2009 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Business Seminar Day Three

The morning’s panel on Asian concept restaurants brought together two of New York’s top high-concept, low-cost Asian food trailblazers, Angelo Sosa of Xie Xie and Ratha Chau of Kampuchea and Num Pang. Although different paths led them to the fast-casual end of Asian food, they each found it to be promising—and relatively uncharted—culinary terrain. Sosa wanted to offer a unique restaurant aesthetic in addition to a creative fusion menu; Chau brought Cambodian food to the New York City, updated to standards of fast casual dining. "I wanted to do classic Cambodian food, the way I eat it" Chau explained. Chau and Sosa talked about the travails of opening a restaurant, from picking a space, finding financial backing, creating a profitable but enticing menu, to maintaining both quality and consistency among multiple locations. They agreed that competition drives success, and success depends on the quality of the food above all. "Ratha’s right," concluded Sosa, "you gotta sell them"—financial backers and customers alike. "You gotta sell them on your passion."

StarChefs.com Editor-in-Chief Antoinette Bruno wasn’t messing around when she led the panel discussion for "When to Walk Away From A Deal" with culinary masters Norman Van Aken, Paul Liebrandt, Josh DeChellis, Akhtar Nawab, and Joe Isidori. Bruno took the chefs to task at times, trying to get to the meat of what each chef learned in their experiences in walking away from deals - or, more controversially, when they should have walked away. Van Aken, the most seasoned chef of the group, was forthright when it came to the lessons he’s learned over the years: you can negotiate menu control; most people won’t get 50% share in the company—most wont’ even get 25%, he added; and most won’t be able to say "This is my restaurant." It’s of utmost importance to have an honest conversation with your partners—are your ideals aligned? DeChellis described deal-making as a "simple game of trading values—you give up financial say for the schedule." As a group, all the chefs agreed that finding the right partners or investors is the key. Paul Liebrandt captured the overall conclusion of the panel: "It’s about relationships, in business, in life, in marriage; you have to have the same symmetry, see eye-to-eye [with your partners]—your gut tells you when it’s right."

by Amanda McDougall, Katherine Martinelli, Emily Bell, and Carolina Daza Carreño