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 Gunther

One of the great things about studying at ICE is the wealth of experience that each instructor brings to the curriculum. Culinary Management instructor Alan Someck is no exception. As general manager of two perpetually packed Long Island restaurants for decades, Alan developed an understanding of what makes a restaurant not only successful but an integral part of the community. Between this role and his years of consulting work, Alan has the kind of expertise that only comes with time and the opportunity to study changing trends in the industry. At ICE, Alan shares his insights with each aspiring restaurant owner or food business entrepreneur who walks into his classroom.

Alan Someck

A native New Yorker with the restaurant industry in his blood (his father owned a seafood restaurant in Brooklyn), Alan didn’t initially gravitate toward the culinary world. It wasn’t until after college when he moved to San Diego that Alan was inspired to join the food industry. With a shared desire for local, fresh produce, Alan and friends began a food co-op—a small operation where members would assemble in someone’s backyard and handpick their weekly produce. The co-op, which doubled as a community center, grew until it eventually relocated to a larger space that was previously a pool and dance hall. It was during this era that Alan learned to tap into local needs and organize ways to meet them.

Though he loved the Golden State, Alan eventually relocated back east, where he took the helm of two popular North Fork restaurants, both called Millie’s Place. Recognizing that the restaurant space had evolved into more than a place to eat, but rather, an extension of people’s homes, Alan infused Millie’s Place with the same sense of community that he helped to create in the San Diego food co-op.

Alan Someck and student

Alan with ICE graduate

Asked about the lessons gleaned from his time running Millie’s Place, Alan says, “Hook into the community. Get involved and create relationships with customers.” This entails everything from getting to know your customers by name to giving back to the community—Alan’s staff used to cook Thanksgiving dinners for seniors in the area. A second lesson is to observe what’s going on in the industry. Alan explains, “Once a week, I would go out to another restaurant. Go to restaurants and food shows and learn from them. Your food should adapt to the current trends.” Alan’s final piece of advice? Choose the right location. More specifically: a location that fits your concept. This and other vital elements involved in launching a food business or restaurant are the kinds of discussions that Alan has with each of his students. Says Alan, “I start with the premise of, ‘What’s the experience you want to create?’ Let’s work backward from that.”

With New York City as a backdrop for his classes, Alan is also able to incorporate local restaurants and entrepreneurs into his curriculum. From a guest lecture by Gabrielle Hamilton, author and chef/owner of the acclaimed East Village restaurant Prune, to a field trip into the bakery of Amy’s Bread, guided by owner and ICE alum Amy Scherber, Alan ensures that his students receive a comprehensive food business education.

Today, Alan continues to advise restaurant startups, franchises and restaurants aiming to solve operational conundrums. An avid cultural observer, especially when it comes to the way people eat, Alan keeps a constant pulse on the evolving food industry. Whether inside of the classroom or out, Alan is inspiring the next generation of food visionaries and helping to make their lofty business dreams a (profitable) reality.

Want to study with Alan and start mapping out your own food business? Click here to learn more about our Culinary Management program.

 

By Richard Vayda

ICE - Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs - Suzanne GoinFresh off her most recent nomination for a James Beard Award, Suzanne Goin – celebrated chef, restaurateur and cookbook author – charmed and informed our students and industry attendees as the latest guest in ICE’s ongoing series, Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs. The featured speakers are noted foodservice business leaders from all corners of the industry–wine makers, bakers, chefs, distillers, restaurateurs, bar owners, cheese mongers and more–who are invited to share their backgrounds, successes and advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. While every guest brings a unique and inspiring tale to tell, because of my own French culinary background, I was particularly excited to moderate this discussion with Suzanne, and the two hours did not disappoint.

Goin began by sharing how an early interest in cooking began the foundation for her career in the food industry. That curiosity led her to some extraordinary places, first among them an internship at the legendary Ma Maison (called by Zagat one of “13 restaurants that changed LA dining forever”) while still attending High School in Los Angeles. After heading east for undergraduate studies at Brown University, Goin resumed her career in restaurants by working at such famed establishments as Chez Panisse, owned by the legendary chef Alice Waters in Berkeley, CA, and Olives, the first restaurant by chef Todd English, in Boston, MA.

