By Natalie Zises — Student, Restaurant & Culinary Management ‘18

The food industry is not for the faint-hearted — long days, heavy lifting and endless tasks are pillars of your average hospitality position. Never did I feel that more than when I was working as a line cook at an upscale, all-day restaurant in the West Village. During those days, it wasn’t uncommon for me to leave work at 2:00 or 3:00am, without a trace of stamina to think about what I would feed myself, let alone to take a shower when I got home (though I did, half asleep).

wellness

Photo by Joanie Simon

Without healthy habits in place, my body began to break down. After three years as a line cook, I realized I had taken all I possibly could from the position — and it had taken a lot from me. It was time to move on and to put my body first. So I did. I made it my mission to use food to heal my body. I began by learning everything I could about food therapy, and soon after began a Master’s program in Nutrition and Integrative Health. But that wasn’t enough — I wanted to help others on their journey towards a more vibrant, energized and healthful life. But how?

Natalie Zises

Hospitality is in my blood: My family owned and ran Grossinger’s, a popular Catskill hotel in the sixties (on which Kellerman’s in Dirty Dancing is based!). Though Grossinger’s unfortunately no longer exists, in its heyday, families would flock there each summer and holiday season to enjoy eating, relaxation in our spa, and recreational activities. But a healthy place, it was not. My dad used to joke that the main activity there was eating, eating and more eating. It became my dream to open a modern-day Grossinger’s, only this one would have an emphasis on health and healing. I envisioned a retreat center with incredible, nourishing food, wellness education and impeccable hospitality. The only problem: I knew next-to-nothing about running a business. Enter ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program.

I began looking online for an academic program that teaches the fundamentals of the business side of this industry, and when I came across ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program, I felt it was the perfect fit for my career goals.

The first week of class we fleshed out our concepts and menus. You may think that creating a menu is all about the food, but really it ties back to things like the organization of your space, inventory, staffing and overall concept. What’s your storage space like for dry goods and refrigeration? Do you want to be seasonal, local or cater to a specific dietary preference such as vegan or gluten-free? Where is your location and what are people looking for in that specific area? Examining the demographic and psychographics of the neighborhood is vital and zooming out on the whole picture in order to inform your menu is crucial in the overall success of your business. Because our instructor has opened dozens of clubs, restaurants and bars, he is able to help us with these important perspectives and point out potential issues we may be overlooking. Plus, hearing the incredibly diverse ideas of my fellow classmates helped keep me inspired and creative on my own—another huge benefit that comes with studying in a program alongside other future entrepreneurs.

I’m excited to continue on this journey with ICE.

Ready to embark on your culinary career path? Learn more about ICE’s career programs. 

By Stephen Zagor — Dean, Restaurant & Culinary Management

What a year! As ICE’s Dean of Restaurant & Culinary Management, I feasted on the stories, successes, errors and reboots of dozens and dozens of industry notable guests, students and alumni. As a consultant, I peered over the shoulders of some huge industry names, as well as investors and stakeholders. As an expert in my field, I’ve researched numerous articles about current issues in our industry. Each day, I get to inspire, inquire, admire, rewire and even satire soon-to-be and long-standing successful food entrepreneurs. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new. So, you might wonder, what, if anything, do those successful food entrepreneurs have in common?

Marc Murphy

Steve (right) with Guest Speaker Marc Murphy

As I remind students in my Restaurant & Culinary Management classes, success stories in this industry aren’t the norm. New food products hit the market at a rate of about 100,000 per year with only a small number actually achieving enough financial success to be able to comfortably support the founders over the long term. New restaurants open by the hundreds across the country every year with fewer than half reaching five years of existence. It’s the rule of the economic jungle. All of these enterprises start with an epiphany — a zinger of an idea, a clever design, a long simmering passion, a raging flavor, a cost-plunging value, a super ingredient combo — an Ah ha! To name a few examples: A guy’s quick-serve taco store became Chipotle; a grad student’s taste for Icelandic yogurt became Siggi’s; a man’s coffee tour of Italy became Starbucks; a visionary’s hot dog stand in a park became Shake Shack; a chemist’s personal taste for vodka became Skyy; and so on.

What made some succeed when so many others didn’t? Is there a magic dust or is there a teachable skill? Here are some common takeaways I learned this year listening to culinary entrepreneurs. Let’s call them tips for going from “little” to “big”:

