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Why should people spend their hard earned money in your restaurant? How many chefs and restaurateurs have ever stopped to seriously ask this question? Build it and they will come may work in “Field of Dreams” but has little merit when contemplating the build out of a restaurant.

It is never wise to assume that just because you can cook others will flock to purchase what you make. There is so much more involved when one is trying to establish a viable business with staying power. Your intent should always be to create a restaurant that will still be earning money 20 years down the road. To do this requires that the chef/entrepreneur have answers to that first question: “why should people spend their hard earned money in your restaurant?”

The answer to the question of the day revolves around the value that you are able to create. Will the meal be worth the money spent? Before you rent or buy a piece of property, before you determine the ambience of the dining room, before you layout your kitchen and purchase any equipment, before the menu is planned, before you hire a single employee and certainly before you establish your pricing structure, this question must be answered.

Interestingly enough, there is little difference between a low priced, quick service restaurant and a fine dining establishment with extensive wine selections when it comes to determining value. Value is not exclusively reflected in how much is charged, it is totally drawn from the perception of worth. Let’s take on two current examples that I find most interesting: Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack and Café Boulud.

For those not familiar with the concept, Danny Meyer – New York City Restaurateur extraordinaire and owner of such landmarks as Gramercy Tavern and the Union Square Café, opened a burger, hot dog, fries and milk shake joint a few years back – probably more on a whim than anything else. The concept was simple: make great burgers, hot dogs, fries and shakes like they use to be and see what happens. This was built in stark contrast to his empire of exceptional fine dining operations in the city so it drew a lot of interest and questions. The result was a to-go concept that was instantly and insanely successful. This was in 2004 – now Shake Shack can be found in 11 locations in NYC, six other states, the District of Columbia and four other countries.

Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack Food Philosophy is simple and to the point:

“Good Ingredients
100% all-natural Angus beef, vegetarian fed, humanely raised and source verified. No hormones or antibiotics – EVER. We pride ourselves on sourcing incredible ingredients from like-minded artisanal producers.”

He goes further to describe what I would refer to as their real “value statement”:

“We stand for something good in everything we do, which also means thoughtful and sustainable design of every Shack, community support through donations and programming, and hand-picked music played in each Shack (because a burger tastes a little better with good tunes).”

In other words: to support Shake Shack is to support your community. This is a bond that allows the restaurant to be a member of the community family and an integral part of each resident’s life. This is a powerful value statement that trumps selling price.

A personal experience with this concept that stands out was a business trip to NYC with a colleague when we decided we had to try out Shake Shack (this was after dinner the previous evening at Café Boulud – quite a change of pace). We arrived at the location on 8th avenue only to find a line about ½ block long. The restaurant was full and they were only letting a few people in at a time to control the crowds. Directly across the street was a McDonald’s that was completely empty. After about 30 minutes we were allowed in and ordered our burgers and fries. The smell was intoxicating (It was reminiscent of burgers on your grill during the month of July), the staff was friendly, the music was spot on for the environment, people were laughing, and the kitchen was full tilt. Our burgers were fresh and sufficiently greasy like they should be, the buns were toasted, the fries were crisp and we stood in a corner (no place to sit) and thoroughly enjoyed the “experience” of Danny’s Shake Shack. Wow!

I have no recollection of the price of that meal, just the “value” received. The previous nights dinner at Café Boulud was extraordinary. Unlike Shake Shack, this was impeccable dining with world class service, a simple but elegant dining room, breathtaking food flavors and presentations and a tour of the kitchen afterwards with Chef Gavin Kaysen that was awe inspiring. Once again, I have no recollection of the price (likely multiple times more expensive than Shake Shack) but only have fond memories of the “experience” still after nearly two years.

Value is not price, but price becomes relevant more and more as the value experience is diminished. Why would people spend their hard earned money in Shake Shack? They would and do because the product, the service, the community involvement, the food philosophy and the name are synonymous with value. Why would people spend their hard earned money at Café Boulud? They would and do because this is an exceptional example of every detail being viewed as important by the owner, the chef and the dining room attendants. In both cases, the experience continues long after the exchange of money for product and service.

Restaurants can create value by looking at those things that are important to consumers and those things that are lacking in the marketplace. It may be product, service, attention to detail, food sourcing, commitment to community, presentation or entertainment. Whatever value statement you make, please ensure that it does not solely focus on price. Without value, price becomes of consummate importance to consumers. With exceptional value, price will be the first thing forgotten. Ask the question and find the answers: “why should people spend their hard earned money in this restaurant”. What is your VALUE STATEMENT?

