May 12, 2020

Food Fight Series: Celebrity Chef Andrew Zimmern

Food Fight Series: Celebrity Chef Andrew Zimmern

What are the folks at the top of our industry doing to help us and themselves? On today's show, we chat with four-time James Beard award-winning TV personality, chef, writer, teacher and social justice advocate, Chef Andrew Zimmern. Andrew has not only reached the pinnacles of success, he'd done so while supporting and advocating for independent restaurants. Today we talk about the where we are and where we're headed as an industry and what we can do to help each other. 

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SHOW NOTES

  • 3-pronged strategy for moving forward during the Covid crisis
  • Not getting stuck in one metric or business model. Being fluid and flexible
  • Covid give us a chance to review our businesses
  • Many sectors of the hospitality industry were already broken - Covid accelerated the demise
  • Building back the right way
  • Reviewing pricing, menus, HR
  • Realigning our motives for being in the hospitality industry
  • Many people joined to become famous or seek wealth
  • This can be poor for mental health as stardom is fleeting
  • Stay in the industry because of love, not to get rich
  • Wolfgang Puck took a huge risk coming to America and struggled alot in his early career. His passion led to his stardom.
  • There is a low barrier to entry to become a restaurateur
  • Anyone with finance can open a restaurant
  • The restaurant life seems “sexy” and appealing to anyone who loves dining out
  • The restaurant business is extremely fragile to run well - pennies business with slim margins
  • Reflecting as a practice
  • Andrew has a daily reflection practice he learned whilst becoming sober
  • Taking regular inventory of problems e.g pros and cons lists
  • Writing things on paper helps to reflect on them
  • Any business or human being that doesn’t regularly take stock will fail
  • Reflecting on the restaurant business
  • Slowing down to learn from what is happening right now
  • Working on ops issues
  • How working for larger causes helps mental health
  • Taking focus off himself slows his thoughts
  • Working extremely hard
  • Extremely fulfilling work
  • Projects to help the hospitality industry
  • Small anonymous group helping local community
  • Speaking to the local governor regarding safety in hospitality reopening
  • Why we are on this earth
  • Andrew would ask First Peoples’ this question
  • “We’re on this earth to love and nurture each other”
  • Small gestures are more fulfilling than big gestures
  • Things we can do to service the industry
  • Start at a community level
  • Create a community resource kitchen if it is needed
  • Donate time, money, or food to resource kitchens and initiatives already operating
  • Share causes on social media
  • Checking in on people
  • Donating masks
  • The podcast is awareness-raising and impacting lives
  • Positive changes predicted for after Covid
  • Low-cost micro model restaurants for feeding small communities
Transcript

Josh Kopel:
Today's episode is brought to you by Yelp, whose mission is to connect people with great local businesses. They're also helping me connect with you, which is totally awesome. Now here we go.

Andrew Zimmern:
I learned how to care for people. I learned what it really means to have relationships. I learned how to recover in my life. I learned what's important. We have that magic in our industry.

Josh Kopel:
Welcome to Full Comp, a show offering insight into the future of the hospitality industry featuring restaurateurs, thought leaders, and innovators served up on the house. On today's show we chat with four-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality, chef, writer, teacher, and social justice advocate Chef Andrew Zimmern.

Josh Kopel:
What are the folks at the top of our industry doing to help us and themselves? Andrew's not only reached the pinnacles of success, he's done so while supporting and advocating for independent restaurants. Today we talk about where we are and where we're headed as an industry and what we can do to help each other. We dive right in as the chef discusses his three prong strategy to move forward.

Josh Kopel:
I got to tell you, man, it's funny. You stepped away and I can see the words behind you on the board. I was like, "Safety, cash, pivots," and I'm like, "I'm thinking the same thing."

Andrew Zimmern:
Got to keep everyone safe. Got to squirrel away every dollar and play conservative right now and you have to pivot sometimes every day. With one of our businesses we actually, over the last two weeks, have pivoted three different times into things just because the facts on the ground change. I think entrepreneurs that are smart, business people who are smart, are pivoting to things so they're not getting stuck in one metric that, with the way things are going, can be problematic.