  1. Just do it. Most people have no idea what they’re doing when they start a business, and many still have hazy, confused procedures even after they appear successful to the world. More than one entrepreneur has stated that no single course in school, no experienced mentor’s advice, no related job experience will fully prepare you for your own ride on the venture coaster, or tell you when the time to start is right. Classes will help to vaccinate against some types of errors, but there is no vaccine to specifically protect you from “failure-itis.” My advice: Just do it, and be prepared to make lots of mistakes and flubs.
  2. Have enough money. This seems obvious, but a common tip from entrepreneurs and creators was to be well-funded. Too little capital at the beginning made for needless problems and bad decisions that later haunted business owners. Have enough money to launch effectively and sustain all the flops and screw-ups in the early months.
  3. Ask for help. All of our guests were firm in their people principle — get help when you need it. No one can do or is effective at doing everything that needs to be done, especially in the early stages. Find help — disciples, mentors, teammates, experts, maybe a psychiatrist — you’ll need them.
  4. Think and focus small. Go slow. Create the startup prototype, the first location, the first customers, the beginning recipes, and give them 100% of your focus. You will need all of your resources, capabilities, creativity and more at the start. Don’t get distracted, no matter how seductive a new location, new market or business offshoot is. Food businesses are really a process and logistics. Make it work. If you start thinking too big, too soon, ‘little’ will never be ‘big.’
  5. Know your market and everything about it. You can’t just make it or build it and they will come. There’s too much competition. The knowledge you gather about the market will affect everything — ambiance, packaging, pricing, mission, menu, flavors, etc. Test, refine and test again. Be a listener and observer. Allow ideas to morph and don’t be too headstrong. Find out what your market thinks and feels, what makes the competition successful and who’s doing something similar elsewhere. The best ideas may be out there already — just put your spin on them. Never, ever forget you’re building an emotional bond with your customers.
  6. S**t will happen — not MAY happen — WILL happen. Keep going. No, this is not an ad for Allstate featuring Mr. Mayhem. Your main source for custom breads with whom you spent six months developing recipes has a fire; you are sued because someone thinks your name is too close to theirs — and you lose; your manager and key employee get married and without notice move to Boise; an irate customer tears you up on Yelp for no apparent reason. These things happen. How you handle them and things like them will define you. Good things are easy to handle — it’s the bad things that make you stronger.
  7. Anyone can do it. If you met the people I’ve met you would wonder, “How did they do it?” Aren’t they too young, too old, uneducated, over-educated, too quiet or too obnoxious? And you’d be right, but they’ve done it. Why can’t you? (Answer: you can.)
  8. You won’t regret it. Prepare to work really hard. It will occupy your brain 24/7 and be both painful and pleasurable. No matter how many scars the entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with have earned, and how many sacrifices they had to make, none regret having done it. They might have done it differently, but they have no regrets for having done it. They could have spent their whole lives in the passenger seat. They moved to the driver’s seat.

Those are my tips for food business entrepreneurs; you can now cancel your Amazon order for self-help books. Just remember: The adventure will have lots of unknowns and the only way to figure them out is through experience. Start “little” and maybe one day you’ll be “big.”

In 2017, I piloted a fantasy drone equipped with an X-ray camera that peered into the foodscape below — magically seeing into the hearts and minds of key players in the culinary industry. I was able to hear their in-depth stories and deep insights. The lessons learned were not earth trembling, but were notable in their similarity and cherished in their value. Being an educator can be a great way to be educated — I’m looking forward to 2018 and seeing more littles become bigs.

Interested in launching your own food business? Click here to learn more about ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program. 

By Caitlin Raux

In a city like New York, where restaurants are as abundant as rents are high, getting diners in the restaurant door is only one side of the coin. The other side, getting return customers, presents another set of challenges. At Villanelle, a veggie-forward newcomer to the Greenwich Village restaurant scene, first-time restaurant owner Catherine Manning (Culinary Management ’15) has found a balance between casual elegance and exceptional food, and the result is a steadily growing roster of regulars. With dishes like crispy octopus with charred cucumber, green curry and mint, the food is tasty, fresh and feel-good. While there are plenty of delicious reasons to overdo it, chances are you won’t leave feeling like you did. It’s all part of Catherine’s goal of providing great, highly repeatable dining experiences.

Catherine Manning

Catherine Manning, owner of Villanelle

Villanelle

The restaurant’s name, Villanelle, comes from the eponymous 16th century Italian poem, traditionally performed by song and dance. The name captures Catherine’s spirit of hospitality as a form of entertainment. To dine at Villanelle is to experience a series of pleasant surprises. From the moment you walk in from East 12th Street, just two blocks from the bustle of Union Square, you find a surprisingly charming yet laid back space that looks less curated than it is. From the bare, wood tables and the grey-washed pine walls to the pristine marble-top bar (that seems perfect for Instagram’ing their gourmet cocktails), it’s the kind of setting that invites you to cozy up and stay a while.

Villanelle’s true entertainment, however, comes from the kitchen. The chefs take simple ingredients and prepare them with impeccable techniques and unique flavor pairings — like the macerated brussels sprouts with cheddar, cashews and rye. “I like taking familiar dishes and reworking them so people feel excited. It’s familiar food, but when you see it, it’s not what you expect,” explained Villanelle’s sous chef Christian Grindrod, an alumnus of ICE’s Culinary Arts program (’16) and the critically-acclaimed, recently closed Betony. “Then you bite into it, and it’s exactly what you wanted.” Take, for example, the composed cheese dish: what appears to be a sweet slice of pumpkin pie with a tuft of whipped cream is actually a savory slice of squash topped with tangy cloumage cheese — a trick of the eye and a delight for the palate.

Catherine Manning

Christian Grindrod

Christian Grindrod, sous chef and ICE alum

Perhaps coincidentally, before Villanelle, Catherine led a successful career as a producer of visual effects and animation for commercial projects. “In a way, running a restaurant isn’t that different because it’s still production,” said Catherine. “You’re making food instead of TV commercials, but you have crews, schedules and budgets. The skill sets match.” With four daughters and a frequently full dinner table, she and her husband spent years as hobby cooks who loved entertaining. “Those were some of our happiest times,” Catherine recalled. “And an important reason why I did this — hospitality, a good meal and the conversation that ensues while having a good meal.” At some point, it occurred to Catherine that she might like having her own restaurant some day. When Catherine decided it was time for a career change, she enrolled in ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program.

