They own the restaurant. They do the cooking. Taking on both jobs makes for a long day; just when the dinner rush is over, it‘s time to hit the paperwork. Here’s how they do it.
The recipe for longevity for a restaurant owner who does double-duty as head chef calls for ingredients from every corner of the industry, most of them gathered only after years of experience. The one ingredient that cannot be bought, sold or harvested, however, is the passion for hard work, a prerequisite for those who both cook and run the business.
If starting from scratch, a restaurant owner’s career usually has them handling many responsibilities, as their establishment grows and more help is needed, they must decide what to focus on.
Despite the role a proprietor settles on, they always seem to be doing a little bit of everything anyway. Over time, an owner’s emphasis may change, but it is their ability to manage the mixture of running the kitchen and balancing the books that keeps business flowing.
Sam Chang, owner of New Peking, is at the epicenter of his restaurant. He does all things administrative, all things culinary and everything in between. His restaurant is still at the size where he can control almost every aspect of it, and he said that’s how he prefers it.
“When you hire too many people you lose direction,” said Chang.
Chang’s focus is in the kitchen; born in Korea, he learned to cook from his parents and in school.
Creating dishes is still his passion and the kitchen is where he likes to spend his time in his restaurant. Chang said he envisions the way his dishes should look, taste and smell; his vision is something another chef would probably never compromise enough to meet, so he does it himself.
Running the restaurant with the help of his wife, Jessica, is certainly a full-time job. Chang said he usually comes in about 10:30 a.m. and leaves at 10:30 p.m. During the day he is either preparing food, cooking for customers or doing any number of odds and ends that need to be done. Chang said there is no time to catch up on paperwork during the day, and he usually does it after hours at home.
During the workday, Chang said he always makes time to greet customers. He said being visible and known at his restaurant is important, so he can develop a relationship with his customers.
Don White, owner of Skylark’s Hidden Cafe, remembers when he did everything. Over the years his establishment has grown, and he has handed off a small amount of those responsibilities — but those tasks are simply replaced with others.
“I haven’t had a day off since September of last year,” said White.
This year, however, White said, he should finally be in a financial position to hire more staff, and delegate some responsibilities to others, such as bookkeeping and employee management.
For the time being, though, White is still quite busy. His role in the business spans a variety of things. “Everything I do here is from minute to minute,” he said of his ever-changing responsibilities at work.
According to White, he splits his time between the kitchen, office and managing employees. He said it is all about keeping his staff informed about what a customer’s experience should be like, and how he wants to achieve that goal.
White said he spends a decent amount of time in the kitchen, teaching his staff the proper techniques, and making sure everything is up to his standards. He said he has a natural knack for working in the kitchen, and while he doesn’t cook orders, he does create the menu, new dishes, seasonal specials and desserts. White said developing new culinary creations is what he most likes to do.
Managing his staff is also a big part of White’s day. With 30 employees, there is always something to deal with, said White. Through experience, White said he has learned to maintain an even demeanor with his staff.
Always a constant in the restaurant business is maintaining and fixing things, said White. He said there is something to fix every day. White looks at his restaurant more as a machine, with hundreds of moving parts, rather than a place. While growing up, he said his parents taught him how to fix things around the house.
He said his familiarity with all things mechanical, has helped him solve many of his maintenance problems, rather than bringing in a repairperson.
In between all his responsibilities, White said he squeezes in time to do the office work. Often in the evenings, after the dinner rush has ended, the bills finally get paid and books get balanced.
“A short day for me is eight hours,” said White.
“You need to know all aspects of the business,” said Giuseppe Mauro, owner of Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant. He said that many people fail in the restaurant business, because they neglect to learn certain skills needed to be successful.
Mauro, who was raised in Sicily, has extensive experience in the restaurant business, working as a hotel manager and restaurateur for most of his life. Under his expertise, his restaurant has grown to a size where he has been able to hand off some responsibilities to others, such as bookkeeping and some staffing.
His role at the restaurant is mostly cooking the entrees, making the menu, and attending to his customer’s dining experience. “This business is very detail-oriented,” said Mauro. Making sure customers get quality food and service, and enjoy the ambience of the restaurant, are very important, said Mauro. “The right lighting, music, flavors, decorations and staff service all make a huge difference to customers.”
With a large staff he said it is important to have the right people working for you, and employees must know what is expected of them, and how they need to consistently maintain the restaurant experience he has created.
Although he said he has found good people to work for him, instilling his vision in employees is not always easy.
Despite having others responsible for some areas of his business, Mauro still needs to be attentive to everything. He said he meets with his bookkeeper two or three times a week to discuss the paperwork, and also keeps up to date on food, wine and other costs.
To attend to all these responsibilities, Mauro said he usually works about 14 hours a day, six days a week.
All his hard work and attention to detail has, however, built him a reputation. And like many chefs, his favorite part of the day is meeting a satisfied customer, who is enjoying the unique dining experience he works so passionately to create.
“In anything you do in life, if you enjoy it, time flies by,” said Mauro.