For more information about Shake Shack, visit their website at:
For more information about Cafe Boulud, visit their website at:






*May you have more sunshine than rain, but enough rain for the crops and flowers to flourish
*May your plate be always full, but not too full
*May your health and that of your family be always cherished
*May your glass be more than half full (of good wine)
*May there be enough snow in the winter to make the long cold months sparkle
*May you smile more than frown
*May your children be happy (every parents most important wish)
*May your business be strong and reflective of your best work
*May you earn a profit rather than make money
*May you always be kind to others and they in turn to you
*May you have and take the time to enjoy nature and the wonders of our planet
*May you be strong enough to disregard those who choose to be negative
*May you keep those who are less tolerant in your thoughts but be firm in your beliefs to not fall into their trap
*May you always seek to help those who are less fortunate
*May your day-to-day living make a difference in one other persons life
*May your voice be always in tune with what is right
*May there always be music and art in your life
*May you cherish always your friends, family and coworkers and give special thanks for doctors, nurses, dietitians, teachers, artists, musicians, soldiers,police officers, firefighters, and all public servants
*May your chairs always be filled with the most important people in your lives
*and may you wake each morning grateful for another day.

HAPPY NEW YEAR and thanks to all who faithfully read Culinary Cues.
**This picture is of the Adirondacks from chairs on my dock. Not a bad place to live!




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We all remember watching the movie “Dirty Dancing” which takes place in the Catskill Mountains of New York during the heyday of the destination American Plan Hotel. A place of tradition where families booked “their week” every year and focused on rest, relaxation, bonding and pampering – all for one price. These hotels dotted the American landscape from coast to coast offering everything that a family could ask for: all meals, golf, tennis, swimming, boating, entertainment, cocktail hours and personal coaches for all of these activities. This “right of passage” was passed down from generation to generation, setting aside “their week” as an essential part of family life.

At the time, we had fewer distractions than today without the need for constant communication using our electronic devices, less need to be busy every minute, less need to be independent and a much greater need to be together. These hotels flourished finding themselves more focused on serving their guests and paying less attention to the need for guerilla marketing to get their share. Their guests continued to arrive each season as a result of traditions passed from generation to generation.

From a hotel’s perspective all services were amenities to support the revenue from packaged room sales. The hotel needed to provide exceptional dining, interesting activities, learning opportunities, and face-to-face social networking in order to sell their packages. Sure, each department had a budget, but for the most part it was an expense ceiling. These areas within the resort were not expected to generate revenue, but rather control their share of expenses. To this end they were not viewed as separate businesses but rather parts of the whole. If the resort was profitable, then all departments were viewed as viable.

Over time transportation became easier, technology robbed us of the desire to step back and “get away”, family traditions began to dissolve, competition for consumer time and money increased exponentially and our American Plan Resorts lost much of their sparkle. The Catskills and Poconos were no longer the place to vacation and those American Grand Hotels that were able to survive found themselves in a highly competitive market that forced change.

In an effort to maintain a comfortable level of occupancy these resorts enhanced their marketing departments and dramatically shifted budgets to ensure that sufficient cash flow existed to support the business. Traditional “family weeks” that had been passed down from generation to generation would be replaced by a need to attract transient, short stay guests, business travelers, conferences, conventions and other event activities that had previously been reserved for the “shoulder seasons”. From an accounting standpoint it was no longer acceptable to view departments as amenities, they needed to view themselves as separate businesses that could demonstrate sales to cost ratios leading to profit contribution. If a department was unable to demonstrate profit it was eliminated, replaced or outsourced. The American Plan hotel was now beginning to look and act like any other hotel. The real downside was that most of these resorts had been built as destinations that were isolated from the activity of cities. It became more and more difficult for these properties to survive, let alone thrive.

Even the landmark properties across the country, the ones that folk lore was built from: The Greenbrier, Mohonk Mountain House, Broadmoor, Breakers, Casa Monica, The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Basin Harbor Club, Mount Washington Hotel, The Lake Placid Club and the Balsams Grand Resort were finding themselves in a catch-up game.

From a young cooks perspective, working in an American Plan Hotel was the perfect environment to learn your trade and build a resume. It was even possible to flip properties from season to season and become a vagabond cook chasing opportunities and the weather that you preferred. The kitchens were large (sometimes multiple kitchens), staffed with Executive Chef and all other departments outlined by Escoffier as part of his classical brigade. You could work in the butcher shop, garde manger, the saucier station, roast station and grill all within a season. Hundreds of guaranteed guests every day, three meals per day, buffets, a ‘la carte menus, receptions, snack stations, ice carvings, weddings, reunions, outdoor pig roasts, and the list goes on and on; the resort had it all.