Her next step was France, where she worked at restaurants of equal or even greater acclaim, including Alain Passard’s 3-star Michelin restaurant, L’Arpège. Suzanne eventually made her way back to Los Angeles where she worked her way up to executive chef at Mark Peel’s critically acclaimed restaurant, Campanile. Quite a résumé, for a young chef!

ICE - Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs - Suzanne Goin

Photo credit: Lucques.com

After establishing a strong skill set in the world’s top kitchens, Goin felt ready to open a place of her own. When asked how she knew it was the right moment, she recalled that it was just a gut feeling; something she felt driven to do at the time. In 1998, Lucques was born – the first of several restaurants she has opened with her business partner Caroline Styne. Serving French and Mediterranean-influenced California cuisine, the inviting, rustic restaurant was an immediate success. Goin was named one of the “Best New Chefs” by Food & Wine Magazine the following year.

Goin shared the ups and downs of opening her first restaurant, in particular, stressing the importance of the location and setting. “Find a space with soul,” she advised. With renewed confidence and experience under her belt, Goin’s second restaurant, a.o.c., debuted in 2002 and was quickly celebrated by the critics. The concept featured small plates (then, a cutting-edge concept) with superior wines by the glass.

Today, Goin owns and operates several restaurants, as well as casual marketplace dining concepts, and says there is more to come. Among her top lessons she learned along the way: be wary of unnecessary start-up expenses, exemplified by the beautiful but far-too-expensive tufted banquettes she installed at one location. (Goin confided that, while lovely to look at, they took a very long time to pay for!)

In addition to offering practical advice about operating and expanding business ventures, Goin stressed the importance of a good working relationship with any partner—mutual respect, communication and clear delineation of duties are key. She also passed on many of her thoughts about staff management, recounting several anecdotes of nurturing and motivating employees. Obviously having a great deal of respect for her staff, she commented that all business owners “owe [their employees] some mentorship.”

Goin was full of wisdom, offering great insights into starting and operating a successful business. But perhaps, as one of my students commented, the best part of the event was to meet a celebrated restaurateur and chef that was also unusually genuine and sincere. Beyond her talent in the kitchen, her attitude is yet another great reason to pay Chef Goin a visit on your next trip to L.A.!

ICE - Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs - Suzanne Goin

Suzanne Goin (center) with ICE Director of Wine & Beverage Studies Richard Vayda (left), and ICE President Rick Smilow (right).

 

By Dana Mortell, ICE Department of Student Affairs

On April 3rd, ICE welcomed Chef Donald Link as part of our ongoing Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs series. This was a unique opportunity for ICE’s student body and the general public to interact with one of New Orleans’ leading chefs and restaurateurs. Link is the Chief Executive Officer of the New Orleans based restaurant group Link Restaurant Group, which includes 5 different operations. Link is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Award for “Best Chef South” and has also been nominated for the “Outstanding Chef” Award in 2012 and 2013. His group’s latest addition, Pêche Seafood Grill, also scored its fourth and fifth JBF Awards in 2014, for “Best New Restaurant in America” and “Best Chef: South.”

chefDonaldLink

Image courtesy of buy.louisianaseafood.com

He began his professional culinary career at the age of fifteen, inspired by his grandparents’ mastery of Cajun and southern cooking. Working his way up the professional ladder, he made it a priority to learn all the roles of the kitchen—including the not-so-glamorous ones. Through this careful strategy of observation and practice, Link has honed his celebrated culinary identity, creatively utilizing his southern roots in the process.

It goes without saying that Link is not just a master chef; he is a profitable (albeit humble) business man as well. Accordingly, he didn’t spend much time discussing his personal accomplishments with ICE students. Instead, Link used his time at the school to discuss the business tactics required to build a successful restaurant operation. He offered advice based on his own experiences, from business plans to food costing and net sales calculations, while sharing a number of amusing personal anecdotes.

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Donald Link speaking with ICE students and guests.

When it comes to hiring, Link looks first and foremost for drive and motivation in a potential employee. He claims he can tell within a few minutes if someone will work well in his kitchen. He gives aspiring cooks a chance, observing them closely and examining their overall culinary presentation. From there, he can determine if a person is a good fit for his operation.

