0 comments on “Carlos Barrera Duarte, Executive Chef at Hey Hey Canteen”

Carlos Barrera Duarte, Executive Chef at Hey Hey Canteen

This is Carlos Barrera Duarte, the executive chef at Hey Hey Canteen. Carlos grew up in Mexico City, Mexico and talked about going to culinary school and becoming a chef since he was 5 years old. He says that growing up in his house, everything revolved around food. Whether it was a special occasion, a sad occasion or anything in between, you could find his family gravitating towards the kitchen, where his mom and dad cooked on a daily basis. Carlos found cooking interesting and it became a source of comfort for him, especially as he got older and sitting in classroom became more and more difficult. He was restless in school but cooking gave him a process to focus on and he enjoyed it because he was good at it. He began spending his summers working at a bakery and then a sushi restaurant and then at 15, he started taking some kitchen classes. When he got older, Carlos says that he tried to enroll in culinary arts school a few times but once he had experience in the industry, he realized that most chefs never went to school so he would question why he was spending the money and talk himself out of it. But his dad saw the value in school and convinced him to pursue his degree, so Carlos ended up enrolling in a four year culinary arts program at a small school in Mexico. After he finished school, he wasn’t sure what to do with his degree so he lived on a vineyard in Mexico for three months learning how to make wine before moving to Spain and working at restaurants in San Sebastian, Barcelona and Madrid. After a few years, Carlos moved back to Mexico but he didn’t feel that there were enough opportunities in the food and beverage industry there for him to be successful. So he decided to emigrate to the U.S., where he believed he could start fresh and challenge himself. However, after almost giving up a few times, he says he feels lucky to be where he is today and that he owes his success to the people who have helped him along the way.

In 2012, Carlos got a work visa and moved to Chicago where some of his family was living. But once he got to Chicago, things got complicated because he spoke no English and didn’t have any connections in the food industry in the U.S. He ended up taking a job at McDonald’s and then worked in a factory folding boxes. After a few months, he started thinking about returning to Mexico and going to work for his dad, but then he got a call from a childhood friend of his mom’s who lived in the U.S. Although they had never met before, he told Carlos that he was a doctor in South Dakota and that he could help him get a job in the food industry there. Carlos didn’t have enough money for the flight so the doctor emailed him a plane ticket for the next day. Carlos had no option. He didn’t want to give up on his dream and move back to Mexico so he moved to South Dakota. Right when he got there, Carlos says the doctor became like his second dad. He got Carlos a job at a restaurant in Rapid City and let Carlos live with him for a year until he could afford his own apartment. Although no one could communicate with him because he still spoke very little English, he started off as a prep cook at the restaurant and within six months was promoted to head chef. He spent two years in South Dakota, helping the owner run his two restaurants, until the owner decided to close for renovations. It was supposed to be four weeks but it ended up taking two months and during his time off Carlos decided to go to New York to visit some friends from culinary school.

Carlos says that he fell in love with New York when he came to visit. It had so much more diversity than the cities he had been living in that it felt like home. When he returned to South Dakota, the doctor pushed him to move to New York permanently but Carlos didn’t feel ready. He had no savings and no plan for what he was going to do once he got there but the doctor insisted and ended up buying him a plane ticket for the following week. Carlos moved to New York in January 2015 and again, had no connections. All of his friends from culinary school had moved back to Mexico and he had nowhere to live so he started staying in a hostel. He tried to search for jobs but couldn’t find any and he began getting depressed and feeling very lonely. The move started feeling like too much for him and although he wanted to work in food, he didn’t feel he could be a chef in a place like New York. He stopped looking for jobs and slowly began running out of money. Finally his dad made him a deal: he gave him money to live in New York for one more month and said if he didn’t have a job by the end of the month, he had to move back to Mexico. As he was nearing the end of the month, he met his girlfriend on a dating app and it motivated him to stay in New York. He started looking for jobs again and got an interview at 2 Duck Goose, a Chinese restaurant in Gowanus, and ended up getting the job as a line cook. On his first day of work, there were a lot of different events going on in the city so his hostel got booked up and he didn’t have anywhere to stay. So Kay, the owner of 2 Duck Goose, let him stay in the restaurant and shower at her apartment. Carlos says that’s the moment he knew that he wanted to work with Kay, because she didn’t even know him and offered to help. He says that she’s supported him since day one.

Carlos & Team from Hey hey canteen

Similar to his time in Rapid City, Carlos started from the bottom at 2 Duck Goose and after six months, there was some changes to the staff and he was promoted to sous chef. Now that he was finally in a position at a restaurant he was happy with, he decided to take some time off and go back to Mexico with his girlfriend so that he could show her his country. While he was on vacation, Kay emailed him that the concept wasn’t doing well and that they were going to have to close the business. When he got back to New York, Carlos already had ideas for a new concept that he wanted to start with Kay because he enjoyed working with her. They met and started brainstorming and both had similar ideas of wanting to create a healthy menu with Asian flavors that was accessible for everyone. They wanted to continue to provide delicious food to their customers but at a lower price point, so they decided to make it a fast casual restaurant. Together they spent six months coming up with the concept for Hey Hey Canteen- creating the menu, working on dishes and coming up with the branding. It was a whole new experience for Carlos because he had never been involved in the opening of a restaurant before. But since he had created the concept with Kay, he became the executive chef on the project and says that Kay gave him the support and the freedom to figure out what worked. He says that they changed the menu a lot before it could get to where it is now. In fact, the Caesar salad is the only dish they kept on the menu from the beginning and everything else is new. They try to work with seasonal ingredients to keep everything fresh but also keep the dishes simple and cook them in the right way, using the right techniques to make sure that the taste is correct. They also try to stay very detail-oriented to stand out from their competitors because there are so many health-focused bowl/salad places in New York that they have to be unique to differentiate themselves. One of the key ways that they do this is with their homemade dressings, which they make from scratch each day. Carlos says that focusing on the details is very important to him because the care that they put into their food is evident to their customers.

The most rewarding part of working at Hey Hey Canteen, Carlos says, is his team. He believes that the team they have now is pretty solid, especially since in most kitchens they’re always rotating people in and out. Every one of them came into the new concept that he and Kay created so they’re always bringing in new ideas for a dish or feedback on how an item can be improved. Because they’re such a small team (only ten people), they have the confidence to be honest with one another but they also support each other when things are happening outside of work. So having a team he can rely on is huge for him. He knows everyone that he works with is very responsible and they all trust each other to get their job done. He doesn’t feel it’s helpful to be on top of people telling them what to do but it’s also taken them years to find the right people that are committed to the concept and have the same goal of making the restaurant succeed. Everyone on their team has been together for at least a year and everyone brings their own strengths to the menu. Now that they have found those people, it makes work much easier because they’ve created a positive environment where people enjoy coming to work. Carlos has worked with most of theses people for a few years at this point and he says that he “definitely considers these people my family”. They’re a diverse group and since they’re all immigrants from different parts of the world (Mexico, Tibet, Nepal, Hong Kong), they’re all so close because most of them don’t have families here to rely on, they’re each other’s family. He personally tries to keep in touch with everyone every day and know what’s going on with them both inside and outside of work. He feels close to his team because he feels like he knows what’s happening in their lives the same way they know what’s happening in his. And it’s nice to know that someone is looking out for you, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed in such a stressful environment like the kitchen.

Carlos believes he’s “super chill” as a chef because he doesn’t believe in yelling at people and creating more stress in a high-stress environment. He says that he’s seen those strict chefs who run very strict kitchens and always promised himself that when he started running his own kitchen, he wouldn’t make the same mistakes that he thinks these chefs made. And his advice for other cooks or chefs just starting out in the industry is to not think there’s only one way to work as a chef because there’s definitely no one set way to do things. He believes that it’s important to care for the people you work with and to create a relationship where there’s respect on both sides so that you know that the people who work below you care for your problems the same way you care about theirs. If you treat people like machines rather than human beings, they’re not going to be invested in the job and eventually they’ll leave. Carlos and his team have a close relationship so they’re all invested in Hey Hey Canteen, which Carlos calls “his baby”. It’s been three years since they re-opened their Gowanus location as Hey Hey Canteen and now they’re focused on trying to gain more exposure in Manhattan with their new location at Turnstyle Market. Moving forward, Carlos says he’s excited to expand their menu offerings and open more locations so that customers can enjoy Hey Hey Canteen as much as he’s enjoyed creating it.

 

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0 comments on “Corey Samuels, Co-Owner of Kashkaval Garden and Leisa Arndt, General Manager of Kashkaval Garden”

Corey Samuels, Co-Owner of Kashkaval Garden and Leisa Arndt, General Manager of Kashkaval Garden

This is Corey Samuels, the co-owner of Kashkaval Garden, and Leisa Arndt, the general manager. Corey and his business partner, Daniel Assaf, have been friends since they were 13 years old and both moved from Montreal, Canada to New York in the late 90’s after finishing university. After working in New York for a few years, Corey and Daniel began looking for a passion project to focus on outside of work. But apart from being avid customers of restaurants and gourmet food stores, they had no knowledge of the food industry or food service (Corey is a software engineer and Daniel is a gemologist) until they met an older gentleman they now fondly refer to as the “cheese man”. He owned a cheese shop in their Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood and they became friendly with him from frequently visiting his store. It was during this time that they realized that there were no bars or restaurants in the area that focused on serving wine and small plates (cheese, Mediterranean tapas, etc) and started speaking with him about this concept. They thought that it was a unique idea and something that they themselves would like as customers. The “cheese man” agreed and offered them another storefront location that he owned in Hell’s Kitchen to open the operation with him. In 2004, they opened Kashkaval Cheese Market and Wine Bar, which acted as a gourmet deli in front, where they sold their tapas and cheeses to go, and in the back had a wine and fondue room with a long bar and waiter service. And although Kashkaval has changed over the years to focus more on their Mediterranean influences, it has remained a staple in the Hell’s Kitchen community for the last 15 years due to their high-quality food and their ability to understand their customer and create a cozy, inviting environment that customers continue to want to return to.

