Food Network show The Opener reveals the blood, sweat and money shed in launching a restaurant. The show’s host, chef and restaurant consultant David Adjey, calls it like he sees it. During a recent visit to Winnipeg, Ciao! publisher Laurie Hughes caught up with Adjey at popular hot spot, Hermanos Restaurant & Wine Bar to get the ingredients for success in the restaurant biz.
Q: What is it about the restaurant business that has the public so intrigued?
A: There are a lot of people that have a dream of owning a restaurant. I tell the stories, and thread the journey together giving some nuggets of information—for restaurant owners too.
Q: What are the essential ingredients most commonly missed by restaurateurs that make a difference between success and failure?
A: Capital— restaurants are always underfinanced. Restaurant owners need to know their break even. Secondly, restaurants are not clearly defining themselves. Don’t do a lot of things ok. Do a few things brilliantly.
Q: What are must have ingredients to achieve success?
A: Passion. If you don’t have passion in this business then get out!
Q: What kind of affect does your show have on the restaurant industry and the dining public?
A: I open up the eyes of customers and owners and give a tidbit of the insider trading that I see in the restaurant business and put it out there. There is no bad guy on my show. The show is a fun way to see the inner gears of the restaurant business.
Q: You describe menu explanations given by servers as “tableside romance.” Tell me about that, and why it is so important to the whole dining experience?
A: Because people are smarter, and disposable income is harder to pry out of their hands. They want to know where their food comes from and I use romance as a powerful tool to sell food that can make me the most money, and to tell diners about something fabulous. Argentinean flank steak is an amazing cut of meat for example, yet most people are not going to know about that. The result is customers become the romancers of the food when they tell their friends about the restaurant experience. That romance turns into buzz and then it turns into dollars!
Q: What is your advice to restaurant owners, on small budgets, who have to compete against the national chains?
A: Redistribute the wealth within the restaurant. You have dishwashers working minimum wage and servers making a couple hundred dollars a night on tips. Equally disperse that wealth to your staff. If everyone makes a decent living they will stick with you.
Q: Does your ability to size up every restaurant within a few minutes make you a tougher critic when you go out?
A: It’s very difficult. Judge restaurants just like you do when you go to your friends’ house. Snoop in the bathrooms! Everything needs to be clean. There needs to be attention to detail.
Q: Do you think that all diners have become “tougher critics”?
A: The Food Network has made the customer very smart. Customers know how it is supposed to be done now.
Q: Is this a good thing for the restaurant industry?
A: No, because it makes customers smarter. Why would the industry want that?!
I want everyone to be educated though because the smarter the customer is the more it will push me. So it is good. It is necessary because as diners we all get better food when we go out. So we all win.
Q: What do you like to cook at home?
A: I am eating a lot of lobster now. There are not a lot of people eating lobster in America right now. Price has gone down from $16.99 a pound to $7.99 a pound. I love my people out in Atlantic Canada…and so I throw a lot of parties at my house and we eat a lot of lobster. . . I have a canning machine so one time I made lobster in a can—gently poached with a beautiful butter sauce and herbs—and then sealed it in these customized cans. Everybody got a can served with a campfire can opener. We opened the lobster and it came out with the wonderful butter sauce, vegetable purée and garlic crouton on the bottom…it was very interactive. We should all eat a lot of lobster.
Q: What do you like to eat when you aren’t sampling menus professionally?
A: I live by myself and I like to cook a number of things all at once. I cook everything. I make a million things and then call up my friends to fill their Tupperware. I putter. I have created a culinary playpen for myself.
Q: What’s next on the horizon for you?
A: More visits to Winnipeg. Fun stuff. I want to buy a monkey… probably a book… There are some big deals I am involved with. I’ll tease this up for you—there are some big things on the horizon, and when I come back to Winnipeg, as these things come to fruition, you’ll be the first to know.