Feast on This - Page 5 of 20 - Black Enterprise

Feast on This

The common ingredient of the restaurants he has opened in the last four years–the others are August in New York City; Marc Burger in Chicago and Costa Mesa, California; and Street Food in Stockholm–is respect for the customer. “People evolve, so a restaurant has to evolve. We’re continually listening to customers and what they want.”

Part of that listening now involves social media. “When I started in the business, it was traditional media that counted. Today, everyone gives you a review,” thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and Yelp, says Samuelsson, who has more than 27,000 followers on Twitter and another 26,000 fans on Facebook. He says a mix of communication via e-mail, written letters, or face-to-face conversation is important. “People want to be touched. People want to be spoken to.”

Humility, hard work, and passion are essential qualities for breaking into the business, Samuelsson says. And respect for the past can ensure a solid future. “I cook here successfully because Sylvia [Woods, owner of Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem] has cooked 50 years before me here,” he notes. People of color need to have a broader view of the business, though. “We always cook. We always serve. There’s also a business in it, and we’re not there as a whole.”

Toward that end, Samuelsson has been investing in the community. About 70% of Red Rooster’s staff lives in Harlem. “I have to work hard to really get that,” explains the restaurateur, who also offers free cooking classes–both with the objective of nurturing future owners and chefs from the neighborhood. “This is not a gimmick. This is my life. This is where I live.”

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