Episode: 281 |
Austin Publicover :
Food Safety:


Austin Publicover

Food Safety

Show Notes

Austin Publicover is a food safety expert and the Founder of Bulletproof! Food Safety, a consulting firm that works with many of the top restaurants in New York City.

In this episode, Austin discusses the services his firm provides restaurants and food manufacturers, particularly:

– preparation for NYC Health Department inspections

– help with obtaining and maintaining all the necessary permits.

We then discuss food safety in the age of the coronavirus.

Learn more about Austin’s firm at:  http://bulletprooffoodnyc.com/

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:01
Welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, which connects you with the world’s top independent management consultants. I’m your host Will Bachman. And I’m so excited to be here today with our guests, Austin public over who has over 12 years of experience in hospitality and project management. He was the Operations Manager for Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, which is my favorite set of restaurants in the world. And he runs a bulletproof food safety, which does regulatory compliance strategies for a range of restaurant clients and food producers, including artists and manufacturing of food lot, mostly in New York City. And today we’re going to talk about one sort of what does all that mean? What’s the sort of normal day job and then we’re gonna talk about the impact of the Coronavirus on New York City restaurants and how they’re responding. Austin, welcome to the show.

Austin Publicover 01:03
Well, it is a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for the for the invitation. And I’m delighted to be speaking with you today. It’s a it’s an honor. I was looking at your background, and it’s a very humbling experience to be on a podcast with you. Thank you so much for welcoming in welcoming me in and thank you so much for that wonderful intro.

Will Bachman 01:25
You’re welcome. So let’s start kind of set Coronavirus aside for a minute. Tell us about sort of your normal day jobs sort of as of January 2020, what bulletproof food safety your firm, what’s sort of the range of services that you provide?

Austin Publicover 01:42
I think I have the best day job in the world well, so. So I’ve written running bulletproof food safety for the last six and a half years. And I do come out of Union Square Hospitality Group. dive into that in a few minutes here. As of January 2020, I was doing really about five core services for for restaurants. the ever popular mock inspection, which in the New York City Market is very valuable. I think the mock inspection is where I go in the way that a department of health inspector would go in. And I find the same sort of violations pertaining to food safety or the health code. And I teach people how to correct them or how to prevent them from happening. And these are these are either done on an on an unannounced basis where I’ve invited in or I show up at random depending upon the client and surprise the heck out of the team. So there’s the mock inspections, there’s hassle plans for reduced oxygen packaging, and sous vide cooking. Also very popular especially in a lot of the fine dining restaurants ranging from john George to Charlie Palmer collective to Mandarin Oriental and the Breslin. There’s a staff trainings Yes, go ahead.

Will Bachman 03:01
So on that second one, what’s the concern there? Is it just that it’s like subida? It’s this low temperature thing for a long time. So what did you call that second service I didn’t quite catch the name of it.

Austin Publicover 03:13
Oh sure has up it’s a it’s an acronym h A CCP It stands for hazard analysis. Critical Control Point has a plan is a very burdensome set of documents where in each hazard is as analyzed. And then where that hazard becomes a food safety concern, we put a critical control point into place which would mitigate or eliminate that food safety concern. So when it when it comes to reduce oxygen packaging for storage, or cvwd cooking for maybe finishing a nice short rib. The the concern is yes, the low and slow temperature that typically something like a short rib is cooked at. And that can be typically correlated to a pasteurization table. So there’s there’s there’s very little concern for that. But it’s the time that it spends in the bag and the temperature that it spends that and the temperature that is stored at so with reduced oxygen packaging and cvwd cooking the food safety concern is Clostridium botulinum, which can lead to botulism and botulism can lead to paralysis or death. In fact, the Clostridium botulinum bacteria produces the most powerful natural toxin on the face of the planet. One microgram can kill a 250 pound adult male. So this is a very powerful toxin and the clustered inbox sign on bacteria can produce this toxin when it grows out at temperatures above 38 degrees for typically a timespan that is a little bit north of 10 days but also depends on the number of spore formers and The the amount of time that the product has spent in the reduced oxygen package bags. So has the plans are very, very much a core service that bulletproof food safety has offered over the years. That does go hand in hand with regulatory compliance. And the strategies for that you sort of look at what you need to do from a manufacturing or retail foods service standpoint. So my my client mix in January of 2020, was about 85%, restaurants, 15% manufacturing. So I did a lot of hassle plans for a lot of high end, fine dining restaurants and, and then a couple of places that weren’t so high end, but really wanted to present a product that set them apart in the marketplace. And that really does reduce oxygen packaging or CV cooking, did just that.