To place an American Plan Hotel kitchen on your resume was to clearly state to an employer that you had the chops. You were versatile and could fit in anywhere and handle any level of business. This was the place where many of the accomplished cooks across the country were born. Many hotels were so successful at training that they developed their own apprenticeship programs that included placement in sister properties during their off-season. As the era of American Plan vacationing began to fade, so too did this avenue for culinary education.

Many of these Grand Hotels have either closed or transitioned to another format, leaving behind a gap in American culture. Family traditions have lost their appeal and the venues for this to occur.

In recent decades properties like the Lake Placid Club in the Adirondacks and the Balsams Grand Resort have joined their fellow hotels from the Catskills and Poconos and shuttered their doors. The Balsams, one of my personal favorite properties and a location where I spent a number of weeks over the years polishing my craft and enjoying the formality of a classic kitchen was sold and closed in recent years. There is still promise that this magnificent piece of America will reopen at some point and bring life back to the rural mountain area of New Hampshire that it called home for generations. We can only hope.

This article points to the progress or lack there of in resurrecting an important piece of Americana. If you have a warm spot in your heart for these properties then SHARE this article with your networks.




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This is the most important question for operators or would be operators of restaurants. This is the defining question that separates those who will be successful vs. those who are destined to fail. Unfortunately, far too many in the restaurant business never ask this question, nor do they respond to the signs of failure until it is too late.

I have wrestled with this question for years and in my current role as a consultant am faced with delivering the answer(s) to properties who are waking up to a realization that it is very difficult to realize a profit even in the busiest operations. When I step back and look for cause and effect it appears to me that the answer to this question lies in the mindset of the restaurateur and chef. Does the operator have a mindset of a solid business manager or is he or she totally focused on being a part of the creative venture that a restaurant can become. There is a middle ground, but without business acumen, the restaurant will struggle. The following examples point to the yin and yang of building the right mindset balance:

*Are you content with creating a restaurant based on positive cash flow or are you working to build a long-term, sound business?

Many restaurants fall into the trap of believing that they are successful when cash is coming in faster than it is going out. This works well until there is a dip in business or unexpected expenses come knocking on your door. The illusion that success is simply based on a steady flow of customers has clouded the vision of many restaurateurs. Yes, you are busy, but are you really profitable?

*The opposite can also be true. The restaurant has incorporated excellent cost controls including portioning, inventory controls, focused buying, and time management, but fails to recognize that the top line DOES drive the bottom line.

Restaurant seats that are empty are way too costly. The combination of cash flow and cost control is necessary for the “business” to succeed.

*Menu, menu, menu. Is your menu a reflection of the egocentric need to offer the most expensive ingredients? Kobe beef hamburgers – really? Shaved truffles on your hand cut ravioli filled with fresh mozzarella imported from a small village in Northern Italy where the animals are hand fed a mixture of grass and grains from meadows that are above 2,000 feet and have exposure to the sun for 11 hours a day. You have seen the hype that is associated with building an image of restaurant importance. The questions are twofold: is this really a reflection of talent and is this in any way profitable?

*Does great food require the most expensive ingredients? Incredible cooks, and ones that can assist the business in making a profit are able to coax extraordinary flavors from less expensive ingredients. The prices they charge reflect the quality of the experience and the desired profitability of the menu item. Hold onto the truffles for the rare price fixe wine dinner and start looking at ways to build flavors from those chicken thighs. Try making some exceptional mozzarella in-house and market that as a calling card. There is greater talent in making your own vs. simply ordering ingredients on-line.

*Do you take ingredient shelf life seriously?

Waste can kill a restaurant business. Are you monitoring your inventory, ensuring that temperatures are ideal for specific ingredients, rotation of product is taking place, and order amounts are monitored closely to maximize usage? Is your menu flexible enough to accommodate the ingredient shelf-life cycle? How large are your garbage or compost cans? Does someone on your staff monitor production to minimize ingredient miss-use?

Stocks may require specific proportions of ingredients to develop consistent flavors, but broths are much more adaptable. Don’t throw out those carrot or onion peels; work them into a broth as a basis for featured soups or braising liquids. Those lobster shells make a great fumet or lobster butter.

*Measure, measure, measure. Use a scale! This is a business of pennies and your proteins, in particular, must be scaled out to protect the small amount of profit that you might realize from every menu item.

Watch what comes back on plates from the dining room. Consistent unfinished meals either means guest dissatisfaction or portions that are too large. It is always better for the experience and the business to have multiple complementary flavors on a plate than to simply overwhelm a guest with portion size. No one needs that 16- ounce steak. Portion control is a foundation of profitability.

*Know what it costs to make a cup of coffee. Coffee is a perfect example of how we can let costs get away from us. On the surface it may be a few pennies to make even the best cup of coffee, but are you factoring in what your staff consumes, waste, refills, etc. Business people know what their products cost to deliver, including all of the variables. Yield management is your job. Is that rib roast really $4.25 per pound? What about trim, cooler shrinkage, roasting shrinkage and slicing waste? You might discover that the roast plate cost is actually 30-35% higher than the cost at purchase.