When they opened their market and wine bar in 2004, Corey says that there was nothing like the concept in their neighborhood and that the idea of a “wine bar” had just started making it’s way into New York’s food scene and becoming popular. They knew it would be risky getting into the food business but were hoping that other consumers, like themselves, would enjoy a new way to eat out. It did take a couple of years for the idea to catch on but once it did, it became very popular and allowed them to expand to a second location two doors down. They opened Kashkaval Garden, a more elevated dining experience, in 2013 and operated both locations for about a year before losing the lease in their original space and consolidating everything into their new location. They decided to get rid of the market aspect of the business because it didn’t make sense in the new space and to focus their menu on more healthy, flavorful, Mediterranean-inspired dishes. They added some new items to the menu but unfortunately, due to spacing issues, had cut back on their cheeses and tapas. Corey admits that he does miss the market from the original location because he loved the local feel that it gave him to see neighborhood residents coming in and out of the shop throughout the day and he was also very proud of the large variety of cheeses that they would stock (40 or 50 different types), sourced both internationally and domestically. But they made it a point during their transition from market to restaurant to keep their cheese and tapas programs, although limited, on the menu as well as their fondue, which remains a popular item. They also were able to incorporate the intimate feeling of their back wine and fondue room with a back dining room in their new space, which took them three years to construct and opened in 2016. It was originally the backyard of the building but Corey and Daniel hired an architect to build the room from scratch because they wanted a room that was more cozy and hidden and they love the “wow” factor that customers get when they see the room for the first time. Although they weren’t able to stay in both locations, they made sure to keep aspects of the market and wine bar that they loved so that they never lose their neighborhood feeling.

Wall at Kashkaval

Corey believes that the most unique thing about Kashkaval Garden is their ability to use healthy ingredients to consistently create an authentic and flavorful meal. They classify themselves as a Mediterranean restaurant but try to be really creative with what they offer and use a lot of spices that aren’t “typical” for Mediterranean food but make sense for the dish. Since Corey and Daniel don’t have any background in food, the recipes on their menu were created by two chefs who have worked with them over the years. The first chef, who created most of their recipes, is originally from Turkey and doesn’t have any formal culinary training. He was taught how to cook by his mother and grandmother so he created a lot of authentic, homemade recipes, which Corey attributes their unique flavor and spice to. Their second chef was also their first general manager, who came from a culinary background and had a more modern approach to their dishes. Their menu today is a combination of both chefs: the authenticity and earthiness from Turkey and the presentation skills and level of service expected from New York. And the creativity that both contributed to the menu works well for them. Of course they do seasonal changes and they’re open to adding to the menu if they go out and see a dish that they like. They’ll create it for their team then try it out as a special and see what the customer feedback is before adding it to the menu. They want their dishes to be filling but not make people feel heavy so they always challenge themselves to use the healthiest ingredients possible, bending towards organic and sustainable items. In order to stay on top of food trends, they do a lot of research on what’s popular and what the best things are to be offering health-wise. Focusing on healthier, yet tasty, options was always something that was important to them, especially when opening Kashkaval Garden. But in the last two years, Corey says that they’ve been challenging themselves even more so to find better quality ingredients for their dishes as well as packaging for delivery orders to reduce plastic waste, which is a personal value that Corey and Daniel both feel strongly about.

Corey and Daniel both still work full-time so they really rely on their managers to run the show at the restaurant. They’re usually there at night and on the weekends so Leisa, their general manager, takes care of operations on a daily basis. She has a background in management and hospitality was something that she got into during school but stuck with over the years because she loves it. She’s been working in the food industry for 10 years and met Corey and Daniel at a bar that she was working at at the time before moving over to work at Kashkaval Garden once it opened. She worked at the restaurant on and off for five years before taking over the general manager position this past fall. Now, as a leader at the restaurant, Leisa says that she stays motivated because every day is a new day and since she’s been in the industry for so long, she’s able to deal with issues that come up and let things roll off her back pretty easily. Not only does this allow her to keep a positive work environment, it also allows her to motivate her team by being a resource for them and making sure that the the staff has both the physical things that they need and the knowledge that they need to carry out their jobs. She believes that fostering a positive work environment means showing everyone how their contribution matters and how each person works together to create success because they’re working as a cohesive team rather than individuals. Creating this environment among employees helps to provide a positive experience for the guest and makes it easier for each person to do their job knowing that they’re all working towards the same goal and what they do has a direct impact on their coworkers. For both Leisa and Corey, one of the most rewarding parts of the business is the team that they work with. Although it’s generally a continual challenge for vendors to find good employees, they have really great people on their team and they love working with them because they’re good people that work really hard. For Leisa, it’s nice coming to work every day because they’re like a little family and even when the restaurant is packed and things get crazy, they still have fun with each other.

Corey believes that food is love. So if he can have a team that enjoys coming to work, produces good food and shares that food/love with customers who arrive happy and leave happy, then he’s done his job as a business owner. He works to cultivate a positive environment for both staff and clients because he believes that positive energy extends to the customers and back to the staff. So it’s all about creating positive energy to be circulating throughout your entire restaurant so that people feel comfortable at all times. For Corey, a positive review, either in person or online, is the best reward that he can get for the work he’s put into his business. However, he warns others who are looking to get into the food industry to be prepared because there’s a lot you don’t know and there’s a lot that you need to learn, which will only happen over time as the experiences comes up. In those situations, he advises to learn from your mistakes so that when it happens again (because it will) you’re better able to deal with it. Leisa’s advice to others looking to work in management, like her, is to develop a thick skin for the issues that will arise and if you want to succeed, be ready to put your whole soul into what you’re doing- don’t show up just to show up.

 

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0 comments on “Armando Litiatco and Ahmet Kiranbay, Co-Owners of F.O.B. and Shindig”

Armando Litiatco and Ahmet Kiranbay, Co-Owners of F.O.B. and Shindig

This is Armando Litiatco and Ahmet Kiranbay, the co-owners of F.O.B. and Shindig. Armando is a classically trained chef who grew up in San Francisco in a food-focused Filipino family while Ahmet is originally from Ankara, Turkey and worked as an accountant before emigrating to the U.S. in 2006. And despite the fact that they’re from different countries where they grew up in much different environments, have different religions and different cultures, they believe that they were brought together by their love of food. The two met in San Francisco 13 years ago and have been working together ever since. Armando was working as a chef at Google when he met Ahmet and convinced him that they would make the perfect team to cater Google’s holiday party for 200 people. He told him, “You understand the numbers and I understand the food. Let’s help each other and do it together.” Within a week they had opened a catering company and secured the job at Google. And since that time, it’s always been that same dynamic: Armando in the kitchen and Ahmet managing the front of house operations and accounting. But now with their newest ventures, F.O.B. (their restaurant) and Shindig (their catering company), they’ve been working together to introduce New Yorkers to a cuisine that’s very close to both of their hearts: Filipino BBQ. Not only are they trying to educate customers about Filipino culture through their delicious food, they strive to create an environment in their restaurant that make customers feel like they’re eating at home.

Armando was raised around food. His father was a chef and wanted him to become a chef as well so he started working in the industry at a very young age. His first job was washing dishes at McDonald’s and his experience grew from there. He worked as a busboy, a server, a baker, a bartender- every job that you can do in any type of food establishment, he did. Until one day, he approached the chef at the restaurant that he was working at at the time and asked if he could work in the kitchen with him since he was always cooking at home for friends and family. The chef encouraged him to go to the California Culinary Academy (CCA) so that he could get proper culinary training rather than trying to learn it over years in the kitchen. So Armando applied, was accepted and went to culinary school for 2 years before starting his career as a chef in San Francisco. Ahmet’s path was little different. He had no experience in food before coming to the U.S. other than his appreciation for food, which came from his sophisticated palate. He was actually sent to the U.S. by his accounting firm in Turkey to learn English because he had told his boss that he was beginning to feel burnt out in his position. So they sent him to a language school in the U.S. for 2-3 months to help him clear his mind. It was during this time that he met Armando in San Francisco and decided to stay in the U.S. Ahmet says that he felt bad at the time and knew it was a huge risk to take, but he had gotten sick of only looking at numbers and talking to banks and was ready to make a change. And although their first event at Google really threw him into the industry and he initially felt uncomfortable, he felt it was something he could see himself doing long-term as a way to challenge himself and grow as an individual.

