Ken Friedman is the co-owner of the Spotted Pig, The Breslin, The John Dory and Salvation Taco in New York. He is the Don King to his chef-partner April Bloomfield’s vintage Mike Tyson. Lots of chefs and restaurateurs can get people to talk about their openings, but Ken has an uncanny ability to sustain the conversation. It’s relevant here, because his restaurants tend to be quite analog. The Pig, for example, doesn’t use OpenTable and doesn’t take reservations. The menu is divided into weird sections that don’t really make any sense.
Ken and I are working on a book project in fits and starts and it may never see the light of day. But in the context of the news that Ken and April are taking over San Francisco old-timer Tosca, I thought I’d paste this excerpt from a conversation we had in early 2012. It’s especially interesting to consider where and what technologies might help or hinder this kind of strategy.
I spent a lot of time when I was young at a place in San Francisco at a place called Stars. Mario also spend a lot of time there. We didn't know each other then, but Stars was a place opened by Jeremiah Tower, who was the chef at Chez Pannise. He used to do these things that he'd call "regional dinners" every Thursday night, I think. And it was only local ingredients from Berkley. That was the concept. The milk and the cheese and everything was from Berkley from right there. Within walking distance was his thing. Farm to table came out of that. It was much more his idea. Alice wanted to do a French bistro based on Marcel Pagnol films. It was more of a coffee house then. People would stand on tables and read poetry. It was political, it was very Berkley. Jeremiah was an architecture student at Berkley and just decided he wanted to be a chef and so he threw these regional nights. He eventually left Chez Pannise and created a place called Stars.
It was a place to see and be seen. You could see every seat from every seat in the restaurant. But there were actually different levels. It's exactly what Graydon does at Monkey Bar. You were always craning your neck to see who was walking in. And he also had it so that when you walked in the front door there were curtains. And you'd be looking to see who came through the curtains. He would do a thing where all his kitchen staff and back waiters were all like hipster young kids. He always thought they were very young and cool. He didn't want them after work to go away to drink. So he'd give them all drink tickets so they would stay. He would say, here's ten drink tickets. Call your friends and have them come here. So all the workers from all the restaurants in San Francisco would always come to Stars. So the bar on any given night would be all these cool hipster cooks.
So, at the Pig, that's what I did.