Josh Kopel:
And it kind of speaks to the point, which is obviously the hospitality industry has been hit incredibly hard, but it's also not like... one restaurateur to another... it's not we haven't been staring into the abyss for quite some time now. The coronavirus didn't kill the hospitality industry. It was already on its last leg.

Andrew Zimmern:
Many sectors of it. There were other sectors of it that had sort of figured it out, but the type of restaurants that I like to dine in, that I own or co-own, that you operate, that when we talk about restaurant... those restaurants had so many pieces of their business models broken. I'm loving this metaphor the longer I've been living in it for the last six or seven weeks. It would've been nice if we were able to take our house apart brick by brick. Instead, this pandemic burnt it to the fucking ground. What would be lunacy is if we didn't take the time to build it back the right way. That's what we cook, how we treat our people, what we charge, what kind of foods... what kind of role are restaurants going to play in our food system going forward. I think it really is important.

Andrew Zimmern:
The other piece of it... and I've been reading so much of this in social media. I follow a ton of chefs and restaurant owners and cooks and bartenders and servers. I have them all set aside in one feed. Overwhelmingly, there had been this lemming-like leap over the cliff looking for big money, stardom, all the rest of this kind of stuff that are actually very fleeting things. It wasn't so much... There's an aspect of this disease that turned the mirror around on our industry to reveal some of its uglier truths. There were still a lot of people who got into this business because they just wanted to make a really good sandwich for people that they loved.

Josh Kopel:
Absolutely.

Andrew Zimmern:
Over the last 20 years, a lot of people got into this business because they wanted things, and whether it's the food business or advertising business or insurance business or accounting business, if that's your goal, bravo for you for being honest with yourself, but it comes with a whole different set of problems that come up. When you chase things, from a spiritual standpoint, from a self care standpoint, that starts to get into some really dangerous territory. Hopefully there's a reset here for everyone: that it's not about... Movie makers generations ago didn't do it to get rich. They go into it because they were in love with the medium and they wanted to create art that way, then they wanted to create more commercial work that way, then all of a sudden then the money followed because it was really popular. The same thing happened with food. You can't fault anyone. You can't fault some of today's big success stories for, like, "Wow, you have 20 restaurants." It's like, yeah, but they started with one. It was really risky. 

Andrew Zimmern:
I was around. I remember a young Austrian chef coming to American named Wolfgang Puck. He took profound risk and struggled mightily early in his career. The thing was he was very creative and extremely talented and figured it out. You can't fault him for being successful today. It's a much different environment. What you can do is you can create a different template for people moving forward in that if you are chasing things there's going to be a lot of issues.

Josh Kopel:
There should be higher barriers to entry, right?

Andrew Zimmern:
What do you mean?

Josh Kopel:
What I mean is that at this stage in the game, and we see a lot of this, I personally believe that one of the reasons that the failure rate is so high in the industry is that obviously the fundamentals are wrong, bad, not ideal, but the other is anyone with financing can open a restaurant. You can't do the same thing with a law firm. You can't do the same thing with a medical office.

Andrew Zimmern:
The third leg to your stool that you're building, I can't think of another industry... If you and I went this afternoon and went to a theater and watch Star Wars, we wouldn't turn to each other and say, "You know what we're going to do tomorrow?" You'd say, "What, Andrew?" "Let's make a movie." Maybe we'd drag out a super... We'd do it on our own for fun or use our iPhones and the apps that come on it. I'm not talking about that kind of thing. 

Andrew Zimmern:
But I can't tell you how many times... and I'm a little older than you are... I get a call from people; it's like, "Hey, we've been dining out three or four times a week, me and my two buddies. We've each got 500 grand. We want to open this restaurant. Can your hospitality company consult on it?" I literally said, "We could, but I'm not going to. I'm not going to steal your money. Have you ever worked in restaurants? Have you..." And sometimes you get in there and you find, "Yeah, it's a barbecue place and my buddy Steve spends 40 hours a week barbecuing and he's got a professional..." and you get a picture and you're like, "Holy shit, these guys, all they need is a good coleslaw recipe and they could do it." But it is so strange. Our business is so sexy. It's so...

Josh Kopel:
On the outside.