During his presentation, Link spent some time discussing the path to becoming a chef. He focused on training in the kitchen accompanied by real-world experience and cautioned students not to be in a rush to move up. When you spend time focusing on a promotion, he stressed, you disregard what’s going on around you, which is of critical importance in a professional kitchen. Ingesting information and mastering important culinary skills is vital for advancement and takes time, he said. Link encourages students to immerse themselves in a variety of culinary environments to diversify their portfolios  – it helps you be more creative, he said, and makes you more prepared when the time finally comes that you get to create your own dishes.

platingDONALD

Chef Link plating at his restaurant Herbsaint. Photo courtesy of http://theadvocate.com

When you reach the position of executive chef, your responsibilities multiply exponentially, Link says. Foreseeing problems, mentoring your staff and monitoring cost are all the head chef’s responsibility. Since the price of food is dependent on seasonal availability, environmental factors and transportation costs (for example, non-local ingredients that must be imported), the executive chef must carefully monitor food costs and adjust the menu accordingly, since at the end of the day, running a restaurant is about making a profit and utilizing costs efficiently.

Link also discussed his current role as a restaurant business owner. Knowing why people eat out and how to assess your market are key to running a successful business. Furthermore, he said, it’s your responsibility to cater to the community your restaurant serves. When tourists visit and see a restaurant with a strong sense of place and authenticity, they are immediately drawn to it. Of course, getting deemed “one of the top 3 restaurants that count” in The New York Times or named one of the “20 Most Important Restaurants in America” by Bon Appétit doesn’t hurt either, as is the case with Link’s restaurant, Cochon. But following a thoughtful strategy like Link’s is precisely how Cochon landed such profitable distinctions.

As far as creating a rewarding work environment, Link discussed his relationship with his employees and the importance of maintaining healthy and positive relationships. He believes that fair pay is key, as is treating your staff with respect and appreciation. These two factors result in a low turnover rate and a trustworthy team that will remain with you for years on end. Training is also crucial, as is having an environment that facilitates training naturally. In fact, one of the qualities Link loves most about his staff is that they are constantly communicating with one another in a helpful, efficient fashion—a crucial component to running a successful and sustainable operation.

Nearing the end of his talk, Link got personal. He shared his experience with Hurricane Katrina and its devastating effect on the New Orleans community. He lost everything—his home, his belongings and one of his restaurants. He explained that at the time, the city wasn’t taking this storm seriously (since NOLA had dodged other storms). Luckily, Link trusted his gut and left the city to meet his family the day before Katrina hit, encouraging his whole staff to do the same. When he returned, the devastating effects of Katrina were everywhere.

While Link, like so many others, lost so much, he was resolved to rebuild what he had worked for his entire life. He gave his staff three weeks off to get their personal affairs in order. Meanwhile, he set to work cleaning mold, gutting interiors and building new furniture for his operation. Miraculously, Link wound up re-opening three weeks later, serving a limited menu on paper plates. For Link, this feat wasn’t about making an immediate profit, it was about nourishing his community.

Chef Link’s sustained success is a testament to the fact that dedication and thoughtful planning, as well as cultivating close personal relationships with your staff and the community, is vital to owning and operating a successful restaurant. We’re grateful that he could join us for such an informative and inspiring chat with our students!

 

By Richard Vayda, Director of Wine Studies

A great bottle of wine—it often seems like such a simple pleasure. But the vision, planning, labor and skill required to infuse joy into every bottle is not always so apparent to the drinker. On a recent Thursday, ICE students, guests and staff learned about this process as part of ICE’s ongoing Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs series, where guest speakers from all walks of the food and beverage industry share their experience and advice.

(From left) Daniel Daou and Richard Vayda, ICE's Director of Wine Studies

(From left) Daniel Daou and Richard Vayda, ICE’s Director of Wine Studies

“Treat” is really the right word for this talk, as winemaker and vineyard owner Daniel J. Daou not only inspired the audience with his story, but also offered a tasting of some of his premium wines as well. As the Director of Wine Studies at ICE, I was particularly interested in the Daou’s insights as a winemaker about what really goes into every bottle.

