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.


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. 


By Carly DeFilippo


Last month, ICE students had the unique opportunity to hear Chef Paul Liebrandt speak in an intimate interview with Scott Haas, author of Back of the House: The Secret Life of a Restaurant. At age 36, Liebrandt—described this week in the New York Times as an “upapologetic artist“—is remarkably young to be considered among the world’s top chefs. Yet if he has no regrets, it’s not for a lack of living. In person, Liebrandt’s maturity far surpasses his physical youth, speaking of his profession with the clarity of a chef far his senior.


As co-owner and Executive Chef of Corton in New York City, Liebrandt runs a tight ship. His father was in the special forces, a level of military training that required not only the utmost physical fitness, but also psychological endurance, as missions were often to be carried out with little information beyond the most essential instructions. It’s easy to draw parallels between this training and the fast-paced precision required in Liebrandt’s kitchen—though he’ll be the first to admit that this is not life and death; it’s cooking.


In his small kitchen, Liebrandt sets the tone, but his chefs have to think for themselves and operate well under pressure. Placing responsibility and respect squarely in their hands, he requires them not only to cook, but also to fill out the orders for the products they will need the following day. The stakes are high, but that doesn’t mean Liebrandt’s kitchen is an unpleasant place to work. He dismisses the stereotype of the dictatorial, hot-headed Executive Chef, opting for a policy of dispassionate honesty. “I can show you the door, but you have to go through it. It’s about being honest—not coddling or berating [staff]. The ones who last are the ones who can think about they’re doing rather than [just] follow orders. I want proactive, not reactive.”


This level-headed demeanor aligns with Liebrandt’s perspective on cooking: “It takes perseverance, experience, patience.” Unlike some other renown chefs shaping the industry, Liebrandt’s career started very traditionally, working his way up the ranks. “[It’s essential to] learn your craft. Today, everybody wants everything instantly, but it’s a marathon, not 100 meters.”


As far as a personal turning point, he names his experiences cooking France, where he became fully immersed in the ingredients and the craft. That said, he is hesitant to label his cuisine as “French”, given the wealth of products and techniques at his disposal. Regional food cultures have grown out of genuine traditions, but the idea of national cuisine is a modern invention. “At the end of the day, you the customer are eating it…It’s either good or it’s bad.”


As far as his creative approach, Liebrandt explains that, earlier on, it was mostly about travel, culture and learning. Today, however, he is involved in a more “graphic” perspective, in which each dish appears simple, but has many layers. His defines his ongoing interest and motivation in in the restaurant industry as “the chance to get it right.” Even with the best ingredients and brigade, it still comes down to the person cooking, and Liebrandt is committed to surpassing his last performance, each time he approaches the stove.


As suggested by his somewhat stoic demeanor, Liebrandt’s ascent to the height of fine dining has been a combination of ambition and hard work. When asked the advice he would give himself at the onset of his career, he responded, “Don’t be so naive.” Ironically, he acknowledges that his ignorance to the grueling work ethic of top chefs has actually been an asset in his career. If he had known how difficult the work would have been, he might have become a carpenter or a painter. Moreover, he continued, the restaurant business has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, with an increased emphasis on the business, moreso than the cooking.


It’s this awareness of the business, as well as the the ability to imagine the full experience of dining (wine pairings, etc.), that Liebrandt defines as the difference between a Chef and a cook. As far as the industry trends that make him hopeful for the future, Liebrandt says, “I see a lot of people getting back to basics and not chasing fame. That’s what I hope will continue.” As for the Chef’s next venture, The Elm, he plans to re-imagine classic dishes. We’re eager to see the influence of that his “back-to-basics” approach will have on the city’s culinary scene.

With summer officially here, many people are stocking their fridge with chilled white wines and seasonal, refreshing beers. It has long been a ritual to switch from red to white during this time of year but a recent article from The New York Times highlights ways to take your red wine with you year round.

According to the editor Eric Asimov, “most wine drinkers reach reflexively at Memorial Day for whites, as if they’re the equivalent of white belts and shoes: enjoyed for the summer and stowed after Labor Day. I hate to say it, but that thinking is as dated as instant coffee; sure, you’ll have something in your glass, but why deprive yourself of so much pleasure?”

While a good white wine is always refreshing, you can always chill your red wines to give them a summer feel or perhaps integrate into cocktail.

For more exciting talk about summer drinks, see below for our upcoming recreational classes at ICE:

6/11 – Tasting Like a Master
6/22 – Evening of Champagne
6/25 – Everything’s Coming Up Rose
7/20 – Wine cocktails
7/28 – Great Rieslings
8/3 – Summer Beer Tasting

Bottoms up!

