By Carly DeFilippo
ICE graduates Eric McIntyre and Scott Fagan are among a number of alumni couples who enrolled together with the hopes of owning their own business. Today, they’ve transformed a successful catering company—Tip of the Tongue—into a café storefront in their Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. We recently caught up with Eric to gain some perspective on their first year of business.
What were you both doing before you enrolled at ICE?
Prior to ICE, I was working as legal recruiter for the contract and permanent placement of attorneys, paralegals and legal secretaries. Scott was working as a health and food writer, developing stories and production for DiscoveryHealth.com, as well as recipes for The South Beach Diet and The Zone Diet. Prior to that, he was the producer of “Ask Doctor Weil,” a health website produced through Time Warner.
What was it specifically that attracted you to the program?
We were attracted to how comprehensive the curriculum was and that the final part of the program was an externship within the industry. We had looked at a few schools and ICE seemed to be an excellent value. I had a hard time deciding between the pastry and culinary programs but in the end I decided to go with the Culinary Arts program to get what I felt would be a broader range of training and education, even though I was most interested in pastry.
Where were your externships? Did they help you make connections in the industry?
Scott externed at Chanterelle, and I externed at Blue Fin. Personally, I made several connections through Joe Murphy (now executive pastry chef at Jean-Georges), who was the pastry chef at the time. ICE also helped me get my first job—at Eleven Madison Park. I met Nicole Kaplan (then the executive pastry chef) at an ICE career fair.
What have you been up to since graduating?
I worked at Eleven Madison Park from May 2002 – December 2005. During that time, Scott had been doing freelance catering work and then started his own catering business. In August 2005, things started to pick up and he leased a commercial kitchen. I left Eleven Madison to begin working with him in January 2006. For years, while we were working on catering for events, we talked about opening a brick-and-mortar bakery/cafe. After looking at many spaces in many neighborhoods (mostly in Brooklyn), we decided to open a shop in the neighborhood where we live, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, in May 2013.
Which accomplishments make you the most proud?
I’m happy to still be in business. As many of us know in the food industry, margins are tight and managing costs is a challenge. We’re happy to still be doing what we love.
Tell me about a day in your current working life.
Our day begins getting our 3-year-old son to school (which takes a notable amount of time, between getting dressed, breakfast, packing lunch and actually getting him out the door!). On Mondays, we have a meeting with our barista and pastry managers to review the current menu, changes that need to be made, staffing issues and exploring any new ideas for the cafe. Scott and I also try to spend a good amount of time on the cafe floor to maintain a personal connection with our customer base. We then move onto administrative tasks such as bookkeeping, P&L reports, scheduling, vendor ordering and paying bills.
What might people be surprised to learn about your business?
I think the biggest misconception about owning a small shop is that, while we are very busy most of the time, managing the bottom line and actually turning a profit is a major challenge. Even if you are steadily busy, the cost of running a small business is very high. Our customers regularly comment on how we must be doing so great, but the first year has been difficult and challenging, and we’re trying to figure out how to make a sustainable living for the long-term.
Where would you like to see yourself in the future?
We’re considering a second cafe or another type of shop—maybe even a wine shop.
You’ve hired a number of other ICE grads to help run your shop. How has that been a meaningful part of your story?
With other ICE grads, there is always an immediate connection and everyone loves sharing stories of their experiences with the same chef instructors. On a practical note, Scott and I have often taken recipes from school and re-worked them into something that fits our own style—and since we experienced the same curriculum, these recipes and the techniques we reference are things that ICE grads are familiar with. That said, we also like hiring chefs from other schools, as they do bring a different perspective and experience that can be refreshing.
How would you describe your “culinary voice”?
Our food and style is very “tangible,” which is to say we prepare foods that are familiar, never too fancy or esoteric. We like to keep it simple with seasonal foods that people recognize and are drawn to. At our core, we’re “meat and potatoes” kind of guys.
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