*There is no such thing as a free lunch. Allow me to repeat again – this is a business of pennies. Do not give anything away for free. Your friends who expect a deal in your restaurant are not really your friends. Account for everything. If your restaurant makes donations then monitor them and categorize them as advertising and public relations. Make sure that you then promote your generosity so that it may have an impact on future business. If you provide a meal for your employees make sure that you track it and categorize this as an employee benefit. At the end of the month or year, print the cost of this and show your employees what that means to them in real dollars of value. Get credit for what you do – this is good business.

*Finally, charge what you need to charge. Restaurant prices cannot be negotiable. Once a price is set for a ‘la carte or banquet menus, do not waiver. You cannot afford to lower your prices. Offer your guests plenty of choice but do not sacrifice profitability. If there is too much resistance to an items price then change the menu item.

Making the decision to have a business mindset without sacrificing your commitment to quality is the only combination that works. A restaurant that is not profitable serves no one. Make a decision this year to be in the business of profitability. This one decision will serve your employees, your customers, your investors and you for the long run.






Christmas is a special time for giving thanks; a time to look back and to look forward; a time to be with family whether they are close at hand or simply in your thoughts – this is a time to remember and reflect.

I am grateful for my family most of all, but never lose sight of how fortunate I am to have so many friends, colleagues and acquaintances associated with the business that I have been involved with in some form since 1966. On this day that stands out each year I give thanks for those who have touched me and continue to do so.

We are able to enjoy this day because many others have set aside their family time today to serve in various capacities. I would thus hope that we each take a moment to think about those cooks, chefs, servers, dishwashers, nurses, doctors, medical assistants, soldiers, fire fighters, police officers, public officials, attendants, clerks and public servants who are working today so that we might enjoy this time with our families. Thank you to each of you and although you may not be with your families today, I hope that you enjoy the chance to spend time with your work friends and know that you are appreciated.

Relish in the true spirit of this day.

Merry Christmas from Culinary Cues.



In case you missed this one.

Harvest America Ventures


From a very early age we are mesmerized by the smell and appearance of pastries. It would be very difficult to walk into a well-stocked bakery without a smile on your face. It is not just the intoxicating smell of sugar and butter, but even more so – the memories that go along with holding a warm pastry in your hands, peeling back the paper on a cup cake, or stabbing your fork into a light as a feather piece of cake. We can all close our eyes and stir up our aroma memory of fresh baked apple pie or a loaf of crusty artisan bread right from the oven, sliced and lathered with creamy butter.

This time of year, in particular, seems to focus on baked goods in the home, on the street, in the shopping center, and at the restaurant table. We celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah and the…

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From a very early age we are mesmerized by the smell and appearance of pastries. It would be very difficult to walk into a well-stocked bakery without a smile on your face. It is not just the intoxicating smell of sugar and butter, but even more so – the memories that go along with holding a warm pastry in your hands, peeling back the paper on a cup cake, or stabbing your fork into a light as a feather piece of cake. We can all close our eyes and stir up our aroma memory of fresh baked apple pie or a loaf of crusty artisan bread right from the oven, sliced and lathered with creamy butter.

This time of year, in particular, seems to focus on baked goods in the home, on the street, in the shopping center, and at the restaurant table. We celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah and the New Year with gingerbread houses, decorated sugar cookies, sculptured breads, lightly iced cupcakes with coconut snow, petite fours, chocolate truffles, black forest cake, and stollen. It is a right of passage that each of us over-consumes those things without guilt at a time of the year that allows this to be “the exception to the rule”. We can’t resist – we must have it.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination – pastry proficient. As a property chef I always sought out talented bakers to fill in those gaps in my resume. Now, I know great baking when I see it and taste it, but a pastry chef I am not. It always amazes me how much can be done with so few ingredients. Flour, sugar, eggs, butter, milk and a leavening agent and a whole world of options open up. Unlike savory cooking (my area) where there is significant poetic license in how ingredients are combined, in what order, and using what method; in baking it is all about process, timing, and temperature. There is a science to baking that I guess I never had the patience or aptitude for – just an appreciation for the end products.

Pastry work, like some types of cooking, attracts many frustrated artists. People who have an innate talent for structure, detail, color and texture. There are many pastry chefs who could find a home for their sculpture and pastry painting skills using museum mediums, but choose to work with materials that can be appreciated for short periods of time and then consumed. They prefer their art lovers to press their noses against the pastry case rather than stand behind a velvet rope and simply admire, but don’t touch.

