Episode: 523 |
Keith Durst:
Keith Durst, Designing Food and Beverage programs at NYC Landmark Destinations:


Keith Durst

Keith Durst, Designing Food and Beverage programs at NYC Landmark Destinations

Show Notes

Keith Durst runs Friends of Chef (FOC), a consulting firm that works at the intersection of hospitality and real estate. Keith has worked on major projects in 15 different states, and he lists several projects they have worked on in New York City, such as Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center, the Whitney Museum, and Blackstone’s corporate headquarters as just a few of his projects. 


Reimagining the Rockefeller Center

Keith uses Rockefeller Center as a case study to explain the different stages and services his firm provides to their projects. The initial phase of the project involves understanding the needs and goals of the developer or owner.  He talks about researching the market, designing the concept, and bringing it to life with construction. Finally, they help with the launch of the project and ensure its success.

The goal of the project at Rockefeller Center was to create a place where New Yorkers would want to spend their time, rather than focus on it as a tourist destination. To achieve this, the development team looked at what was missing and why and how they redeveloped the area to be more open and accessible to New Yorkers. He talks about the changes that were made and how these changes have made the area an attractive destination for locals to visit.

Keith explains the specifics of how to do a needs assessment for the Rockefeller Center, including assessing the local community. They wanted to create an authentic New York experience on the campus, so they didn’t rely on the competitive set. The goal was to create different levels of food and beverage, including bakeries, breweries, cafes, and sit down seating that would give people working at Rockefeller Center the ability to stay in the area to socialize and make reservations at popular places, but also that it would attract a wide demographic. In the end, Keith hopes that the changes will give people the time and energy back to spend more than one day in the area.


The Friends of Chef Mission and Vision

The goal of the FOC team is to create an environment that is welcoming to all kinds of people from different parts of the city. The team also plans out different day periods to maximize the restaurants’ potential and manage flow periods. Keith explains why the balance between destination restaurants and quick lunch spots is important. He emphasized that it’s important to bring in businesses that understand throughput and have efficient POS and under periods. Once customer needs and establishment needs have been assessed, the next step is working with the Tishman team and their engineers and leasing people to ideate and figure out how to make their plans a reality.


Viable Financial Planning for Restaurants

Keith talks about the process of developing a space for a restaurant. The first step is to conduct an assessment and determine which types of restaurants would be a good fit for the space. The next phase is financial underwriting, which involves understanding the costs from both the developers and operators point of view of pre-opening and building the space, as well as developing a critical path to open the restaurant. Keith talks about the importance of having a partner mentality when working with landlords in the restaurant industry. Keith explains that a good deal cannot be done with bad people, and vice versa, and that the landlord and operator need to have a solid relationship. He adds that the two parties need to come up with a plan that works for both, and that the developer needs to have a vision that will make the property worth more. Keith then explains that when developing a financial plan, the team identifies the type of restaurant that will work in the specific location to achieve buy-in from all parties involved. Finally, he mentions the need for sign off from the executive committee of the company.


Key Factors when Designing a Restaurant

Keith explains that when designing a restaurant, there are a few key considerations: the developer and superintendents should have a thorough knowledge of the building, engineers who can ensure all electrical and plumbing needs are professionally installed; a kitchen designer to monitor the essential health and safety needs of a kitchen are met, a health and safety official, a designer to work with Keith’s team and the operator, and finally, the developer to sign off on designs. This is all before the final fixtures, furnishings. He explains why the menu should be an early part of the kitchen design to meet specific culinary requirements and that, as such, the chef often plays a key role in the kitchen design.


The Development of FOC 

Keith shares how his firm started.  Keith gained experience opening and running high end restaurants in New York City. He was approached by a hotelier who needed help getting their food and beverage program set up. Initially, he worked on it alone, but soon realized he needed a team to be able to execute and grow the business. He now has a partner who has extensive experience in the hospitality industry at a high level. 