Will Bachman 05:56
So, so restaurants actually have to have all this paperwork behind the scenes of they, they can show that they have a plan to, you know, prevent, prevent botulism, and so forth. What would the example of the control point that you mentioned before the sous vide cooking

Austin Publicover 06:14
example of the control point would be the the intention to store the product at refrigeration, and then the amount of time that it could be stored at refrigeration temperatures. So for instance, 38 degrees is typically the the highest temperature, you can store something in a reduced oxygen packaged bag. And this only applies to product that has been vacuum sealed, it does not apply to product that has been conventionally packaged. So you look at you look at something that’s 38 degrees, and then you figure out the control point for that your, your control point in this case would be your discard date. So your discard date for cooked food at 38 degrees is going to be three days, your discard date for raw food is going to be 14 days, because you have a higher level of competing microorganisms on that raw food. So that’s, that’s an example of a critical control point is your discard time. And you sort of back into that discard time by figuring out what temperature you want to store it at 38 degrees and perhaps, and then how long you’re going to be storing that at and whether that product is raw or cooked. If you go a little bit colder, you can store for longer. For instance, you could store around 10 degrees Fahrenheit or below for an indefinite amount of time, a couple of years if you’d like to my clients typically like six months or less.

Will Bachman 07:41
Okay, cool. So that really helps understand. So number one mock inspections, I can see how that would be really useful if you own a restaurant and you both want to get maybe some practices as announced inspections. But then when you get up to speed there, you’d want to have some unannounced ones to surprise all the staff. Okay, so mock inspections cvwd, I interrupted you what what’s the number three service these are really cool.

Austin Publicover 08:07
Oh, the number three services that is the regulatory compliance and just making sure that the the restaurant operation or the or the food manufacturing operation has the correct permits in place. And the the permits run the gamut. You’re looking at everything from occupancy to fire permits, Department of Health permits, FDA facility registration, etc. So coordinating that and customizing it to the operation and giving the client the resources to figure it out. The to register to follow through on that to renew the registration, renew the permit, something that I’ve always, always enjoyed, and I’ve worked with FDA regulated clients, USDA regulated clients, and of course, the ubiquitous restaurant in New York City. All 25,000 plus food service establishments in New York City are regulated under New York City Department of Health and the food service establishment permit. So that regulatory compliance strategy dovetails into permitting. And permit expediting is something that bulletproof has done for many clients. And then I think the the the fifth thing is the Let me ask you, yes, yes. Yes.

Will Bachman 09:32
So this is fascinating to me. Go through a little bit longer list. Let’s go a little slower through these lists of permits. So I’m just curious to hear kind of what a long list of permits is that a restaurant would need to get that I don’t even think about when I walk into a restaurant in New York City, that behind the scenes, so occupancy permit? What’s that?

Austin Publicover 09:55
Oh, the occupancy permit is going to be whether or not you are Listed especially as a restaurant, by the Department of Buildings as an eating and drinking place. So you may or may not have, oh, in fact, I dealt with a it’s going to be a client who remains unnamed. But I dealt with a client in Brooklyn, whose restaurant was actually filed at the Department of Buildings as a scrap metal garage and processing facility for scrap metal. So, you could work on cars, you could work on trucks, you could process scrap metal there, but they were not approved to be a restaurant. So that is an example of your of your occupancy. Another example of your occupancy is your your large event venues, such as Ziegfeld or Metropolitan pavilion or chipper ianis, or any of these places, their occupancy is capped at a certain number of standees or people who are sitting. And of course, you need to maintain all of your exit e dresses in the event of an emergency so that everyone can get out safely. Should there be a fire or active shooter scenario?