The menu at Villanelle holds true to the farm-to-table claim. Most of their entrées feature thoughtfully chosen meats like Berkshire Pork Loin and Green Circle Chicken, and with the Union Square Greenmarket a short stroll uptown, chefs frequently pop by the market to hand-pick the season’s best produce. Despite the ubiquity of the term, staying farm-to-table can be trickier than it seems. Chef Christian enjoys the challenge. “It’s all about anticipating what’s going to be good this season and working on recipes for those ingredients. When they become scarce, you have to be quick on your feet and change it up,” Christian explained. “That’s part of the fun of working here.” For her part, Catherine mapped out the business side of owning a farm-to-table restaurant during her time at ICE. “The business plan component [of the Restaurant & Culinary Management program] was really helpful for me — to go through the entire process and put together projections,” explained Catherine. “It helped me crystallize what it was I had in mind.

After developing her restaurant concept with the help of ICE’s expert food business instructors, Catherine was as prepared as possible for opening her first restaurant. Still, her status as rookie lends the restaurant a sort of start-up vibe, for better or worse. What they lack in experience, they make up for with energy and ambition: staff are motivated to work harder because they know their contribution makes a difference; communication is paramount; voices are heard. “None of us have been fully responsible for opening a restaurant before,” said Catherine. “We’re all on the same team. It’s exciting to build a business and everyone feels that.”

With a write-up in the NY Times and glowing customer reviews, Catherine and Villanelle are already making waves downtown. “We’re still figuring things out as we go, but I think our customers are pleased with what we’ve done so far.” Jumping head first into NYC restaurant ownership may have been a bold move, but with her preparation and a passion for hospitality, Catherine is successfully navigating the transition. On a personal level, Catherine is enjoying her new career in the restaurant industry. “What’s not to like about bringing something that makes people happy into existence? If you serve people a great meal and they have a great experience, that’s a great business to be in.”

Learn more about ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program. 

 

By Steve Zagor, Dean of Restaurant & Culinary Management

These days, we’re seeing more news on the abolition of tips. You might wonder: what’s the consensus on tipping? I have a little tip for you. We won’t be ending tipping in the U.S. anytime soon. We have a better chance of seeing Mickey Mouse star in a new movie. Here’s why.

Recently, the no tip experiment – yes, it’s still in the test tube phase – was spotlighted in a “60 Minutes” interview with Danny Meyer, whose Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) claims fame to a formidable roster of top full-service restaurants and the fast casual Shake Shack. Meyer is also the Pied Piper of the no-tipping movement, and as such he eloquently spreads the gospel of no tipping and the equalization of the wages between cooks and wait staff. Meyer has commented that it’s an important human value-based decision, but that the road will be long before it becomes commonplace.

bustling restaurant

Photo by Kevin Curtis

What Meyer failed to mention, which was recently revealed in a Grub Street article, is that the no-tipping policy has jolted Meyer’s company with major staff turnover from hourlies to senior managers, drops in sales and lower morale — a secret that everyone in the industry in NYC has known for some time. USHG has even stopped implementing the no-tipping policy in further restaurants until they figure out its effects.

Don’t forget: plenty of others in the business are not in favor of changing the tipping status quo. Mom and pop café owners in Anytown, USA couldn’t care less about no tips. They prefer the current method. Some notable owners who ended tips have gone back to tipping — the public just couldn’t be convinced that eliminating tips and nudging up menu prices costs the customer about the same. To the customer, it looks bad when your competitor down the street hasn’t changed — suddenly the lower prices, even with tipping, appear to be a bargain. What’s more, the business owner faces potential staff losses in the form of those front-of-the-house stars who earn less and leave.

At the same time, as though choreographed with the “60 Minutes” interview, a lawsuit was filed accusing many notable restaurateurs, including Danny Meyer, David Chang and others, of colluding vis-à-vis the no-tip movement to gouge the public with obscene price increases. But that doesn’t seem to have a basis in reality. One legal expert I spoke to said it’s never been illegal to raise prices for any reason. We’ve paid more to eat because of the Malaysian locusts, the sunspots, the alleged Martian landing and El Niño. A criminal conspiracy among disparate restaurant businesses is not likely. Still, whether they should do away with tipping begs another question.

Tipping isn’t inherently a good or bad thing. A separate issue is whether, as practiced, it’s fair to all employees or if it helps to perpetuate an inequitable caste system among the staff. Or is it just simply unwieldy to use and account for? The bottom line is that in poll after poll, only a small percentage of the general dining public is in favor of abolishing this long-standing behavior. Many find the perceived higher prices that result from non-tipping and the loss of control of server compensation to be displeasing. And, right now in particular, when month after month table-dining restaurants are seeing fewer customers and casual chains are closing hundreds of outlets, what we don’t need is a new reason to upset the public and make them stay away.

Our industry is going through a major reshaping. Not only are costs increasing and competition is outrageous in all styles of dining, but the leading opposition force may also be our big comfy couch at home. At night we cocoon, wrapping up in our sweats and hoodies, and order a meal kit, an Uber food delivery, a virtual restaurant takeout or soon maybe a drone-delivered pizza soaring through the window of the car or house. Even at lunch we are eating out less at table-service restaurants — takes too long and costs too much. It’s not the millennial style. Give them a locally sourced fast casual hummus sandwich and all will be fine.

So what does it all mean? Is no tips a niche idea that will never gain traction? We all know that long-standing behaviors are not easy to change — stayed on a diet lately or kept a New Year’s resolution? Education helps some, but if you believe the behavioral scientists and gastrophysicists, we humans are much more emotionally driven than intellectually — especially when it comes to the whole experience of eating, which is as emotionally charged as it gets.