After growing their business in San Francisco to cater weddings, art gallery openings and corporate parties in Silicon Valley, Armando and Ahmet decided to move to Miami after visiting the city for vacation. They loved the lifestyle there (the weather, the beach) and it was easier to make a living because it was cheaper than San Francisco at the time. There they ran a variety of Asian fusion restaurants with Armando as the chef and Ahmet managing, and during their days off they would barbecue on the beach. Their favorite food to cook became Filipino BBQ, especially because most of the food was on skewers so it was easy to cook and eat as they sat in the sand. It was during their time in Miami that they started thinking about opening their own place and came up with the concept for F.O.B., drawing inspiration from their beach barbecues. They spent two years playing with menu items, perfecting recipes and finalizing the idea before they started looking at spaces to open the restaurant. They checked out Miami first and got a few offers but it didn’t feel right. There weren’t many distinct restaurants in Miami (a lot of places were doing a fusion of Asian cuisines) so they were concerned that they concept wouldn’t work there. They wanted to be somewhere with a little more diversity in it’s food community, where people were more open-minded and where they could focus on doing one cuisine really well. So they flew to New York and immediately it felt like that’s where they needed to be. Not only did it fit what they were looking for for F.O.B, they realized that they missed the city life that they had in San Francisco and were tired of the constant sunshine in Miami. Once they had settled on New York, they traveled back and forth for months looking for the right spot. Manhattan seemed too upscale and corporate but they liked the neighborhood vibe in Brooklyn where they felt like you could find more mom-and-pop places like theirs. One day in August 2016 they happened to be walking by a space in Carroll Gardens and noticed it had “for rent” sign out in front. They got in touch with the owner to see it and right when they walked in, they knew it was their place. They opened F.O.B. three months later in November 2016.

FOB Restaurant

Because Armando and Ahmet had a tight budget, they were looking for a space that was easy to open and were lucky enough to find a restaurant that didn’t need too many changes. They only needed to clean and paint and didn’t need any renovations, which allowed them to focus on making the space their own and embodying the homey, laid-back, comfortable culture that they wanted customers to notice right when they walked in. The design is very much a “beach town” feel, inspired by their time in Miami, combined with their home-style cooking. Many customers tell them it feels like they’re in their grandmother’s house, which Armando says is exactly the point. They want it to feel like you’re coming into a home when you enter their restaurant and that there’s no pressure to do anything except enjoy yourself. They decorated the space with bright colors, mismatched China plates on the walls and macrame plants, incorporating a lot of different styles that seem to work, just like at grandma’s house. Like their food, they wanted the restaurant’s environment to be very approachable and relaxed for customers, which has also extended into the working culture of their staff. Because they only have a small crew of 6 people, they try to make it more of a team atmosphere rather than “us” and “them”. Their management style, even in San Francisco and Miami, has always been very inclusive and focuses on leading by example, because they never want their employees to feel a separation between their work and the work of “the boss”. They believe that everyone is building the business together so they trust their employees to be as invested in the work as they are and want them to feel empowered in their roles.

Armando and Ahmet believe that continuing to learn- about food, about the restaurant industry and about your own business- is the best way for a chef or an entrepreneur to succeed in such a tough industry. They see it as a disservice when people work in food for a couple of years and want to open a restaurant right away. They believe that you need to learn as much as you can, either managing restaurants or spending time in the kitchen, before jumping into it. So that when you do open your own place, it won’t be such a huge shift that you’re not used to. Instead, you’ll know what to expect. Learning every part of your own business is another key ingredient to success for them. They suggest working every role in your restaurant, from dishwasher to salad station to server, so that you have firsthand knowledge of that job and what it entails. And so that you can answer any customer’s question regarding what happens at any step of their meal creation. This principle is, again, reflected in their staff and how they’re trained. Every employee goes through every station in training so that they’re aware of what’s going on in every role and can interact with customers confidently. They believe that you can’t explain something to a customer when you don’t understand it yourself so their method of cross-training gives all of their employees a solid knowledge of each person’s role on their team. And going back to leading by example, they encourage their employees to get comfortable doing other jobs, so their cooks will answer the phone and take reservations and Armando will wash dishes if someone is out. Not only is it a good way for them to learn, it also prepares their employees to own their own business in the future.

The toughest part of the restaurant business for Armando and Ahmet is how physically taxing it is to be on your feet and running around all day. Being a restaurant owner is a exhausting, especially when you’re working in the restaurant as well as coordinating catering orders and doing the deliveries. But being able to see a concept that you’ve worked so hard to develop come to life and be successful is the most gratifying feeling. And being able to educate people who have never tried Filipino food before on the food itself and the culture of it and watching them taste the food for the first time and love it, is amazing to see. Armando says that he loves knowing that NYC is so diverse and because of that, so many different people from so many different backgrounds are trying his food and being exposed to Filipino food. As business owners, both Armando and Ahmet aim to give off the same happiness that the Filipino people are known for and extend that happiness so that their customers feel it too. Even though the people in The Philippines may not be the richest in the world, they’re always smiling and enjoying themselves. Armando and Ahmet hope that they can infuse that happiness and their passion for Filipino food into the dishes that they create so that their customers always feels comfortable and at home.

 

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0 comments on “Matthew Lief, Co-Owner of Landhaus”

Matthew Lief, Co-Owner of Landhaus

This is Matthew Lief, the co-owner of Landhaus, a new American concept that combines the diverse backgrounds of Matthew and his business partners, Maria Dela Cruz and Michael Felix. Matthew grew up in New York City while Maria emigrated from the Philippines to Los Angeles when she was 12 years old, which is also where Michael grew up, raised by a Mexican father and a half Mexican/half Korean mother. So, Matthew says, they all have their own “food memories” and preferences that they bring together to play a part in the food that they create. “I would say it’s truly American food in that way”, says Matthew, because they’re three people with very different backgrounds that are looking to blend their tastes into seasonal comfort food. However, they’re also very respectful of the foundations of cuisine, which is why most of their dishes are simple items which they elevate to make in the best way that they see possible. Their unofficial slogan is “great food made by great people”, which is what Matthew says that he wants their customers to be reminded of when they think of Landhaus. The focus of their business is to keep food delicious yet uncomplicated by using the best ingredients available to them, creating amazing food and providing an enjoyable experience to their clients. Because at the end of the day, they believe that it’s all about delicious food.

As far back as he can remember, Matthew has always had a connection to food. He recalls his parents allowing him and his brother to cook dinner for them when they were 8 or 9 years old, or maybe even younger. He says that his parents cooked a lot at home and were really good about letting him and his brother play around in the kitchen, which is why he thinks he got sucked into food and hospitality from an early age. However, it was a case of mistaken identity that first started Matthew’s culinary training. He was doing community service, working at a charity event in high school, when he met the chef of a restaurant in Soho who approached him and asked when he was coming to his kitchen. Although Matthew is certain that the chef thought he was someone else, Matthew took advantage of the random opportunity and showed up at the kitchen the next week and started working. The chef took Matthew under his wing and allowed him to be his apprentice, teaching him all kinds of kitchen skills as he worked there throughout high school. After high school, Matthew’s family moved to Maine, where his parents opened a restaurant that served a mix of American food: lobster rolls, clam chowder, burgers, pasta, etc. And although Matthew says that looking back now, growing up with his parents restaurant was a special thing to be a part of, at the time he saw the lifestyle of restaurant work and wasn’t sure if it was for him. He wanted to do something different. So after he graduated college, he moved to South Africa and worked on an urban farming project at his brother’s non-profit. There he grew fruits and vegetable to be used in the kitchens to feed children that were orphaned or had HIV, but he kept finding himself cooking. Although he had tried to get away from the lifestyle that he didn’t think he wanted, it didn’t work. So he decided to get back into it. He moved to France and apprenticed there for a year before moving back to the U.S. and starting to work in restaurants again.

It was while he was working in different restaurants throughout NYC that Matthew met Michael and Maria. They were all sous chefs at Le Caprice, a restaurant in The Pierre Hotel in Central Park, and immediately hit it off. They discussed starting a food truck together but it never really took off and Matthew ended up moving to another restaurant in Little Italy. One day in 2011 he met up with a friend from college, Jacob, who told him about Smorgasburg, a new outdoor food market that was opening in Brooklyn. Jacob was working as a meat cutter at a farm in the Catskills at the time and they came up with the idea to make high-quality BLTs and sell them at Smorgasburg. So Matthew quit his job at the restaurant and began working in landscaping during the week so that they could be a part of Smorgasburg on the weekends. Although it was tough in the beginning because Matthew was doing most of the event prep himself (Jacob was still working upstate during the week and sending the meat to Matthew), eventually they were able to add a lamb burger and bacon on a stick to their menu and their business started growing. They started doing the markets in Prospect Park and DUMBO twice on the weekends and twice during the week and their bacon on a stick was becoming more popular than the BLTs. However, the coordination started becoming too much for Jacob and he ended up relocating further upstate. So Matthew reached out to Michael and Maria to see if they were interested in running the business with him and they agreed to come on board. They started doing concessions and even more events and eventually were able to rent out the back kitchen area of a bar in Brooklyn called The Woods, where they would sell food to customers at the bar. However, they soon realized that although their items were great for event-goers, they needed to create a more substantial menu for delivery/catering purposes and began creating a menu with modern, seasonal, comfort foods that could appeal to a larger audience.

Matthew says that they started creating their delivery/catering menu by working backwards. At an event or at their space at The Woods, customers were able to eat the food right when it came out. But for catering, they needed to factor in travel time, meal time (if the client would be eating right when the food got there or 30 minutes later), food temperature, etc. So they began trying to build recipes for dishes that would travel well and hold heat but that would also be delicious, interesting and exciting for clients in an office that are looking forward to their lunch. Matthew admits that it was difficult to create the recipes because he, Maria and Michael have different ideas about how things should taste, but they were able to come to a consensus on the items because they always went back to their focus on delicious food. Since they’re very close friends, no one ever got too serious about the menu and even today, if they’re adding on new items, they always concentrate on what the most flavorful option is, as long as they’re able to present it nicely. Even though they’re classified as “comfort food” they also wanted to keep things fresh and healthy at the same time. Which is also why, when building the menu, they put an emphasis on sourcing their ingredients as locally as possible. They source as much as they can directly from local farms and when they can’t, they go through retailers whose mission they connect with or who have really good guidelines about sustainability. For Matthew in particular, he’s always been interested in organic agriculture and urban farming sustainability, which makes it more enticing for him to get ingredients from local places. Not only does he believe that sustainable agriculture is the way forward for society on a larger level, to him food is more delicious when he knows it came from someone who truly cared about it. It increases his own enjoyment when buying this food and feeding it to others. For him, supporting other locals businesses makes his job even more fun and rewarding.