Keith assembled a team of 15 highly skilled and experienced people in the hospitality industry. Through his team, Keith and Todd has been able to work on projects of varying levels of complexity, ranging from setting up food and beverage for stadiums to small restaurants. He has also partnered with established restaurant groups to learn more about the current market and labor practices. Keith also mentions a close friend, chef and restaurant owner who he often consults with for practical and helpful advice and knowledge on the running of a kitchen. 

Keith explains a key factor to the success of his business is building relationships with the people in the hospitality, real estate, and other communities to find the projects they think will be the most motivational for his team. They seek out projects that everyone is excited about and are proud to work on. Keith believes that their team has figured out the best way to build relationships and communities in order to come up with great projects. They have been able to join boards and reinvest in the people they care about as a result of their success.



03:07 Rock Center Redevelopment Project

05:51 Needs Assessment for Rockefeller Center Food and Beverage Options 

10:04 Balancing Different Restaurant Use Cases in Rock Center 

12:59 Developing a Restaurant Space 

14:13 The Importance of Partnership Between Landlord and Operator 

19:43 Skill Sets Required for Restaurant Design and Build 

22:40 Conversation on Restaurant Design and Menu Planning 

25:07 Founding His Firm and Building Teams for High-End Restaurants 



Website: www.friendofchef.com


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


Keith Durst


Keith Durst, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello and welcome to Unleashed. Unleashed is powered by Umbrex. You can visit us at umbrex.com/unleashed, where you can see the transcript of this and every episode, and the show notes. Of course, I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m excited to be here today with Keith Durst, who runs FOC, which is a consulting firm that sits at the intersection of hospitality and real estate. His firm has been responsible for some of the major projects in New York City you’ll be familiar with. I’m excited to speak with them. Keith, welcome to the show.


Keith Durst  00:36

Thank you very much well,


Will Bachman  00:37

So Keith, maybe you can start by telling us about some of the just listing out some of the major projects your firm has worked on?


Keith Durst  00:46

Sure. So we have projects, right now current projects in 15 Different states, but focusing on the New York City projects that we’ve worked on, over the past number of years, one being the complete redefinition of food and beverage at Rockefeller Center, all 12 acres really interesting project there from, from transformative in nature in terms of around the rink level, all the way through ground floor restaurants in some of the major buildings, to the complete redevelopment of food and beverage at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic, the Whitney Museum downtown, as well as the Brooklyn Museum, obviously, in Brooklyn. Then also Blackstone’s corporate headquarters here in New York City, 345 Park, which is owned by Rutan, whereby we’re working with the Rudin family to finish that building off as well. I think one of the other projects that’s super interesting is the 70, Pine Street project downtown, that we deal with Crown Cheyenne saga as well.


Will Bachman  01:44

Amazing. Let’s take one of these as a case example. And I’d love to hear about the different stages of a project and different services you provide. Maybe you could take Rockefeller Center as a case study and walk us through the different phases that you’d go through.


Keith Durst  02:02

Sure. Rock Center is a really interesting project. It’s in Midtown New York, and we started it six plus years ago, we we started are all projects the same we want to understand from the developer from the owner. From the operator’s point of view, what the goal of the project is, with Rock Center was very specific to create it in an environment where New Yorkers would want to spend time and, you know, take the focus away from the tourist destination and move the focus more into the New York City definition of a great place for locals to spend time. And what we did there was take a look at what was there the restaurants around the rink, the restaurants, on the floor outside of the rink, that we’re on ground floor and start saying, Okay, what is it that’s missing? What is it that’s not attracting people and why? And how can we redevelop it and kind of create an environment that’s more open and accessible to New Yorkers to come and be to. And I think we spent a good amount of time working with the development team at Tishman Speier to kind of understand their needs and then start building out a plan and program around it.