Will Bachman 11:17
Okay. And then what about the FDA and the USDA? What are those?

Austin Publicover 11:23
Yeah, so the FDA is the Food and Drug Administration, they have the really important role of regulating large manufacturers and basically anyone who’s non meat, or seafood is regulated by the FDA when they’re a wholesaler. So any of your companies that restaurants buy from are regulated by FDA, any of your companies that ship product Interstate, are regulated by the FDA, and that requires FDA facility registration, which opens you up to FDA inspection. FDA inspections are a little bit more intense than your average Department of Health Inspection. Your average Department of Health Inspection lasts about two or three hours, your average FDA facility register, excuse me, your average FDA investigation or your average FDA inspection is typically three or four days, and can be conducted over the course of two weeks. And so the the the FDA is more intense, but they’re also dealing with a bigger volume of food than you typically would at a at a retail food place because of course, they’re looking at manufacturers. For meat product, you’re regulated under USDA, there is a grant of inspection that is accorded to the manufacturer of meat product, whether that is breading chicken for wholesale or breaking down an entire side of beef into retail cuts, or doing chicken or or or pork slaughter, and then eviscerating and then breaking that down into breaking that that animal down into retail cuts or wholesale cuts. This is all regulated by the USDA, a grant of inspection is the the mechanism that the government has to pay for the inspectors to be on site at that particular manufacturer to inspect the meat that’s going out. Those those inspectors are doing everything from advising on good manufacturing practices, and how that animal is broken down by the team that’s breaking it down to doing on site E. coli tests or sending the meat out to laboratories to see if there’s any other pathogens of concern, such as listeria or salmonella, depending upon the animal. And the the inspectors are really, unlike the FDA that shows up for non meat product maybe every one to three years. Your USDA inspectors are typically on site five days a week for an hour or two or as needed to make sure that the team is processing the meat product that they are allowed to process in accordance with the hassle plan that has been outlined for that particular product.

Will Bachman 14:34
Okay, Wow, amazing. So there’s a lot of paperwork and when you say that you expedite permits, what does that mean? Does it mean you just sort of help make sure it’s filled out properly? Or do you kind of is it relationships where you sort of know you know, who to talk to at the agencies or what does it mean to be a permit? expediter?

Austin Publicover 14:54
Sure, that’s a great question and it’s some it’s a it’s a it’s a It’s a muddy answer, unfortunately, um, to be a permit expediter means that you are making sure that every piece of paper has the T’s crossed the i’s dotted, no extra commas, or anything of that sort, you get an extra comma between the entity name and LLC, or the entity name and ink incorporated or corporation. Right. And suddenly, as far as the licensing center is concerned, that is a different entity altogether. And the train has been thrown off the tracks. So step one, and being a permit expediter is to make sure that you have all the documents required for something like a food service permit. And that includes your insurance documents for workers comp and disability insurance, your corporation formation documents, Principal information, Principal photo identification, and then relevant information for the business, including operating hours, ownership structure, and things like contact people, grease collection, etc. So then, so then filing that at the city typically entails waiting for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour and a half, depending upon how busy the licensing center is at that day. On that day, I don’t pretend to have any relationships that give me an advantage. I think that some expeditors may or may not. But what I’ve tried to do traditionally is just take a very honest approach, you get the you get the packet set up, you submitted it the window, you work with the examiner on whatever she happens to find that may not be congruent with the way the licensing center wants to see an application. And then you go back to the client, and you sort of wrestle that matter into submission. And then and then bring it back to the licensing center for another pass. That is a service that not only saves time on the client side, but can provide clarity, when it comes to what licensed category the actual operation falls into. There’s a lot of lot of scuttlebutt out there regarding what, what is an easier agency to deal with. The fact of the matter is, when it comes to filing a permit, you have to really file it for the intention, or the method of operation that that client has for her food service operation. So you may be dealing with someone who thinks that they are in the retail food service, bodega category, but the fact of the matter is, is that the city or the state is going to consider them to be a cafe, or a restaurant. And so you need to get that lined up, get the client taken care of file for the right permit, get that permit application approved, and then coordinate a pre permit inspection. If the client requests it, it’s typically optional with New York State Department of Health, and typically mandatory with New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. Regardless, that is, that is the muddy answer for what a pervert expediter does, really tying all the loose ends together. Well,

