The Next Frontier of Restaurant Management

Alex Susskind, SHA Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and CIA Alum, has published a new book called

Front cover of The Next Frontier...

Front cover

The Next Frontier of Restaurant Management.” There he explores the research and data behind good guest service and a strong employee experience.  He co-authored the book with Mark Maynard, from Union Square Hospitality Group.  Mark translates these insights into the context of his own operational experiences for a quick reading practical guide.  Alex is an ’88 alum of the CIA.

Jeff Newman

jeff newman 3.31.14To successfully live and work internationally takes a certain flexibility, openness to risk, and an ability to read situations, even when you may not fully understand the language.  Jeff Newman, CIA ’09, SHA ’10, has just the right mentality for international adventure.  At fourteen, he knew he was destined for the food service industry and he gained experience in a variety of venues, then fell in love with Italian food. He worked as a prep cook at Alto in New York City while he honed his language skills, then found summer work as a waiter and cook at Casali di Bibbiano in Tuscany, Italy. Thus began his introduction to the topsy turvy world of different time zones, flight schedules, being the minority English speaker, and having to think on his feet to overcome the cultural differences of his host country.

 

Most students pack work experiences and some travel into college, but Jeff seldom sat still during his time at Cornell.  He expanded his skills as a sommelier intern with Del Posto, in New York City and then transitioned into front of house management at Molto Vegas in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. It was there he started with the Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group and felt he had found a company he might enjoy long term. Even as an incoming freshman he had planned to participate in the collaborative degree program at The Culinary Institute of America and he spent 9 months studying and learning in their world class kitchens.  Despite all these experiences, he was still intent on returning to Italy so when he found out that Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani offered a scholarship for an intensive ten day experience to travel and learn about various regions in Italy and the foods they produced, he knew this was his opportunity.  His scholarship award with GRI deepened his appreciation for the Italian culture and gave him unique exposure to many regional culinary techniques.

 

When Jeff first started exploring jobs for after graduation, his unique resume offered him many options but he fully intended to return to Italy, to study the cuisine and culture more in depth.  Then Batali’s group offered him an opportunity too interesting to resist, the chance to travel to Asia to open restaurants as a manager.   There he found one of the biggest differences in the Asian restaurant culture; tips are not part of a server’s wage but usually revert back to management.  This practice changed the way employees were motivated and in turn dictated the service expectation of customers.  During his time in Singapore and Hong Kong, Jeff gained an appreciation for how a truly branded company works, and what goes into executing the Brand Experience.  Jeff worked with two different management companies in Asia, in Singapore they were managed by Marina Bay Sands, and in Hong Kong by Dining Concepts.  His experiences with both gave him a wealth of experiences, from learning the different cultures of each company, to understanding different priorities in timing, and their individual perceptions of the brand requirements.

 

Now back in the US as Chef de Cuisine of San Francisco’s Cotogna, Jeff noted that his career has been a whirlwind so far.  While he still works long hours, he is happy to have settled down for a while at a single restaurant that has such high quality product.  If he has one regret, it would be that he did not travel more – living in a country gives you access in a way that a two week trip simply can’t, yet he has not taken as much time off to enjoy this as he would have hoped.  Still, he has managed to visit Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi (Malaysia), Bangkok and Phuket (Thailand), Bin Tan and Java (Indonesia). And, he notes that he wouldn’t trade his work experiences – you learn a lot about yourself after navigating a foreign culture, gaining an understanding of the culture and mannerisms unique to the natives, and the challenges of implementing new business styles in this dynamic environment.  If he had any advice for others who want to work internationally, it would be to approach any new culture with an open attitude, where you can fully absorb all the experience has to offer.   And finally, he notes “It has become very clear to me that most people start their careers or education with a focus on either the business side or the creative side and later have to master the other. The collaborative degree program gave me a jump as I have had a strong basis in both areas from the start of my career.”

 

Asgaard Farm and Dairy – Rhonda & David Butler

On Monday, February 20, 2012 Rhonda and David Butler, owners of Asgaard Farm and Dairy spoke about the difficulties of starting a farm, the intricacies of sustainable farming, and how their cheese making operation has evolved. The Butlers bought the farm in 1988 and spent over a decade turning it back into a working farm with all the facilities it has today.  With over 1,500 acres of fields and forests, Asgaard is able to be a truly diversified family farm with a goat dairy and creamery at its core.  In Asgaard’s certified organic fields, grass-fed and grass-finished Devons, Red Angus, and Herefords pasture together with pigs and chickens.   Grains from the farm feed their animals and provide logs to a local sawmill under the American Tree Farm Certification program for renewable forest land.  With growing perennial and vegetable beds, the Butler’s use herbs from their gardens to flavor their cheeses and they sell a variety of vegetables, eggs and handcrafted goat’s milk soap at the farm and local farmer’s markets.   In addition, the owners have renovated Emerson House, the home of Rockwell Kent, well-known artist, writer, adventurer, political activist and farmer.  It will now be a vacation rental for agricultural tourists to the Adironack region.