Born in Lebanon and raised in France, Daou recounted his professional journey, culminating in the recent completion of his lifelong goal: becoming the proprietor and winemaker at a family winery. Although winemaking is a rather recent career for him, the roots of his passion date back to his early childhood in Lebanon, where the natural beauty of an olive grove sparked his interest in products of the earth. Growing up in France, Mr. Daou became enamored with wine, especially those of the Bordeaux region. This led to his dream of owning a vineyard that could produce distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon.

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But the wine would have to wait. Daou first came to the U.S. while working for a successful technology and computer business, which helped set the stage for opening his own winery. After being mentored by highly experienced Bordeaux winemakers from Château l’Evangile and Château Lascombes, Daou started his search for the perfect Cabernet site. He initially looked at areas in Napa, but quickly realized that the spot for his dream wine was elsewhere. Drawing on his science and technology background, Daniel recounted to the class how he framed his search by looking for particular soil types – calcareous terroir, similar to the Bordeaux – as well as ideal climate conditions. In 2007, he decided to purchase an area of land in Paso Robles, California, defined as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). Soon thereafter, the area was defined as a sub-region called the Adelaida District.

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Over the course of the talk, Daou touched on the time, money and wherewithal required to start a winery. Since his newly planted vines would not yield quality fruit for a few years (and thus no cash flow), he started off producing his standard Daou Cabernet Sauvignon from purchased grapes from other areas of Paso Robles. When Daou’s vines matured, he began crating wines from his own estate-grown grapes, including the Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the flagship Daou Estate Soul of a Lion. Applying traditional methods used in first-growth Bordeaux – low vineyard yield, free-run juices and new French barrels – along with modern techniques like frequent phenolic testing, the quality of Daou Vineyard wines quickly garnered the attention of the public and critics alike. Daou wines have earned praise and top scores from Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast and more. Further, Daou Vineyards was named The Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine’s “Winery of the Year” in 2013.

From left: A representative from Daou Vineyards & Winery, Daniel Daou, ICE Chief Marketing Officer Brian Aronowitz and Richard Vayda.

From left: A representative from Daou Vineyards & Winery, Daniel Daou, ICE Chief Marketing Officer Brian Aronowitz and Richard Vayda.

Although the pursuit of great Cabernet Sauvignon was the inspiration for Daou Vineyards & Winery, the portfolio now includes other limited production wines. Daou makes some delicious whites, including a Chardonnay, a Viognier and a lovely Grenache Blanc, which Daniel told me was inspired by his need for “something to go with sushi”. For our tasting that evening, we enjoyed the Daou Reserve Chardonnay, the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the Reserve Seventeen Forty – a Cabernet Franc based wine. All the wines exhibited great balance, structure and finesse, evidence of Daou’s dedication in every sip.

In closing, Mr. Daou offered some advice on entrepreneurial success to the audience: “Follow your passion, keep your focus and always strive for quality.” The wine in front of us was proof enough that this business formula yields spectacular results.

 

By Stephen Zagor, Dean, School of Business and Management Studies

Living in New York City and partaking in its incredible culinary scene often leads to an inflated food ego. How can we learn anything from chefs or owners outside of NYC, the cradle of modern culinary civilization?

As it turns out, John Gorham, the well-known and successful chef/owner of Toro Bravo and two other Portland, Oregon restaurants, has quite a few things to teach us. He spoke at ICE as the latest guest in our Meet the Culinary Entrepreneur series. In his modest and unassuming way, John shared important lessons about running a successful restaurant, whether in New York City, Portland or beyond.

Courtesy of Portland Monthly Magazine

Courtesy of Portland Monthly Magazine

For almost two hours John captivated the room with his story of growth and development, both personally and professionally. He opened Toro Bravo, his flagship Spanish Tapas style restaurant, over five years ago for $180,000, and crowds still line up daily. Later came his next two restaurants, both carefully crafted to fill a market niche: Tasty n Sons, a neighborhood brunch-centric restaurant and Tasty n Alder, a steak house that also caters to the brunch crowd.