Andrew Zimmern:
The mythology around it has been built up and people enjoy it so much. Who doesn't love sitting in a crowded, fun restaurant sharing time with friends? You just feel like you're a part of something really spectacular. I think that feeds this zeitgeist that tells anyone, "Hey, if you like food, you can own a restaurant." The reality is, as you hint at the beginning, with so many of the metrics wrong with it being pennies business with 95% of the money that comes in going right out the back door, it's too fragile an ecosystem even for experienced restaurateurs to navigate, so yeah, you're right.

Josh Kopel:
To look forward, we have to look back. I don't know what your day-to-day looks like, but I do know that I went from working 80 to 100 hours a week to literally being on unemployment. One of the things that it afforded me is the opportunity to reflect back on my life and the choices I made, because I've been in this industry my whole life. I've never really questioned any facet of it. I just rolled with it because this is what it is. Have you had the opportunity to reflect on your past and your professional career? If so, what resulted from that?

Andrew Zimmern:
Wow. This just went to a nice conversation to a six hour jam fest. Let me answer that in a couple ways. I, too, am basically on unemployment, except I don't qualify. I'm not going to lie, I'm fully a one percenter, right? The last 15 years of my career I've been very successful materially. The unemployment that I'm dealing with right now is that all of my businesses are shuttered. We do have some contract work and some fulfillment on our production side, and that took us up to like this week and now this week, with so many states reopening, a lot of the work that my production company is doing... we make my shows but we also make a lot of other shows for other people, digital content for brands. The phone has started to ring again a little bit. It's sort of a fascinating thing.

Andrew Zimmern:
Because I've predicated the last 28 years of my life, once I got sober, to not only a daily reflection but at times a several times a day reflection, I also have committed myself... because I'm an active member of 12 step groups... to doing regular inventory. Sometimes I'll have a problem in my life and the tools that I learned when I got sober and that I continue to learn how to use these tools the longer that I've been sober, I actually do written inventories of problems. Some people just call them pros and cons lists. There are a lot of note scribblers. But sometimes putting something down on paper is really valuable. I learned that when I got sober and I learned it in 12 step groups. I didn't come into my business life with that. I exported that from my personal experience. 

Andrew Zimmern:
I'm always taking inventory. I'm constantly writing things down. I'm constantly... You mentioned the white board earlier with my new mantra, but it's like I'm in a room filled... The walls are whiteboards. You an see there: I sit here and scribble and take notes and have tons of pieces of paper everywhere, as well as... I hate to tell you what my home page on my computer looks like. I'm obsessive-compulsive when it comes to that, so that's number one. 

Andrew Zimmern:
Number two, a business, a human being, any ecosystem that doesn't regularly take stock of where they are is doomed to fail. That's the kind of thing I tell my kid... he's 15 and a half... about every aspect of life. Don't grind yourself to death by killing your spontaneity because you're over-analyzing every move you make, but you have to regularly take inventory about what is and isn't going on. Right before our talk I had an hour in the office with our company's GM going through exactly... We literally said those exact words. What we're asking everyone in our companies is to slow down emotionally and slow down mentally just enough so that when we're out... whatever the other side of this looks like, whenever that is... the idea is to slow down enough so that you're learning from what's going on right now, because we do have... to your point, many of us have... an opportunity to do things that we never had before.

Andrew Zimmern:
One of the things that we're doing in our production company very tactically... because there I'm using PPP dollars and we've brought back... everyone is working from home and doing different stuff... is we are very tactically working on ops and org issues that over the last year and a half we never had a time to address. We're actually going to make our business a better place for the human beings that work there and we're using our time right now to do that. Do I think that will have value to our company? Incredible value. Am I ashamed to say that we back-burnered it for the last year and a half? Absolutely I have shame when I admit that. But the reality was that we also had bills to pay and I was trying to support people. My motivation wasn't wrong. I was doing the best that I could.

Andrew Zimmern:
But the learning is now that I have the time I can keep doing what I'm doing and expect a different result or I can actually change the way we're working, and we're actually changing the way that we're working. We're doing the same thing at our hospitality company and in a way we're doing the same thing with our marketing group, but that's not even back online yet because all of our business went away. We are doing that. We are reassessing. We are safety, cash, pivot. We're pivot, pivot, pivot, pivot, sometimes every day. Occasionally, within a deal itself, maybe a couple times a day based on what the facts on the ground are telling us, but to ignore the lessons that are being screamed at us from the universe would be insanity and ignorance times 10.