One scientific study said that the habit of eating is as addictive as what we actually eat, if not more. Might it be the same with tipping? Is the habit more addicting? For boomers, it sure is, and for Generation Z, it’s quite likely. There’s a chance that millennials and beyond who prefer electronics and less social interaction are more easily changed, but it will be a while before they dominate the dining landscape.

Maybe Danny will be right — the parade will ultimately follow him. However, I’m not betting on it — not just yet. I’ll still keep my tip calculator and that nice feeling I get when I leave a larger-than-usual tip as a reward for a job well done and an experience enjoyed. I like that perceived control.

Interested in learning to run your own food business? Click here to learn more about ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program. 

By Caitlin Raux

Before even graduating from high school, Francesca Kolowrat (Culinary Arts/ Management ’17) was already a champion horse jumper with dozens of achievements under her belt, including an individual ranking of 15th in the European Championships in 2015 and 2016. One of the top young riders from the Czech Republic, Francesca could have easily continued on the same path and led a very successful career in the equestrian world. Instead, she decided to explore her passion for food and nutrition at ICE. “I didn’t want to look back on my life and think that the world offered so many opportunities and I didn’t take them,” she said, speaking with a level of maturity and decisiveness that makes you forget she’s just 18 years old.

Francesca_1

With a dream of one day opening an Australian-inspired café in her hometown of Prague, she came to ICE to get the necessary culinary skills and business acumen before embarking on a four-year degree at the University of Sydney, where she plans to study Nutrition.

With two weeks remaining in her program, we caught up with Francesca to chat about studying culinary arts in NYC and about taking small steps to achieve big goals.

When did you start with show jumping?

I was about 12 when I started doing it seriously. I proceeded until last summer, just before I moved here.

Did you compete internationally?

There were a lot of international competitions — the national cups. I traveled all around Europe — to Italy, Spain, Hungary, Germany, Austria, Ireland. The European Championship was in Ireland last year. I placed 15th twice in a row — first in Austria, then Ireland.

Francesca_2

Why did you decide to come to culinary school?

I needed a career change. I didn’t want to look back on my life and think that the world offered so many opportunities and I didn’t take them. Even though I got to travel with show jumping, I was on the show grounds from morning until night. I didn’t really have time to explore and when there was some free time, I would sleep because I was exhausted from so much exercise.

I wanted to pursue other passions, and I’m very interested in fitness and nutrition. I really wanted to see how the restaurant and hospitality business works so that one day I can combine it with my passion for nutrition — I was accepted to the University of Sydney so I’m going to study nutrition there. This was my gap year, but I didn’t take the year to just travel: I’ve been educating myself in culinary arts and culinary management. That way, when I get a bachelor’s degree, I’ll be ready if I want to form my own business targeting fitness and nutrition. I’m building up these small steps towards my bigger goals.

There are a ton of culinary schools in Europe. Why did you choose to come all the way to NYC?

Because I’ve always loved New York, but I wanted to expand my experience beyond traveling here on holidays, and really get a feel for what it’s like to live in America. When I Googled “best culinary schools,” ICE was the first one to pop up and I said, “This is it.” I stopped my search. I spoke to Ron from Admissions and he told me I could start November 1. I knew it was the right opportunity and if I didn’t take it, I would be upset. It was hard for me to tell my team I was moving. I had people who were relying on me — I had my groomer, who takes care of my horses, and my trainer, who was with me 24/7, and it was difficult to tell them it was finished. But I wanted to try different things and figure out what I was most passionate about.

I knew it was the right opportunity

How was your experience at ICE?

I love the management program and I really like the culinary arts classes. You get to learn about back-of-house and front-of-house. I’m doing my externship now at Ellary’s Greens on Carmine Street in the West Village. It’s owned by Leith Hill and she’s given lectures in the [culinary] management classes about her business. I think that the externship has been the most beneficial part of the [culinary arts] program because you get to experience how it works in a real restaurant, how to deal with people, prepping, being on the line, catering, deliveries. You get to experience how it would be if you worked in the industry. At Ellary’s, they always ask me if I want to try new things, too; for instance, though I’m a culinary arts extern, I’ve been doing pastry work at the restaurant lately, which I discovered I love during the pastry module [at ICE]. Since I’m so into health and nutrition, I love taking the actual recipes and substituting ingredients that are more beneficial for the body. I like getting creative with it. People love sweets, they’re addicted to sugar and they always will be. With me it’s the same. I want to treat my body, but I want to treat it to good things.

Francesca at ICE’s May Commencement Ceremony

What kind of desserts do you like?

I prefer raw desserts made from things like coconut — coconut milk and coconut oil — cashews, or dates.

Next is Sydney! I’ve heard the food culture there is amazing.

Actually, I’m developing my business plan in my Management class and my café is Australian-inspired. Even though I’ve never been to Australia, I’ve learned from social media and what friends have told me about the cafés and breakfast and brunch menus there, and I’ve been so inspired by them: protein slash vegetable-based slash locally sourced products. Avocado toast came from Australia — come on! Even the plating I’ve seen — they use black plates with bright vegetables and it’s almost like a painting.

I also import my chocolate from Australia! It’s called Loving Earth chocolate. Everything natural, there’s no added sugar. They use coconut nectar as a sweetener. I can eat loads of it — literally, like two boxes.

What would you say is your culinary voice?