Will Bachman 18:24
yeah. So those of us who live in New York City have seen plenty of times that sanitation grade, often, you know, proudly or publicly, you know, very prominently displayed, not necessarily proudly out front. And, you know, it’s they keep it simple for the customers, you know, a B, you know, maybe there’s c i don’t know, lower grades. But what does what’s actually involved in that. Could you sort of give us a tour if we were watching a inspection take place? What What did the What did the New York City Health Department inspectors look at? What did they do? I’m sure so yeah, and what are some of the sort of common deficiencies that get noted?

Austin Publicover 19:09
Absolutely. So when Uh, so, Department of Health inspections are never scheduled, and they, they can happen anytime between, in my experience between 8:30am and 12:30am, meaning they can be in the early morning before you even open for lunch, or maybe at the tail end of your breakfast rush. They could also be on a Thursday night or a Saturday night when you’re at your busiest your, you know, it’s 8pm it’s 9pm. It’s 11:30pm. If you’re a nightlife establishment, and the inspector shows up, the inspector shows up and immediately wants to go to the kitchen. The kitchen is where the highest risk foods are. It’s where your animal proteins are. Your slice vegetables, things that support bacteria and can really make somebody sick. Typically the bar area gets inspected last, the inspector has the right to go directly into the kitchen. The only way we can show that inspector down is to ask for the badge. The inspector can own only needs to show the badge upon request. And the inspector is a law enforcement official. They do carry a badge like any law enforcement official does. And they don’t need to show it when they arrive or announce themselves, they just need to find the kitchen and begin their inspection. This is their policy. So it really is a very shocking surprising thing when you are firing 10 apps and 12 entrees. And then you’ve got garma j working and dessert station working on other orders. And some strange person shows up with a flashlight and the thermometer in your kitchen and asks you to move out of the way so you can take a temperature as a very, very rattling thing that happens some surprise inspection and here’s some of the most common issues that are found by inspectors. One is food out of temperature. That can be a steak that’s resting after after having been fired or it can be par cooked french fries that have been cooked in the deep fryer one sir out on a sheet trade to be deep fried a second time before they’re sent out for an individual order. That can be product in deep pans that is improperly cooling and the walk in refrigerator saying that was just prepared but maybe tightly covered or in a depth that exceeds four inches. And this would be product that’s out of temperature and isn’t and is incapable of rapid cooling. mold in the ice machine is a favorite find of any health inspector, it is low hanging fruit, quite frankly, ice machines are seldom taken care of in the fashion that they should be and design of most ice machines dates to the 1950s There hasn’t been a big innovation in ice machines and mold spores are in there are in the air, they settle on to the damp areas and the ice machine and they grow out. They can they’re they’re easy to visually identify simply using a camera phone and the selfie mode you can put the put your phone into the ice machine and take a quick picture of the upper inner panels. And boom, you’ve just made $250 for the city if you’re a health inspector. And I think the third most common issue that is found during an inspection is really pertains to Good Manufacturing Practices. And that is lack of hair restraint or improper glove use. You may have someone who is you know who’s at the expo window and is grabbing plates and garnishing or maybe rearranging food or slicing bread. And that chef or cook does not have a hairy strain time. That’s a violation, he may find barehand garnishing specifically at the bar. This is one of the first things that the inspector will see when he walks in the door especially in a nightlife establishment. But one of the last things that will be written up during the inspection. And that barehand garnishing will include anything that is considered ready to eat food. Ready to eat food means it’s not going to be heated before it’s consumed. That can be a lemon on the edge of an iced tea. It can be olives on a martini, it can be salt on a plate of food before it goes out to the guest. These are all garnishing acts they’re typically done with bare hands. And that is not allowed in New York City.

Will Bachman 23:55
What is the likelihood that our own kitchen at home would pass a inspection?