Josh Kopel:
On top of fighting to save your own businesses, you're also fighting to save the industry at large.

Andrew Zimmern:
This is the interesting thing. What I learned when I got sober was that the only thing that worked for me to quiet my brain... which by the way was the thing that got me into the most trouble, was the velocity and speed of my brain and my thoughts. What all those inventories those first five, six years of sobriety taught me was that it was... and still today, my biggest problem is velocity. As my velocity would increase, in whatever area of my life, I would make mistakes, so what got me into velocity was what was going on in my head. What would quiet my own head and take me out of myself and take me out of selfishness and put me into other centeredness, that would put me into being right-sized, it would put me into a place to be more successful... I'm talking personally. Just relationships. I'm not talking about work... was slowing down, but I didn't know how to do that.

Andrew Zimmern:
It was suggested to me that if I did things for other people, everything in my life would slow down. I wasn't thinking about me. I wasn't working about me. I wasn't working on me. I wasn't worried about me. None of it was about me. It almost became like a yoga and it created incredible space for things to happen in my life. I got married. I became a parent. I was able to launch businesses. Just incredible things happened. So I use that same mechanism today. So when this thing... Before the C-19 pandemic, I sat on four or five boards. I was very active locally and nationally, and in some cases internationally because I work with both one and the International Rescue Committee on more global programs, and occasionally with different groups within the UN. 

Andrew Zimmern:
The need just became explosive, so my phone didn't stop ringing and my biggest problem is saying no. I tend to say yes to everything, but it felt like this was a time... My friend Will told me last year was his year of saying no and how successful that was, so this year, 2020, was my year of saying no. We actually talked about it in our board meetings with the people who help me steer my business. I said, "This is the year of me saying no. I'm just going to focus on a couple of things and we're going to say no to everything else. Then this happened and it became the year of saying yes. I'm completely overextended. 

Andrew Zimmern:
I said to someone last night, "I don't think I've worked this hard in my life." I'm here at the office from 8:00 to 4:00 or 5:00 and then I go home and take an hour or two off, eat dinner, walk the dog, try to relax a little, and then I have a three, four hour work session at home to catch up on everything to get ready for the next day, then I try to relax a little bit more at home because you can't just go right to bed. So I'm sleeping five to six hours a night and just doing this balls to the wall thing. But it's extremely fulfilling and it's making a difference. 

Andrew Zimmern:
I was on a meeting yesterday, a state meeting, a subgroup of our governor's crisis response team, and we're working on safety considerations for Minnesotans going back to work in hotel and restaurant industries, hospitality. I hung up the meeting and we had made some good progress yesterday as our state is getting ready to figure out what opening up looks like in restaurants and hotels and bowling alleys and all the reset of that kind of stuff. I realized it's... You're the first person I actually have mentioned this to, I think, where it's public. I'm not saying it to pat myself on the back. It's the kind of thing that you do in private that when it's all over and said and done you said, "Wow, that, whatever, 30 hours over two or three weeks I got to contribute whatever it was that I could to something that was purely for the public good in the state that gave me my life back. I mean, that is just super fulfilling. It's awesome. There's no money. There's no prestige. Your name doesn't go anywhere. No one knows that it exists. We are a subcommittee that just toils in anonymity, up until this moment, but it's really emblematic. It's the same thing that happens...

Andrew Zimmern:
I have a friend who's like, "Hey, let's cook up some food and deliver it. Let's not hook up with a big agency. Let's not put it on Instagram." He was actually coming to me because he said, "I want to do it for me, but I don't know how to do it and I know you're doing it on a lot of different levels, so can we do something together?" I just said yeah, of course. Helping other people... I learned, making bizarre foods, having spent a lot of time with tribal people around the world, every time I asked a member of a first people of the world... and especially, almost without exception, first peoples who lived indistinguishably from the way their ancestors lived 20,000 years ago and people who really had not changed their culture. When I would ask them... I feel like Bill Murray in Caddyshack... "What's the secret to happiness and the universe? Why are we here on Earth?" But I would literally ask them those questions. I found the answers fascinating. Sometimes it made it into the show, sometimes it didn't, but I remember every answer. Universally, it was, "We're on this Earth to love each other and nurture each other." Then they'd look at me like I was an idiot and walk away.

