Jeremy Fall of Nighthawk: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef & Restauranteur
An Interview With Vicky Colas
If you see yourself doing anything else, do that instead. Trust your creative vision. Ignore the noise, but listen to feedback. Success one day does not guarantee success the next day. Treat your restaurant like your home, and your guests like friends.
As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jeremy Fall.
Jeremy Fall is a Los Angeles-born award-winning restaurateur and celebrity chef. The only child of a Caribbean, French, Tunisian and Jewish family, he grew up in the restaurant business and opened five successful restaurants by the time he was 27 including Nighthawk: Breakfast Bar, Nighthawk: AM, Easy’s, Tinfoil: Liquor & Grocery and Paperboy. By age 29, he was named on Forbes 30 Under 30 List and had sold his successful restaurant group.
Currently, Fall is co-starring/co-producing the Facebook Watch show “Beats for Breakfast” with singer-songwriter Miguel. His podcast “Dinner Party” (launching Summer 2021) tackles topics including mental health, culture and creativity with celebrity guests, influential leaders and tastemakers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
I grew up an only child in a Caribbean, French, Tunisian and Jewish family. We lived in Los Angeles, where I was immersed in the city’s diverse mix of flavors and cultures. My childhood was imbued with the musical tastes of my parents and defined by the immigrants’ hustle to stay afloat in a city that is always changing. Eventually, my mother came to own a small cafe, where she met my stepfather, a chef.
When you look at my background, it’s not hard to understand how I got into the industry at such a young age. I was always fascinated by the constantly evolving culture of the city and the tastes and sounds that represented it. It was only a matter of time before I was opening restaurants and creating my own shows. I especially loved making my Facebook Watch show “Beats for Breakfast” with Miguel, as it gave me a chance to combine my love for food and music.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
I’m known for my fast casual menus and have a real passion for creating fine dining experiences with unpretentious atmospheres.
At my restaurant Nighthawk, I turned the well-worn brunch concept on its head by serving breakfast for dinner, but not without stiff drinks! I launched a spiked cereal milk concept which totally blew up. As a result, the restaurant was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives as well as Eater’s “Hottest Restaurants In America” list.
I always aim to re-contextualize a familiar or even nostalgic experience by giving it an elevated twist. My second restaurant, Tinfoil: Liquor & Grocery, was a modern take on the bodega. It was a discreet deli serving some of the most inventive sandwiches in Los Angeles, featuring house-cured meats and homemade sides.
I also expanded the Nighthawk concept nationally with a fast-casual location in Chicago while simultaneously leveling up back home with Paperboy. The new restaurant was a classic pizza joint at the Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade. I also opened Easy’s, a modern take on the classic American Diner, located inside the iconic Beverly Center.
By the time I sold my restaurant group to K2 Restaurants, I had opened a total of 14 locations across the country. The decision to sell gave me more time to focus on the next chapter of my career. I became the first food personality to be managed by Roc Nation (the entertainment conglomerate owned by the legendary Jay-Z) and I opened Mixtape, a concept that fused music and dining in a totally new way.
My partners on the project included talents like Quincy Jones, Robin Thicke, and Jaden Smith who helped me manifest my crazy vision of a mixtape in restaurant form. The restaurant is a love letter to the city I grew up in. From food inspired by my multicultural background, to a group of musicians creating art, it’s everything I love about the place that shaped me.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a restaurateur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Having a glass of red wine with Prince at one of my restaurants, he bets me that he can make better scrambled eggs than I can. We go into the kitchen, and the contest starts. No one had a clue they were eating eggs scrambled by Prince himself (Health Department approved of course…).
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
Breaking into any industry can be a challenge. I started out really young, I was only sixteen! So yeah, that had its own unique set of obstacles. For one thing, I was still a minor!
Soon after I started, I became the promotions manager of Avalon in Hollywood, producing large-scale events and booking talent that would go on to win armfuls of Grammys. From there, I turned a hidden, forsaken attic off Sunset Boulevard into a legendary pop-up nightclub called Genesis. You’d never know it was there if not for the obscenely long line of frustrated A-Listers waiting outside!
The next venture was Golden Box, a grungy disco that paid homage to Area, Studio 54, and The Limelight, the places my father grew up visiting in New York. But even with all of this success, I found myself unsatisfied. I knew I needed to do more than just serve cocktails, so I decided to expand into restaurants. Making that shift brought on another avalanche of obstacles and challenges, but I never doubted my abilities.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
Nostalgia. The food should be an experience and take you back to a fond memory, even if it’s just subconscious.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
Hole in the wall sushi spot. Weeknight. Good vibes, good food, no bullshit.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
All my life I’ve been inspired by this city. Los Angeles is a huge melting pot of cultures. Whenever I get stuck I let the music, art, and people motivate me.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now or upcoming ? What impact do you think this will have?
I’m currently hard at work, launching my own caviar line: Eggy. I can’t say too much yet but I’ve purchased a caviar farm in the bay area and I’m creating really great recipes to bring caviar to the masses. Again, it’s taking something that’s been established for a select time and place (and clientele!), then turning it on it’s head to make it a part of the everyday.
What advice would you give to other restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Surround yourself with the right team, this business is tough and you need to have each others’ backs. You also have to know what your vision is and be uncompromising about getting there. Also, take care of yourself mentally and physically. If your mental health isn’t in a good place, you can’t maintain success.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restaurateur” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- If you see yourself doing anything else, do that instead.
- Trust your creative vision.
- Ignore the noise, but listen to feedback.
- Success one day does not guarantee success the next day.
- Treat your restaurant like your home, and your guests like friends.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment/ eat one of your dishes?
Scrambled Eggs. If you know you know.
You are a person of influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d like to inspire people to be more open about their mental health struggles, particularly men as there are a lot of stereotypes that prevent us from being as open. I’m an ambassador for the Mental Health Coalition and I take this role very seriously. I’ve long struggled with my own anxiety and helping others use their struggles to drive them versus being weighed down by them is a true mission of mine.
I’ve also found that there’s a real power in food and hospitality. By bringing people together around a table, you can open up really important conversations about these kinds of issues. That was the concept behind my new podcast, Dinner Party. In having these intimate, inspiring conversations, I can use my platform to raise awareness and inspire positive change.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!