According to Gorham, all of his restaurants have shown positive cash flow in just month one, with total capital investments paid off in under a year. Not bad for a man who sees himself as just a simple guy from North Carolina who started making charcuterie on a whim.

courtesy of LizCrain.com

Courtesy of lizcrain.com

Gorham’s lessons don’t end there. He and his team go out of their way to make sure that all employees are treated well. His chefs and managers work only four days a week—a schedule that is almost unheard of in New York City’s culinary scene. Working fewer days allows Gorham’s employees to maintain work-life balance and show up to work well-rested and focused. Gorham himself tries to keep a balanced life, taking weekends off and keeping Sundays free to spend with his wife and kids.

As far as a marketing strategy, John doesn’t use PR or advertising and thinks social media is overrated. He prefers to promote business through charities and local events. He realizes that the appeal of his restaurants are their party-like atmosphere and sells over 40% of his revenue in alcohol. And he pays well, too—waiters make $10.00/hr plus tips (the state regulated minimum wage) and his kitchen staff starts at $14.00 per hour. Add to that the lower cost of living in Oregon, and it all seems pretty enticing. Does John really work for the local Chamber of Commerce?

Courtesy of Kacheff.com

Courtesy of Kacheff.com

Has it all been great? Of course not. John described a falling out with an early partner who he still doesn’t speak to. He mentioned that the original $180,000 investment was too low, resulting in cheap equipment that broke almost immediately and cost even more to replace. He’s been sued from time to time and has learned many hard lessons along the way.

Despite these bumps in the road, Gorham has enjoyed tremendous success as a business man and restaurateur. When asked if he would ever open a place outside of Portland, he commented: “Not likely. There is still a lot of opportunity in Portland.” It’s a smart, conservative comment from the “simple guy from North Carolina” who taught us New Yorkers a thing or two. “Take it slow and know how to how to manage money,” he said. Good advice from a winner.

 

By Richard Vayda

What exactly makes a “Top Chef”? Well, you could win a contest on a popular TV show, or perhaps run top rated restaurants—or better yet, both. During ICE’s ongoing Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs lecture series, ICE students, instructors and guests were fortunate enough to hear Top Chef winner and highly-regarded restaurateur, Harold Dieterle, share his experience.

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Born in Long Island and educated in New York, Dieterle’s background presents an appealing scenario to aspiring chefs and restaurateurs, especially for our students who come from the New York area. His work history includes stints at well-known Manhattan spots, including 1770 House and The Harrison. He explained that his early interest in food came from helping with family suppers of traditional Italian and German fare. Dieterle claims to have polished his skills further in his high school Home Economics class (and also confessed that he thought it was a great place to meet girls).

Relying on his experience cooking and working in the food service industry, Dieterle competed and won the first season of Bravo’s Top Chef in 2006. Yet, given his multiple successes since then, this fact barely came up in our conversation. The year following his Top Chef win, Dieterle opened his first restaurant, Perilla, with partner Alicia Nosenzo. When asked about financing this initial venture, Harold remarked that, despite his success on Top Chef, it still took a good year to pull the funding together. Winning the TV contest certainly made opening a restaurant easier, but investors are still generally wary of investing in a restaurant unless its owner can point to previous successes. “You have to be able to sell yourself to secure investor funds,” Dieterle stressed.

When it came to discussing the development of his three West Village restaurants and the challenges posed by each—specifically, juggling his time between them—Chef Dieterle had some very practical advice. The partners wanted to develop businesses where they knew their audience and could better cater to their needs, hence the same neighborhood location. Perilla (New American with Asian Accents) is the more casual place for locals, having many regular clients that return frequently. Kin Shop (contemporary Thai Cuisine) was given 2 stars by the New York Times and was born from his interest and travels to Thailand, whereas The Marrow (contemporary German and Italian cuisine) taps into his family roots. From a logistical standpoint, having the restaurants located within walking distance of each other made them easier to manage. Still, an owner has to spend the time where it is most needed. The Marrow, being the youngest and perhaps most complicated sibling, gets the majority of Dieterle’s attention, while the more mature Kin Shop runs like a well-oiled machine.

Harold was also very candid about some of the more practical aspects of food service, such as cost percentages and lease negotiations—highly deliberated topics in Culinary Management classes. “Kin Shop may have a better food cost percent, but one of the other operations is more profitable.” “Our first lease, we probably paid more than we should have and the construction was difficult, but it was a good experience that made the next negotiations easier.”