Andrew Zimmern:
They were right. I was the idiot, which is why I was asking them. I found the most fulfilling stuff that I do in my life falls into those categories of doing things to help other people, whether it's the small gesture... which I should mention is way more fulfilling than the big gesture. It's really nice to be on boards or get your name in the media for being one of those people that's helping or whatever. That's great. You hope it's inspiring and there's a necessary part of it and it raises more money and awareness and there's a good piece of that. 

Andrew Zimmern:
But you know, every night typically I'm the last one to leave the office because I have these Zoom calls or then I do IG lives or something and it's five or six... The handful of people... normally there's 47, 50 people in the office. Nowadays it's two or three, but I'm usually the last to leave. Last to leave has to clean the coffee machine, because there's no one else to do it. We're mopping the floors in our office. Everyone is gone. It's closed. We're doing everything ourselves. It's a pretty big space, and so I go and it's like a yoga. I spend 15 minutes. I load the dishwasher. I do the coffee machine and stuff like that. 

Andrew Zimmern:
Nobody knows, really, who leaves last, and the reason that I know this is because there's an internal email for the people that come in and out of here in different ways. Sometimes editors have to come in here or other production company staff goes in to use equipment or reset something or deal with something here that requires and office visit. People just don't know who the last one to leave is, and they send the snarky office notes like, "Who took the diet Coke in the fridge," or, "Who left that burner on," or, "Why was that mug in the sink," because someone has to glove up and put it in, because we're all maintaining social distance and all that stuff. So I know that nobody really knows what it is that I'm doing, but I do that. I empty the little trash bins in people's desks and stuff. It takes 10, 15 minutes and it's a small gesture and that makes me feel as good or not better because I'm actually contributing to my micro-community: the people who I'm building our stuff with.

Andrew Zimmern:
Whenever I'm talking about this at a public level I sort of sum it up with something that one of my spiritual gurus told me a long time ago, which is, "Look down where your feet are. That's where you're planted. That's where you need to do your work. But our heads are also in the clouds, so doing the national thing, doing the bigger stuff, is great, as long as you're starting where your feet are planted." I love thinking about it that way. It helps me.

Josh Kopel:
That's beautiful. And that leads to my next question, which is what I can do to service the industry? As I'm sure you can imagine, I have a fair amount of time on my hands these days.

Andrew Zimmern:
I mean, I think like everybody else everybody is asking what you can do. I would look down where your feet are. I know that you're in a big city. You have an immense amount of talent. There's lots of fantastic groups and agencies out there doing a lot of really cool work. Sometimes it's not an option for people. One restaurant that I co-own, a very small piece, is doing takeout food. Another one is doing takeout and delivery. Another one is closed entirely. And then the fourth one that I own the biggest piece of is also closed entirely and we closed days before we were told by the state of Minnesota that we had to, and we did that as a safety issue. The way the restaurant is constructed, there's no way to safely open it as a community resource kitchen in a city where... and this is the really interesting part... where we haven't hit the level of need when it comes to feeding... 

Andrew Zimmern:
Yes, our food banks are stressed to the max. They're operating at two and half, three times capacity. But our job is to support them in meeting that need. I don't have to open a community resource kitchen in one of my restaurants to feed more people. I can give time, money, food, volunteerism, to the agencies that are already doing it. I can put something out on my Twitter feed and ask everyone who has a free couple of hours on the weekend to go and sign up at some of these volunteer job fairs or do it online, or however it is. The fact of the matter is that is it true? Is there a need? Does it need to be done? And is it up to me to do it? Sometimes that third piece... it's not up to me to do it. Sometimes I can provide means for other people to do it. You can't save every starfish on the beach and you also shouldn't be taking away opportunities from other people.

Andrew Zimmern:
In the state of Minnesota, we don't need to turn every restaurant into a community resource kitchen. Then you'd have every restaurant making 10 meals. What we need to do is focus on what's the actual need, let the experts... like the people who run Second Harvest Heartland or Loaves and Fishes or the government's task force... tell us what the need is. Is the need more food? More bodies? More space? The minute someone says more space, okay, I'm in, but I know things are different where you live, right?

