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Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo on Partnerships and New Restaurant Projects

As part of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Eater interviewed chefs poolside at the Limelight Hotel. Up next: LA chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook (Animal, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec).
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[Photo: Eater]

Petit Trois is super close to opening. How's it going?
Jon Shook: It's going good. It's built and we're in there cooking with Ludo and trying to support Ludo as much as possible with whatever he needs. We have all our permits but in laws in California, there's a new thing that went into effect the beginning of the year. So, it's kind of holding us up where once you have all your permits you then have to send it to the state to prove that you have all your permits before they activate your permits. So we're basically just waiting for the state, not the city but the state now, to just activate our licenses and then we're off to the races.
Vinny Dotolo: So, we're already approved. It's a way for them to make more money.

So soon?
JS: Real soon.
VD: Within the next couple of weeks we hope.
JS: We were hoping it would already be open, you know, we're ready to go.

So everyone's kind of cooling their heels?
JS: No. I mean we're staying busy. We have stuff going on all over the country. Me and Vinny and Ludo have so many different things going on, [we] have the staff spend time with each one of us as much as we can. We just have them coming in and we're cooking basically and just eating it ourselves which is good to do. I know it's crazy but, yeah.

How would you describe your role at Petit Trois?
JS: We are support staff for Ludo.
VD: Yeah. I would say it's creatively, on the collaboration, it's sort of just setting that foundation of what we're going to be as a restaurant and then moving forward from there, it's a lot of Ludo's vision in that sense. In the food. Together as a restaurant, it's equal. We all agree on the same systems and the ways that we want to run and operate the restaurant in the foundation and the identity of the restaurants.
JS: But we give Ludo a final say in that process.
VD: It's really his game and we play a support role like as Jon said but we also are sounding boards for any ideas or we might have an idea. I think what we've noticed just with Jon and my partnership and now with Ludo, it's like more minds on something I think the greater it's going to be. I think it's really about collaboration and that's what we set out to do and we've succeeded at it and we want to continue to do that as long as we're successful together.

Since the partnership with Ludo has been so successful, would you ever consider doing that model with another chef?
JS: Yeah, actually.
VD: We're exploring it.
JS: We're always looking and we have our first ever employee who's going to become a partner at Jon and Vinny's, the project that we've been working on for two-and-a-half years in the Damiano space which you guys have followed. Inside of that space we have this crazy license that we could deliver beer and wine. Helen [Johannesen, Director of Operations/Beverage Director at Animal], she's getting a wine shop inside of part of the building. It's Helen's wine, she's going to be a partner, you know what I mean?

We have a couple other guys that are in the company right now, and hopefully, in the next couple of years they could become partners in some way. We're always looking for chefs that we could either partner with or could grow through our organization to partner with. I mean it's definitely something that we both believe strongly in and know that you're only as good as the team around you. Now, as a restaurant group — which we are now — we'll have five restaurants by the end of the year. You're always looking.

The last time we spoke, you guys were still trying to nail down what you wanted in the space to be. Along with the wine shop, there'll be office space and a commissary space too?
JS: Yeah.
VD: It's kind of like a shared space situation if you look at it in that perspective. They're individuals as they run as a company, but it is a unit that sort of is next to each other, so it may feel as one in a sense. The next thing after we get Petit Trois off the ground we'll be moving into the catering facility where we'll be producing all the stuff that we've been doing currently out of Animal for the last six years. Then the restaurant space next to or attached with Helen's wine shop as well.

So, there will be a restaurant there.
VD: There will be a restaurant there. We've been calling it Jon and Vinny's because it's our space. We own the building...
JD: To us, we're working on this restaurant group concept which doesn't have a name yet which is kind of funny...

What we're trying to do is create a foundation for not just us but also other guys like Ludo, right? Other chefs that are in our organization, [so that] they [can] grow within our organization and we've already talked with them and potentially other chefs like Ludo and who knows.
VD: It's more about the partnering up and collaborating with people that we are interested in, more than just a dinner. Because like I said, I think the more eyes on something the greater it can be. When you get people that have the same sort of ethics and foundation and ideas and like-mindedness, then you're going to sort of come up with what you hope to be something great. I think Petit Trois will reflect that as it did at Trois Mec.
JS: Yeah. In the building where the office is on the second floor, we'll be housing a lot of things that happen outside of that building. All of our bookkeepings is going to be moved into there, people that we'll be dealing with, I mean all kinds of stuff. We have so many different little desks in there. You know what I mean? We're becoming a bigger group. Where Animal is right now, our catering sales girl works out of the dining room. She'll have an actual desk.
VD: It's still very mom and pop in a way but it's the oldest company we actually have. So, we're going to give it a lot of love this year.