Will Bachman  03:07

And I will admit I I haven’t been to Roxette center to eat recently, the like I think it probably was pre pandemic, where I remember they had that nice French bookstore place there. And now there’s a new bookstore. I’ve seen that place but what what was the prep before the work what was the kind of food and beverage sort of options and layout.


Keith Durst  03:31

So it was pretty interesting. Some of the places still exist, but the main places that were changed where there was the C grill, and the Rock Center Cafe, which were run by a patina Restaurant Group. And the cucina space will also run by patina, which is a large Restaurant Group owned by Delaware North which really focuses on stadiums and casinos and things like that. There was the Brasserie Ruhlman, which was up overlooking the rink, which I think is one of the best restaurants bases anywhere in the country. Then there was also the accurate space and the Busan bakery space, which we completely changed out. On the ground floor. There was a couple of shoe stores that got turned into restaurants on Sixth Avenue. There was a really interesting space on 49th street that’s now other half brewery, which is very cool and interesting. So we took this kind of experiential space that really wasn’t being used on 49th Street turn that into another half brewery. We turned an alto chutes shoe store to a breads bakery on Sixth Avenue. We turn the Bucha on bakery into Cafe Lodi, which is Ignacio Matos his restaurant and interpretating a really cool Cafe that’s right outside of MDC Studios, which of brassware Ruhlman which was very tired old Brasserie and turn it into what’s now the rock which is run by the team from French at which is an amazing place. The restaurants that were below grade around the rink, which is now ranked level are now Jupiter which is run by the women They don’t King down from SOHO. We have a restaurant called Naro, which is run by the team that owns Adam makes an attaboy, which is an amazing Restaurant Group here in the city. We have Greg Backstrom, who has a bunch of restaurants in Brooklyn, really fun, playful restaurants has now five acres, where the old Starbucks was. Matta brown check and Smith and mills from Tribeca is going to be opening up soon. And adults were offski space. We have JJ Johnson with a field trip down there. The assessments opened up with some Mesa down there. And just a few other places I’m sure I’m I’m always busy. Oh, Pebble bar, which is really interesting, which is run by the authentic guys that also have Jackson bond, took an old architect’s office and had which had a secret tunnel to Johnny Carson’s old office, and turns it into a three storey really cool bar and speakeasy setup.


Will Bachman  05:51

Wow, that sounds amazing. So, in the early phase, where you’re doing this assessment, like, tell me a bit about some of the specific things that you would be looking at is it? You’re kind of imagine one aspect is you’re doing a bit of a competitive analysis, quote, unquote, of looking at the other restaurants in the area that already exist? Or are you looking at who are the customers that are currently flowing through Rockefeller Center? Are there different people that we want to flow through? And that we want to draw in? And then what kind of restaurants would appeal to them? And are there different kinds of categories or price points or cuisines or designs like to tell me about some of the specifics of how you’d do this needs assessment?