Josh Kopel:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andrew Zimmern:
So wherever that need is, you can go and address that. I also would tell you what we're doing right here, and that you started this podcast, is... and my understanding is that this is a new thing for you.

Josh Kopel:
Yes sir.

Andrew Zimmern:
So right now you're awareness raising and impacting the lives of human beings in a way that you never would've done before just sitting on your duff, right?

Josh Kopel:
For sure.

Andrew Zimmern:
I happen to be a big believer. Someone once said to me, "Do you just react to life and just float, like the jellyfish? Spiritually, we should be a the jellyfish and just rise over the way that the jellyfish never gets hurt." I said, "Are you kidding me? Fuck you. Fuck the jellyfish. The only fish that are floating are dead." The jellyfish is one species. It doesn't mean we have to be the salmon all the time constantly fighting upstream. Completely different. But sometimes we have to get into action. Life is about what we do, not what we think. You can't think your way into right acting, but you can act your way into right thinking. 

Andrew Zimmern:
That's why that small gesture is so cool. When this thing started... I make soups and stews all weekend long. It's like a yoga. It relaxes my brain. I just get really into it. But you know how it is. In my head, I make a... Next thing I know, I've got like eight quarts of borsch and I'm just like, "Fuck." I took two or three quarts, froze them, and left them on people's front porches and then texted them and told them. I didn't just leave it like a... So some of these is just a small gesture. It's looking in on someone nearby.

Andrew Zimmern:
When this whole thing started, before there were protocols and suggestions, I hopped online and ordered a case of masks. It got back ordered, back ordered, and back ordered, and I don't know, like two or three weeks ago the case of masks arrived. Number one, I forgot about it, number two, I felt so shitty. Now, when I did it, no one was saying, "Hey, let the health community have the masks, etc." Everyone was just scrambling for... This is like late February, early March, when I ordered these things. So we just called some friends of ours who we know have medical personnel and said hey, because they came in plastic sleeves of... Like, "You want us to leave the masks? Take them into work?" They're like, "Great, yeah." "Okay. We'll drive. We'll put it on your front porch." Everyone has a porch here in Minnesota.

Andrew Zimmern:
It's the little things. I can't tell you how cool it was to get a couple of texts and calls... I even got a note in the mail... from hospital staff saying, "Thank you for the masks." How cool is that? Little gestures come back in very profound ways.

Josh Kopel:
Something that I've been thinking about a lot is as an entrepreneur I think we're optimistic by nature. As a restaurateur, I think that we're optimistic to the point that it borders on insanity, right? Looking at the odds and still choosing to move forward and still choosing to move forward enthusiastically. I think I said this in the email that I had initially sent, but there's no shortage of resources out there for PPP, EIDL, how to sue your insurance company, screw your landlord, and we're all swimming in the same gutter in this moment. But we're going to have to look up and look out at some point and look towards the future. I spent half my time feeling hopeless and the other half looking at this as like a huge opportunity to re-envision my life in this industry that I love, that I've dedicated my life to.

Josh Kopel:
I'm wondering, when you envision the future of the industry from today forward, what positive changes do you see?

Andrew Zimmern:
Tons. I'm focusing on the glass being half full. I'm accused all the time of focusing on all the negatives, mostly by haters on Twitter, and that's fine. I think there's a difference between awareness raising and pointing out the problems and insisting on change versus what your action systems are, how you make things actionable in your life and what you're actually doing and focusing on. I can sit there and can complain all the time about the skyrocketing cost of business insurance and rents that are putting restaurants out of... and raising awareness at that level, and at the same time trying to figure out, "How do I create businesses around new models of dining or new cultural paradigm shifts? How do we navigate that? Where is..." because I am an entrepreneur. I teach entrepreneurship at Babson College, for god's sakes. This stuff fascinates me. How do we work on this kind of stuff right now so that we're ready for what's coming down the pipe?

Andrew Zimmern:
One of the things that I'm doing is working on... It's actually on that wall that I pointed you at. I'm scribbling out a design for a really expensive, low cost model, micro model, for feeding small communities that can exist that you might be able to create... I don't want to use the word chain but... multiple units of that don't cost a lot that keep people really well fed on really good food. I think what a lot of people are looking at is they're looking at... I've said this a ton. 

