Heavy-hitting NYC chefs and restaurateurs Daniel Boulud, Alfred Portale, Gabrielle Hamilton, Jimmy Bradley, Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo gathered at Keens Steakhouse to ruminate on the question: "How many restaurants are too many for one chef?" Beyond the central topic, discussions ensued on issues like ensuring quality in a restaurant empire's many outposts, how a chef's time in the kitchen declines with multiple restaurants, why restaurateurs expand, the questionable integrity of doing reality TV, and more.
On the panel main topic, "How many restaurants are 'too many' for one chef?" we lead off with D-Biggity himself.
Boulud: "I would not have been satisfied with having just one restaurant. Daniel satisfied certainly my career but satisfying my soul would be a restaurant more like DGBG or Bar Boulud."
Portale: "I started looking for other outlets nine years ago essentially but before that I was very happy at Gotham and I had what a lot of chefs dreamed of. I had a huge restaurant in the best city in the world, packed to the rafters every night. And for me having that and nurturing it along was very satisfying. But during that time, I kind of missed was being able to express myself in other cuisines, different style restaurants. I did open a restaurant in Philly in 2005. There was another restaurant planned that didn't happen so you do things for different reasons."
Hamilton: "One restaurant is too many!" What kind of crazy-ass person would open more? I'm a representative of the one restaurant, non-profit lifestyle.
Frank C: "The question doesn't apply to us. There's two of us!
On the advantage of being in the kitchen everyday:
Bradley: "I would like to be in the kitchen everyday but I don't have the luxury until recently when I brought in a new business partner. Now that I can share those duties with him, I can participate in other duties that are more fun. When the boss is excited, it's a good thing, it's a trickle down to the customers.
Hamilton: "It's romantic to talk about being in the kitchen everyday and truthfully, I don't want to be in the kitchen everyday. It can tedious. You know it's like the analogy of parenting. You stay fresher as a parent when the babysitter comes in sometimes. you need a good custodian to take care of things."
Portale: It's just unrealistic to think the chef is always in the restaurant.
Frank C: "We opened with the business model of opening other restaurants from the beginning. There should be a chef in the kitchen at all times.
On expansion, and ensuring quality in multiple outposts:
Boulud: "Up to four restaurants you struggle because you can't invest in upper management. You're still going to miss some stuff and your job really becomes managing the managers. I have a company that comes in to every one of my restaurant once a month and files an eight-page report on their experience from beginning to end. It's one more strength in our management and it's all about training and trust."
Frank C: "The reason why chefs are opening more than one restaurant is that it can only hold so many people. You have a restaurant with 150 seats that's packed every night, and booked six months out, that might be a great reason to expand. People want more of it. "
Hamilton: "Why do we do it in this business when the margin is so difficult make? If we're just now going into business why aren't we doing something more lucrative? We could open five shoe stores, and the shoes don't go bad in your walk-in. I mean you're still driven by your passion."
Bradley: "You're always driven by your passion and your love to cook. But you have to switch over to being a businessperson you have to figure out how to make it possible to do what you love to do and make a living."
Boulud: "It's about creating something new. It's not about the money."
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