As a chef, knowing that your pastry department is under the wings of a passionate, talented, smiling artist is parallel to a quarterback knowing that his wide receivers are always ready for that catch that puts the game in the bag. Great bread and desserts in a restaurant can put that dining experience over the top. The guest will likely remember that fabulous dessert much longer than the entrée.

I know many great bakers and pastry chefs, those individuals who set the olfactory tempo in a kitchen and push everyone else to keep up with plate presentations and finishing touches. Sometimes these stars of the kitchen knew what they wanted to do from a very early age and sometimes they fell into that role. One of those fabulous pastry chefs that I call “friend” is Jennifer (Bennett) Beach. Jenn is now the Director of Baking for “Popovers on the Square” with another one of my pastry hero’s: Certified Master Baker, Steve James. My connections with Jennifer go back many years when she started as a student enrolled in Culinary Arts at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks and then later as the number 2-pastry person at the Balsam’s Resort in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire.

Jennifer has agreed to this interview as an opportunity to share parts of her story and maybe inspire others to pursue a career in the bakeshop.

1. What or who influenced you to pursue a career in the kitchen or bakeshop?
When I was freshman in high school I signed up to take Spanish, but was bumped to Culinary Arts, as the Spanish class was full…. I was really upset, until I found out what Culinary Arts actually was.
At first I did not like the class as the instructor was tough, demanding and made us learn about knife skills, sanitation, ingredients and was all book work, etc.
It took me a bit to realize why she didn’t let us in the kitchen for a few months. The class size dropped by more than half, as many dropped it thinking the class was ‘lame’. I’m really glad I stuck with it because once we had the fundamentals down, she allowed us in the kitchen to cook and bake based on the unit we were studying. This was her way of weeding out those that thought it would be an easy credit. She wanted serious students. By the end of the school year, I knew that I wanted to be a chef.

2. Who mentored you in your pursuit of this career?
At Paul Smith’s I had the opportunity to learn from the instructor’s there. Paul Sorgule was instrumental in helping me secure an internship at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, NH. I had hoped to work as a line cook, but the only open spots they had were in the hotels Bakeshop.
I worked under Master Baker Chef Stephen James for one winter season and realized the bakeshop was where I wanted to be, not the hot line. I worked at the hotel for 14 years, honing my pastry skills and had the opportunity to travel the country during the ‘off seasons’ to work in other large resorts and clubs during their busy time. It was the best learning experience ever, almost like an apprenticeship.

I have been working with Steve James now for over 20 years.

What style of cooking or baking best portrays your passion?
Our style, at Popovers on the Square is simply food that tastes good, presentation is important, but if it doesn’t taste good, what was the point of the fancy garnish? To me there is nothing worse than a beautifully stunning wedding cake that is dry without flavor.

Do you have a food philosophy that drives your menu decisions? If so, can you describe this philosophy?
We try to bring in the best possible ingredients, follow proper procedures and fundamentals to produce a product that is of high quality and consistent. If it is not right, “DON’T SERVE IT”. We all make mistakes, but we cannot sell or serve them. The loss in food cost is not worth the loss in customer loyalty. We also need to be aware of what our customers want.

3. Can you name a particular food experience in your life that was your epiphany? An experience that stands out as the moment when you said, yes, this is what I need to do.

I’m not really sure there is one experience or event…. it was more about things just falling into place… ending up in the culinary class in high school, ending up working in the bakery instead of the hot line…it almost seems like it was fate….

4. What is your pet peeve about working in restaurants?
It would have to be the amount of time spent away from family and friends over the years. Our families really pay a price for our career choice. I’m lucky that my immediate family understands and since my husband is also in the industry, our kids know nothing else….

5. Who are your most valuable players in the restaurant or bakery where you currently work?
In our company (Popovers on the Square) we have 18 pastry chefs and bakers in three different locations. I am so proud to lead them all.
I cannot name one as an MVP, as I believe I have an MVT, most valuable team. It takes everyone to run the day-to-day production and deliveries. They each have job to do and I hold each of them accountable for that job. My team leaders are Katie Green, Hannah Joy Waechter and Jason Perry.

6. If you had an opportunity to provide some guiding light to young cooks and bakers looking to make their mark in kitchens, what would you tell them?
First, learn the basic fundamentals of baking. Mixing methods, time and temperature controls and measurements. Know your ingredients-where do they come from and how do they work in a formula. Be humble and find a mentor. Find someone willing to teach and train, this needs to continue long after schooling. Keep your head down, but your eyes and ears open. Watch what others are doing around you. Taste everything and use your sense of smell. Each time you bake that pan of brownies, really take in the smell and aroma when they are finished baking. If you are in tune to that, you will be amazed at how many things you ‘save’ when a timer was not set.