Austin Publicover 24:01
absolutely zero. There is there’s a very low likelihood that that our kitchen at home would would pass an inspection. One of the things that is the highest infection in kitchens and home kitchens is the risk of cross contamination. It’s how we how we move raw proteins around the kitchen, the surfaces that they touch, and then the fact that we don’t necessarily sanitize those surfaces before we may be preparing something else. Sometimes we do it unthinkingly sometimes we do it out of ignorance. It’s it’s things like washing a chicken which can aerosolize, salmonella and Campylobacter that those aerosol aerosolized pathogens then settle on the counter, beside the kitchen sink and you are then laying other things on that counter. For instance, at A knife or cutting board, and then using that knife or cutting board on a tomato, you’ve potentially introduced salmonella or Campylobacter into that tomato from washing your chicken. This is why washing your chicken is not recommended by the USDA. So the likelihood of a home kitchen passing even including my own is very, is very low. But so too is the risk because typically will as you know, in a home kitchen, you’re serving one or two, maybe five or six people at a time. And the likelihood of the bacteria being present, the cross contamination occurring, and then someone’s immune system not being able to fight that back. And that person becoming ill, is very low. Whereas if you’re in a commercial kitchen, and you’re, you know, cranking away on a on a Thursday night, you may be serving 300 400 people in a single night. So the risk factor goes through the roof and the likelihood of cross contamination making somebody sick. becomes all the all the more intense.

Will Bachman 26:13
Yeah. What are the incentives of the food inspectors? So you mentioned that if they find deficiencies, you know, you gave an example of you know, they can they charge a fine. My, I imagine that I’m just trying to think kind of bureaucratically of how systems work. And I imagine that if an inspector went out and like failed every single establishment and just gave them a failing grade, they might kind of get questioned or get in trouble, because maybe they’re causing too much problem. But if they gave every establishment like an A, they’re probably going to be considered, oh, you’re going to easy or not raising funds. So are they kind of expected to be a bit of a bell curve? Are there incentives? Because they’re actually generating fines that the city collects is revenue, like, talk to me a little bit about, you know, maybe, from your knowledge, from your experience being in the space, not having done it yourself? But what’s the incentives that that that motivate them to drive them?

Austin Publicover 27:17
Well, I think I think the so I think there’s two, there’s two incentives, here we have the bureaucratic incentive of the city agency that is that is ultimately collecting these fines. And then we have the the incentive of the individual. So for the incentive of the individual, which I think is easier to address on there, these are your your typical inspector has a bachelors in science or better, has a robust understanding of, of food safety and public health, and is genuinely concerned that the worst case scenario is going to occur when, when a violation is discovered. So although these inspections are snapshots in time, and you may get one or two inspections for a restaurant per year, if you’re doing very well, if you’re doing very poorly, you could get three or four inspections per year from the New York State Department of Health, but the incentive of the inspector is to find something that could contribute to someone else becoming sick. So they really are upholding public health and fighting these violations. And I think that contributes to a very deep sense of purpose. And, and a personal mission. You the the mold in the ice machine may not make anyone sick, it is probably more of a quality issue that a safety issue. However, there are certain kinds of molds can they can make what’s called a mycotoxin. And a mycotoxin can produce anything from a psychedelic effect to permanent brain damage to liver failure. So you don’t know what kind of mold you’re looking at in a nice machine, you only know that the worst case scenario is that somebody could receive brain damage or liver failure from this. That is what the inspector is driven to write that violation about. They’re also law enforcement officials, so they receive a high degree of training that gives them that that purpose and that that mission driven approach. So that’s that’s the that’s the personal incentive on the instructor side, the bureaucratic and there’s there’s also a bureaucratic incentive. So I don’t think there’s any inspector who has ever gotten in trouble for writing more violations than is typical, or for closing a place down or for Maybe not giving an A, excuse me, maybe not issuing a letter grade A to the high profile fine dining establishment that got four stars in the New York Times and three Michelin stars and is you know, has a has a waitlist, that tops three months. there there’s a there’s a recognition on a bureaucratic level, and this is conjecture here well, but hear me out that the there’s a there’s a recognition that these violations which have points correlated to the letter grade that you mentioned, as a consumer that I see when I’m walking up to a restaurant, it’s either A, B or C, that there’s also fines associated with this because, you know, you kind of want to hit you kind of want to enforce on two levels, right, there’s, there’s the, there’s the embarrassment factor of having something less than an A and of having everyone who walks by your establishment see that you have less than an A, but there’s also the punitive factor of the fact that you really want to hit a restaurant in the pocket, because if you’re not taking away hard earned money, they may not care that they have a B, they may that that embarrassment may not be enough to turn away their regulars or, or put a dent in their sales. But when the fines add up to $800 to 16 $100, per inspection, and then you are definitely sending a message to somebody. So, you know, before the letter grades were enacted, about 10 years ago, in fact, before the letter grades were enacted, New York City collected about $18 million in violation fines from restaurant inspections. In 2012, two years after the letter grade was instituted, New York City collected $53.6 million in fines. So so well, we’ve jumped from 18 million, to nearly 54 million in two years. That’s a lot of cake.

