"It’s just an incredible business"

I recently interviewed Michael Chernow for our upcoming book, “More Restaurant Owners Uncorked.” Michael started The Meatball Shop in Manhattan with Daniel Holzman in 2010, and it quickly grew to six locations and gained national attention. Last year he ventured out on his own to open Seamore’s, a very popular local seafood restaurant in Brooklyn. Michael’s passion is contagious for the restaurant business is contagious. Here’s a small clip from the interview.

What lit your fire to get started in the restaurant business?

“I grew up in Manhattan, and I wanted money in my pocket. In order to have a five-dollar bill in my pocket at all times, I needed a job. When I was thirteen years old the only place that would hire me was a restaurant. So luckily, I kind of just fell into it. But very quickly thereafter I found out that I was more passionate about people, hospitality and food than anything else. And, really, my passion resides in people. The best way to feed that passion is to surround myself with people all the time. So, that’s ultimately what I set out to do. I followed my passion, followed my dream, and ended up really creating a life beyond my wildest dreams through luck and hard work.

Without the people, the food doesn’t matter. It’s really a people business, internally and externally. You can have amazing food, but without the right people behind it or serving it, it doesn’t resonate. My real pride and passion is in the people that work with me. I put them before everyone and anyone, outside of my wife and my son. If you put all your blood, sweat and tears into your staff and into your people, that makes everything work like a well-oiled machine. Everything else will fall into place. The people are the most important piece of the business.

I break it down like this … If you have a retail concept, like a clothing store, a guest walks in the door, and you have one or two people walking around the floor trying to sell product. You have one or two cashiers. In the restaurant business, somebody walks through the door and there’s a host at the door. There’s a manager on the floor, there’s a bartender, there are five servers, four bussers, somebody at the take-out station, six cooks in the kitchen, five cooks out there prepping. So, that same sixty-dollar transaction which needs about four people in a retail store, needs about sixteen to eighteen people in a restaurant. You have to understand the amount of people that it takes for the same sixty-dollar transaction is huge.

Being able to keep all those people happy and excited and pumped to work is a full-time job. I love it. That’s the part that I love most. The instant gratification is truly incredible if you do the right thing. Every day is a new battle, a new challenge. You have a lot of people that are doing different jobs. Everybody has a protocol. If everybody works well and does what they’re supposed to do, you win. It’s just an incredible business.”

You can listen to the entire conversation with Michael as well as interviews we’ve done with dozens of other successful restaurant owners here on our iTunes podcast.