We're really going to try to keep growing in the catering [department] as much as we are in the restaurant world. Catering is sort of the unsung hero of the restaurant industry. Usually [the gigs] take place out of restaurants or restaurant spaces and you're going off-site and you're completely the away team always. You're never playing at home, whereas restaurants, you're always playing on your own turf. It's challenging but it's taught so much. It's taught us so much about how we know how to execute at events and do things like that.
JS: But we're super-psyched on that building. I mean the designer working... We talked about that. I mean it's sick. They've already done so much to it and we just had our first truck of concrete. Who buys a truck of concrete, you know? But Jon and Vinny did because we had to redo our foundation and all of our second floor that went into the building.

It's a big project. It's most we've ever spent on a project. It's the most time, a lot of thought process, a lot of great people around us supporting us and helping us pull this vision off.

Do you have a sense of what you want the restaurant in there to be like?
JS: Where we're going, I think, with our food right now, it's like we're trying to make it more approachable because I think a lot of people have a fear of eating at Animal ... because we're so branded as the Animal chefs that they're almost scared of us in a weird way. One thing that we've been working on a lot internally is how do you present something that might not feel so aggressive but still be as full-flavored as Animal or Son of Gun?

Also, in this project, we're hoping it's something that we could potentially do more of. You know what I mean?

Like multiple locations?
VD: Maybe.
JS: Animal is one of a kind. Son of a Gun is one of a kind. Petit Trois, there's a lot of thought process in that and being able to do more of them with Ludo potentially. We know that as a company there's a lot of opportunity to put stuff out there but it has to be approachable. It's a lot. That's what we're working on.
VD: It has to reach a bigger audience. We're thinking about that. We're thinking about [how] we're both parents now. So we're thinking about families, that hour of service even. It's just amazing. When you go to restaurants that are cool with having families in there and small children, it's amazing that how many people gravitate towards that and that's a whole other audience.

Animal doesn't really get that audience. Every now and then, we have some families come roll through at six o'clock. There's a whole culture that exists in that and I think we're not completely putting all our chips in that. It's just sort of another thing that we're thinking about now as it being a part of our lives.

We sort of operate like that. We love what Animal is but you evolve as a chef and you have other ideas and we like playing with all the colors. I would open a sushi joint. I would open a Vietnamese restaurant. Mexican. I'm interested in all of it. I love the world that it can be but it's just finding the time and the money and spaces.

And what's the timeline like for Jon and Vinny's?
JS: Well, the catering space, the hoods are up and the office is pretty much framed out. I mean it's going pretty fast. We hope we could be moving in there in four or five weeks.
VD: For the catering side.
JS: For the catering side and then the restaurant side maybe by the end of the year if all goes well. We want to make sure Petit Trois is opened correctly. It's really important to us ... It's like [hotelier] Sean McPherson, he said it really great one time to me. He said that your projects always kind of reflect where you're at in your life. This project, like Vinny said, with our kids and the thought process and the approachability and all that, that's where we're at in our lives, because we both have young kids at home. It's a different world. It's crazy.

What's the craziest opportunity you guys have said no to?
VD: Every year we say no to a television show.

Why?
VD: It's crazy. It's really interesting to us because we know so many people that [would] die to get in front of somebody that would hear them on a TV show. We kind of take it for granted being in Los Angeles and it's the world that we live in. But people know that we had a history with TV which, in our eyes, didn't go the way we wanted it to go, in the most nice of ways that we could possibly put it ... The exposure is amazing from television for chefs. It definitely puts asses in the seats in the restaurants which is amazing source of revenue for them. It brings endorsement deals, anything like that, and if you do well, it can grow into giant things.

But right now, Jon and I don't personally feel that we have the time and the ability to give a show our all. We're so dedicated right now to growing our restaurant group. It's doesn't mean that we won't ever do it. It's just right now, we're so focused on growing the restaurant group and continuing to contribute to the Los Angeles food scene and opening new restaurants and giving people opportunity to do what they want to do. It just doesn't seem feasible right at this moment. It could happen in a few years but I think TV's always there and TV can be short-lived and hopefully your restaurants lasts for a really long time. That's really the goal.

· All Jon Shook Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Vinny Dotolo Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Aspen 2014 Coverage on Eater [-E-]

Limelight Hotel

355 S Monarch St, Aspen, CO 81611

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