In the next 10 years I plan on opening a restaurant somewhere in the world. I’ve had this thought in my head for a while but I know that right now isn’t the right time. I love being a creative director at Disney–I have an amazing team, a supportive boss, a crazy amount of exciting projects in the pipeline–and it would be dumb to walk away from such a transformative time. In the meantime though I’m planning what that next thing will be, my mid-life crisis/masterpiece.
I’m writing all of this because I’m feeling particularly inspired by a recent interview with Jen Agg, the owner of The Black Hoof, speaking with the Eater Upsell. I first came across Jen and the Black Hoof when she wrote one of my favorite essays, titled, Vodka Is Stupid, which is expensive, flavorless and not worth drinking.
Now what I love about Jen is her thoughts on being a restauranteur, especially being a person who’s not a chef, and the real challenges associated.
Yeah, it’s really interesting. I think it’s very hard to manage people. I was just talking to someone last night about this and what I do. And I mean, I can open restaurants and make restaurants with one arm tied behind my back. I find it very easy, which is why I was saying earlier that if I sort of am identified at my death as a restaurateur, I will have woefully fucked up my 40s. It’s not what I want to do forever. I mean, it’s fun, I enjoy it, I love it, and I know that it’s challenging, and I know that it’s hard for a lot of people. I’m not trying to be glib about it, but I get it. I’m good at it, and I want to do other things. But managing people is the most challenging thing in the world.
It’s so difficult, and if you’re already kind of in that zone of being a chef and being a cook and so focused on that, to add being a restaurateur on top of that…Maybe Danny Meyer has done some work to change this, but I think a lot of the time the art of the restaurateur, the craft of the restaurateur, it’s very ignored. If my restaurant, The Black Hoof, had opened with brighter lights and quiet music, which was certainly still the trend in Toronto at that time — The Hoof really did change that — it would be a completely different story. And a lot of people would argue that, and a lot of “friends of cooks” would say, “Well no, if the food is good, the food is good.” And that can be true in a certain kind of restaurant, but it’s not true in a casual fine-dining restaurant. The atmosphere is hugely important, it gets very downplayed and underplayed, the role of that.
Those two paragraphs did a lot to alleviate the fears I have of opening a restaurant but not being a chef. I do know how to manage people, I have a 20 person staff, and I think I have pretty good taste and a sense of curation, another aspect that Jen touches on. She also mentions how important hiring is, finding the right staff that truly gets it.
And I don’t hire them because they don’t make sense, they’re not a fit, they don’t — they’re not it-getters. I don’t know exactly how to put my finger on it, but I’m, like, really, really careful. And as a result, almost no one quits. We’re hiring someone at The Hoof, so if you know anyone good, that would be great! We’ll move you to Toronto. It’s been three years since I had to hire someone, and I’m dreading it. ’Cause I hate having to go through that process with someone.
Having a positive, like-minded culture is so critical to success, be it a design team or the staff of a restaurant. Without that glue nothing can possibly work, or it’ll work for a while but eventually things fall apart.
If you’ve made it this far you may have noticed a serious food slant to the site. This post is an insight into that shift because it’s where my head is at, and honestly, has been at for a while. I was reluctant to shift away from design and toward food but I can honestly say that the two are inextricably entwined together for me. I have no interest in posting recipes or restaurant reviews, that’s far too mundane. There’s a fascinating intersection between the world of design and food and drinks that I feel needs to be explored more fully, one that hasn’t quite been approached in the way my brain thinks. A big thanks to Jen for giving my a sign that this is the path I need to be exploring.