Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Frank Bruni on the Restaurant Scene

From Food and Wine

There was an article in Food and Wine.com that interviewed Frank Bruni

"On changes in the restaurant scene since he stopped being a critic. (Or how Keith McNally is Hugh Jackman.)
So much of what is opening now reflects that moment one-and-a-half years ago when the economy was at an absolute nadir. Except for stealth, feel-good stories like Torrisi, it’s all big openings from well-known names. When you’re mounting a play, it’s hard to get investors if you don’t have a proven star. I think we’re seeing that now. If you can’t put on your marquee David Chang (or let’s say Nathan Lane) or Keith McNally (maybe Hugh Jackman), it lessens the chances that you can open for business.
It almost makes me wonder and worry that the NYC restaurant scene will become concentrated in just a few people. I worry about what happens to the George Mendeses of the world. He’s a talented chef with a great resume and no built-in audience. We need restaurants like his Aldea  now."

 I see what Bruni is saying and he's right. He also mentions Torrisi which I love. And, I hope they take this as a compliment cause it is. But there's no "secret" to what they do. Their food is just dope straight forward shit that someone put everything they have into. I've always said, if you are genuine and work hard, your food tastes good... when I opened Baohaus, I saw this article in Entrepreneur Magazine:

"Restaurateurs have learned that stripping away the layers of white linen and battalions of waiters leaves them with something that people actually appreciate: A restaurant that's putting its money and effort into what's on the plate.

Consumer psychology and spending habits always mimic the economy. And the restaurant industry is a sensitive barometer of how consumers feel about things. People may be willing to plunk down hard-earned cash for something great to eat, but they sure as hell don't want to feel guilty about it, or pay for any fancy trappings. Make the experience less about the show and more about the food. And charge a reasonable price."

When I read this, I had already decided to open a bare bones restaurant because I really don't know anything else. I don't carve swans with turnips or make dragons with carrots. This article gave me a lot of confidence knowing I didn't have to make food orgami to make a buck. Our food is all about keepin' it real. For anyone else opening their own spot for the first time, its hard to find people to talk to and bounce ideas off of so this article meant a lot. Whenever a friend tried to shit on my dreams by talking about how many people fail or how off my idea was, I sent them a link to the article.

People are dicks. They say to your face they are happy for you, that its cool you left your job, but then you hear from someone else they're laughing at you cause you left the law to sell buns... Those people aren't your friends and you remember that shit. And whenever you get a chance, you send them articles about how well you're doing. Yes, I do this. Not because its classy, but because I might be the only person that gets angrier when stoned. I got rejected from mad colleges in high school, had letters that guidance counselors wrote my parents saying I was a fuck up, and its still on my wall at the parents' crib.

On the other side, you got friends that come out of the woodwork to support. For instance, I got a buddy, Will Davidson. I rarely got to hang out with Will outside of school, but this mother fucker came almost once a week as soon as I opened Baohaus. Brought his family, friends, anyone and every one. Shit like that means a lot. Melissa, Jerry, and Steve bought us a lucky cat. Simon worked for free the first week. Baer bought corn chowder the first day when we did chicken soup haha. Stella bought a tip jar. George took all the photos. Lia wandered around all day waiting to buy buns Christmas Eve. It takes a village.

Unless you've spent significant time eating shit working in a restaurant, you just don't know what it takes. The concept/recipe/location is only part of it. Even with Baohaus, my set up initially was meant for a quiet, neighborhood place with a communal table, wifi, hot tea, etc. We grew out of it fast, my brothers all came up to NY to help, and we just adjusted on the fly. But, I'd be dead in the water if I didn't have two restaurant kids that were ready to fly up next day and throw down. I got lucky. So, in a way, both Bruni and Entrepreneur are right. You kinda need it all. Its always a good time to open a restaurant, but its never easy.

It doesn't take a "superstar" to open a restaurant, it takes a village. It got cut in editing, but during my Ultimate Recipe Showdown taping, they asked me what I'd do with the 25k grand prize if I won. I kinda laughed. Some people are like, "I'm gonna open a restaurant!" or "I'm gonna save the world!" I'm like, dude, 25k? really? Rome wasn't built with 25k. Nor was any restaurant. On top of the money, you need operators. Emery owns/operates Xiao Ye and Matt got investors, but I'm saving everything in between for the book haha. Yall know I hate titles so I don't have one. I'm Emery's brother. That's it. Now, if you have someone like McNally, who not only knows how to operate consistently, created a signature style, and the press likes him, well, that's mother fuckin blue magic. People like that just don't come around. You pay him what he wants. For us, it isn't one person, its family.

I think its cool Bruni cares still... The scene is getting taken over by a few big guns and you get bored of the food. He's a critic so he's gotta look out for the culture. But, for those Chefs/Restauranteurs, they earned it. If you don't like it, open your own. But otherwise, you can't say shit to them. There are a lot of restaurants that I think are over hyped, but if you get money, I respect the hustle cause this shit isn't an accident. Fatty Crab/Fatty Cue, not an accident. A Korean joint named Chop Suey... maybe? People don't just put a name on a restaurant and then dope food magically appears.

Opening Baohaus, I knew the odds were against me cause I had roughly 30k and if we didn't turn a profit week one, I was done. But, I think that's a good thing. When you open a joint, you gotta just Ride or Die. If you aren't willing to put in those hours, attention to detail, you're simply going to fail. A lot of people come to me with ideas now, but I tell them, is this the only thing you want to do right now? Are you going to give up your friends, family, hobbies for the next year? If not, do something else. Its like joining a cult. And its not glamorous. You stand around all day in crocs, you listen to assholes complain you have white employees serving Asian food, you get home at 3 am, you put some tinactin on your feet, and you do it again tomorrow. It fucking sucks unless you love it. Like birds that swallow ...

Restaurants are a man v. himself battle. I like it because I go in every day, I check the food, I check ticket times, if it's off, I bug out, I call Emery, I call Evan, we fight, then we figure out who put too much soy sauce in the braise. If you measure yourself against your competition, you'll lose. You compete with yourself and your food will be dope. I know when we have off days at Baohaus. And for real we have like 6 items, we shouldn't have any off days!?!?! Imagine a full sit-down like Xiao Ye.

I order delivery to my house all the time just to check quality. Its a constant battle and luckily we got dope kids at the shop that give a fuck too. If the flavor's off, Kate calls us all hours of the day. If the crazy lady upstairs tries to hit me with plates during service, V will tell the old bag lady to stop frontin. When people make racist comments about our staff, Asa pulls a treatise out of his back pocket and sets them straight. It takes a mother fucking village. Its not about superstars, its not about investors, its not about the economy, its about people who love what they do and care that you do better than the day before every single day. You can't learn about restaurants from a critic, a book, a magazine, or a mentor. it takes all of them! You gotta push yourself. And in the face of it all, there's always someone like Artichoke or Cheeky Sandwiches that succeeds without any of that shit people tell you they need. Cook food, get money, make babies.


  1. honestly really loved this entry. inspiring and the truth. i love that you keep it real with everything. keep grindin'!

  2. great writing. I definitely want to make it out to NY for some Xiao Ye. Good luck with the project.

  3. i am opening my very first sandwich shop in los angeles, keeping having doubts - but reading you blog is inspiring . I hope I can make it -

    Keith Huynh

  4. hi eddie =)

    im so excited for you guys. what an inspiration

    (im "simon" from the chipmunks kuz i'm the tall nerdy one in my group of girls)

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