I want to show people that healthy things can be tasty. When people hear “healthy,” they think of a salad — to be honest, I don’t even like salads. Anything can be tasty, but you don’t always have to add stuff: you don’t have to add sugar to sauces; you don’t have to add roux to sauces to thicken them — you can just blend vegetables and add those instead. I want to give people ideas for changes they can make — even small things — to feel better.

Ready to explore the possibilities of a career in food? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs. 

By Steve Zagor — Dean, School of Restaurant and Culinary Management

Why should I get a culinary or hospitality education? Can’t I just get a job and learn the business while I work?

What a great question and one that should be asked. I hear this almost weekly. As a dean and instructor at ICE, I often meet dreamers who are navigating the very intense process of looking down a long, unpaved and rocky road to the future, evaluating what can only be termed a “seismic” career change. Some may have MBAs or JDs with significant experience and incomes in other fields. A few may have families with kids at home. Others might be reentering the business world after a hiatus. And there are also those who are entering the work world for the very first time. Though they come from different places, they have similar a goal: a career in culinary or hotels.

Rommel Gopez

So let’s examine the above question and see if there is an easy answer.

News media and blogs continually publish stories about the shortage of talented people in our industries. Restaurants and hotels have an unquenchable thirst for talent in both front-of-house and back-of-house. It seems like a no-brainer: find a conveniently located restaurant or hotel, get a job and then begin the learning process under the supervision of a current business operator.

This may be doable. You may encounter a few slammed doors before one opens to accept you — after all, you have little or no experience. But eventually, someone will probably hire you. Now what? You will be in an entry level job focused on hourly or daily tasks at hand. Sure, you will be learning, but your knowledge horizon will be narrow and opportunities for bigger perspective far off.

The larger, more important question should be where are you being taught and who is teaching you. More likely than not, you’ll be learning in a local operation from someone who has come up in the business one step at a time and just knows his/her way of doing it. In some cases, there may be a few company procedures to help in daily operations, but the reality is: you will learn someone’s current knowledge, not necessarily the best or only way, but someone’s way. Not to mention, your hoped-for mentor has little or no time to train, viewing you as somewhat of a burden.

Why care? Further, should you care if your place of employment is doing great? In short: YES. Definitely, you should care a lot. Most operators of individual restaurants, local hotels and small business groups do not know how to operate with maximum efficiency. They don’t know all of the small things that can make a giant difference between marginal and profitable — not to mention, they aren’t necessarily aware of the newest technology and key industry issues. Many managers in small hotels and food businesses have a singular approach. In fact, often these people don’t know what they don’t know.

Learning the right way as well as alternate ways to operate is vitally important to succeed in businesses that at best are competitive and at worst, complicated, multifaceted, but seemingly easy.

Here’s another secret. Learning how to cook and how a kitchen works is a valuable asset, but knowing how to run the full business with all its operational controls, labor issues, purchasing systems, financial aspects, new technologies, marketing and social media opportunities, etc. will be a major advantage when compared to your competitor who began as a restaurant prep cook or hotel desk clerk and worked upward for years in an environment with limited exposure. In the end, to be a success, whether as a business owner or a senior manager/chef for someone else, making a profit will be the key. Several well-known guest chefs who recently visited ICE told our classes that they wished they knew more of the business side when they started out.

So, are culinary and hospitality programs the answer? In many cases, the answer is yes. It’s an opportunity to learn the best approaches from experienced pros whose only job is to teach. Plus, a school provides a network of contacts and expertise you can call on long after you leave. It’s like having a personal group of mentors who will be there to give advice and shadow you as long as needed.

Is school always the answer? Not for everyone. It’s not inexpensive. Personal financial situations may make it challenging as an option. And, there is the question, “Why should I spend thousands on an education when I will be earning a small salary after graduation?” The answer is: if you view the education as your entry for a job, that’s not why you enroll. You go to school for a career not just a job. The first job isn’t the end game. It’s a valuable step on the ladder.

Now, you might be thinking: he’s an educator. Of course he thinks school is a great route. Yes, that’s true, but I’m also a former owner/operator of multiple food businesses and have consulted and mentored many others. I’ve learned through experience how many opportunities are squandered by surprisingly well-known businesses. In many of these situations, just a bit more knowledge could make things better.

Whether you choose formal education, practical experience or a combination of both, there is no assurance you will succeed. There are many other factors that influence success, and not everyone’s goals are the same. Hopefully with your learned ability and knowledge, the first job will be a quick step. What is learned in formal education should make that rocky road smoother and your speed faster to get to where you want to go.

Interested in learning more about ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program? Click here for more information.

By Stephen Zagor — Dean of Restaurant & Culinary Management 

Picture this: You’re a new sous chef clocking 55 hours a week and bringing in $40,000 per year. Suddenly, as of January 1, 2017, abracadabra! You’ve magically found yourself with an additional $450 per week (approximately $23,000 per year) in your pocket. Holy Wolfgang Puck! Did you just win the lottery? Were you an heir of a distant aunt who just died? As it turns out, you have just benefitted from an amendment to the New York Wage Order that raises the New York exempt level (that is, exempt from overtime) from $35,100 to $42,900. This means that anyone being paid less than $42,900 per year in 2017, whether salaried or hourly, is entitled to overtime pay of time-and-a-half for every hour worked over 40 per week. The new law stands to affect restaurant workers at every level, from dishwashers to sous chefs to managers. Diners can expect to feel the impact too.

restaurant burger

To clarify, this is a New York State regulation. The federal government passed a similar regulation that would have increased the exempt threshold to $47,500. However, at the last second, an enlightened federal judge froze the implementation of that rule. Nevertheless, by 2019, the New York threshold is scheduled to climb to a whopping $58,500 — way ahead of the proposed federal figure. Again, this means that anyone paid less than $58,500 will be eligible for overtime. That is a whopping 67% increase from the 2016 base.