Will Bachman 32:23
Yeah. And what and what drove that,

Austin Publicover 32:27
what drove that was the increased frequency of inspections due to the risk based system that was the letter grade system that had been enacted into law. So before I used to do poorly on an inspection, pay some fines and I’d see the inspector in a year after the letter grade system was enacted, I would do poorly on an inspection. And I’d see that inspector and another two weeks or another three months and so your your your annual inspections became your semi annual became your every BB became your quarterly inspections, right. And with every inspection that did not result in an A, there were fines collected by the city, typically between 800 to 12 $100 per inspection. Wow.

Will Bachman 33:15
Okay. So so it’s actually interesting to me to hear that kind of how dedicated public servants you know, these folks are, and you know, it’s interesting that you know, even like a really fine dining, very famous restaurant, if they find something there, they, they’re not afraid of saying it. And that’s great to hear that they’re not you know, not going to get in trouble for it. Talk to me a little bit about kind of what you see now and from restaurants let’s let’s talk a little bit about the sort of age of the pandemic and number one maybe let’s get into what do restaurants need to do to keep their employees safe as well as their customer safe with with with the virus so you know, some people are saying I’m not ordering out at all because I don’t know if the food is safe when it gets to me but what what did restaurant what do we know that about food safety with the virus and and talk about that a little bit?

Austin Publicover 34:19
Sure. So what So? So, what do we know, you know, though, to the first question in a minute, but what do we know about food safety with the virus? We know that this virus does not survive very well outside of an animal host. So the animal host that is, you know, grown into most rapidly is the human body. There are some intermediary animal hosts, which include ferrets and cats. They’re very good at hosting the Coronavirus, pigs, chickens, ducks and dogs. Likely aren’t intermediary animals. Host as the virus replicates poorly in these animals, but the virus as we know is replicating very well in humans and the infect ability. quotient is typically between two and two and a half. So for every one person that gets the novel Coronavirus, they’re infecting two to two and a half other people. That’s big that’s that’s more than the flu. The flu if I remember correctly, please don’t quote me on this. It’s between one to one and a third. So you’re you’re basically double in your infectivity with with COVID Um, so um, the good thing is is i’m not i’m not ordering out this because I’m concerned about my food you should only be concerned about your food packaging. The the the food packaging could have a virus on it that has a relatively decent HalfLife still and could infect you. If you for instance, touch the plastic container and then use your use that use those same fingers to touch your nose and breathe in. You could perhaps have transmitted that the current the Coronavirus from that plastic container onto your fingers to your nose inhaled it and then become infected. That is a possibility. The half life of of the Coronavirus on plastics and metals is two to three days on cardboard as we know it’s 24 hours regardless the the possibility does exist that you could be infected here It depends on the violence or strength or half life of that Coronavirus. However, food Not Not Not Not all food matrixes have been tested but food in general has not been shown to be a transmission source for Coronavirus for this particular strain. So, you can look at other coronaviruses like the common cold also does not do so well in in food. You can look at other viruses that are not in the Coronavirus families such as hepatitis A, or the norovirus. And you’ll see that they are transmitted in food quite easily. So, you know, if you if you want to be a germaphobe, then then you should not order out if you’re concerned specifically about COVID-19 then what you should do is you should remove your food from your containers, wash your hands, put the containers to the side and either wash them with a lot of warm soapy water and set them aside to air dry or just discard them into the recycling regardless, you’re not going to get sick from eating food. Even if someone sneezed on that food. As gross as that sounds, you’re not going to be getting Coronavirus from that person seizing onto the food. Um, that to how we can safeguard our team in a restaurant, it’s going to be the same way that we’re safeguarding each other as we struggle through this quarantine. And as we struggle to reopen in other parts of the country, it’s going to be through actively enforcing social distancing, slowing things down, creating traffic patterns so that we’re not bumping into each other as one person is heading north and the other person is heading south and they both collide. Right in the in the hallway. If we can create a one way corridor or lanes, then we are you know mitigating the chance that someone’s going to bump into somebody else. And spread the virus we know that pre symptomatic or asymptomatic spread is possible. So the whole notion of temperature taking is not going to be as perhaps valuable as we thought it was once maybe a month ago when we before we had that information about asymptomatic or pre symptomatic spread and hand washing and enforcing that is going to be a really big thing in any of your restaurants. And that goes for your for your restaurant guests as well. You know they should be encouraged to wash their hands when they arrive. And they should be taken care of. As hospitality professionals are so good at doing. They should be taken care of. While they’re there they should be given things that are have been disinfected and carefully handled. So that the risk of that touching a foam at surface that has the virus on it and transmitting it to the face or mouth. It has been reduced to something that is negligible.