Further, Dieterle offered some earnest insights into relationships with partners and investors, concerns that are often discussed among graduating ICE students. According to Harold, communication, honesty, trust and maintaining the business focus are key to good associations. Harold worked with his partner, Alicia, at one of their earlier restaurant experiences were she was Director of Operations. They knew each others’ skills and they brought complementing talents to the table. Frequent meetings about each others’ business activities and problems keep the discussions centered and forward-moving. Concerning investors, he advised searching for people that want to be part of the business for the right reason and to maintain frank and open communication.

After this fast moving and varied discussion, Harold was asked if he had a final thought to leave with aspiring entrepreneurs, something that might help them when the road gets tough. His advice: “Keep focused, keep inspired. That’s what keeps you going.”

 

By Vin McCann

 

Last week, restaurateur Drew Nieporent, founder of the Myriad Restaurant Group, offered a generous dose of advice to ICE students. As he led students through the development of his career as an entrepreneur—built on the success of long-running restaurants like Montrachet, Nobu, and Tribeca Grill—he recounted a world of rents and entry costs that sounded more fantastical than historical in today’s competitive market.

drewnieporent

In 1985, he opened the door of Montrachet in Tribeca on a $150,000 investment with a monthly rent of $1,500. The restaurant rose to critical acclaim under the helm of such noteworthy chefs as Brian Whitmer, Debra Ponzek and current ICE Chef-Instructor Chris Gesualdi. For more than 20 years, Montrachet was one of the city’s most beloved eateries—an epic run in New York City years.

 

In classic a colorful, yet efficient story-telling style, Nieporent outlined the principles that attributed to his success, validating many of the conceptual underpinnings of the Culinary Management program. In particular, he emphasized the importance of real-world restaurant experience as a means to gain confidence as a manager. He also pointed out that, in order for a restaurateur to find the right niche, he/she must be able to recognize his/her strengths and interests, as well as the “fit” of potential employees within that niche.

tribeca grill

Tribeca Grill, courtesy of Myriad Restaurant Group

Despite his relationships with a number of celebrated chefs, Mr. Nieporent also made it abundantly clear that restaurants are businesses first and foremost. Financial stability facilitates creativity, rather than the other way around. And when it comes to enduring success, attention to detail is also a crucial point. To demonstrate this concept, Nieporent provided a comic recount of his clever efforts to identify New York Times dining critic Bryan Miller. (In short, he discovered the critic went by Mr. Benson at another New York restaurant, and when he first opened Montrachet, ensured that anyone named Benson received exceptional service. The plan paid off, yielding 3-star results.)

 

He also cautioned students against “trying too hard” (a veritable epidemic in today’s restaurant world), pointing out that many presently popular operations are running on transient, trendy appeal, as opposed to solid restaurant fundamentals. His prediction: these establishments won’t be around in a year or two.

Nobu

Yellowtail Jalapeno at Nobu, courtesy of Myriad Restaurant Group

Nieporent’s final point was simple, yet often overlooked: food isn’t always enough. Differentiation, accessibility and consistent execution provide the glue that hold good operations together and keep customers coming back. Thirty years ago, at Montrachet, he offered great food in a casual, yet elegant downtown establishment for less than half the price of haute cuisine counterparts in Midtown. Today, looking at the number of restaurants serving exceptional food without the fancy white tablecloths, it’s clear that Mr. Nieporent has always been a forward thinker.

 

As for the growth of Nobu and the Myriad group, Nieporent failed to mention that famous and wealthy partners can certainly improve a restaurant’s chances of success. Then again, he didn’t have to—riding on others’ reputations was not the root of his success. The rich and famous investors only followed his lead after the initial success of Montrachet; smart money bets on a winning formula.

 

By Alan Someck

 

On October 3, Chef/Restaurateur Sara Jenkins engaged in candid conversation with ICE students about conceiving, launching and managing her three New York City restaurants: Porchetta, Porsena and Porsena Extra Bar.