Rhonda and David produce American Cheese Society award winning cheeses from a herd of Alpine and Nubian goats.  They spoke about their production methods and attendees were able to taste two of their goat’s milk cheeses.

Daniel Gomez

One might say that Daniel Gomez CIA ‘02, SHA ‘07 has a lot of imagination. After all, to develop a restaurant concept with eight differently themed rooms within a single envelope takes more than the standard creativity. On the other hand, one might say that he is simply a savvy businessman whose many years of experience in restaurant operations and concept development have positioned him for success. He admits that his first solo venture, Daniel D&W, is ambitious, even more so because as his namesake, the restaurant carries a high level of personal pride. Daniel took over a historic landmark in the heart of Bogota’s financial district and Daniel D&W presents an escape for busy executives as well as destination dining for weekenders and after hours parties. Each of the eight dining rooms has its own colonial British theme, from the regally sumptuous Queen’s Room to the leather seated informality of the Churchill inspired library to the airy English garden. Guests can even enjoy a drink in the naval room, at a bar constructed from the hull of an actual boat . The ambience in each space is fully fleshed out with décor, background music, and an international cuisine.
While sure of his entrepreneurial spirit and passion for the foodservice industry, Daniel did some intense introspection to figure out how to reach his goals. He began with an immersion in the culinary arts, learning traditional methods as a cook in Italy and Spain, before taking on pastry positions and service in the US. He formalized his training by completing his CIA studies, both an AOS in Culinary Arts in 2002 and a certificate in Baking & Pastry arts in 2003. At that point, he had observed numerous business models and management styles and decided “ I needed to become more well-rounded in my business skills” and the School of Hotel Administration clearly had the best hospitality business program. Although a talented “foodie”, Daniel focused his energies on what he perceived as his weaker skills. Advanced courses in business modeling and database management led him to internships at both Avero Software and Starr Restaurant Organization, learning to apply business measurement models, food inventory analysis, beverage cost control and compliance, and revenue management assessments.
Along the way he developed relationships that led to capstone positions in his hands-on education. As a restaurant manager with China Grill, responsible for over 100 employees, Daniel learned quickly how to recruit, interview and select solid employees. At David Burke Las Vegas he was handed a 350 item wine list to manage and he quickly threw himself into the endeavor, achieving Sommelier certification and developing a program for staff training, selection and pairing of the wines. He returned to Avero Software as a Food & Beverage Analyst, creating and tracking ROI programs for clients, then was asked by a former colleague to manage the opening of the Eden South Beach restaurant in Miami Beach, where he experienced the construction process, negotiated purveyor contracts, set up software, modeled budget projections and selected and trained staff. Feeling he had achieved his goal of experiencing every facet of the industry, he returned to Bogota.
On the number and variety of his international experiences, Daniel notes “I have had unique opportunities and I see their influence reflected in what we do here at Daniel D&W.” His menu is derived from a wealth of culinary experience; the wine list a product of his Sommelier training, well-structured and closely paired with the menu. In hiring staff, Daniel called on his recruitment skills; his team is like a family (and many are in fact related) and they support each other to make the restaurant run smoothly. In selecting a POS system, Daniel’s work at Avero taught him to ask the right questions and they had a quick, flawless implementation, almost unheard of in typical restaurants that spend weeks “working out the kinks”. Even Daniel D&W’s service structure is different from most in Bogota; they pay tips nightly rather than having them collected by a cashier and distributed in a paycheck.
As Daniel D&W continues to build a steady following, Daniel noted his newest challenge is social media and public relations. Since much of the business is based around destination dining, he is looking for the right events manager and marketing person to take his brand to the next level. In the meantime, he invites guests “to let my home away from home be your home away from home.”

Meryl Davis

Photo credit: Jason Koski, Cornell University Photo

Although college is considered a time of personal discovery, it is often only once you have graduated and embarked on a career path that you start to learn the depth of your professional strengths and passions.  For Meryl Davis, SHA ’07, AOS ’06 her path has led her to the field of training, service management, and ultimately, education.  As first Cornell graduate of the formalized collaborative degree program, in 2006 Meryl went to work for Hillstone Restaurant Group in Napa Valley then moved to Los Angeles. There she experienced all the benefits of a multi-unit operation.  The corporate environment provided consistency and structure, with an intensive training program for new recruits, well established policies and detailed training guidelines.  Here Meryl was able to hone her management skills and start to develop her style of leadership.

