4 restaurant entrepreneurs we can all learn from
Thanks to social media and an ever-growing lineup of cooking shows, we are living in the golden age of celebrity chefs and restaurateurs.
However, even in an increasingly crowded and talented pool, there are a few who stand out among the rest for what they can teach those in the restaurant industry and beyond.
Heston Blumenthal has opened many Michelin-starred restaurants, spent nearly two decades starring on and hosting television shows, and authored a growing library of books.
But along with all of his other accomplishments, Blumennthal has been on the forefront of a number of trends that may define his generation, including molecular gastronomy, the sous vide, and the use of liquid nitrogen. However, many would argue that his greatest contributions have been made in pioneering and popularizing multi-sensory dining, which explores how every part of the human experience–sound, smell, vision, naming association, and memory–plays into how a meal is experienced.
And even as this style becomes increasingly widespread, there is no one more accomplished or passionate than Blumenthal. At his famed restaurant The Fat Duck, for example, he has created the signature “Sound of the Sea” dish that offers a variety of seafood, served on a carefully curated beachscape–complete with edible sand–and a conch shell containing an iPod that plays sounds of the ocean while diners eat.
To me, however, the most impressive thing about Heston Blumenthal is that he was able to reach all of these accomplishments as a self-taught chef.
The lesson: leave no boundary untested.
When Stephanie Izard opened her first restaurant, Scylla, she was doing it all. On top of cooking, she was also managing billing and accounting, confirming reservations, and even waiting tables. As one could imagine, this wore on her very quickly. So despite the restaurant’s critical acclaim, Izard made the decision to close its doors after roughly three years in business.
Shortly after, she became a contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” where she would become the show’s first ever female winner–also clinching the title of “Fan Favorite” and the status of instant trailblazer. Knowing that fame could be fleeting, Izard quickly zeroed in on her next goal: open a restaurant where she could cook, and only cook.
She teamed up with the owners of the Boka Restaurant Group, and launched Girl & the Goat–which was heralded as “America’s Best New Restaurant” in Saveur magazine’s first-ever restaurant review. In the few years that followed, so have a series of award nominations and two more acclaimed Chicago-area restaurants. And now, she is expanding her growing empire to LA.
The lesson: capitalize on your moment.
Marcus Samuelsson is someone who could be described as a “citizen of the world.” He was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, and apprenticed in Switzerland and Austria before coming to the United States.
At just 24 years old, he became the executive chef of the well-known Restaurant Aquavit in Manhattan, and would subsequently be the youngest chef to to receive a three-star restaurant review from the New York Times.
To some, he is best recognized for No Passport Required, the show he produced and hosted for PBS, where he would travel to different cities in America and showcase how immigrants have influenced the culture and cuisine. For example, the show’s second episode explores how Vietnamese residents have influenced one of the nation’s most distinct dining destinations.
However, he has also penned cookbooks inspired by African and Scandinavian cuisine, and now owns a slew of restaurants across the globe, each of which is created with deep ties to their locations and Sameulsson’s experiences.
The lesson: celebrate your roots.
No list of successful restaurant entrepreneurs would be complete without José Andrés. He is an accomplished chef and prolific restaurateur. He is also credited with bringing the small plates concept to the United States–forever changing the country’s culinary landscape. But, if you ask him what he’s most proud of, I am willing to bet it’s his humanitarian work.
Andrés founded the World Central Kitchen–an NGO that provides healthy food to individuals impacted by disasters–in 2010, in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Since then, the group has provided meals across the globe, including the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Zambia.
However, Andrés doesn’t just lend his name to this organization, he is one of its most critical sets of boots on the ground. This celebrity chef distributes food, posts updates to his millions of social media followers, and does whatever else he can to provide support to the victims of these tragedies.
The lesson: success means more when it’s used to help others.
For all of these reasons, and more, I believe that each of these trailblazers is worthy of our admiration–and emulation.
Danilo Diazgranados is an independent investor in the global food and wine, financial services, real estate, and the hospitality sectors.