So the plans are done. Now it’s time to dream themes and colors and emotion. What do I want you feeling when you walk in?
Like you just got home.
This new space has to tell 75% of the story instantly as you walk in and deliver the remaining 25% slowly over the next 25 visits, a slow burn. Details are key.
Because building restaurants is like telling stories. It’s just like making a movie. You have layers and layers of depth and imagery. If you design a space that delivers the whole story on the first visit you will not have any longevity, because you are only giving one story to tell. Word of mouth is the best possible advertising. Hands down. And there is no word of mouth if you do not give stories for people to tell. Basics, really.
This is where the fun is anyway. The real fun in building and designing a restaurant concept is in the storytelling through food and design. And that’s also where you will find a good restaurant’s soul. Second and just as important are the people you hire to run it. Who are they? The people you hire have to be your disciples. You have to have convinced them completely that what they are about to work on is special. You have to pick staff more for personality and energy than for experience. You can teach someone how to open wine but you can’t teach him or her how to smile. It’s hospitality. H-O-S-P-I-T-A-L-I-T-Y. As in hospitable. As in happy to see you.
“Welcome back, Jameson rocks again? Light on the ice? How’s the wife?”
You can’t teach someone hospitality. You either like people or you don’t give a fuck. You can’t force a smile. It just doesn’t work. And I’m not saying I’m of that breed that is naturally hospitable. I’m not. So I know not to hire myself to work as a host. No way in hell.
People with great energy make a great restaurant. It’s infectious. You take a great warm space add good people and consistent food? You’re packed. Throw some cool fun things in to watch while you are eating, and you have now increased conversation at every table. It’s perfect for dates and groups. That same conversation is why people left the house in the first place. You see where I’m going here.
It’s the whole experience that you must consider with a new restaurant.
It’s all five senses, and most of all the sixth sense, which is simply, love.
The sixth sense in a restaurant project: it feels like someone did this place because they just couldn’t contain their love for it. It just had to happen. You had an idea and it literally took over your entire being until you finally brought it to life. It’s the only reason to do it. If you do not feel love so strongly for your restaurant project, I beg you, please do not build it. Just wait until you finally do, because you must be able to translate all that love into bricks and mortar, flavors and aromas, life and theater, style and emotion.
It’s a tall bill. That’s why so many restaurants fail.
It’s like throwing a party for the next ten years and expecting no one to get tired of attending. And it’s not always clear why something doesn’t work and why something does. There are so many variables, it’s astounding. And that’s the rush. There is nothing else, in terms of other businesses, which even comes close in comparison to opening a restaurant. It’s so fucking personal. Because you can taste love just like you can hear a smile on the phone. These are things you can’t fake. You have to create in a restaurant a completely three dimensional, fully sensual, repeat artistic performance everyday. It’s like a Broadway play you eat.
I have failed twice in the restaurant business. I will fail again. You only know why after you fail. And it hurts like a bitch. But the stories you will tell afterwards and the lessons you will learn are incomparable to any school or university or anything else you will ever know. You will learn more in a shorter period of time than in any other endeavor. The full spectacle of life is on full throttle in a restaurant.
The real question is, and people come to me everyday asking,
“Should I open a restaurant?”
My answer? I fucking dare you. It’s like having a baby. You think you are ready for it until the baby shows up and then you are like… I had no fucking idea. Yet we just can’t stop doing it, can we? I’m totally addicted to it. I can’t stop dreaming concepts. I can’t shut it the fuck down. And what better place to play this restaurant game than New York City? Aren’t we all so incredibly lucky to have this place? Thousands of spaces all crammed together all taking a shot at it. Hey, let’s open a restaurant! Why the fuck not?
Gigantic nuts all of you.
And that’s all I have to say about that for now… and for every original place that works, affecting every restaurant that opens after it, affecting the culture of food in front of our very eyes. And even for every place that doesn’t work scarring us in some ways. We feel for them. It’s a full spectacle train wreck that stays ingrained. Can anyone name me anything more incredible than to watch unfold the progression of a restaurant’s life on the streets of Manhattan? If it’s in your area and it’s good it instantly becomes a part of your everyday life. It might as well be your living room and kitchen. You meet your new girlfriend there, you propose there, you contemplate kids, you celebrate a new job, all in your favorite restaurants. You sit for long lunches and stare out at the whole city going by. You meet your next collaborators. Your waiter knows how you like your coffee. And therein lies the joy of creating a restaurant like that. When it works it’s one of the most satisfying experiences in the world.
And that’s why I do it. I do it for the people I imagine enjoying it. It’s somehow simultaneously full of self yet selfless.