Keith Durst  06:36

Well, I mean, I think you hit on some of them. And I think right away, what you have to do is understand what’s there and what isn’t working why. And what we’re again, trying to do is create a place where New Yorkers and locals want to spend time. So as we start assessing, you know, the local community and what’s available there, and what’s doing well, and why we think it’s doing well, in Midtown, Midtown East in particular, over there, and then Midtown up until Sixth Avenue is, you know, where the Rockefeller Center area is, you have a 12 acre estate, you know, right in the middle of the city. And what’s missing is any form of authentic New York experience, you know, on the campus itself, and a place where people want to spend time and what we say is, anytime you have a really good transport set of transportation or transportation hub in your building completed work for you or against you. If you don’t have good food and beverage in good places to go after work, it works against anybody that works there, you have 9 million square feet of office space, if you don’t have places where people are going to want to come and meet you and eat or drink and spend time with you, your friends and colleagues and co workers are going to want you to go and meet them at their places someplace else. And that’s going to cost you time and energy and aggravation. So what we wanted to do, again, is create something that wasn’t there. So we weren’t able to really use a competitive set in terms of what was there and how we could make it work and how we could figure out the dollars that would make it work that way. But we really have to do is say if we build what we think will work here, do we believe that will create an environment where people are willing to come and spend additional time or come and meet people and use the transportation to its benefit? And will the people in the office get that time back and will the people that are staying there, get that time back and then people that are spending additional time be able to spend more than one day there. So by doing that we want to create different levels of food and beverage right. You have great bakeries and brewery and cafes. You also need a lot of sit down seating and you need enough seats that the people that are occupying the office, even if it’s at 70% or 80% occupancy will have the opportunity to go there. You also want to give the people that are working at Rockefeller Center, the ability to make reservations at places like the rock that are very difficult to get into because they’re so popular. Well rock Lodi, these other restaurants, Jupiter NAHRO. These are very challenging restaurants to get reservations and because they’re so popular already and so busy. So we wanted to create an environment where those people working at the center will be able to actually get into the restaurants too. But we don’t want the restaurants full of only people working there. We want locals to come we want people from downtown to come. We want different forms of people, different types of people. We want old people, young people to be there at different times a day. And we want to use all the different day periods to really maximize what these restaurants should be. So I think you start planning it out. And it’s a matter of when you have so many great spaces that they had there. And the infrastructure and the ability to work with a team as smart and as sophisticated as the Tishman team is and with such desires to make change. You can just start really kind of ideating with them to kind of figure out what that is and then try to figure out schematically how it all comes together. And again they have incredible teams of engineers and leasing people that are smart that that see the goal as a group, and then you have to work with Then those bounds that they’d put there.


Will Bachman  10:04

I imagine that you talked a bit about having almost destination kind of restaurants that would draw people to the space, or get people to stay there. I imagine that there may be some balancing act, where you probably also want to have some kinds of restaurants where office workers can pop down and get a quick lunch. And they don’t have to, you know, sit down and have an hour meal, but people want like quick kick takeout and go back to their office. How do you sort of balance those different use cases and demands that people want to pick up something quick for breakfast on their way to work? Or, you know, have a quick lunch? Or have a sit down lunch? How do you?


Keith Durst  10:42

Well, I mean, Rock Center is a little bit different, because they have so much space, right? There’s different concourses that have a lot of fast casual options. So they have a really busy sweet green that’s already there. They have busy sandwich shops and some other things like alley Doros there, which is an amazing sandwich shop. And they have multiple coffee shops that do well. So it’s a matter of bringing people in that also understand throughput. And understand me some POS and under periods, that they know, it’s going to start getting busy at 1130. And they need to be prepared for a big rush between 1130 and one o’clock. And it’s people that you know, know how to run proper f&b businesses and provide hospitality with it. So as you’re mixing in these great sit down restaurants, you also need these great sandwich shops and you take somebody like street from Ali d’Oro that knows and understands throughput. And he say, Okay, this is going to be a very busy sandwich shop, you know, make sure you set up for it in such a way and you’re prepared and know what you’re doing. And, you know, he puts together a plan with his team that makes sense and puts in and deals with the nice and plots and gets it set up so that he knows that when it’s getting crushed through that period of time, you can make it work. And then how do you attract during the shoulder periods, let the tourists and the other people kind of fill in those spaces, post, post lunch, pre dinner, kind of post afternoon snack and coffee. And it’s just, it’s a matter of really building progress and making sure that you have people that understand time periods, throughputs meal periods, the vibe, the lighting, the music, how it all plays together. And I think you build teams around those programs and product. And then from there, what we inevitably say is that at the end, the guests makes the menu. So as you’re starting to build more places that are like this, the people that are coming on a regular basis are going to kind of help you shape what these menus need to be and how much time needs to be spent. And whether it’s a 45 minute lunch or hour and 15 minute lunch or what that looks like, and what the costs need to be. And they kind of kind of need a little time for it to kind of figure itself out. So you have to have a patient, group of developers and a group of operators that are willing to be a little bit nimble. And I think if you get it just right, you can, you can have something pretty magical there.