However, the most rewarding part of the business for Matthew is simply feeding people. He says that cooking and food is all he really thinks about on a daily basis: how to transform an ingredient or product into something delicious that highlights that item specifically or how he can improve a recipe to make the dish in the best way possible. His culinary training has allowed him to think about food in many different ways and it’s something he can really dive into. And once they have that perfect recipe set, seeing the gratification in a customer whose trying your food for the first time is awesome for him to see. Festivals and events are especially rewarding for him because there’s so many logistics that go into planning it: getting the equipment there, setting it up, making sure that they have enough food, cooking the food- it’s all very hard to coordinate. But when he’s in that moment where everything is set up and the food is flying out and everything is working, it’s very satisfying to know that you met the challenge and that people are enjoying the food. Creating a good experience for people is very important to him because he believes that not all parts of life are as easy or as enjoyable as a good meal in good company. So being able to facilitate that for others and allowing them to enjoy those simple moments is extremely rewarding.

The Landhaus team now works out of their own kitchen at Berg’n, a beer hall and event space in Brooklyn. And as tough as it is to run a business in NYC, Matthew believes that being a part of the food industry is worthwhile because of the support network that you create. Without that network, he admits, it would be so much harder to run your own business. In the food industry, you’re able to meet so many people that you can ask for advice and learn from and for him it’s awesome to have that resource. It reminds him that he’s not alone and that other people are going through the same challenges that he is or that he may have gone through already. Which is why he advises others looking to get into the food industry to be willing to ask questions and learn from other food businesses, even if they have a similar concept. He believes that everyone has their own lane and there’s enough of a market that all vendors can profit from. His other piece of advice is to try out the food industry before you jump into it, because it’s difficult financially and there are easier ways to make a living. If you don’t have passion for the business and you don’t enjoying feeding people as he does, it’s never going to work.

 

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0 comments on “Leslie Polizzotto, Co-Founder and Co-Owner of The Doughnut Project”

Leslie Polizzotto, Co-Founder and Co-Owner of The Doughnut Project

This is Leslie Polizzotto, the co-founder and co-owner of The Doughnut Project, a self-proclaimed “mad science meets culinary venture”. Although Leslie says that she was never interested in cooking (and still doesn’t cook), she’s always loved the art of dining and doughnuts even more so. So when the opportunity to open a doughnut shop was presented to her by her future business partner, Troy Neal, she decided to go for it. Formerly working as an attorney, Leslie had just moved to New York from California but her law firm didn’t have enough work to bring her on at the time so she decided to work with Troy to turn the doughnut shop dream into a reality. They began meeting twice a week at a cafe to write their business plan and started raising capital from friends and family as well as outside investors. And even though neither of them were chefs nor had owned their own business before, they sold people on their belief that doughnuts, like a meal, should be a balance of flavors that are inspired by real food and cocktails. This differentiating factor allowed them to raise the money that they needed and they were able to open their flagship store in the West Village in October 2015. However, the business has grown and continued to be successful due to Leslie and Troy’s commitment to creating an atmosphere in their stores where everything from the music to the art on the walls is part of a larger, unforgettable experience that centers around their unique doughnuts.

Leslie grew up in Virginia and North Carolina and says that her home was very “traditional” when it came to food. It wasn’t until she was older, when she was working as a lawyer, that she really got into food through watching Food Network and The Cooking Channel. She went to work at a construction management company straight out of high school where she worked in every position from a file clerk to a tax accountant to an HR manager. Her husband lived in California and worked for the same company and they met at a business meeting in New York and then dated bi-coastal for two years. After two years, Leslie decided to move to California and they got married. But because she had always felt that she had missed out on going to college in order to work and wanted to get her degree, she enrolled in Santa Monica Community College. After deciding that she wanted to major in art history, she transferred to UCLA and then went on to law school because she wanted to become a lawyer for the arts. She graduated from law school in 2008 and due to the economic conditions at the time, the only job that she was able to get was doing litigation at a law firm. She admits that it wasn’t exactly her chosen path but she was lucky to get a job at all and actually enjoyed what she was doing. But after a few years she began getting frustrated by the monotony of her career. She felt she was doing the same thing every day: driving to work, parking, going to her office and working for 10 or 12 hours and then driving home. She started watching food shows to relax but began learning a lot about food and getting really interested in different cuisines. Despite her newfound passion, even Los Angeles had begun feeling “one dimensional” to her and she felt like she was living in a bubble. 

What Leslie did enjoy were her frequent trips to New York. She would travel with her husband, who’s in real estate, to visit his client in New York five or six times a year and she loved the diversity of the city and that there was always something new and interesting happening. She also loved that she could go to the restaurants of the chefs that she saw on TV and would schedule as many reservations as she could fit in during her stay. It was during one of these trips that she met Troy at Eataly. Leslie and her husband loved to go to Eataly and sit at the bar and over time she became friends with Troy, who was the bartender there. Troy mentioned that he wanted to open a doughnut shop and that he had been practicing making doughnuts at his apartment and once Leslie showed him her camera roll full of pictures that she had taken of doughnuts and said how happy they made her, they bonded over their mutual love. Eventually Leslie decided to make a change and move to New York and take the bar exam so that she could practice at her law firm’s office in New York. But since they weren’t able to start her right away, she began trying to figure out which of her passions she would pursue in the mean time: art or food. She had unfortunately lost contact with Troy due to a misspelled email address so she decided to do some art consulting. Then one day she was walking by a restaurant in Midtown and saw Troy working through the window. She ran inside and immediately began asking him about the doughnut business. He said that he was still practicing but he wanted to do it and Leslie convinced him to let her help get the plan in motion. Looking back Leslie says that were so dumb and naive because they were both making good money at their jobs and had no idea how hard it is to start a business. But they went in with blind faith and jumped in with both feet.

The Doughnut Project Store

Leslie says that her husband encouraged her to make the switch into the food industry. Even though she enjoyed what she was doing as an attorney, it wasn’t fun. She wanted to do something that made her happy and thought “why not do something that makes other people happy as well?” Working with Troy felt like the right fit for her and once she and Troy made that decision, they were going to do whatever it took to make the business work. However, they struggled in the beginning. Their renovations took six months instead of three so they opened two months already in the hole. They had no money for advertising or marketing so opening their doors on that first day Leslie says was “very scary”, especially because there was so much pressure on them to deliver for their investors. They had two employees helping them make the doughnuts and run the front of house and although they had some customers coming in, they were only scraping by. In January 2016, they were invited to compete in Doughnut Fest in Brooklyn against ten other doughnut shops and ended up winning, which was a huge boost to morale because it got their name out there and it also gave them $3,000 to invest back in the business. But their big break came a month later in February 2016 when they released the Everything Doughnut and Leslie says their lives “changed overnight”. They felt like they might be pushing the envelope with this doughnut because although they had always had unique ingredients, this doughnut had a touch of garlic in it and they weren’t sure how customers would receive it. Leslie had invited some Instagram influencers to taste test it and Mike Chau, the father of foodbabyny, took one of the Everything Doughnuts and took a picture of his son’s face in the hole of the doughnut and posted it on Instagram. Shortly after Gothamist called for an interview about the doughnut and within an hour the story had been posted online. Within 24 hours, they had calls from NBC News, The Wall Street Journal, The Chew, etc. asking for interviews and a line of people out the door waiting to try the Everything Doughnut.

Overnight Leslie and Troy had a new customer base and a new demand that they had to meet. They had been creating the doughnuts with a stand up KitchenAid Mixer so new equipment had to be brought in. They also had to change their recipes in order to make larger quantities of doughnuts, which Leslie says they figured out through trial and error. Troy and their doughnut maker had to test batches and keep tweaking it until they got it right. The success of the Everything Doughnut also added a new layer of complexity to their operations by creating benchmark that their other doughnuts would be measured against. They now had an expectation to consistently generate delicious and creative products, so they started doing collaborations with alcohol and food brands. They created a restaurant series where they worked with chefs on doughnuts inspired by some of their dishes. They created seasonal flavors and came out with their “weekend flavor”, which is only available Friday-Sunday every weekend then goes away forever. Leslie says this aspect of the business is an ongoing creative process and they always have new collaborations going on, which allows them to create unique recipes for the glazes and toppings, which is challenging but also fun. Especially since the recipe for the dough is very, very rigid so they always have to be careful when they’re baking to make sure that exact amount of each ingredient is going in. But they’re glad that food and beverage has become such a huge part of the business since that’s what they pulled most of their inspiration for their doughnuts from. Troy was a bartender so he had the cocktail experience and Leslie is a huge foodie that has been to restaurants throughout NYC, so she had the food knowledge to understand what ingredients taste best with each other. They use seeds, spices, salt, meats, cheese, vegetables; all different types of real food to make sure there’s a good mix of sweet, salty, spicy and savory. Even if they have to have a staple item like a chocolate doughnut on their menu, they try to put a unique twist on it so that it’s different from what everyone else is making. The excitement around the recipe creation is what keeps people coming back for more.