ICE’s Culinary Management Instructors are seasoned industry professionals who are still active in the industry, working on their own projects while teaching classes at ICE. With such a wide range of experience between them, we decided to ask Julia Heyer and Vin McCann to take a closer look at the business of running a restaurant and sound off on some of the hottest topics in the restaurant world. Today, they look at the recent New York Times review of the ever-popular Shake Shack and try to get to the bottom of what it is that has people lined up around the block for a burger and fries.

Vin McCann
Recently Pete Wells, the Times food critic, spanked Danny Meyers for Shake Shack’s, Meyer’s growing burger chain, operational inconsistency. The piece was both striking and instructive for a number of reasons. First, it raised the question of if Mr. Wells’ interest in a burger chain signals a new field on the Times’ radar screen.  Can we look forward to future reviews of Chipotle and Red Mango? Or was this a one-time scold of a high profile industry operator for not imparting the rigorous standards of his fine dining establishments to his lower priced concept?

In another vein, the piece raised a number of salient business points. The concept of having multiple units on the lower end of the industry’s price spectrum thrive on diligent brand development and sound operational systems, both of which are driven by an objective of consistency. From Wells’ perspective Shake Shack turned up wanting in both departments.

The criticism also raises the inevitable dilemma that all restaurant concepts, whether chains or otherwise, must resolve, namely the fusion of the expectations that are raised and the performance that is delivered. In Wells’ eyes, Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) brand seems to promise more than it delivers on the food portion of the experience, but manages even in his critical eye to provide the memorable signature of Meyer’s hospitality. This raises the question — can hospitality carry a burger chain? More…

DICED has been sharing our interview with influential food writer Mark Bittman from the Winter 2012 issue of The Main Course, our school newsletter. Bittman is the lead food writer for the New York Times Magazine and an opinion columnist for the New York Times, for which he began writing in 1990. We’ve already looked at his career and his outlook on the food system and our current diet. Today, we are sharing his answers on how he brings his philosophy on food into the kitchen and into his work as a writer.

The first lines of your bio state “I’m not a chef, I’ve never been.” You are very adamant about that.
It’s a bit of a holdover. When I first started doing public stuff, they’d introduce me as Chef Mark Bittman and everybody was like, ‘Oooooh, chefs, wow, how exciting.’ It was the days of Emeril and it wasn’t like now when there are 50 billion chefs out there. So they didn’t know how to deal with somebody like me. I’d get signed up to teach cooking classes, or I’d get signed up to give talks or whatever, and they didn’t know what to do with me because very few people were doing it who weren’t chefs, so they called me Chef Mark Bittman. I’d get up there and I’d say, ‘I’m not a chef,’ and then I would talk about why everybody should cook; that chefs do one thing, but home cooks do another, and that it’s really important to be a home cook, and that there should a 100 million home cooks in this country. More…

Last week, we brought you part one of our interview with influential food writer Mark Bittman. Three times a year, ICE publishes The Main Course, our school newsletter full with interviews, articles and school news. For the Winter 2012 issue, we sat down with Mark Bittman, the lead food writer for the New York Times Magazine and an opinion columnist for the New York Times, for which he began writing in 1990. Last week, DICED shared a look inside what his career has been like. In this installment, we are sharing his answers to tough questions about the food system and where our food comes from.

You talk a lot about the need to eat less meat and you are a vegan before 6pm yourself. Is meat the biggest problem the food system has right now?
It’s one of the biggest problems. The easiest way to describe the situation is to say the two biggest problems are animal products and junk food. If I had to say what’s the single biggest problem, I could say “big food,” I could say the stronghold that big food has on America, but it doesn’t answer anything. If I had to pick two things to change, they would be CAFOs—concentrated animal feeding operations—because I think that if we had stricter laws on the treatment of animals, and better controls on the use of antibiotics in animals, better waste disposal systems, better environmental controls, it would make meat much more expensive, and if we made meat much more expensive, then sustainable meat and meat raised non-industrially would be more competitively priced. As a result, I think we would start to move in the direction we need to move anyway, which is that we would eat less meat and pay more for it. If we ate 90 percent less animal products than we do now—which we may do in 50 or 100 years, it’s not going to happen in a year—that would be a really good thing from every single perspective, except of course the perspective of the people who profit by us eating as much as we do now. More…