Will Bachman  12:59

Let’s go to the kind of next phase. So you’ve done this initial assessment and come up with a sense of different types of restaurants you’d like to have in the space. What’s kind of the next phase after that when you have this particular space in mind and say, Oh, this place we want to have a brewery or this place, we want to have a bakery or this place whenever sit down thing is going to draw people in.


Keith Durst  13:23

Wow. Next phase? Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of that’s kind of simple. The next phase is financial underwriting, you need to start understanding what it’s going to cost to do all this from the developer’s point of view, from the operators point of view, what the preopening budgets are going to look like what the build budgets are going to look like what the critical path to open is going to be like. So you need to develop those, and then you need to get sign off on all that. And then you need to understand if you can take that to market and find people that can work within those bounds.


Will Bachman  13:52

Oh, interesting. So I guess I was imagining props, you know, ignorantly that you would then kind of like rent this space out to a restaurant tour, who would then build it up? But is it more like you are partnering with different restaurant groups where the rock group would kind of be a partner in the venture? Or how does that work?


Keith Durst  14:13

I mean, not getting into like deal structure and and what that actually feels like it’s it’s the understanding of this, in today’s world, in a post COVID world, if you’re not a partner, if you don’t consider your landlord, a partner and a restaurant, then you have a problem. One of the one of our one of our guiding principles and FOC is that you can’t do a good deal with bad people and you can’t do a bad deal with good people. And what that means is simple. Even if it’s a straight lease that you’re doing with a landlord, if you’re having a problem, your landlord has to be having a problem too. If your landlord is having a problem, then you’re having a problem too. So if you’re providing a service that the landlord’s not happy with or you’re providing you’re not providing food service at breakfast and lunch, because you’re not making enough money from it, but the landlord really needs it To make their community better, then that needs to be something you need to work on with the landlord to figure it out. If you can’t operate effectively on the numbers, because the rents too high or because your situation isn’t allowing for it, because of traffic because of flow, because of demand, they need to be able to work that out with your landlord. So, as we schematically design and right sized spaces in the restaurants, what we’re trying to do is financially kind of come up with plans and programs that we think will work for both landlord and operator. If you can’t get it right these days, this isn’t about the landlord coming in and in saying I want to maximize my dollars on rent. For this space, it’s about coming a landlord and having the vision to say having the right operator in here is going to make the properties a better whole, it’s going to make the property worth more whole. And it’s going to make the people that are here want to spend more time here. But that doesn’t work. If there’s not some sense of partnership between landlord and operator between developer and operator between chef and restaurant talk. As you go through the whole thing. It’s not really about the deal structure doesn’t matter what the deal structure is, it only matters that there’s a true and solid relationship between whoever’s running the space, whether it’s a tenant, or a partner and the landlord, whether it’s a developer or landlord or some type of financier. So as you start building these plans, they have to work financially, at least, they have, we have to get pretty close to what we think the proper underwriting is what we have to get pretty close to what we think the proper p&l should look like here. Regardless of what the deal structure looks like. And both all parties have to be involved to say, Okay, we think we can make that work in this environment, understanding that a lot of this took place pre COVID. And that the world changed while these while this build that was happening, and all the parties had to be pretty agile and move around and be willing to kind of figure it out as it goes. So I think that that’s really important for people to kind of see and understand that.


Will Bachman  16:58

That’s, that’s such a fascinating perspective. And educational for me. Tell me about when you you know, so you’re developing the financial plan? And then are you doing that with one particular Restaurant Group in mind that you think would be a fit? Or once you develop that financial plan? Do you go and kind of shop that around to two or three restaurant groups that you think might be in the space? Like, how does that next phase work?