More than just the unique flavors of their doughnuts, Leslie hopes that customers who visit their stores (they opened their second location near Central Park in January 2018) remember the entire experience, as that has always been a vision that she and Troy shared for the business. They want people to feel happy when they walk in, whether that’s from being greeted by an employee or recognizing the music that’s playing or watching the movie on their TV. They tailor their music to the customers in the store to create the ambiance they think that they would enjoy and relate to. They also have merchandise that they sell (tshirts, socks, hats) so that people can wear their brand and promote them but also as a way for someone to have a tangible takeaway from their visit. They don’t want their doughnuts or their stores to be forgettable, which is also why the design of the stores isn’t stark white or earthy tones. Everyone else has the “white tile, clean look” so they decided to flip it on it’s head and do a “rough”, New York graffiti style that attracts customers outside and entices them to come in and check it out. They also added chandeliers, marble counter tops and gilded frames around their street art to bring in the lowbrow, highbrow concept of taking a “street food” like a doughnut and elevating it to a sophisticated meal. It ties back into the doughnuts themselves- that you can take something as simple as a doughnut and make it fancy.

Leslie says that it’s funny that they do so many different collaborations with their doughnuts and “projects” with corporate custom orders because the name of the business was originally supposed to be Doughnut Bar. But another company in San Diego had already taken that name and they were advised to choose something different in order to expand their brand. However, she feels like it’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy because now the name works really well for what they do. However, she finds that the most challenging part of the business is not being in control of every project that’s going on within the company. When she practiced law, it was only her in control of her own success but now she has to delegate and trust Troy and her employees to make sure that the business is running as it needs to. She has to depend on a lot of people, which is difficult for her to do sometimes. She says it’s a good thing that it’s impossible for her to do every aspect of the business because she would if she could, it’s just in her nature. But she’s working on realizing when it’s time to take a step back and trust the system that you’ve put in place. One the flip side, the most rewarding part of the business for her is the people, both her team and the customers. Getting to meet new people and establish relationships with local customers as well as people from all over the world who come into the shop to get their product is something she loves about being an owner of a local food business. One of their biggest supporters is a man from Germany whose been to their shop five times and buys all of their merchandise, which she says is amazing to know that your business has that big of a reach. Because she used to work in an office where she would shut her door and read and write by herself for 10 hours a day, for Leslie there’s nothing better than being in a environment where every day is different and there’s a new challenge to solve. 

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0 comments on “Avi Burnbaum, Co-Owner of Pinks NYC”

Avi Burnbaum, Co-Owner of Pinks NYC

This is Avi Burnbaum, the co-owner of Pinks NYC. He’s pictured here (middle) with his business partner, Alex Sassaris (right) and their co-worker, Danny Murphy (left). Although Pinks started out as a restaurant serving American fare when it opened in 2014, over time the business began to shift into a bar/entertainment venue. “People sort of choose what you are”, says Avi. But he acknowledges that the programming they were running (live music, daily entertainment, late night events and parties) and the design of the space itself caused them to shift gears and lean into the bar atmosphere that was arising and away from the restaurant that they had originally planned to run. They got rid of their full kitchen and turned it into a private lounge area, moving their limited kitchen set up to a small storage room. Since they still wanted to maintain a food program, Avi began brainstorming about a food concept that they could execute in their downsized kitchen space with electrical equipment as they had removed their gas set up and large appliances. One concept he’d seen work and do very well in this small setting was Mexican food. So they created an efficient Mexican menu that relied solely on electrical appliances and could be pre-cooked and served out of warmers during service. This shift, although unexpected, would lay the groundwork for the creation of their Mexican catering business, Pinks Catering, and their soon-to-open, Pinks Cantina. Each extension of the Pinks brand that has grown from this pivot: Pinks Bar & Grill, Pinks Catering and Pinks Cantina, has it’s own core focus but operates towards the same two-part mission: providing a great experience to the customer and feeding people with genuine love.

Avi has been in the hospitality business since he took his first bartending job in 1998. He was a bartender for years and ended up sticking with the industry on different levels in a variety of venues: bartending, managing, beverage directing at bars, restaurants and night clubs and working at hospitality groups, elevated dining experiences, trendy dining experiences- he’s dipped his toes in every area of the hospitality industry. However, it seems that hospitality is in his blood. Growing up in New York City and then throughout the suburbs of Westchester and Rockland County as his family expanded, he says that his mother led a very hospitable household. There would always be travelers coming through their home and people would live with them for extended periods of time. They even had a refugee family from Russia living with them for a year during his childhood. He says he comes from a long line of wonderful cooks: Italian from his father’s side and Mediterranean/Spanish from his mother’s side, who is Sephardic Jewish. His father’s family was very into food and they had excellent cooks but on his mother’s side, cooking really was their life. His mother, grandmother and great-grandmother put a lot of attention and love into the kitchen and he grew up loving their food. On weekends, friends and family would be in and out of their house where there would always be a lot of cooking, serving and care taking going on. He believes that’s where his love of hospitality, and food, comes from. Food was a important part of his life growing up and continues to be in adulthood. He has a full kitchen at home that he uses pretty regularly and although he’s not a classically trained chef, he’s gotten better and better in the kitchen and has picked up skills from the places he’s worked and the coworkers he’s befriended throughout the years in various kitchens. He believes that you can learn a lot hanging around the kitchens and picking up little tricks. However, he also believes that to be a chef, you don’t necessarily need to be classically trained, you just need to know how to present a great product, which is his goal every day at Pinks.

Avi’s final job before taking a chance on Pinks was at the Gansevoort Park, where he worked as their rooftop manager. It was a huge operation so he had a lot of responsibility, but after a full career in hospitality, he felt that it was time to work for a well-established company where there was job security or do something on his own. But he saw the corporate hospitality experience being something he wasn’t going to be very happy doing. He felt that none of the people above him in the corporate environments he worked at were enjoying themselves. They all looked like they were just climbing a ladder, being pitted against each other trying to make it to the top and he didn’t like the ugliness of it. So he decided to take a shot and try it himself. He had some money saved up as well as people around him that were willing to invest in him so he started looking for locations. He found a place in Brooklyn and was in negotiations with the owner there when things hit a stand still and a place down the block from his apartment in the East Village popped up. The location was already a bar and restaurant and previous owner was ready to go so it only took about three months to come to a deal and remodel the space before they opened. Alex (who he met previously when they both were working at Hammerstein Ballroom) had come on as his business partner at this point and they designed the space around the hot rod culture from Southern California that they both loved. They wanted it to be themed around that lifestyle on the West Coast and decided to call the restaurant Pinks, referring to the term “racing for pink slips”. This theme turned out to be fortuitous once they transitioned to a smaller kitchen. Since Mexican food is very popular in Southern California, the menu they adopted tied in nicely with their theme and made sense with what they were already doing as a business concept. They were able to seamlessly transition into a cantina-style restaurant at Pinks Bar.

Once they had the Mexican concept to complement their smaller space, Avi began putting the menu together and doing research on restaurants that had similar operations. He also turned to friends he knew that were chefs for their advice on how to execute these items. They helped him determine portions, create and standardize recipes and figure out what was needed in the kitchen to prepare the items. They were able to set it up so that most of the cold items were pre-prepped (sauces, cheeses, chilies) and the meat was all braised beforehand and then cooked upon request. They didn’t need much equipment in order to execute the idea in an authentic way. Once their operations were running consistently and they felt they had a good handle on the food, they decided to expand into catering and run it as an entity separate from the bar. They were introduced to Felipe Pani, the friend of a friend, who worked in the neighborhood and would come into the bar as a patron but was familiar with catering operations. They started working with Felipe to learn the basics of catering and then brought him on as a catering partner. They officially launched their catering business, Pinks Catering, in 2016 and started out doing about 2 orders a week. For a while, they only did 2-5 orders a week until they got a better handle on the process and had things standardized. When they felt confident enough in doing it and more orders started coming in, they began hiring people solely for their catering team to help keep up with the demand. Now they have a full force of people that work on their catering team and come in every day, so it’s basically two separate operations under one roof. The catering team comes in at about 6:30AM and wraps up around 3PM (depending on how busy the day is) and then the bar staff will come in at 4PM and start the nightlife. Avi says the most challenging part of running these two operations out of a small space is the lack of storage available. Which is why his newest project has been opening Pinks Cantina, another branch of their business. This operation will be a taqueria up front that serves casual, but unique Mexican street food (Mexican poutine, mac & cheese burrito, etc.) and a catering kitchen in the back to house their catering team that has grown to seven people. Avi has been working on getting this location up and running for almost two years and is very eager to make it operational. This new space will have a lot of references to the original Pinks but will have it’s own design so that, like Pinks Bar, it can grow into itself.

As a business owner, Avi says that one of the biggest things that motivates him is his team. He loves that he’s been able to maintain his friendship with Alex, who he’s known for 15 years, and that they’ve been successful as business partners. He also loves that he employs as many people as he does and that they depend on him and this company for their livelihood. It keeps him accountable and makes his team feel even more like a growing family that he has to take care of. He’s also motivated by his own drive to succeed, which he believes is true of any business owner. However, his idea of success isn’t necessarily tied to a dollar amount that he’d like to reach. Accumulating wealth in the future would be great but for him, success is determined by accomplishments, which is why he’s so excited to get Pinks Cantina operational. He says that there are quite a few moments when he finds himself really enjoying the work he’s doing and getting the elusive “satisfaction” a lot of people are looking for in their careers. A lot of times this happens at food festivals because you have that direct interaction with the customer and get to see their reaction to the food right there, which is the most rewarding part for him. You get to see customers love your food and feed off of the energy that they give you, even though it’s hot and you’re in a makeshift kitchen. But moving the business forward, introducing it to new people and growing the company down new avenues is what drives him. Five years ago, he says, he never knew tacos would become his business. He thought he would be opening several bars and it’s turning out that he’s opening several taquerias, so he’s interested in continuing to grow the company and seeing how it evolves. But the fact that the company is moving forward at all feels successful to Avi.

