Restaurateur Ken Friedman got his start in the music industry, which is evident when you consider the Spotted Pig’s reputation for playing host to some of music’s biggest names: The enduring New York City hotspot counts Jay Z, Kanye West, and Coldplay as frequent guests. (Friedman even remembers one staffer who got a job at the restaurant for the sole purpose of trying to meet U2.) But long before he opened what may be the world’s most renowned gastropub with chef April Bloomfield, Friedman had a whole other career playing in punk bands and, later, managing musicians as a self-described A&R guy.
On a recent episode of the Eater Upsell, Friedman turned frequently to his experiences in music to describe certain tenets of being a restaurateur. Here are just a few ways the two careers aren’t so different:
• Your second restaurant is kind of like a second album — in other words, not great. “The first album is the greatest hits of your whole life, all the best songs you’ve ever written,” Friedman says. “The second album is the songs that didn’t make the first album, and often you were on the road promoting the first album. You didn’t really have time to write great songs, and you didn’t think it through, and you and the other members of the band didn’t really know each other that well yet because things happened so fast.”
Friedman considers the Spotted Pig his first album with Bloomfield, and the original John Dory, their upscale seafood restaurant that closed after just nine months due to high rents and low foot traffic, a pretty typical second album.
• You should give the audience what they want. According to Friedman, there’s a reason the Spotted Pig’s classic burger will never leave the menu, and it’s a reason best explained with a music analogy: essentially, not serving that burger would be like a band refusing to play their only hit song.
As the manager of Scottish band Simple Minds, Friedman saw the backlash from that decision firsthand. “Don’t You Forget About Me,” the band’s hit from The Breakfast Club soundtrack, also happened to be the only song they didn’t write themselves, and they refused to play it live. As he stood at the side of the stage, watching the audience “booing and throwing things,” Friedman realized, “these kids paid money to see a band they only knew because of that one song. You can’t just decide, ‘Now I hate it.’ I mean, you can, but it’s just not really right to do.” By that logic, Friedman feels it wouldn’t be right to take the Spotted Pig’s hit burger, an item many customers wait hours to eat, off the restaurant’s menu.
• That said, the very best songs — and restaurant concepts — are made by the artist for the artist. “Bob Dylan makes an album that he wants to make, not an album that he thinks will sound good on the radio,” Friedman says. “And the same with painters, and poets, and chefs, I think, too, and restaurateurs.”
• And whether a restaurateur with a successful concept or songwriter with just one hit, you’ll be rolling in it for years to come. According to the James Beard Outstanding Restaurateur, if you’re a songwriter with a great song, “you make money while you sleep,” which isn’t so different from the potential earnings of a restaurateur with a great idea. Friedman says, “If you make a great restaurant, whether you’re there cooking the food, or running the food to the table, or cleaning the bathrooms, you make money for the rest of your life off that idea you had, and the fact that you built that restaurant.”
Hear the complete interview with Ken Friedman below, as he talks with Upsell co-host Greg Morabito about he and Bloomfield’s upcoming LA project, what exactly made the Spotted Pig such a success, and more. Subscribe to the Eater Upsell on iTunes, or listen on Soundcloud. You can also get the entire archive of episodes right here on Eater.