Keith Durst  17:24

Well, I think what we tried to do is identify the type of use for each of the spaces and the general type of restaurant that they should be. And drawing from the my experience and experience on our team tried to build a financial plan around that type and style of restaurant, and then we have to get buy in from the developer in terms of who they believe should be the proper operator or that they believe that that’s the right style of food and the right style of service. So there’s a lot of communication back and forth between our team and the develop Development Committee and or developer team. And then naturally in an environment, there’s always sign off from the full blown executive committee and or president, the company or depending on who it is. And who’s been empowered to make those decisions, that all has to run through that too. So we can’t wait to get that stuff through committee while we’re trying to figure out the financial underwriting. So we have to take what we think is our best estimate of what we believe those restaurants or spaces should be, and kind of draw from our experience. And we have pretty significant experience doing this, kind of to understand how we think it’s all gonna line up and work together. And then it’s up to us to convince parties on both sides, that they’re the right party to operate it and they’re the right partner to have on the landlord side. So, you know, it becomes there’s a lot of give and take, there’s a lot of meetings, there’s a lot of people getting used to one another, it’s a lot of people that have not met before or done these kinds of transactions or been involved in an environment in a class A office building environment like this before. And it’s really our job and responsibility to get everybody comfortable, that they’re going to be working together and that we think that it’s the right fit, and if you can get everyone to buy in. And then the financial underwriting what’s reasonable, then to get the design people involved and try to find some economies of scale, when it comes to infrastructure and whatnot. And then you have great engineers working and it’s kind of it’s really, you know, a really quite intricate process, having everybody working together at the same timeline, and understanding what the critical path is and how it is affected by one party falling off or not doing their job. So we’re under significant pressure to meet certain timelines and guidelines, and it’s our responsibility to keep things moving forward.


Will Bachman  19:43

Talk to me about the different skill sets or the different kind of types of people that are involved in getting one of these designed and built so you mentioned a couple and I imagine there’s the you know something about the design of the restaurant. didn’t find the decor and the specific menu and, you know, the layout of the space. And then the engineers for all the equipment, but but give me a longer list of what are the different, you know, skill sets that have to come together?


Keith Durst  20:14

Yeah, I mean, so I think, to get specific, and the first thing you have is a developer that has their own engineering team and their own building and maintenance, and Superintendent staff that knows and understands the ins and outs of the building, and where everything goes and where the connections need to be made, and how all that works together. And I think that’s a really important aspect of it using the building’s expertise and personnel to kind of understand how it starts. So that when we start from place that some form of modified white box so that we know where everything enters the space, and now all we have to do is distribute it around the space, then we have the engineers that will do the calculations to make sure that we have all the proper black iron, gas, water drainage and different services, going to where it needs to go in the space, we have our food service specialists that are going to help us design the kitchen properly, making sure that we fall within the bounds of whatever is blocked off with how much CFM we can push through the different forms of exhaust and where that goes and how that’s being maintained. We have health department people that come in and make sure we’re following all the guidelines of the Health Department. As we go through and organize that we have an architect of record, that’s going to have to file everything along with an expediter, that’s going to have to get the pilings done and executed, then we have a designer that sometimes can act as an architect of record. And that designer will work with our team over the schematic design and the operator to make sure that the restaurant is going to be not just functional, but that the form of the restaurant is going to be to the to the operators taste. And then the developer has a final say in all of this because it’s it’s within his class, a office community. And they’re going to want to sign off on any designs, and any engineering demands that are on the space as well. And that doesn’t really talk about the specialists that are going to be doing the actual operations and or the financial people that goes but that’s a group of people that will get us all the way through once we start getting into the picking of the the FF money, which is the furniture, fixtures and equipment, we usually bring a small, we’re specialists on the procurement agents and be able to like grab all those things as well. There could be some financial people that we’re bringing in, they can get involved in additional financing of equipment, things like that, should that be necessary, or should it be allowed. And then pre opening inventory people there could be beverage specialists, if the team the operator team doesn’t have the right beverage specialists on site, or as a part of their group, and so on and so forth. So it can be pretty involved.