Looking back, Avi believes that his job at Gansevoort Park was good training for him as a prelude to opening his own place, but he admits that nothing can truly prepare you for that undertaking. He says that starting his own business has been “an incredible experience” but warns other entrepreneurs that they should be ready to work really hard when getting into the food industry. It’s a full-time, seven days a week job that you always have to be ready for and that you have to have a lot of passion for. If you don’t love what you’re doing, that will come through to customers and the business won’t work if you don’t have the right intentions. You need to genuinely be interested in what you do for your operation to work so that when you’re working from 7AM to 1AM multiple days a week, you can still identify what you love about the business and share that enthusiasm with your employees. Luckily Avi has a solid team that loves creating a great experience as much as he does so they’re motivated to do the work that they enjoy. As for Avi, food, hospitality, entertainment are all things that he says he couldn’t live without in his career and he’s been able to create a business that includes all three. Although he laughs that tacos “fell out of the sky” for him, they’ve provided the gateway for growth that he never expected and is excited to keep building on.

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0 comments on “Charles Chipengule, Chef and Owner of Jaa Dijo Dom”

Charles Chipengule, Chef and Owner of Jaa Dijo Dom

This is Charles Chipengule, the chef and owner of Jaa Dijo Dom, pictured here (left) with his employee, Abdul (right). Originally from Botswana, Africa, Charles says that he grew up always being interested in food but due to gender stereotypes in his country, he never really got a chance to work in the kitchen. Instead he trained as a mechanical engineer and although he didn’t enjoy the work, he continued to do it professionally because it allowed him to excel financially. After years of working as an engineer, Charles decided to ignore the naysayers and take his shot in the food industry. And when no one else would give him a chance to cook, he decided to give himself the opportunity and used his own money to open up a breakfast food stall. However, he ended up closing down his food stall after a year because he wasn’t making money; and because he had always heard that the U.S. is the land of opportunity, he decided to leave Botswana and pursue his dream. After moving to New York and working in a variety of restaurants for many years, Charles began wondering why there were so many different cuisines available but African food wasn’t being represented. He began doing research into the accessible options and found that the few African restaurants that were open only showcased food from a specific country and catered to the idea of African food that people in the U.S. already had. So he decided to open up his own operation to teach customers about the different types of African food, to introduce them to something new and get them talking about it’s unique and rich flavors, and to get them to recognize the food that he grew up eating.

Charles says that gender roles in Botswana are very rigid so being a man working in the kitchen is shamed and looked down upon because it’s seen as a woman’s place. Even when he opened his breakfast stall, he was only able to cook there for a few months before he had to hire women to work for him because people wouldn’t buy from him since a man was cooking. He continued to oversee operations but since he had his own full-time job working as an engineer, he couldn’t spend much time at the stall and the women working for him couldn’t manage it properly. They were giving out food to friends, which caused him to lose a lot of inventory and money and eventually he had to close the stall altogether. He tried to open another food stall at his father’s compound (his father was also an engineer for a big company in Botswana) but his father didn’t allow him to because he didn’t like the idea of his son working in the kitchen. Realizing that it would be tough to continue working towards being a chef in Botswana, Charles decided to leave Africa and emigrate to the U.S. He says that many people in his country are leaving or trying to leave because the economy is bad, there’s a lot of corruption in the government and the lower class people are not being taken care of. But in order to come to the U.S., you need to have enough money for the process itself and to support yourself once you get there. So he spent the next year working as an engineer and buying as little as he could in order to save money to buy his plane ticket to New York. He applied for a business visa, waited for a month to hear back, went for an interview and then waited for another couple of weeks before being notified that his visa had been approved. After receiving his visa, Charles spent another full year working, eventually selling his house and his car in order to be able to afford his plane ticket. During that year, he says he held onto the visa and dreamed about his future. And every time he felt disappointed, he would look at the visa and know he had already achieved something that many people in Botswana never can.

Once Charles arrived in the U.S., he was planning to fall back on his career as an engineer in order to establish himself. But since he was coming from a different country, his experience in the field wasn’t taken into consideration and he would’ve had to get his GED and start all over again in order to be certified to work as an engineer in the U.S. Because he needed to support himself, he decided to take a job that a friend got him at an Indian restaurant and began washing dishes there. After the Indian restaurant, Charles hopped around, working at different restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, usually spending a year at each place before moving onto the next one. Once he started working in restaurants, he got even more interested in the industry and wanted to further improve his skills. He enrolled in some general education classes in a free adult program in Brooklyn as well as some small cooking courses, which he paid for. He began learning the basics of cooking, as well as how to use certain utensils and machinery that he didn’t have in Africa (most food prep there was done by hand) and food plating. Because foods aren’t labeled with restrictions in Africa, he also had to learn about dietary restrictions (he didn’t know about much other than the major food allergies) and understand what each one meant so that he could classify the dishes that he created. Working in many restaurants allowed Charles to get familiar with a lot of different cuisines but it also alerted him to the need for African food. He wanted to give people in New York something different to try and make it more accessible to them. He reached out to many people to get them on board with his idea and invest in his plan but no one wanted to take the risk so he decided to take a shot and try it himself. He started Jaa Dijo Dom (meaning “a place to eat”) in June 2017.

Charles started Jaa Dijo Dom as a catering business because he knew it would be too tough to succeed as a restaurant just starting out. He decided to make the menu a mix of all African cuisine to give customers the full African experience with the foods that they eat on a daily basis. He was also inspired by his grandmother, who worked as a cook in South Africa, and always incorporated new foods from the country into their cooking and influenced his desire to create a mix of cuisine in his business. He wanted his food to appeal not only to Americans but also to other African people who only know food from their country and aren’t familiar with dishes from other regions. Most of his cooking skills and South African recipes he learned from his mother and grandmother. But in order to learn the recipes from the North, West and East, he had to buy books to learn the recipes and cooked them again and again until he got them right. He got some African people that he knew from different countries to taste test each dish so that he could make sure that they were authentic and tried different recipes until he was able to do it properly. After launching Jaa Dijo Dom, he did recipe testing, menu creation and ingredient sourcing for the first five months to make sure that each dish was right, not taking any orders until November 2017. He made sure that all of the items on his menu were traditional, inexpensive dishes that people in Africa can afford and that a customer would see if they visited the country.

Charles admits that the first year of business was horrible. It was just him doing all of the prep work, cooking and deliveries and there were times he thought about closing it down and going back to work in a restaurant because he wasn’t making any money. But he kept going because he could see that there were people who were interested in the food; people starting giving him good reviews and customers started coming back. Little by little things started picking up and now, almost two years later, he has five employees that work for him as well as some hourly employees that he hires when he’s really busy. He still cooks almost everything himself and spends most of his days working in their commissary kitchen (he generally works 3AM to 5PM) but now he has two employees that he’s been training and teaching his recipes to so that he can relax a little bit and not have the business rely solely on him. However, Charles does still have to deal with issues in the kitchen, since the space they work out of is over 30 years old and houses six different companies with only one oven and one stove to share. Some weeks he can’t take as many orders as he would like to because the kitchen space is booked up, which is frustrating because he ends up losing business. The companies that work there try to communicate and work around each other’s schedules but it makes it hard to prepare food, especially when he has big deliveries. This commissary kitchen is where most small food businesses start out because the rent is cheap but Charles hopes that in a few years, he can own his own place and have the space and the ability to take on many more orders. He’ll really feel the business is doing well when he’s able to make that move into his own kitchen space. In the mean time, Charles keeps his team motivated by creating a learning environment and encouraging his employees to have their own opinions and ways of doing things, as long as the results are the same in the end. He wants them to enjoy the work that they’re doing and understand that this is valuable experience that they can take with them as they go through the food industry.

For Charles, being an immigrant in the food industry is the toughest part of the business to handle. He’s found that because he’s an immigrant, the chances of him getting a loan or renting kitchen space on his own are low because although his financials are good, once he’s asked about his background, people no longer want to be involved. He feels that how he’s built his business up isn’t being considered as equally as someone who isn’t an immigrant and it’s just another hoop he has to jump through. Because no bank will give him a loan, he’s had to do everything with his own money or borrow money from friends and family, which has been really tough for him. Although he’s still paying some of that borrowed money back, he says that things are getting better because he doesn’t have to borrow money from anyone anymore and he’s able to pay his employees. However, the most rewarding part for him is the personal freedom he has now to grow his business and focus on the dream that he’s had for many years. He has a drive to keep grinding not only for himself but also for his cause: to make African food part of the New York food scene. He loves that African food is now being mixed into the culture of New York and that people are discussing it. The more progress he sees, the more passionate he gets about his business. He also sees progress happening in Botswana, where he says more and more young, male chefs are starting to emerge and he loves that after being ridiculed when he was younger, the culture is changing there as well. He’s motivated to keep working as hard as he can by the financial changes that he sees happening in the business every month as well as the strength of the company and the quick pace at which they’re growing. He knows the business is headed somewhere and it gives him hope. He believes that in the next five years, Jaa Dijo Dom could be something bigger than just a catering company.