Will Bachman 39:48
What are you seeing with with your clients or restaurants in New York City of what they’re doing to kind of stay in business and and you know, keep active and terms of are you seeing a lot of? How are they shifting to try to get more delivery or takeout? Tell me what you’re seeing among restaurants in New York City.

Austin Publicover 40:10
Well, the delivery and takeout, I think has been kind of a kind of a shot in the arm for the morality of that of a particular restaurant operation. But I’m sorry, I said morality, I meant morale. Yeah. Yeah. So it’s a shot in the arm for the morale, right, it feels good to have a purpose, I want to show up at my favorite bar to work, because I like the team. And I feel like I have a purpose. I’m not sitting home watching Netflix all the time, which can become depressing after you know, the fifth or sixth day of that. So I’m so pivoting to take out is terrific. And I’ve seen a lot of my clients do it. But the reality is, is that not everyone is needed in a takeout scenario. And the only way to make any money off of takeout and still pay your team, and maybe, maybe claw back a little bit of profit after you’ve paid your team, so you can maybe pay your landlord or pay your suppliers is to work with a skeleton crew. And that is what I’ve noticed most of my clients and just anecdotally, I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, walking around my my neighborhood and seeing the places that I used to frequent and the places I know the owners of, and it is a now a one person team or a two person team, whereas it used to be 15 or 20 person team. And so that sort of skeleton crew, coupled with the limited hours has allowed these businesses to pivot to take out. However, I think the long term, the long term viability of some of these businesses is really up in the air. And it’ll depend on the confidence that they can engender in their guests in their regulars. And in the consumer demographic, broadly speaking, once we once once this once the quarantine is lifted, especially in New York City. how eager are people to how eager are people to go out and spend money? How much money do they have to spend to have having been unemployed or furloughed? And, you know, I think a lot of a lot of these questions remain to be answered. But as far as the pivoting to take out, etc. You know, as I think the weather grows warmer, I’ve been noticing bars that had been closed for the last two months, reopening with little you know, to go cocktails, etc. coffee shops that have been closed, small sandwich places, opening with limited hours, there’s a fine dining place right around the corner from me, it’s open now from 2pm to 9pm. For takeout only. But that place used to have, you know, three bartenders, five servers and a team in the back of the house that was 10 people strong. You know, now they’re now they have four or five people working in there when they’re at their busiest and sort of are relying on a high volume of takeout, which may or may not bring them back.