If you are a floor manager or sous chef, don’t run out and put a down payment on a beach-front condo in Costa Rica just yet. Do you think a restaurant owner will pay this increase? Not likely. Instead, what may happen is a reduction in hours, so the overtime burden will decrease or even disappear. Otherwise, if the distance to the new base from current salary is minimal, the base salary will be raised to $42,900 — a nice extra stipend, but probably only enough for a cabana rental in South Florida.

That’s one side. Now let’s look at it from the restaurant’s perspective. First off, it’s likely that most owners haven’t even heard of this new law. Unless they are a member of a trade association and regularly read their bulletins, they’re probably blissfully in the dark. That is, until they are discovered to be noncompliant and fined tons of back penalties and taxes.

Next, if our restaurant owner is paying salaries at the old $35,100 threshold, one option is to increase those salaries to $42,900. That’s a 33% increase. If more than one salaried employee falls into this range, the total increase could be financially unsustainable. The only other option is to reduce hours. Then, the issue becomes: Who will do the work? The answer: wage-earning employees. Either way, this could be a big labor cost burden on the restaurant. Combine this with highly publicized minimum wage increases and the changing tip landscape, and the new labor world will be oppressive.

So who benefits in this equation? For starters, the state — with higher payroll taxes from higher wages plus the penalties from non-compliers. The restaurant owners? Not likely; just another challenge for a business model that is already on the ropes. The guests, then? Definitely not. Who is going to pay for these extra labor costs? You got it: the diner. If you thought burgers were getting expensive last year, get ready for even pricier patties. This change is just one of multiple wage increases occurring in 2017 and 2018. Buckle your seat belts, diners, there is more to come.

Want to take a deeper dive into food business studies? Click here for more information on ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program. 

By Emma Weinstein — Student, Culinary Management ’17 / Culinary Arts ’17

When considering different culinary schools, one of the aspects that attracted me to ICE was the exposure to different elements of the culinary world. Throughout my culinary management course, I have been able to hear some amazing speakers thanks to ICE’s “Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs” lecture series. So far, I’ve had the chance to attend lectures by Sylvia and Steve Pryzant of Four Story Hill Farm, Rob Kaufelt of Murray’s Cheese, Eamon Rockey of Betony and Ruairi Curtin of the Bua Hospitality Group. On the surface, these speakers may seem to have little in common. Their expertise ranges from raising milk-fed veal calves to curating the cocktail program of a fine dining establishment. All of these individuals, however, shared with us the triumphs and hardships of their culinary careers — and through their stories I came away with some key points that will help me on my own path:

  1. Perseverance

Have faith in yourself and your concept. Sylvia and Steve Pryzant of Four Story Hill Farm lost their farm twice — first in a deadly blizzard in 1993 and again during an ice storm in 1994. Their barn collapsed and many of their livestock didn’t survive. Still, they resolved to rebuild and Sylvia decided to study how to raise a unique type of bird: milk-fed poulardes from Burgundy, France. Once she learned to raise these specialty birds, she built a list of clients that included the country’s most acclaimed chefs, including Tom Colicchio, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Daniel Humm, Charlie Trotter and Mario Batali, among others.

Eamon Rockey

Eamon Rockey of Betony

  1. Know Your Market

Whether your goal is to sell a gourmet food product or open a restaurant, making sure your business is targeted towards a certain demographic is critical. Ruairi Curtin shared that anytime he and his partners are looking at spaces for a new bar, they sit at the local train station and watch people getting on the train during the morning rush hour. They try to decide whether or not the people who live in that area will be their market. You may have an awesome concept, but it’s important to ask yourself if local residents will be your customers. If not, can you guarantee people will travel to your business?

  1. Know Your Strengths and When to Delegate

All of the speakers had a wide breadth of knowledge in their fields, but primarily in a particular aspect of their businesses. Rob Kaufelt had no intention of having an e-commerce site to sell his cheese — that is, until he met a woman who convinced him that he was missing out on a huge business opportunity. He let her set up the Murray’s Cheese e-commerce site, which then became a huge success. Rob would never have ventured down that route had he not been nudged in that direction. Likewise, with Eamon Rockey, while he has a great deal of front-of-house experience at Betony, he specializes in the cocktail program and delegates other aspects of running the restaurant to his partners. One of the hardest aspects of opening and operating a business is learning to manage the desire to be involved in every aspect. An owner has to know the importance of delegating tasks — you simply cannot do everything yourself.

Rob Kaufelt

Rob Kaufelt of Murray’s Cheese

Murray's Cheese

Gooey Cheese from Murray’s

 

  1. Choose the Right Partner

Choosing the right partner isn’t just about deciding to go into business with a friend or partnering with someone who shares your vision. Make sure this person will be someone with whom you can efficiently and effectively run a business. Look for someone who complements your strengths and weaknesses. With the exception of Rob Kaufelt, all five speakers had a business partner or partners. As they stressed, the restaurant and food business is one of the most stressful environments in the world, so it’s critical that if you decide to have partners, just like a marriage, you will stick together through thick and thin.

  1. Stay Relevant

People are fickle — especially in a city as fast-paced as New York — and there’s always something new opening around the corner. Staying relevant is critical to surviving in the restaurant industry, whether by updating the menu and beverage program or by adding a new type of product or service. You need to constantly think of ways to improve your business and keep up-to-date with the market and the needs of your demographic.