 

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Arthur Palacio, CO at Dos Toros West Village: Part 2

This is Arthur Palacio, the Coach Operator (CO) at Dos Toros West Village. Arthur was raised in College Point, Queens and says that being in a Colombian family, food was always a part of his lifestyle growing up. His mom, grandma and dad cook every day and although he’s never had formal culinary training, he’s always felt that food was a part of his identity. He started working in the food industry during college at a bagel shop/bakery in Florida and continued to grow his cooking skills after college when he lived in Miami. When he moved back to New York, he worked as a server in a catering hall and then as a parking attendant when his friend, who was working at the first Dos Toros location in Union Square, told him there was an opening in the store and that he should apply to be a part of this new company. Arthur was attracted to Dos Toros because they focus on hiring people with good personalities rather than kitchen skills and he felt like this was a company that he could grow with. In 2011, two years after they opened their first location, Arthur started working at Dos Toros as a crew member and little by little worked his way up to Coach Operator, the highest position in their store. Not only has Dos Toros allowed Arthur to create his own path in the food industry, the opportunity that he was given to become a leader now motivates him to help create the same opportunities for other men and women.

Arthur says that the culture at Dos Toros is different from other restaurants because Leo and Oliver have created a fun but focused work environment since the company began. They don’t take any shortcuts with their food or their team and are known for teaching by example. Every so often they can even be found in one of their restaurants, working alongside their employees. They care so much about their business that they take the time to teach their employees to do things the right way and expect their Coach Operators to do the same. Even creating the title of Coach Operator, Arthur points out, makes them stand out from their competitors with what they expect from their team. Rather than a General Manager who only oversees operations, a Coach Operator works side by side with every member of their team every day, coaching them through changes going on in the store, teaching them about ingredients and making sure that they’re following the correct procedures, all while operating the store. It was this commitment to their employees that made Arthur interested in working for Dos Toros and what’s kept him at the company for the past eight years. After starting as a crew member, he got his kitchen certification and his line certification before getting certified as a coach. From there he decided to become an assistant manager (you can also become a kitchen assistant manager if you want to focus more on kitchen operations), a CO in training and then, finally, a CO for the entire store. The CO training process can take anywhere from six months to a year, depending on the person, but Arthur was committed to finishing his training because he knew from the day that he started that he wanted to grow with the company. He didn’t see any growth in the jobs he was doing before Dos Toros and saw potential in Leo and Oliver’s mission to bring California taqueria-style food to New York.

Dos Toros Line

As a CO, Arthur tries to make it fun to come to work, rather than being “the boss” whose telling his employees what to do. He recognizes that they all have a job to do when they get to the store every day but that you can still make the environment fun and inviting while getting the work done. He sees the CO position as not only being a coach, but also being a teacher and an adviser, so he works alongside his coworkers on the line or in the kitchen every day to motivate and inspire them with his commitment to the job. He trains his employees to understand and exude their three core values: respect (of each other, the food and the customers), genuine warmth (creating a positive experience for customers and each other) and uncompromising expertise (follow every procedure, no shortcuts) and tries to be an example of each of them, despite any difficulties that may arise. He creates personal connections with each employee and takes pride in hiring and training new employees who he feels are friendly and have a good attitude. Arthur wanted to become a leader at Dos Toros to give other people the opportunity to build their own career paths. He found that a lot of high school students or men and women working straight out of high school have difficulty finding a job because they don’t have any experience. Arthur looks to hire these people that like cooking or are interested in food and teach them the steps to take in order to succeed in the food industry. Even if they don’t want to work in food for the rest of their life, he tries to give them a chance to find a new path and make it fun for them to be part of the team. For Arthur, helping the staff grow in their career is the most rewarding part of the job. From asking him if they can get their line certification to actually achieving that first step and continuing from there, as a leader and a coach, there’s nothing more satisfying to him than watching them start that process and seeing it through.

The training process for new employees really encourages career growth, which is something that Arthur loves about Dos Toros. It’s a seven day training where they learn each process for the front of house and for the back of house and then work side by side with Arthur and his managers to master each process and get certified in different stations. However, before that process begins Arthur will sit down with the new hire on the first day to figure out if they have kitchen experience/are interested in working in the kitchen or want to work on the line, so that they can focus their role once they’ve completed their training. They have online training as a tool for new employees to use where they watch videos about each process and then get hands-on experience doing them. For Arthur personally, Dos Toros has improved his culinary skills, teaching him knife skills like chopping and cutting as well as how to butcher meat. For him, the training process shows how much Leo and Oliver care for their team because they want to teach you these skills, they don’t expect you to have them. They only want employees who are willing to work hard and are happy to create relationships with their coworkers and their customers.

Arthur admits that coming into the store with a good attitude every day is the most challenging part of his job. As with any job, you can’t let your personal life interfere with your work but especially so when you’re interacting with other people (coworkers and customers) on a continuous basis. As human beings, everyone has tough times that they go through and has personal things going on that other people don’t know about so “putting that on the shelf” until you get home can be difficult. But for Arthur, making sure that he has a good energy every day to transmit to the other employees is key and his ability to have a smile on his face no matter what, or at least pretend that he’s happy, is one trait that, as a CO, he hopes he’s able to pass on to his fellow mangers and employees. A lot of his staff are young and they’ll often come to him for advice, so he enjoys that his role allows them to see him as a peer and that he’s able to problem solve with them. If he senses that something is off with one of his coworkers, he or one of his managers will pull him or her aside to make sure that everything is okay and will change their position for the day if needed. He loves that Dos Toros has created an inviting environment where every employee can be open and really feels like he or she is part of a larger team, working towards a common goal. As for his advice for others looking to get into the food industry, he encourages anyone and everyone to come work for Dos Toros. Even if you don’t have any experience in food, he says “just do it and don’t be scared”. Especially at Dos Toros, they teach you everything that you need to know and once you understand the process behind the work, it’s pretty amazing and rewarding.

 

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Leo Kremer, Co-CEO of Dos Toros: Part 1

This is Leo Kremer (pictured left) and his brother, Oliver Kremer (pictured right), the founders and co-CEOs of Dos Toros. Although this fast casual taqueria now boasts 20 locations between New York and Chicago, Leo insists that because they didn’t know much coming into the food industry, they’ve kept their “beginner’s mindset” over the years, which has allowed them to see Dos Toros as a constantly evolving business, even as it’s success has grown. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, the brothers got really interested in burritos because they were delicious, affordable and available everywhere. It wasn’t until years later that they became aware that this wasn’t the case in other parts of the country and started digging into this idea. They began asking friends who lived in New York what options were available to them and did some scouting themselves. The more they looked, the more they realized that there was no really high-quality, California-style Mexican food outside of California. And although they had no experience in the food industry, it seemed like a really big opportunity for someone to take advantage of the market. Being that they were expert consumers when it came to burritos, they decided to create a business that appealed to their core customer: themselves. Since Dos Toros’ beginning to their present day operations, Leo and Oliver have continued to keep things really simple and really focused, uncompromising in their expertise and concentrated on being the best supplier of San Fransciso-style taqueria food, from their recipes to their service to the tightness of their burrito roll.

Leo says that he and Oliver were outsiders in the food industry when they decided to start Dos Toros (named for himself and Oliver, “the two bulls”) at the end of 2008 and officially opened their first location in October 2009. Leo was just transitioning out of his career as a musician (he had played for a few rock bands, including Third Eye Blind), which he says was awesome but ultimately didn’t fulfill all of his professional passions, and Oliver was right out of college. Both brothers were unsure of their next step and decided to pursue the burrito business idea that they had been talking about for years. They had always had a good relationship and always had the idea that they would try to start a business together but Leo says that it was the timing, their passion for burritos and the opportunity that presented itself that made it the perfect combination of factors to jump in with both feet. He doesn’t believe that either of them would’ve had the courage to do it on their own so they took a chance on it together and moved to NYC. They decided on a fast casual concept because it was similar to the taquerias in the Bay Area that they visited growing up where you order at the counter and sit down or leave. And also knowing that they didn’t know anything about food service, they didn’t want to overreach and add more complexity to the business than they could manage. Since they always thought of themselves as their main consumers, most of the restaurant design came from their own personal taste and aesthetic sensibility, which Leo says they got from their mom. Their mom is a visual artist so she’s very conscious of paying attention to how things look and feel around you, so they already had a vision in mind for their brand when they were opening their first location. They wanted to create a cool and inviting space that they would want to spend time in, in a neighborhood that they might find themselves in, so the location scouting and design process was very introspective. However, they did take a lot of other people’s opinions into consideration, showing friends and family locations that they were thinking about and design layouts and the logo that they were playing with, which was really helpful in getting to the final decisions that were made. But they knew that the core of the business would focus on the food and doing it really well. So whenever they could go simpler, they went simpler so that they could focus more on quality. 

They began reverse engineering recipes to create their menu, incorporating flavors that they grew up eating and visiting every taqueria that they could find to make notes about who had the best rice, beans, tortillas, hot sauce, etc. They spent countless hours taste testing different ingredients and understanding what they wanted each ingredient to do in the burrito before making a final decision. In some cases they were able to get the recipes pretty far just with their own testing and finding recipes and tweaking them but they did work with a couple of different chefs that they found before finding one chef in particular on Craigslist who played a big role in helping them develop their recipes. He helped them make sure that the recipes could scale up the right way and be repeatable for when they were cooking in large batches. He also helped them understand what equipment they would need to cook the food and what that cooking process would need to be since the professional equipment allows you to create heat really fast. However, Leo says that they continue to tweak recipes and introduce new items (like their habanero hot sauce and the farro, their whole-grain alternative to rice) because it’s the details that add up to the big differences. They constantly try to get feedback from customers on what they can improve or what’s bugging people the most that they can fix. But no matter what, they always focus on keeping their ingredients and menu items simple. They believe that doing a few things the best way possible is what makes them a cut above their competitors.