Three times a year, ICE publishes The Main Course, our school newsletter. In addition to listing all the upcoming classes, each issue is filled with interviews, articles and school news. One of the highlights is always an interview with a notable food personality. In the past, we’ve talked to Daniel Boulud, Andrew Carmellini, and Gail Simmons among others. For the Winter 2012 issue, we sat down with Mark Bittman, the lead food writer for the New York Times Magazine and an opinion columnist for the New York Times, for which he began writing in 1990. Before his current duties, he authored the weekly “The Minimalist” column for the newspaper, launched in 1997. His book, How to Cook Everything, has sold more than 1 million copies. He is also the author of How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian, Food Matters, The Food Matters Cookbook, The Minimalist Cooks Dinner, and a slew of other books, including the upcoming How to Cook Everything: The Basics (March 2012), which contains 1000 photographs to accompany step-by- step instructions for everything one needs to cook, including how to boil water. He has won several awards from the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals for his writing and his television series, Bittman Takes on America’s Chefs. He frequently appears on the Today show, and was the host of PBS’s Spain: On the Road Again with Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow. The Main Course met with him at the New York Times to gain his perspective on today’s food world and the changes required to our food system. Stay tuned for parts two and three of the interview in the coming weeks.

Michael Pollan recently anointed you one of the most powerful voices in food — one of seven. What does that mean to you?
Obviously, I was honored to be on the list, though it is after all just a list. I would have put together a different list if someone had asked me to do it, but Michael knows a huge number of people in the food world, he’s really a central figure, and that makes his choices meaningful. Obviously, you’d rather be on a list like that than not. So it was great. More…

Whether as chefs, cake decorators, specialty food purveyors or caterers, ICE alumni are finding success in a plethora of different avenues in the food world. Check out just some of the alumni finding success and making recent headlines.

*Jackie Rothong (Culinary ’11) appeared on the new Food Network series Sweet Genius, on September 25 on Food Network.

*Shin Kim‘s (Culinary ’09) Korean food blog was mentioned in the ‘What We’re Reading‘ section of the New York Times’ Diner’s Journal.

*Dan Segall (Culinary ’02) is appearing on the Cooking Channel every Friday, in a special presentation of A Culinary Coup: The Launch of Ku De Ta. The show features Chef Segall opening this ambitious, high-profile restaurant in Singapore.

*Zach Kutsher‘s (Management ’09) soon-to-open Kutsher’s Tribeca has been garnering much early press, including a recent New York Times piece.

*Sonali Ruder (Culinary ’10) has 10 recipes published in the October issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine, in both the “Weeknight Meal Planner” insert, as well as the “Easy-to-Freeze $10 Dinners” story.

*AnnMarie and Joe Glaser, (Pastry ’06 and ’07, respectively) proprietors of La Bella Torte Dessert Truck, were finalists in the 2011 Vendy Awards for Best Dessert.

To connect with these ICE alumni and many more, join ICE’s network on LinkedIn, or follow ICE on Facebook and Twitter.

Whether as chefs, cake decorators, specialty food purveyors or caterers, ICE alumni are finding success in a plethora of different avenues in the food world. Check out just some of the alumni finding success and making recent headlines.

*Lots of ICE alumni have been mentioned in The New York Times in the past couple of weeks: Justin Philips’ (Management ’07) Beer Table has opened a second location in Grand Central Terminal. Anup Joshi (Culinary ’04), chef de cuisine of the soon-to-open Tertulia restaurant, was mentioned in the article about chef Seamus Mullen’s cooking for personal health. Kary Goolsby (Management ’01/Culinary ’02) is chef of newly opened raw bar and craft beer restaurant, Upstate, in the East Village. James Sato (Culinary ’03), along with partners, has opened Chuko, a locally sourced ramen shop in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

*Time Out New York profiled Carl Raymond (Culinary ’08) and his classes at the Astor Center.

*Maxime Bilet (Culinary ’05) was included in a piece on Bloomberg about the new dinners from the team behind Modernist Cuisine.

*Gail Simmons (Culinary ’99) was interviewed about her favorite vacation spots in the Chicago Tribune.

*Meredith Foltynowicz (Culinary ’10) was quoted in a piece in USA Today about changing careers.

*Andrea Lynn (Culinary ’05) had a recipe from her new book, I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook featured in the Daily News.

*Stacy Adimando (Culinary ’10) was interviewed about her new cookbook, The Cookiepedia, in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

To connect with these ICE alumni and many more, join ICE’s network on LinkedIn, or follow ICE on Facebook and Twitter

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