7. When you hire people to work in your kitchen what traits are you looking for?
I hire people that I like. I need people on my team who want to be there to better themselves, not just someone looking for a “job”. I hire people that have a ‘whatever it takes attitude’. I’m looking for maturity, responsibility, punctuality and professionalism. I have a zero tolerance for profanity in the bakeshop. I expect my team to be respectful of the bakeshop, the ingredients and each other. I tell everyone I hire: “if you do your job and work hard each day, I will teach you all that I know”.

8. If you were not cooking or baking, what would you choose to do for a career?
I have often thought of this question and I’m not really sure how to answer it. I always thought it would be fun to work in a greenhouse or garden center, which is funny because I can’t keep a houseplant alive for more than a year. Ha, ha.

9. What would you like people to know about your current restaurant/bakery and the food that you produce?

The original Popovers opened in 2006. We took over the commissary facility in 2010 from a sister company and in August just opened our second Popovers location. In September we began an extensive renovation of our wholesale facility. The owners John Tinios and Steve James are committed to hospitality at its best. They have built a great company and I’m proud to help them run it.


A few words about popovers (the product): Unlike other baked goods, the only leavening agent in popovers is steam. Making sure that you do not over-mix your simple ingredients of eggs, milk, salt, oil and flour and insuring that your pans and oil are very hot will allow this magical concoction to seal and immediately begin to rise in the pan forming a crust while growing to 2-3 times the height of the muffin or popover pan. Making sure to not prematurely open the oven, giving a small poke to the top of the popover, allowing steam to escape and finishing in the oven until they are set and dry will leave you with one of the most incredible treats.

Serving them hot with lots of butter and jam or if you prefer to use them for savory applications- drippings from a roast beef, will typically leave the consumer speechless.

Popovers are actually an America version of the English Yorkshire pudding. American settlers referred to Popovers and Yorkshire Pudding in the following fashion:

“Yorkshire Pudding, a fortunate blunder: It’s a sort of popover that turned and popped under.”

I vividly remember the numerous times that I dined at Anthony’s Pier IV in Boston (seats something like 1,000 people), home to the famous restaurateur Anthony Athanas (worked in the restaurant until he was in his 90’s), and enjoying more than anything else the popover server who walked the dining room with a warmer, freely passing out popovers to diners. This was New England hospitality in full motion.

With regards to the importance of pastry, I find this quote most appropriate:

Brillat-Savarin’s great aunt, on her deathbed stated how important pastry chefs were to her when she said: “I feel the end is approaching. Quick bring me my dessert, coffee and liqueur.”

What has always impressed me about pastry chef Jennifer Beach is not just her talent and passion but the fact that she has always seemed perpetually happy. She truly loves what she does and the impact that her products have on others.

If you would like to view more about Popovers on the Square, visit their website at:

or better yet, visit their bakeries in the following towns:

Popovers on the Square – Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Popovers at Brickyard Square – Epping, New Hampshire

Ask for Jennifer!

*The picture is of the pastry case at Popovers on the Square. Jennifer wanted their work to speak for itself.


Food for Thought.

Harvest America Ventures


I remember a fantastic television ad years ago for a company that escapes me at the moment. The owner of the company assembled his key sales people together and said that they had a problem: many of their old, established clients had told him that they no longer felt like they knew his company, no longer felt like he was in touch with their needs. He paused and then said that they were going to change and go back to the company that they use to be. He passed out plane tickets to everyone and said they were to go back to building those personal relationships with their clients, listening to them and responding to their needs. To me, this was one of the most important commercials of the past 20 years. It pointed to a problem that exists in so many industries, and in this case – the food…

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I remember a fantastic television ad years ago for a company that escapes me at the moment. The owner of the company assembled his key sales people together and said that they had a problem: many of their old, established clients had told him that they no longer felt like they knew his company, no longer felt like he was in touch with their needs. He paused and then said that they were going to change and go back to the company that they use to be. He passed out plane tickets to everyone and said they were to go back to building those personal relationships with their clients, listening to them and responding to their needs. To me, this was one of the most important commercials of the past 20 years. It pointed to a problem that exists in so many industries, and in this case – the food service business. Vendors have lost touch with the client. They do not understand their needs, are more concerned with moving product rather than constantly earning the respect and trust from their clients and serving as a partner in their business success.

Running a kitchen and a restaurant is incredibly hard. The amount of daily detail is mind numbing and creates a stressful environment that can easily detract from the primary mission of making customers happy. The centerpiece of every restaurant is the food; the differentiated product is service. Customers have come to expect excellent food as the price of admission for restaurants: “of course the food is good; that is what they should be all about”. To provide excellent food on the plate, the restaurant depends on vendors to deliver superior raw materials that are fresh, appropriate to the specifications of the restaurant, and cost effective.

