• Log In
  • Sign Up
    • I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of the upcoming book in the MASTERS AT WORK series, Becoming A Restauranteur by Patric Kuh, set to be released on May 7, 2019. The book is a fascinating exploration of what it takes to open a successful restaurant in a major urban area in the United States, and all the various complexities it entails.

    • If you're a fan of cooking shows or restaurant reality programs, you'll love this book, which follows the journey of popular Los Angeles restaurant Here's Looking at You through the eyes of Lien Ta, restaurateur, and her business partner, chef Jonathan Whitener.

      When Here's Looking At You opened in July of 2016, it represented months and months of hard work behind the scenes to get the restaurant off the ground.

      Since its opening, it's gone on to receive top accolades in press and publications such as Food and Wine, The Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. What are some of the secrets behind the restaurant's success?

    • Collaboration is one of the key ingredients for the secret sauce of restaurant success. The book delves into how Lien and Jonathan met as coworkers in 2013 at another popular Los Angeles restaurant, Animal, and had to build trust before launching such a huge endeavor together.

      "In the restaurant business it's not enough just to have a great idea; it's not even enough to have a strategic plan and a great location, as necessary as both those things are. You've also got to wear lots of hats and multitask ad infinitum. You need to develop working relationships with city and state regulatory officials. You need to hire lawyers and woo investors to help behind the scenes. You need to join partners to either prepare the food or oversee the dining room. Assembling the best team possible is paramount to a successful launch" Patric writes.

      Fascinatingly, the book outlines staging trips, aka the "short-term unpaid stints in a restaurant" phenomenon for chefs wherein they travel around the world to learn cooking techniques and get inspired through international travel. Jonathan, our chef profiled in the book, did staging trips at places as varied as Alain Ducasse's Le Louis XV and Mirazur in the French Rivera.

      These experiences helped build in him "deeply rooted cooking" that made the journey "well worth it."

    • Location is another crucial factor in restaurant success.

      Patric writes "To a potential restaurateur, the city is full of leads for a possible location. The ground floor of every new condo building beckons. Contractors have their ears to the ground. Brokers can be an invaluable resource. But so are storefront signs. Even extended happy hours are signals. You shouldn't need to offer $5 Jameson shots on a Friday night if you're making money. Lien found the location that would become HLAY through an acquaintance of her then fiance."

      For Here's Looking At You, which is located near the iconic Wiltern theater in LA's Koreatown neighborhood, the space was perfect for what Jonathan and Lien wanted to do with building a "chef driven restaurant." With the location secured, our two intrepid heroes were in a fight against the clock to secure investors to get the needed capital to launch the restaurant, as well as needed licenses, signing personal guarantees, permits and so much more.

    • The book delves into the history of restaurants in America, going as far back as the 1840's, with gilded age legendary establishments like Delmonicos (still open today!)...

      All the way to the 1940s, with "Establishments such as Toots Shor's, Dinty Moore's, Chasen's, and Jack and Charlie's" with larger than life proprietors...

      To the host-driven dining culture which then turned into today's multiunit restaurant groups, it was fascinating to learn about.

      Another key factor? The food itself. Beyond having passionate, talented chefs preparing the food, they also need to factor in food costs as well as seasonality, freshness and flavor to prepare an optimal menu for success.

      It's an incredibly complex equation, one that Patric captures with precision and detail: "One morning, in the quiet of HLAY's empty dining room, Jonathan busies himself with paperwork at a table. Last night was a long one, and he is moving slowly, deliberately, the way chefs do early in the day. HLAY's one-page menu lies on the table before him. It's a compressed twenty-to-thirty-item list: shishito peppers amped with huamei, a Chinese salted plum powder, and heirloom tomato wedges freighted with earthy rendered Vietnamese lap xuong sausage, all of which sound enticing to a customer but to him form a series of related parts. He is keeping track of the cost. The arithmetic is not so complicated that he can't perform it on his phone's calculator to get the results."

      Liquor, wine and food costs all perform a delicate, interconnected dance that's crucial.

    • Teamwork is essential. How do you support front of house? Back of house? Tipping? Staff growth and training and retention?

      Patric is able to get great restaurateurs, owners and business people to open up in this book and share their wisdom: one such great quote is from chef Steve Samson of Rossoblu and his wife Dina. "We were hiring people and it wasn't working out...we started to realize that some people weren't fitting in, but how can you explain that to the, that they're not going to fit, unless A, you have your core values up front; B, screen for those core values; C, reward on those core values; D, get rid of people on those core values, making changes to your team. We were going so fast, we were bringing team members in without screening them as well as we should have. And then all of a sudden we said, OK, stop, let's put the brakes on. Let's talk about it and really be conscious about who we really want to be, and who we really want to be here with us."

      The book goes through so many topics - for example, the intersection of technology and food, with apps like UberEats, Seamless, GrubHub and others providing essential revenue for growing businesses - but it builds towards a grand finale of Lien and Jonathan's newest venture, the quest of opening a second restaurant together, All Day Baby, in Los Angeles' Silver Lake neighborhood. Will they be able to secure the location? Get the permits they need? You're rooting for them to be able to make it work with this second location, focused on a diverse and interesting twist on classic breakfast, brunch and lunch cuisine.

      If you're someone who dreams of being a restaurateur someday, or are just interested in learning more about what goes into making a successful restaurant or food business, I highly recommend this book!

    • Great write-up! I don't know how restaurateurs do it. The nights and weekends, the tight budgets, spoiled food, spoiled guests... Major respect for them.

      In your panel with Lois from Austin, she mentioned that it's really hard to keep track of restaurants because they come and go so fast. Yikes. Vilen and I went to have coffee in SF at a happening hipster coffee joint that had been thriving not long ago and it was done. 😢