly make me happy. And I think obviously that the instant gratification of somebody saying, wow, that was the best, blah, blah, blah, or I got to tell you, this is my fourth visit here.
And each time it gets better, I mean, something something like that. And then I think when I'm not here, it's when I'm able to kind of just turn off and be with my family and not have this constant hamster wheel running in the back of my mind.
I think that's a great place to leave it. Thank you so much. Thank you for taking the time. My pleasure. Thank you.
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