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Empowering Restaurants in America

Chef Michael Schulson on Cooking up a Career as a Restaurateur

The celebrity chef offers his wisdom to those who are navigating the business world as chef-entrepreneurs.

You grew up on Long Island and then moved to Philadelphia. What was it that attracted you to cooking, and Japanese cuisine in particular?

Family has always been my biggest influence, especially my Nana. I loved watching her cook and I loved eating her cooking even more. She is the reason I knew I wanted to become a chef.

I spent a year in Japan working at the Four Seasons and Spago and experiencing the culture and cuisine. I learned that Japanese food is simple and very different from what we eat here. People think that adding Japanese ingredients makes the food Japanese. That is not the case. Creating Japanese food is not just about the ingredients, it’s about the technique.

What should new restaurateurs know as they strike out on their own in the business? What common mistakes should they watch out for?

There is so much more that goes into owning a restaurant aside from cooking and managing the staff. There is an array of other items that you must be prepared to handle, such as: 

  • Bookkeeping and accounting
  • Cash flow and distribution
  • Tax ramifications
  • Human resource issues

The biggest thing I have seen from other operators is not understanding cash flow; your income does not all go toward your bottom line. Expenses need to be paid, money needs to be put aside for taxes and other ancillary items need to managed.

For anyone that is looking to go into the business, just know that it’s hard. The toughest part about being a restaurateur are the hours. You don’t get to go home once the clock strikes 5pm. When it comes to restaurants, the service, design and food are constantly evolving and it’s extremely important to evolve with them. In order to succeed in the business, you need to make sure you are in touch with what’s going on in the world culturally.

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