In the same way that they’re focused on simplicity from a recipe perspective, Leo and Oliver focus on simplicity from a team perspective as well. From training to on-boarding to career advancement, they want to make every process as straightforward and accessible to every employee as possible, because they believe that people are the key to success in business. Every employee in every store is cross trained across every different part of the restaurant. Not only does this make employees more flexible with their skills, it also keep things fun and interesting because they’re able to do different tasks and jobs throughout the day, which keeps it from getting boring or frustrating. Also, Leo says, it doesn’t seem fair to have one person stuck washing dishes all day and not interacting with customers. Leo admits that they’re getting better at training employees and helping them get on a career path without making employees have to guess about how they can grow from their current positions. They’ve started offering formal certification opportunities for employees to learn new skills, get certified on them, get a raise and get promoted. They also have a whole video training site that they use for employees to practice their skills. Each store has a CO (coach operator) rather than a GM (general manager) whose responsible for hiring new team members, training them and promoting them. They call them COs because they believe that coaching is the key piece of leadership and they empower their employees to train and coach their coworkers in a positive way, rather than from a power standpoint. The COs are then assisted by the distract manager, who oversees multiple locations and works one on one with the CO in a collaborative way when and if more complex issues arise that the CO needs help handling. Leo and Oliver are very focused on their team and creating a positive work experience because they realize that beyond the recipes and the store locations and the designs, it’s all about the people on your team and inspiring them and making them excited to be a part of the business. Employees that are happy at work and excited about what they do will only transfer that joy and excitement to customers, which creates a real relationship between the employee and the guest.

For Leo, the most rewarding and the most challenging part of the business is the people. It’s so rewarding for him to see an employee whose so good at their job and inspiring to other team members grow with the company. “Promoting people who really deserve those promotions is the best feeling you can get, I think”, he says. And then also seeing a guest whose a really excited about the food, who comes back a few times a week, who your staff really enjoys seeing and who enjoys seeing them is so rewarding as well. Building themselves into someone’s life and having people use words like “love” when they’re talking about their product or their staff is very meaningful to him. However, it’s also a challenge for Leo to push for excellence but be realistic. Every time he walks into one of their locations, it’s hard for him not to notice every little thing that’s wrong and want to fix it immediately. But communicating that to the team in the proper way and getting them to focus on these little things without seeming unappreciative of everyone’s hard work is a difficult line to walk. As a business owner, it’s hard for him to navigate that balance, especially as they grow and things are being communicated down a chain of command, rather than directly from him to the team. As a leader, he’s constantly working on that balance to make sure that things are being communicated properly but that he’s still leaving room for empowerment and improvisation among his employees. He and Oliver were both concerned that as the business grew, it would become too corporate or reduce their authenticity. Alternatively, they’ve found that their growth has actually increased the strength of their culture. Their food has also gotten better (creating better recipes, using better equipment, sourcing better ingredients) and they’ve only gotten better as leaders. As the business continues to grow, these are all factors that they hope they can preserve.

Identifying what’s right for you and your business is pivotal to Leo and he urges other entrepreneurs to stay true to their passion and their mission when starting a business. However, he advises, it’s not enough to be skilled or passionate, you need to have really identified a need that’s not being met or not being done to the level that you think it could be done. If you only have a desire to be your own boss, that can often get you into trouble. You need to make sure that there’s a case for the business that you’re getting started and that you have a clear plan to meet that need. If you keep a focus on your core customer and make sure everything you do goes back to solving a problem for that customer, then the growth will happen naturally. As for the future of Dos Toros, Leo says they’re really excited for the growth that they’re seeing and the best part about it is the opportunities that it creates for their team members to grow as well. They’re hoping to keep growing at a sustainable rate in their current markets and organically expand into new markets nearby. Right now they’re interested in areas like Philly, DC, Boston, Nashville, Austin, Charlotte, Miami and Dallas but there are so many cool places where they think Dos Toros would be a good fit. The most important thing to them is that they succeed wherever they go, so they’re focused on getting it right with their location choices and going at the right pace for them.

Interested in learning more about Dos Toros?! Check out our blog next week to read the second part of our #IMadeYourFood feature where we will be highlighting one of their longest tenured COs!

 

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Jeremy Merrin, Founder & CEO of Havana Central

This is Jeremy Merrin, the founder and CEO of Havana Central, a Cuban restaurant known for it’s large portions, live music and killer mojitos. A native New Yorker, Jeremy was working in e-commerce and looking for a career change when he decided to make a list of things that he was interested in pursuing and the idea for Havana Central, he says, “just took hold”. Even though he doesn’t come from a food background (in fact no one in his family had ever been in the food industry), he thought this idea presented the biggest opportunity and it was the one he was most excited about. The idea was inspired by a popular Latino restaurant that he lived next to called The Caridad. He started talking to a friend about the food and realized that, outside of Mexican food, there were very little full-service, high-quality restaurants serving the Hispanic market. So he started doing some research into the industry, interviewing Latino and Hispanic people as well as diners in general and eating at every Latin restaurants in the tri-state area to figure out what they were doing well and what could be improved. Through his analysis it became clear to him that there was an audience for this food and although there were a good amount of mom and pop restaurants in NYC, there weren’t any reputable, full-service concepts. So Jeremy decided to create a restaurant whose atmosphere is so immersed in the smells, sounds and tastes of Cuban culture that visiting it makes you feel like you’re taking a wonderful mini-vacation in Havana, Cuba.

Once Jeremy had identified this gap in the market, he started looking at what items were available to them, i.e. traditional Cuban dishes. He realized that since most dishes required relatively inexpensive ingredients, it would allow them to sell and deliver large platters of really good food for reasonable prices, which he thought was key for the economy in 2001. He hired a hospitality, restaurant and retail consultant, Arlene Spiegel, to help create a clear brand for the business and to get it up and running. They hired a food engineer, who helped them come up with the initial recipes for the menu but the real significant base of what they have on their current menu was created by Stanley Licairac, the first person that Jeremy hired to be a part of his team at Havana Central. Stanley was the executive chef at Havana Central for 11 years and was very talented with recipe creation, so most of their dishes are still ones that he put together. But it took about ten or eleven months of menu creation and business preparation before Jeremy was able to open their first location in 2002. And it would be a few years before he was able to fully transition Havana Central into the full-service operation that he knew it could be. 

For the first Havana Central location, Jeremy had purchased a little deli on 17th Street off of Union Square and converted it into a small restaurant with only counter service in about six weeks. The line was out the door the first day that they opened and business was so consistent that within the first three months, they were able to start doing dinner service. Dinner service very quickly became successful as well because they were selling a lot of alcohol from the small bar that they had added to the space. Jeremy realized that a lot of people were coming to the restaurant to drink and as that became a bigger factor, he began to pivot away from his initial plan of counter service. He had always wanted a full-service restaurant but their alcohol sales were so substantial that it made the bar and full-service dining more important than ever before and gave him the ability to transition from a fast- casual restaurant to a full-scale service. They reconstructed the bar in the front of the restaurant and closed off the counter at dinnertime for dinner service, eventually getting rid of the counter completely and making the entire space a full-service operation. As they continued to grow, Jeremy realized that the smaller space was no longer fitting into their capabilities, as they had become a much larger scale restaurant. And although Jeremy admits that their first location was really used as a laboratory, all of that experimenting allowed them to clearly determine what their concept was, upscale the food and to get a good handle on their operations. So by the time their 10 year lease had ended at the 17th Street location, they had already opened two 200+ person locations in Times Square (in 2005) and on the Upper West Side (in 2007).

Havana Central

Jeremy now has four Havana Central locations: Times Square, Yonkers, Long Island and New Jersey (the Upper West Side location is now closed) and at each restaurant he tries to create a family atmosphere, both in the restaurant and on the corporate side, especially because a lot of his employees have been there for 10+ years. So all of the employees are very friendly with one another and most of them have developed a group friendship where they go out together or hang out outside of work. He tries to create a collaborative environment and make sure that there’s no sense of “me against you” so that in the restaurant the back of house is working equally as well with the front of house as they are within themselves. At their core they’re a team and one can’t function properly without the other so he always promotes that belief at both at the restaurant and at their corporate office. For Jeremy, the people he works with are the best part of the job. They’re good people who he enjoys being around. However, the people is also the most difficult part of the job for him, because people are a factor that he can’t control. He can control food, labor and food costs (the basic financial variables) but he can’t control personalities, emotions and personal lives, which are much more complex. Also, there are so many different factors to consider with employees: finding the right people, making sure that they’re keeping customers happy, making sure they’re doing the right thing at the right time and making sure that they’re in positions where they can succeed. Figuring out the balance with your employees is a never ending process and an area that Jeremy is always trying to improve upon.

Although they’ve opened locations pretty consistently over the last 17 years, Jeremy would like to speed up the process. He says that Havana Central is constantly in an state of improvement and he’s always looking for ways to grow and expand the business. Outside of fear of failure, which he admits is a big motivator for him, he really enjoys what he does for a living and still very clearly envisions what the future of Havana Central could be. There are other restaurants that have already done what he wants to do with Havana Central but since the Latin market is still somewhat untapped, there is a huge market available to them and those possibilities really excite him to get to the next level. In the future he hopes to expand Havana Central across the U.S. and make it like the “Latin PF Chang’s” or the “Latin Cheesecake Factory”. But for the moment, he’s happy building the Havana Central brand, making sure that every part of every restaurant that he operates is reminiscent of Havana, Cuba and makes the customer feel as if they’re sitting in a night club or restaurant there, even if they’re only taking a lunch break.

 

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