Will Bachman  22:40

Yeah. And then at what point would they you know, have the chef come to actually design the menu and train the whole team and to cook it and get the website or not stuff.


Keith Durst  22:50

I mean, the menu, the menu has to be designed well in advance of the design of the restaurant, you have a general understanding of what you want to serve. In order to design the kitchen, the kitchen is going to be designed around, generally around a specific menu, what we try to do is anytime we’re working in someone’s building, whether it’s a class A office building, or hotel or high end residential buildings, you want to kind of try to keep the kitchen design into what we call a day to specific design that will allow us to swap some equipment out without making any specific structural changes and or specific changes to infrastructure. Should this concept not work or should they have to pivot but we want the kitchen to be designed around what we think the menu is for the most part. That is to say we’re not willing to specifically state that we’re only going to do a high heat kitchen if we’re going to do specific amount of Asian cooking or if we’re going to do a lot of steak or hamburgers. And we’re going to need a lot of extraction. But we want to kind of figure out what that plan is ahead of time the chef will work with their operator group when typically speaking, the chef may be a partner or may not be a partner depending on how specific a one restaurant is to a specific offering. So some operating groups have brand name chefs that come along with it. Some operating groups have plans and programs done by corporate chefs and other operating group have just planning programs done by their corporate office. So depending on how specific they are significant amount of projects we have, the chef is involved in every aspect of the design, not just the kitchen design menu design, but it’s also typically involved deeply in the furniture selection, designing of small where and the connectivity between the kitchen and space and the basement space, storage space and so on. So, again, you know, it’s a matter of someone that can communicate to these people on both sides of the conversation making sure that the operator has access to what they need. The path of travel for garbage and for deliveries is feasible and reasonable the path of travel to wherever their prep spaces are feasible and reasonable. All the guidelines are met in terms of all the different consultants that are coming through Whoo. And we’re getting to a point where we’re going to be able to open up a restaurant and function within financial underwriting and within the goal of the developer.


Will Bachman  25:07

Amazing. Keith, could you tell us a minute about how your firm kind of got going, because these, these sort of projects that you’ve led the Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center there, you’ve done a marquee properties in United States, you probably didn’t start that way. Tell us about, you know, how your firm got started?