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Once a successful chef in the city’s top kitchens, Jenkins described the expected and unexpected aspects of her transition into an entrepreneurial role. For example, she no longer spends much time in the kitchen. That doesn’t mean she isn’t at her restaurants, however. Often, she’s just steps from the dining room, filling purchasing orders, adjusting staff schedules or curating Porsena’s wine list.

 

When it comes to fulfilling her creative side, Jenkins notes this latter role as a recent task she particularly enjoys. Having grown up in Italy, she intuitively knows quite a bit about wine, but the process of selecting bottles for Porsena and Extra Bar’s menu has allowed her to learn about wine on a completely different level.

 

Creating new menu items has also become an outlet for the chef, who especially loves the abundance of produce at the nearby Union Square greenmarket during warmer months. Among the many lessons Jenkins has learned at Porsena, she notes the greenmarket’s influence on her decision to include dishes on the standard menu or list them as a special. If an ingredient risks to be fleeting, no matter how much she likes the dish, it has to remain a special. As for whether or not to include a simple plate of pasta with tomato sauce on her menu, Jenkin credits becoming a mother with her appreciation of this classic dish, which now holds a spot among the primi piatti at Porsena.

 

Among the chef’s more practical advice? Learn something about plumbing, electricity and air conditioning systems. In addition, to be fully effective as an owner, Jenkins has learned that she needs to complement her kitchen abilities with a knowledge of the intricacies of the front of the house. While she initially felt intimidated by FOH responsibilities, she now finds that her customers appreciate the nights where she mans the floor, even if that reveals she’s not the one cooking.

 

On the subject of customers, Jenkins stressed the importance of building a regular customer base. Having been lucky enough to receive steady press coverage for the opening of her second restaurant, Porsena, she now finds that as the buzz dies down, she’s rebuilding her business model for longer-term success. Among her strategies is the inclusion of “cravable” items on the menu, rather than relying on intellectual or technical dishes that impress, but don’t keep customers coming back for more. Chef Jenkins also emphasized “knowing your numbers”, monitoring check averages and customer counts, and adapting your business model as necessary.

 

Approachable, honest, and transparent, Chef Jenkins is a great example for ICE students of hard work, smarts and creativity combining to pay off in a very competitive marketplace.

 

By Vin McCann

 

Andy Ricker, Chef-owner of a half dozen restaurants in Portland and New York (Pok Pok, Phat Thai, Whiskey Soda Bar, Noi, SenYai) provided a number of insights on ethnic food and the restaurant business in this week’s edition of Meet The Culinary Entrepreneurs. Ricker is a refreshing mix of creative skills and straight-forward business sense. While he cautioned the room full of students not to strike out into the business as he did (no business plan, self-financed, everything on the line, clueless about marketing), his story and approach to “specific regional Thai cuisine” validates a good deal of what our Culinary Management program teaches.

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His keen interest in Thai food, developed through his many journeys through the country—and the equally sharp observation that no one in his market was offering the lesser-known preparations that he enjoyed on those trips—prompted him to develop a unique approach to a generally standardized cuisine. (In fact, Ricker argued that you could take a menu from a typical New York Thai restaurant, travel as far as Chicago, and have no problem ordering off that same menu in another Thai restaurant.) Additionally, his continued appetite for research and product sourcing reflect the need to master one’s product and differentiate it from the competition. Moreover, his leadership style—largely based on proven corporate structure and strategies—promotes trust, teamwork, collaboration, and accountability.

 

Ricker noted the importance of balancing his creative urges with the need for consistency in operational performance, which, in his own words, “…requires turning off the Chef ego and realizing there is merit [in repetition].” His scaled down perspective on aesthetic design also demonstrated a laser-focus on cost management, both in terms of capital invested and operations. Last but not least, he preached the straightforward value of hard work and  learning both the craft of cooking and the fundamentals of the business:  two critical characteristics that he clearly possessed and that have bolstered his success in the industry.

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Though he dismissed the significance of luck in any success story—his own in particular, which launched with neither a business plan nor secure financing—the practical skills Ricker acquired throughout his restaurant journey intuitively evidenced the educational values taught at ICE. In the words of Chef Virginia Monaco, “[ICE] doesn’t invite the countless entrepreneurs who act in similar fashion and fail within the first year to speak in MTCE program to our students.”