Will Bachman 43:17
Yeah. Have you seen the kind of innovations in how restaurants do take out? Like maybe I’ve seen, I think I see, you know, some places have shifted their menu to focus more on just like one special of the day where they can do it in volume, and therefore they don’t need to buy all the whole range of ingredients, something like that. Have you seen other sorts of innovations of restaurants trying?

Austin Publicover 43:47
I have seen those Exactly. innovations that you that you just described well, and I’ve you know, it’s it’s it’s a limited menu. It’s a it’s a limited quantity of something. It’s it’s an email blast that goes out to say that the Mexican dinner that had been advertised this morning at 9am. At 4pm is now there’s there’s only 10 left. So you better order it. And it’s it’s that kind of incentivizing of the limited menu of the limited ingredients that have that I’ve noticed as the real innovation, to your point about other menu items being re engineered. I think there are actually a couple of consultants out there one, one of whom I recall being interviewed in the New York Times about a month ago or so his name I forget. But he basically was advising on how something that was beautiful and delicious on the plate could be made beautiful and delicious, in a to go container, which is a whole different scenario.

Will Bachman 44:52
That’s certainly true. Some things travel better than others. Let’s talk just a little bit about pivot a little bit and talk about how you’ve been growing your practice over the years. So I think you’ve been doing this, like you said for about six years. How have you been, you know, picking up new restaurant clients over the years? Was it just the word of mouth or any kind of outbound outreach? or How did you do that?

Austin Publicover 45:17
Sure. So it was in the in the early years, it was through two primary channels. The first was the New York City hospitality Alliance. That’s Andrew Ritchie’s organization. Andrew is now on Governor Cuomo, his team for reopening along with Danny Meyer. And Andrew was Andrew and I, we had a great relationship early on, in meetings down at City Hall, with the deputy mayors of economic development and operations, and sort of working through these 2010 Health code changes for the for the letter grading. And that was back when I worked with Union Square Hospitality Group. And that was back when Andrew worked for the New York State Restaurant Association. It seemed natural for me to partner with him and become the in house food safety consultants for New York City hospitality Alliance. And I was that for about four years. And as part of that there was a lot of outreach, there was a lot of free information given and then in the most enthusiastic way possible to potential clients who may or may not have engaged my company, but who hopefully grew to have more control over their issues be that in food safety, or licensing or compliance. So you know, it’s it’s what Danny Meyer has, has said for years about all boats rise with the tide. And that was sort of the approach I took when I first started bulletproof food safety. The other route was the word of mouth. And I was extremely fortunate in this and the fact that I would have one chef working at one restaurant who had reached out to me, I’d become engaged in that restaurant, that chef would work there for about eight months to a year, and then move on to the next restaurant to continue servicing the first restaurant, and the new and that chef would bring me into the new operation. So I went from one to two clients, two to four clients and so on. In January 2020 bulletproof food safety, I’m proud to say had 614 clients, so the practice had grown to be extremely robust, and really kept me busy around the clock. And then then I have I have two independent contractors that work with me as well doing inspections and has the plans. So that helped me to, you know, find some time to sleep.

Will Bachman 48:01
Fantastic. Well, Austin, thank you for keeping us safe out there and and helping those restaurants. keep us safe. Where can people find you online?

Austin Publicover 48:12
Oh, I am at bulletproof food NYC calm. That is three words, bulletproof food. nyc.com.

Will Bachman 48:25
Great. And we will include that link in the show notes. Austin. I could go on the rest of the day hearing stories. And we didn’t even get to Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. After that one in another episode. I you know, I could just go on all day long hearing about you know what it’s like to run restaurants and you work with them. Thank you so much for joining. This is really, really informative.

Austin Publicover 48:47
Well, the honor and the pleasure has been online. Thanks for hearing. Thanks for listening to me and so happy to be part of this podcast. It’s been an absolute pleasure, an honor.

Related Episodes


Nicolai Chen Nielsen, Advisor, Author, & Entrepreneur

Nicolai Chen Nielsen, Advisor, Author, & Entrepreneur


Tom Critchlow, Writer and Strategy Consultant

Tom Critchlow


Author of The 2-Hour Cocktail Party

Nick Gray


President and COO of Bunkerlabs

Joe "Hark" Herold