It is in the best interest of the vendor to work with restaurants that are financially viable. To this end, the vendor should be a partner/advisor that is focused on helping the chef and the restaurateur set the stage for profitability. The best vendors know their product inside and out, understand their clients and the menus that they offer, are great listeners and most importantly are expeditors who will do what ever they can to insure that every client has what they need, when they need it, at the quality that they expect, and at a price that will allow the restaurant to make money.

Some may say that this is asking too much. I don’t think so. Think about those small, personal vendors who have focused on building relationships before they dedicate themselves to make a sale. The fishmonger who has a breadth of knowledge about the product that far exceeds the knowledge of the chef, but never flaunts that knowledge in front of their business partner. Rather than promote their knowledge they use it to build a systematic program of educating the chef and being a resource for information that creates a strong bond between the two. The cheese maker who brings in new cheeses for the chef to taste in an effort to enhance the restaurants ability to attract a certain customer profile and shows the operation how to maximize shelf life and flavor. This was the norm not too long ago and thankfully in some areas still exists.

What kind of relationship do you have with your vendors? How well versed are your sales people with the product that they sell? Do your sales reps understand the issues that plague you all the time: shelf life, yield, freshness, flavor profile, sustainability, integrity of the producer, and of course plate cost? Do your vendors bring ideas to the table when you are preparing to change your menu? Do they take the time to understand your needs, your food philosophy, and your restaurant image? Do you feel that this is beyond the scope of the vendor’s job or is this something that you crave but cannot seem to find?

Purveyors were like this not too long ago. Sales people were knowledgeable about their products and in many cases were experienced restaurant people who knew how to work with the ingredients they sold. Not too long ago a chef could call up their salespeople when they were running out of product on a weekend and know that their business partner would help to bail them out – somehow. It was not too long ago that salespeople would call the chef an hour before order time was about to close just to see if there were any last minute adjustments. It was not too long ago that a chef could call the vendor for research information or simply to ask them to seek out something currently absent from their product list. It was not too long ago that a conscientious restaurant that normally paid their bills on time but was in a seasonal slump could ask the vendor to carry them for a little bit longer until they were in season. It was not too long ago that salespeople did business face-to-face on the chef’s schedule rather than simply requiring chefs to punch in order codes on their computer.

Some may think that this vendor/chef relationship of old is not in tune with our modern, technology driven work environment and somewhat backward. I believe that most would stop and relish the relationship that the company owner referred to in the beginning of this article was trying to re-create. Successful business is all about building strong relationships: relationships with customers, employees, the media, investors, and yes: vendors.

There is no question that restaurants can take great raw materials and screw them up, but it is nearly impossible to take inferior raw materials and turn them into great finished menu items. Wolfgang Puck once said that his formula for success is to “buy the best raw materials and try not to screw them up”. At the core of this formula is the relationship built with the vendor.

Last week SYSCO purchased U.S. Foods, who had recently purchased Quandts. If I were a stockholder of SYSCO shares I would be thrilled. I just hope that SYSCO finds a way to use this merger to bring back those relationships between their salespeople and chefs across the country. I am going to trust that this merger will result in more intensive training of salespeople to insure that they truly know the product they sell. I am going to trust that these same salespeople will take it upon themselves to study their clients, their menus, their philosophy, their issues and work to build a partnership that will insure long-term support of each other and business success for the restaurant.

I have been fortunate to work with quite a few companies that were tuned in and salespeople who were responsive to the needs of the chef and the restaurant. The salesperson is the vendor they represent. Salespeople can make things happen if they truly have the restaurants success in mind. Salespeople can cut through the red tape when they know how important it is to the chef. These are the people I want to work with. People like Nancy Matheson-Burns at Dole and Bailey, Cindy Greer at Florida’s Finest Seafood, or Eamon Lee from Maines; they believe in “customer first”.


Setting the Record Straight About Restaurant Profitability


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Setting the Record Straight About Restaurant Profitability

I am on a mission today to set the record straight. There is a terrible misconception on the part of the media, restaurant customers and even many restaurant employees that food establishments make gobs of profit. “I can purchase those ingredients at 1/5 the cost and make that dish at home”! Yea, you probably could assuming you have access to the same ingredients and know how to cook, but this does not take into account why you go out to restaurants. The modern restaurant serves many roles from the reward system for patrons to a source of entertainment and knowledge. But for decades the primary reason why people go out to dinner is so that they don’t have to cook or clean up. This is reminiscent of the old advertising adage used by public transportation in Buffalo while I was growing up: “take a bus and leave the driving to us”. Now the cost of operating those restaurants, like the cost of operating any business go way beyond the obvious cost of the primary raw materials. So, in an effort to clarify what many do not realize, here is the reality of restaurant profitability.