  1. Never Stop Caring

Ruairi Curtin spoke about how he finds going to his own bars stressful because he is constantly finding flaws in the service and seeing ways in which things can be improved. Curtin said he and his partners always check on the restrooms each time they visit one of their bars and normally end up cleaning the bathroom in the process. Eamon Rockey told us how he helped one man over a period of several months plan the perfect proposal dinner for his now-wife. Going above and beyond for your clients will help give your business the best chance for success. As soon as you stop caring about your product, including your bathrooms or special client requests, your staff and others will stop caring as well.

  1. Love What You Do

This is perhaps the hardest goal to attain and yet the most important lesson I learned from listening to these five lectures. It was clear that they are all extremely passionate about their careers. Several had jobs in different fields before making the switch to the food or restaurant industry. They all stressed how the field is challenging but also very rewarding. What makes the food/restaurant industry unique is the nature of the business — to constantly interact with people and create experiences for them. Food is crucial, but at the heart of the restaurant industry is service. Having a memorable waiter or personable bartender can have a profound impact on a guest’s experience.

I’m looking forward to picking up more nuggets of wisdom in the upcoming “Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs” lectures.

Want to launch your own food business? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.


By Caitlin Raux

In 2012, just after ICE Alum Jason Alicea (Culinary Management ’15) landed his dream job as executive chef at a busy restaurant in West Patterson, NJ, a car accident rendered him out of commission for months. Looking back, it was a blessing in disguise, because it was during this immobile period that he came up with the idea to start his own company, That’s Good Food, the New York-based artisanal empanada company with a steadily growing following. Jason combined his family’s tradition of making empanadas from scratch (“pockets of love,” as he calls them) with culinary management training from ICE and turned it into a profitable, dynamic business. With savory fillings like confit duck and crab guisado and sweet fillings like banana bread pudding and arroz con leche, it’s no wonder his empanadas are a hit.

jason_alicea

Between regular pop-up events and farmers’ market appearances, Jason took a break to chat with us for an ICE blog interview.

What year did you graduate from ICE?

I began the Culinary Management program in September 2014, and I graduated in July 2015. My class was the first to graduate at the Brookfield Place location. I won the “Most Likely to Succeed Award” at graduation. It was the first time I had ever won an award in school — it was pretty overwhelming for me.

When you began at ICE, did you already have the idea for That’s Good Food?

Yes — it all began when I was working as executive chef at a restaurant in West Patterson, NJ. After about four months there, my dream job, I got into a car accident and needed knee surgery. While I was out, I decided to start my own catering company and incorporated without a business plan. I let my friends and family know that I could cook for their events. Fast-forward a year later: I started doing a lot of craft services and pop-up events, selling empanadas. Then I realized I would benefit from a formal business education, so in 2014, I enrolled at ICE.

Through the course of the program, we were developing our business concepts. I created an empanada concept for a brick and mortar space, and it was well received by my professors and classmates. After graduation, with a hot business plan in my pocket, I started looking for locations and pitching to investors. I’m still looking for a space, but the pop-up business is going strong. In December of last year, I got to be part of a pop-up bake sale in the holiday market in Union Square, and I’ll be doing a demo at the greenmarket on November 23, the day before Thanksgiving. I’d love to launch a retail line for empanadas one day.

empanadas

If you had a business running before ICE, what pushed you to go to culinary school to study culinary management?

I didn’t have a business plan or any startup funds in place. After going at it for a year and a half and living gig to gig, I decided it would be a good idea to get a business education, along with a better grasp of food culture.

What are the things you learned at ICE that were most useful for running your own business?

At ICE, I became more financially savvy, and that has had the largest impact on my development as a business owner. Now I focus more on the funds I need to operate a business successfully. Also, one of my professors worked for Union Square Hospitality Group, so we got a lot of behind-the-scenes tours at their restaurants. That was eye-opening — to see how the systems work in both front of house and back of house. Finally, the program forced me to focus on a concept and find my niche in the culinary world and in New York City. Before coming to ICE, I just cooked good food, but I had no real specialty. By the time I graduated, I realized that I had a unique product and a big market that I could tap into. So I fine-tuned my culinary voice.

jason_alicea_1

Why empanadas? Is that a family recipe or tradition?

Yes. In Puerto Rican culture they’re very big. I’m fourth generation, but we’re still in tune with the culture. Growing up, we used to travel back to PR every year. My grandmother taught my mom how to make the dough, and my mom taught me how to make it. I would always help out when she made them. Once I got more comfortable in the kitchen, and my mom allowed me to cook a bit, I started coming up with my own ideas for fillings. When I went to PR in 2012, I went to a small town called Piñones — basically a road with a bunch of shacks. There’s the beach on one side and a bunch of little food stands with little old ladies cooking inside. In one shack, El Boriqua, they make empanadas from scratch — when you order empanadas, they roll the dough out, fill them and fry them right there. I was inspired to bring that idea back to New York.

How are Puerto Rican empanadas unique as compared to Argentine or other empanadas?
I would say ours are flakier because we use more butter in the dough. I find a lot of the South American empanadas have firmer dough. Mine are unique because of the quality of the ingredients I use. Also, I don’t think a lot of people put the right amount of love in their food. I take the time when I’m cooking a product high in fat to make them as healthy as possible, by doing things like using less oil in the frying.

cookie empanadas

Chocolate Chip Cookie Empanadas

What’s the craziest empanada you’ve ever made?

