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:
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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.