1. On average, if the restaurant does everything right they can realize a net profit of about 5% before taxes. That means that of that $50 tab for your dinner at a favorite steak house, the restaurant MIGHT realize a net before taxes of $2.50. That assumes they do everything right and do not have any waste, spoilage or theft (external or internal). This assumes they have the time to check prices from their vendors every day and always buy right. This assumes that their employees are always diligent when it comes to portioning, utilizing all ingredients, and properly preparing dishes according to the recipes developed.
2. What can go wrong? That dining room ambience that you love costs lots of money to maintain. Think about the cost of those fresh cut flowers, the price of china, glassware and silverware. Understand that each cloth and napkin placed on a table cost money to rent (yes, rent – most restaurants do not own their linen nor do they launder them). That nice stemware from Riedel that you like to drink your French Pinot Noir from probably cost $15 and guess how many break on a daily basis. The Italian bone china that the chef loves to use to highlight his/her cuisine may be $15-20 per plate, and you guessed it – they also break frequently.
3. Music is another issue that escapes most people who dine or even work in restaurants. Even if we play CD’s in a restaurant there is a fee that goes to BMI and ASCAP. Even more so if you have live music (not including what you pay the musicians).
4. Maintenance can be a real drain on restaurant operations. The cleaning chemicals used to wash dishes, clean floors, sanitize surfaces is substantial.
5. How about restaurant build out? The cost per square foot of building a kitchen including equipment can be in the neighborhood of $400 per square foot. A relatively small 600 square foot kitchen would thus cost approximately $240,000 to build. Dining room space is cheaper, but typically much larger in square footage. That restaurant that you love to go to is a multi-million dollar project. This needs to be paid back over time and guess what – the bank is not patient when it comes to payment due dates.
6. Bar inventories are important to a restaurant’s health and the selection demands of the public. The nature of state liquor authorities is to require payment cycles from restaurants that range from cash on receipt to 14 days or so. If you miss a cycle payment the vendors will not and cannot deliver to you or will require COD. So, that restaurant wine cellar with a list of 200 wines by the bottle and a selection by the glass may have a value in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more.
7. Food is highly perishable, especially proteins and produce. In some cases shelf life is measured in a couple days. It must be used in that period of time or it becomes costly waste. Since in a ‘la carte restaurants we never really know what you are going to order, managing ordering and inventories is very important. Any waste will eat away at that 5% net.
8. Let’s talk about waste: it costs lots of money to have that restaurant waste and recyclables taken away.
9. Uniforms: we want our staff to look good, crisp and fresh and since they are working around food, their clothing needs to be sanitary. Thus, most restaurants rent uniforms, aprons and side towels. This can account for thousands of dollars of cost each month.
10. Insurance is of course an issue with any business but in restaurants we also need something called third party liability insurance to protect the operation and its employees from an intoxicated guest who causes harm to a third party who in turn chooses to sue the restaurant. Yes, if a customer drinks too much it is the fault of the restaurant.
11. Marketing and advertising is a shotgun effort in most cases. We place ads in the newspaper, magazines, radio and television to try and stimulate traffic. We never really know how well this works but find ourselves in a position that failure to continue advertising might negatively impact business; so we continue to spend thousands and cross our fingers (social media is helping a great deal with driving down marketing costs).
12. Turnover and training is an on-going issue in restaurants. Since rates of pay are fairly low, the work hours are long and stress runs high, employees come and go way too frequently. Although we should spend more on training, typically by the time we finish training a staff we need to start over with new ones.
13. Staffing is expensive in restaurants because it is a labor-intensive environment. Lots of preparation and support work that can require a restaurant to have dozens of staff to support those 100 dinner guests tonight.
14. Note that I have not even touched on mortgage or lease, utility costs, equipment repairs or property taxes.

Now, this may seem like I am complaining; I am not. It is however important to counteract the misconceptions that people have about this fantastic business that services the public in so many ways. We are the first businesses that charities go to for assistance, the first businesses that provide employment for young people just starting out and the first business that guests turn to when they have had a rough day and need to be pampered. This is what we do and we love it (for the most part).

Many restaurants that have continued for quite some time do so simply because they are able to maintain a positive cash flow, not because they make gobs of profit. Those who find it hard to control those sensitive costs are unable to create a steady flow of cash or are unable to meet the needs of a fickle customer base, become part of that 66% failure rate.

A simple request would be to acknowledge that restaurants provide a service, one that is costly to provide and that although your steak might seem pricey, you understand that a great deal goes into bringing it from steer to plate. Fortunately, there are restaurants out there for every socio-economic level, 965,000 of them in the U.S. as of last count.