I think the chocolate chip cookie one is unique. I put raw cookie dough inside the empanada dough, and it comes out perfectly, topped with powdered sugar. I did a truffle Cubano, too. Lots of people do Cubanos, which are made with roasted pork, cheese, ham and pickles. My roast pork is something I take a lot of pride in. I get locally sourced cheese, smoked ham and I use Urbani truffles and mustard. Then I add pickled onions — that combination is probably my favorite. The one that got me going with empanadas and the one that I started making for the first time with my mom is the chopped cheese, and everyone is raving about chopped cheese now.

Chopped cheese?

Yes, it’s sort of a New York take on a Philly cheese steak sandwich. You can get them in local delis in the more “urban” neighborhoods. I use ground turkey and local cheese. It’s like a Sloppy Joe cheeseburger, for lack of better description. It’s a deconstructed, cheesy turkey cheeseburger.

For anyone considering culinary school to study culinary management, what advice can you offer?

Dive right in. I wish I would have started seven years earlier because then I would have gotten the dual diploma in culinary arts as well. Get involved with as many events as you can, put yourself out there and network, network, network. A lot of the opportunities I’m getting now come from contacts I made by networking in culinary school. If you’re looking to start your own business, try to find something unique, not just “I want to cook all different types of food.” Find something you’re really good at and focus on developing that product.

Ready to launch your food business? Click here to learn more about our Restaurant & Culinary Management program.

By Stephen Zagor — Dean of Restaurant & Culinary Management Program

“Is New York Too Expensive for Restaurateurs?” read the recent New York Times headline. What’s going on here? Are we about to experience a restaurant Armageddon? To read recent well-written and thoughtful stories in The New York Times and New York Post about the extremely challenging New York business environment for new and existing restaurants, one would think we are on the threshold of a cataclysmic event. Will our lives be mostly composed of delivered meal kits and food courts?

New York City flatiron building

Well, skyrocketing rents are very problematic; the new labor laws and wage and hour policies are challenging; food and ingredient costs are never a bargain; and burdensome laws and regulations targeting food businesses appear in an endless stream. Each of these is a serious issue on its own. Now add doing business in New York City with its unique issues and sprinkle in intense competition from the most restaurants per capita anywhere in the United States. The result makes you wonder why anyone would be in this business. Let’s open a dry cleaning business – it must be easier.

But wait. Is this the whole picture? Maybe there is still one hugely important critical piece missing from the story and it could tilt the balance between feast and famine: Do most owner/operators really know how to run their businesses? To be a popular chef or even a restaurant owner doesn’t necessarily mean someone really knows the “how-tos” of the business of restaurants. After all, in calm or even choppy waters, the restaurant business is challenging but doable. Yet when the economic storms roll in, if you don’t really know the operating side of restaurants, there is no surviving. Read between the lines – all of the forces mentioned above (rents, higher wages, new laws and competition) are forces imposed from outside, tossing operators around like a ship in a storm. What’s missing here is what is going on inside the ship. Does the captain know what he/she is doing?

I was recently shown a space by a woman who is an experienced restaurant GM and budding restaurateur. It was a closed, fully built restaurant on a busy street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It could seat 40 guests plus a handful more at the tiny bar. She was in love with the space; it had the bones to become the cute café she had always dreamed of; it looked great and had a low investment and easy conversion; she even lived nearby. Then I saw the rent — it was astronomical. It required strong, seven-figure sales to survive just the landlord. If she had signed, she might have lasted a year. She would have been working for the landlord, not herself. It would have been just the beginning of not knowing how.

As a former owner/operator myself and a long-time consultant and educator, I have had the incredible opportunity to see behind the curtain of some of the most respected and famous chefs and operators in America. I also have an army of students who, after learning the “how-tos,” have gone on to work at major and minor food businesses only to discover that many restaurants survive on magic and luck. Words like recipes (knowing the true production cost of products), retailing (understanding the true purpose of your business), yields (how much is left to serve after trim and cooking), Q Factor (cost of the “free” items like bread basket, ketchup, mustard, etc.), and purchasing strategy (proper buying and receiving procedures) are unknown. I can name numerous celebrity chefs whose business acumen either doesn’t exist or is pushed to the side in the name of creativity. This doesn’t include those who play with the cash, and keep loose systems and accountability so as not to get caught.

restaurant-kitchen-8-copy

This is not to say that the new wage laws, tip rules, rents, etc., aren’t major challenges. They definitely are. One celebrity chef recently noted in The New York Times that the way we operate now will not be the way we operate in the future. Still, it’s amazing the number of operators and chefs I have seen who appear successful but are really marginally profitable or not profitable at all. Some don’t even know how much they make. They are simply marketers hoping that “volume covers all sins.” When the going gets rough, it’s easy to look outside and blame everything else but yourself – especially when you may not know better.

Is proper culinary education helpful? It certainly could be. In the words of a student who came to ICE already the owner of a successful restaurant, “After I graduated, I put to use what I learned and made a lot more money with no more effort.” But maybe more knowledge will definitely help some. It won’t relieve the pains of a bad lease signed too quickly. But managing costs and maximizing revenues all present opportunities for change. It’s just knowing how.

Are NYC restaurants in a challenging time? Definitely. The way we have operated in the past will probably not be the way of the future. Being a great operator will require knowing how to run a successful business.

Want to study restaurant & culinary management at ICE? Click here for more info. 

Subscribe to the ICE Blog


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notification of new posts via email.