Andrew Zimmern:
People would ask me five years ago, "What's food of the future look like?" I would say Blade Runner. They're like, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, less rain, but Blade Runner." They said, "What do you mean?" Because I love the movie Blade Runner. There's that one scene where Harrison Ford is walking down the street. I think he stops in one of these places, says hi to some folks, but it looks like certain streets in busy urban neighborhoods in Japanese cities. There's a yakitori guy with six seats. There's a tempura place with eight seats. It's small restaurants with single-service items. You go to ramen place for ramen. You go to a [chokonabi 00:35:22] place for chokonabi. You go to a tempura place for tempura. 

Andrew Zimmern:
Here in America we want to have these restaurants that are all things to all people and they wind up being nothing to no one. I think there's going to be some fancy restaurants that make it because I think there's a bunch of people with money that are going to want to eat in them. We know that there's going to be fast fooders and all the rest of that [drech 00:35:46] all the way at the bottom, and some of that drech is better than other drech but I'm basically talking about the drech. All the biggest change is happening in the middle with all of those independent restaurants that make up such a huge segment of our population, and that's where all the exciting change is going to come from.

Andrew Zimmern:
In my lifetime... and I've been working in food since I was 14, and I'm 58... I've never met a more creative, resilient, pivot-powerful group of people than food folks, or a more giving community. I think if any one is going to figure out it's going to be people from our industry. It is, I think, famous names that we associate with dining up here and a certain level of this are going to be doing something way over here and the template is already there. When Mark left [Del Posto 00:36:49] three years ago and did his quick service pasta concept that was Pasta Flier, fucking brilliant. I know it didn't work out very well for Daniel and Roy when they created their fast food model. It ended up closing. But kind of like Pasta Flier... and there's other examples of this around the country... those folks were ahead of their time. You cannot convince me there's going to be 100 of those types of projects launched: neighborhood focused with a giveback proposition, sustainable wages, different kind of model, charging what food really costs but doing it in a different, healthier way. 

Andrew Zimmern:
I think we're going to eat, finally, knock on wood, less meat in this country. That's vital. I'm not a vegetarian. I try to do vegetarian before dinner, because it keeps my mind super healthy brain function-wise. I get too tired during the day if I pig out on stuff that has too much animal protein in it, and it's better for my waistline, which is a constant problem anyways. Some of the more expensive items out there are animal proteins. If we're eating smaller amounts of them, like they do in many other countries, and they were the accent to the dish and not the... I mean, that's how we've been eating at home for the last eight, nine years. We'll put out three, four vegetable dishes and whatever, 16, 18 ounce piece of meat that's roasted or grilled or sauteed or whatever it is cut up so that everyone can share it, so that everyone ends up eating whatever a piece of animal protein that resembles a hockey puck or a deck of cards. 

Andrew Zimmern:
I just think that these are the obvious changes that are going to happen. [Tracy Dejardem 00:39:08] was on a panel that I was running at CIA last fall and she closed a [Jardeneer 00:39:15] after 25 years of being in business. Her story is the story of so many really good restaurants. The 30 second version is this: when she opened the restaurant, she was charging 17 dollars for the chicken dish. When she closed the restaurant, she was charging 19 dollars for the chicken dish. But in between over those 25 years, her rent up 7,000%. She was offering like... And then over the course of the last three years, because it's where she landed as a human being... maybe over the last five years, she said... she would, rather than take all the profit out of the restaurant... and by the way, wasn't a lot of profit... she would turn that into giving her employees paid sick leave, a fair living wage, making sure no one worked more than 40 hours, making it a much more lifestyle friendly job for everybody who was a member of the Jardeneer family.

Andrew Zimmern:
What she found after doing that for a little while and running the numbers is that it turned her business upside down, so she closed it. That was predicated... She was applying 2020 sustainable models and healthy business practices to a business model that she conceived of 25 years ago. That's much different than you and I opening up a... I'll make it up... vegan ramen shop with 12 seats where we each get two days off a week, we're covering for the other one, and we have like two other cooks. Here's six flavors and it's 14 bucks a bowl and we serve sake and beer and that's it and we figure out a way to make it so that we can have a life and still be in the food business. It doesn't mean that... That ramen could be the single best bite anyone eats in their whole life, which is the same thing that restaurants like 11 Madison Park predicate themselves on: that experience. 