After several years Meryl realized she was ready to branch out, so when she had the opportunity to help a fellow Cornell alum, Mike Simms ’00, open a new concept she decided to embark on a new adventure.  Meryl was able to be a part of the planning in opening two new restaurants, “Simmzy’s” and “Tin Roof Bistro” and at this point all her previous experiences began to gel.  In the excitement of recruiting new staff and beginning to train them, she found she had a gift for creating cohesive groups of co-workers.  Meryl put all of her talents to work to create employee programs that would not only develop and retain staff, but create an environment where employees were promoted from within the organization, focusing on how people could grow as the company grew.  As the assistant manager and then general manager, Meryl found she had a lot of leeway in developing her staff policies so she could experiment to see what worked best in keeping staff motivated and energized by their work.

Meryl’s experiences to date have culminated in a career path she is truly passionate about.  As the Director of Training and Service at the Aurora Inn in Aurora, NY (a picturesque community best known for Wells College and the Mackenzie-Childs brand which has its roots there), Meryl has redefined the employee training program and service guidelines.  Her focus is developing innovative education and retention programs that allow for employee growth and promotion from within.  She notes that unlike traditional hiring practices that stress previous job specific experience, she looks to hire employees with a certain disposition and then trains them in the specific skills necessary.  The ability to cross train and develop people laterally is especially important as it she has a limited applicant pool to draw from in this rural community.  “When you invest your staff members, you create an energy and an excitement.  People are happy to come to work every day and are enthusiastic about learning new skills. This is what gives my job meaning” comments Meryl.   The Aurora Inn, Inc. includes a number of properties, including The Fargo Bar and Grill, Dorrie’s Sandwich and Ice Cream Parlor, the Village Market, and the EB Morgan House.  Meryl focuses primarily on the front of house staff training, both for the hotel and foodservice operations but she works closely with the Executive Chef, who provides training to the back of house staff, to ensure they are communicating a uniform vision.   Always striving for new challenges, Meryl is now in the process of developing the curriculum for a culinary school at the Aurora Inn, with a focus on culinary immersion classes and recreational courses for guests and visitors.

And Meryl notes the lasting benefit s of having both degrees.  Her studies at the CIA and Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration have helped her navigate group dynamics (as both curriculums stress team environments) and have created an expectation among her subordinates and co-workers.  “Not only do I have the management and culinary arts education of both programs, but these two well respected institutions are known in the industry and they have given me credibility and empowered me  to set the highest standards as I work to lead others” she concludes.

Harris Mayer-Selinger

Harris Mayer-SelingerWhy SHA and CIA?  Harris Mayer-Selinger, SHA ’06, CIA ’07 would tell you it is all about understanding where you want to go in life and for him, becoming a restaurateur has always been his passion.  A native New Yorker, Harris knew the big city was his milieu and immediately set about learning the NYC restaurant scene after graduation, with stints in large and small restaurants.  These experiences, as well as travel to France, China, and Taiwan, helped him compare disparate leadership styles and hone his own culinary style while becoming adept at menu development.

While the chef at “Wine Bar”, Harris was recruited for the project next door, Matthew Kenny’s opening of Bar Paya, a unique Peruvian style restaurant in the East Village.   This was eye-opening from another perspective, as Harris learned about the permitting and regulations governing new restaurants; “NYC is so regulated and the rents are so high, you have to understand the environment and really crunch your numbers carefully to open a new restaurant”.

Now, as Head Chef at Bar Paya, Harris is putting his knowledge to full use.  He has travelled to Peru to develop his authentic style, a trait which is important in everything he does.  “As a chef or manager, the standard is set by you” he notes “and the quality of every plate you send out the door becomes the expectations and the standard your staff will strive to reach”.   He is intimately involved with the finances of the restaurant, public relations efforts and staff management, activities Cornell prepared him for, in particular “how to communicate in a professional manner and the theory behind running a business”, but he also understands intrinsically how every detail is important.   “Every day is about doing a lot of the small things correctly” he says, a proficiency he developed during his time at the CIA, where tips such as stretching a cut of meat or how to adroitly calculate the cost of each menu item in relation to other items is integrated into every discussion.  So now he is taking all he has learned and focusing on guest satisfaction; he uses the best quality ingredients and is intensely aware of the sophistication of the diners in NYC.  His advice: “Respect your customers by showing integrity in your menu; never assume your guests won’t notice a change because they will”.