Keith Durst  25:28

Well, I mean, it was kind of an interesting way to put a group of people together, you know, I had had some experience opening and building teams to operate high end restaurants here in New York City. And from there, I’ve gotten reached out to by a hotelier that wanted some help getting organized and building a hotel product built around food and beverage. And that hotel, there was a main hotel in Brooklyn called the William Vale. At the time, I spent a significant amount of time trying to organize and get that food and beverage set up for the whole building and spent a lot of time from the knowledge I had from the previous restaurants right open, kind of getting organized and set up and getting that run and figuring out all these same systems for a single building. And I did a lot of single buildings, I had a it was just for a significant amount of time, it was me and one other person. And then what I started to realize was, as I was, you know, seeing a lot of different opportunities that I needed other people on a team to be able to execute and or, for me to be able to continue to grow the business, I needed competent people that actually all understand how to run restaurants, whether they’re small or large. I have a partner Todd Birnbaum, Todd came out of our Restaurant Group, he opened up restaurants up and down the East Coast. As well as setting up food or beverage for stadium. That’s an important skill that I have no idea how to do at scale. And Todd certainly had the experience on how to do that I have other really brilliant people on my team that have managed to begin projects, whether it’s a person like I Canada that was running director of operations for three Michelin star restaurant in California. And before that, for a design team here in New York that had a bunch of different restaurants, and someone that can manage a very special project like a Lincoln Center like a Whitney and know how to do the ins and outs at the highest possible level, and understand what it means to work with trustees and board members at a certain level and competency. So I started to surround myself and build a group of people that I had met in the industry over a year, and had kind of moved on and done some light consulting and moved out of restaurants and tried to figure out different ways of doing things, I was able to assemble a team of 14, I think now 15 People that all have specific skill sets within the hospitality industry, but also understand real estate have some sense of financial backgrounds, mostly some do not, but understand building projects, meeting deadlines, and I’ve picked people that kind of work into what I think is important as we continue to build. Most importantly, they’re all really good people that people enjoy spending time with and want to be around that also have a tremendous amount of respect for restaurants that were unwell. For restaurant groups that have built something ground up, we work with a lot of up and coming restaurant tourism teams in the US. But we also work with established groups. And we all have the ability to learn from them and lean on them, we’ve partnered into a number of restaurants have small ownership interest in the number of restaurants. And as we do that, we’re able to lean on those groups to kind of really see what’s happening in the current market in terms of labor enforcement, in terms of hiring, firing, so on and so forth, and really be able to kind of stretch into it to make it really work. And one of my closest friends is a chef named Wiley do frame that I’m invested in his pizza restaurant called stretch, which happens to be right across the street from my office. But while he’s a person that I know that I can call and lean on for general information about kitchen and cooking and, and and certainly understanding path of travel and understanding what really works in kitchen, there’s very few people that have as much experience or really depth knowledge as Wiley does. And for me that’s important to be able to lean on somebody like that or Gaudi Peleg that owns breads bakery, and be able to have him you know, spend some time with me kind of walking me through some challenges that he’s faced or our friends at breweries or friends at bigger restaurants and some of the groups that we represent and really be able to lean on it as a community. And as we’re doing that, we’re also finding out what it is that they want to do how they want to expand their businesses and move forward in their careers and lives. And we hope to be able to match him with great developers. And I think one of the reasons why we end up with some of the best projects is because of the relationships that we’ve built in the community. So in New York City, in the hospitality community in the real estate community. We pick projects that we think are are very motivational to our team. So our team takes a lot of pride in working on the projects. They’re excited about them. They want to spend time there they want to bring people there when I see the excitement on our team on a project and I know we’re picking the right projects. If we have a bunch of projects or a bunch of things to work on, and no one seems excited about it, or people are just kind of going through the motions, then I know that we’re not working on the right project, we’re not working with the right people. So we focus energy, and excitement and knowledge and kind of wrap it all together. And the best way to do that is projects that that we know not only are we going to be excited about, but operators are excited about, and chefs are excited about and, and financial people are excited about and when you do that, and you can come up with something great. And fortunately, I think we’re the best at doing what we do. I’m not sure that there are a whole bunch of other people that have figured out ways of building these communities the way we have. And it’s it’s been very important to us, it’s allowed us to join some boards, it’s allowed us to kind of reinvest in some of the people that we care about. And it’s allowed us to build a team that works together. And I think that’s, that’s really, you know, how we were able to mold this over the past 13 years or so into a pretty formidable consulting company.


Will Bachman  31:09

What an incredible story, Keith, for listeners that want to check out your firm read more about what you do, where would you point them online?


Keith Durst  31:17

There’s not a lot, I think we have a website. We had to put one up for a developer at one point a few years ago, I haven’t looked at it a long time at friend of chef.com. I think there’s something up there now. Quite frankly, you know, we try to stay out of the media. It’s what we try not to do is make these projects about us. But it’s about the developer. It’s about the restaurant tours and operators. So I think the thing to do would be you know, ask a bunch of different restaurant tours in whatever community you are somebody that you would trust that would help you extend and grow. My best guess is our name comes up.


Will Bachman  31:49

Amazing. Keith, thank you so much for joining this was incredible discussion. Be well

Related Episodes


AI Project Case Study

Paul Gaspar


AI Project Case Study

Astrid Malval-Beharry


AI Project Case Study

Julie Noonan


AI Project Case Study

Markus Starke