Andrew Zimmern:
I think the experience of eating and being with people is the toughest thing to navigate over the next 18 months, because I think that is going to be constantly changing. Depends on how this virus comes back, what neighborhood you're in, what part of the country. We'll see what happens. But I think that people are still going to eat. People like you and I still want to serve people food, and I think that's a cultural constant.

Josh Kopel:
Understanding that the podcast is... Obviously, many people are going to listen to it. It gets pushed out to both patrons and restaurateurs. Is there anything you'd like to say to restaurateurs? To the other people in the industry that are listening?

Andrew Zimmern:
Yeah. I've never been so loved, so inspired, so brilliant switched on by any group of people I've ever come across in my life. Everything that I learned... it goes, "everything I learned I learned in kindergarten?" Everything I learned I learned in restaurants. I learned how to care for people. I learned what it really means to have relationships. I learned how to recover in my life. I learned what's important. We have that magic in our industry. Winston Churchill very famously said... I'm a big Churchill guy... "When you're going through hell, keep going." This is hell. This global pandemic has affected our industry in profound ways, and in ways that a lot of other industries are not being felt the same way. I know a lot of people are... We friends of mine who have already announced they're just not reopening. I hope for those people out there they're able to take a break. I want everybody to lean into what makes themselves happy. 

Andrew Zimmern:
The one thing about this global pandemic that I've taken away... like, if you said one thing... it's if you get quiet and if you do enough inventory and reflection, you figure out what makes you happy and you lean into that. I wrote a letter to my son about this yesterday, actually, telling him that it was our time communicating that made me happiest. That's when I'm at my happiest: when I'm communicating with my son. Not when he's being sullen... I mean, he's a teenager... and sitting in the car next to me and we're in the middle of some argument, but when he and I are communicating that's my favorite experience. My favorite thing to do is to actually communicate and share life with my son. So I told him. I plan more on leaning into that.

Andrew Zimmern:
I would encourage people to lean into their happiness. If that means that they decide to leave the business, so be it. But I hope and pray that this incredible group of folks who have given so much to so many over the years stays and re-imagines a food future for everyone that works for everyone. We all win when we all win. This industry gave itself a ton of shit, and rightfully so, for years. The Me Too Movement, mental health, abusive workers, inequitable systems, treatment of people of color, substandard wages, gender problems. Everything different. We know that we needed to address everything. You brought that up at the beginning of the interview. 

Andrew Zimmern:
But in all fairness, is there another industry? Forget about what's happened the last couple months during the C-19 thing, but close your eyes and think of last December. Is there an industry that has pivoted so quickly and leaned into it? When I look at what chefs like Ashley Christensen or... and I'm just picking one out of thousands of people who are so... recreated their business plan: how they trained people, how she and Kate run their restaurants. People all over the country were doing this. We saw the problem. We still had a long way to go. We're on pause. The restaurant industry is on pause right now, but that's what I meant. When we pick up, let's make this a better... and we have the opportunity to make all those situations better. I'm counting on this incredible group of doers and action planners to do that work. Feeding the world is the most noble, beautiful thing that I've ever been a part of, and I can't wait to see what the future is like, because it is going to be amazing. I know, I'm a glass half full guy. 

Andrew Zimmern:
But I really do think the circumstances we're in are temporary. I wish so many people didn't have to go through so much pain and that feeling of hopelessness and all that other stuff that accompanies ambiguity and uncertainty. That's the most anxiety... it's the not knowing that's a crusher, but that's when... I just hope and pray that people have the ability to hit pause and let's come back even stronger.

Josh Kopel:
That's Chef Andrew Zimmern. If you're interested in learning more about the chef's projects, check out andrewzimmern.com. If you want to tell us your story, hear previous episodes, check out our video content, or read our weekly blog, go to joshkopel.com. That's J-O-S-H K-O-P-E-L.com. Thank you so much for listening to the show. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. While you're there, please leave us a review. A special thanks to Yelp for helping us spread the word to the whole hospitality community. I'm Josh Kopel. You've been listening to Full Comp.