Find out more about Harris’s Peruvian cuisines in his interviews with PaperMag and am New York.

Jeannine Sacco

Jeannine SaccoFor entrepreneur Jeannine Sacco, SHA ’09, CIA ‘06, president of BeetNPath, healthy, delicious, locally produced food that is made from wholesome ingredients isn’t just for upscale dining. Her company, BeetNPath, has four tenants that they adhere to: healthy, natural/organic, sustainable, and operationally efficient. They are focused on helping the Millennial Generation find balance between their diets and their busy lifestyles. BeetNPath recently released to market their first product: PrOaTs: the steel cut oat power meal. Packing 20g of protein and 7g of fiber, PrOaTs is a great anytime, anywhere pick me up meal. This fall they will be offering a line of fresh meal options marketed at universities, campuses and other institutions across New York State. The meals are all locally produced, minimally processed and based on natural/organic ingredients. A graduate of the collaborative degree program, Jeannine credits her culinary and business studies in helping her to develop a successful concept. “We are to the fresh prepared food market what Trader Joes is to the grocery market: unique product at affordable prices.”

Michael Nestrud

CIA Chef Phillips and Michael Nestrud, AOS '04 BS '08 PhD '11

CIA Chef Phillips and Michael Nestrud, AOS '04 BS '08 PhD '11

Educators in the field of food science are increasingly recognizing the value of a culinary background as a stepping stone to better understanding food perceptions, quantifying food qualities and developing more complex food combinations.  In fields such as sensory science (the science of evoking, measuring, analyzing and interpreting sensory phenomena), exploration into how we taste and consume foods is developing into a growing field that more and more culinarians are pursuing.

For ’04 CIA grad Michael Nestrud, applying sensory science with measurement methods such as projective mapping, also known as the “nappe map” technique, to food, is changing the way we think about flavor combinations.  After his CIA graduation, Michael took his computer science background, his love of the culinary, and his interest in science and headed for the Department of Food Science in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), where he worked with Dr. Harry Lawless, the world renowned Sensory Scientist.  During his undergraduate studies there, he became passionate about becoming what he terms a “culinary scientist”, someone who studies the science of food and human reaction to food from a unique, skilled culinary perspective.  His first studies, conducted jointly with the CIA, measured the differences in how culinary professionals and regular consumers evaluated products[1]This is where he first applied the projective mapping technique, a perceptual mapping technique used to gather data about food similarities through the placement of products on a two-dimensional surface.  After completing his undergraduate degree in May of ’08, Michael expanded his research on sensory perceptions by using graph theory, the mathematics behind social networking, to help the military understand how foods are combined together to create meal concepts.  This novel technique was used to evaluate menus for military field rations or Meals-Ready-To-Eat (MRE) to develop appealing new combinations.  Using this systematic and interactive approach to measure all possible flavor combinations against the best potential combinations, Michael was able to develop a narrowed list of new menus that could be tested by and refined by the Combat Feeding team, resulting in an improved set of meals.  Michael has partnered with the Institute for Perception on this technology and continues to work on commercial applications.  Michael also serves on the CIA’s Menu R&D Advisory Council and collaborates on research projects with Dr. Chris Loss, the Director.

Michael’s career path has not been straightforward but he sees it as the confluence of a number of interests that give him a unique perspective on evaluating food.  He originally thought he would study computer science.  He then began to read about food science and saw the value of combining CIA and food science degrees.  He transferred to the CIA, earned an A.O.S. and completed his studies with a teaching fellowship at the American Bounty exploring operations.  While a teaching fellow, he took classes in biology at a local college and applied to Cornell University.  While an undergraduate, he spent a summer working for a food development company to understand how new products evolve and then transitioned to his true passion, incorporating the methodical world of mathematical underpinnings with the sensory experimentation and perceptions of food evaluation. With the completion of his Ph.D. in May ‘11, Michael is currently working for the US Army Natick RD&E Center near Boston.

While Michael was not a graduate of the collaborative degree program, which is only available within the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell, his experiences at Cornell highlight the many opportunities available to professional culinarians.  What’s next for Michael?  He will continue his research, exploring the impact that food has on our emotions and moral judgment.  Michael writes about sensory and culinary science at his blog, Substance P, at http://substancep.ataraxis.org.  Feel free to contact Michael at mike@ataraxis.org if you have any questions.

[1] Nestrud, M.A. and Lawless, H.T. (2008). Perceptual mapping of citrus juices using projective mapping and profiling data from culinary professionals and consumers. Food Quality and Preference, 19, 431-438. (contact Michael for reprints)