David Burke is like family. I started working with him in 2003 and have been with him ever since. I guess I bought into his philosophy and standards and just loved what I saw. I think he is a culinary genius and a savvy restaurateur. He sees food like no one else does.
Counting on Teddy
Teddy has a lot of great qualities, but the bottom line is he gets me. He is a veteran of the burke Group and is incredibly caring— about the customer, about me, and about the company. Teddy is a pro and really loves what he does. He understands what I want, and sometimes even outdoes what I think, which is what I ultimately need. What I appreciate most is at the end of the night, Teddy will tell me what went right and he isn’t afraid to tell me what went wrong, afraid of upsetting the boss.
Over the years, Teddy has worked hard to develop systems and checklists— maintenance lists of cleanliness and accountability, and all the whys and why nots of running a restaurant. Teddy is talented at dealing with problems and, let’s face it, in this business there are always issues to deal with. His approach is to nip them in the bud and move on. He is a true host who doesn’t want you to leave until he has your number. When he was helping out at Db kitchen, it was not uncommon for him to walk diners all the way up to Jimmy, our rooftop bar. It’s a lot of work when you are doing it five times a night, and a lot of people wouldn’t bother. That attention to detail comes naturally to Teddy—it’s old school, and it’s ingratiating. He’s definitely a go-to guy for me and for our diners. —David burke
Hospitality is an integral part of my life. I specialized in hotel management in school, but even before then our family always did a lot of entertaining. I started working in restaurants in the United States when I was 18. Food is very important to me personally as well. I grew up in a small seaside town in Croatia where everyone was either a fisherman or worked on sand barges. Croatians eat like the Portuguese: There’s a lot of boiled meats, fish, lamb, and fresh vegetables involved. It’s good, clean, healthy living, and I grew up appreciating these basics.
For me, hospitality is everything. The restaurant business is hands-on. Today you find a lot of what I call “dot-com managers”—they have the education and the right resume but they don’t know how to shake a person’s hand. It’s all about taking the food that David creates and providing the service that goes with it. To be successful, you have to have both. The front of the house and the back have to be in sync— you have to find that balance. That’s what I do best. That’s where David and I see eye to eye. And the key to that is communication.
David and I have a very honest relationship. At the end of each day, we go over the day— positives and negatives—and adjust to make things better. The way I see it, David gives us a stage to perform on, and it’s up to us to do a great job. He doesn’t care how we get it done, as long as it is perfect.
David has taught me so much. Not only is he a culinary genius, but he can run the front of the house with the best of them. There are no politics involved, he just tells you how it is. One of the first lessons he instilled in me was the importance of delegating. One day back when I was the GM of David Burke & Donatella, I was changing toilet paper in the bathrooms when David walked up and said, “If you don’t learn how to use a checklist and how to delegate, you’ll be changing toilet paper all your life.” He also taught me the back of house numbers, which is essentially how to run a restaurant.
A typical workday starts with checking forecasts and budgeting sales. If I leave the restaurant before it closes, I already have an idea of how the day went. I organize the staff and go over the side-work checklist. Being on the floor is actually the easiest part of my job: walking around and talking to people is what I enjoy most! My office is the front stand, the dining room. The way I look at it, a lot of our customers come in after a long day, looking for a place to unwind. They can always talk to me—I am a great listener!
It’s a small gesture, perhaps, but I always extend my business card and then handwrite my cell phone number on it. I think it really makes a different impression and connects me with my guests. A personal touch like that results in a return visit. It’s a hard lesson to teach a new manager—it’s not required, but I think it goes a long way.
There is also no such thing as not being able to get a reservation, even when we’re fully booked. I never say no. I never let any kind of technology run the restaurant. Call or text me if you have a problem getting a table. I will always get back to you and make it happen. That’s one of my strongest qualities: I just get it done. In that respect, David and I are alike— we both want to make the customer happy. Whether it’s the back of the house or the front, we will accommodate. If you want a meal a certain way, David makes it happen.
A great example of this was at John McCain’s daughter’s birthday party. They originally confirmed a 25-person reservation and then, five days before, called back to change it to 85. We had a full house that night, 300 covers on the books, but I like a good challenge! I moved a few things around and we found room for 85. Then John McCain showed up with three busloads of people wanting drinks at the bar. It was crazy—the dining room was bustling! Celebrities were on both sides of the aisle having a great time. McCain was like a rock star, and his daughter was happy. In the end, that’s all that counts.
I’ve enjoyed the challenge of being at David Burke Kitchen, opening and meeting David’s expectations. He asked me to come down here and “Burke-inize” it, and I think we are off to a great start. Jedd Adair is a young and very talented chef, and I never have to worry about what comes out of the kitchen. Soon, I will head back “home” to Townhouse. The common denominator at David Burke restaurants is consistency—it’s what his clientele expect. It has been great to see so many of our uptown guests coming to support this location. Perhaps I just didn’t expect it, but there is a real sense of community among David’s clients. There is a big difference between the atmospheres in both places: I like to call DB Kitchen “David Burke Unplugged.” It’s new and unique, and the jars and presses reflect that. It’s becoming a real neighborhood place too, with people coming in several times a week.