Food Informants is a week-in-the-life series profiling fascinating people in the food world. We hope it will give you a first-hand look at the many different corners of the food industry. Know someone who would make a great Food Informant? Tell us why.
Brooklyn-based Aaron Lefkove used to work in book publishing and as a freelance writer. After his office re-located to New Jersey, Lefkove decided he didn't want to do the commute. Lefkove and his business partner, Andy Curtin, had the idea for a Cape Cod-style seafood joint for awhile. One day at a barbecue, they decided to commit to opening a restaurant, Littleneck, Brooklyn’s first and only classic New England-style beach side seafood shack.
Besides working in restaurants growing up, Lefkove had no experience as a restaurateur. He acknowledges that the process has been a major learning curve, but so far, there haven't been any obstacles they couldn't get around. At first, he thought opening up a clam shack would be easier than finding a new job but it turns it that it is actually "WAY WAY WAY harder." Despite this being the "hardest, most stressful, most frustrating, most time consuming, most ambitious thing" he has ever done, it isn't nearly as hard as he thought it would be. Plus, he says he loves working for himself, working toward something he has "always dreamed about," and building something really exciting.
Read Aaron's diary below to learn about all the the tasks involved in opening a restaurant.
Monday, September 5
Midnight: Spent most of Labor Day weekend dealing with the fallout of a shoddy plumbing job that forced us to turn off the water to the tenants -- who are also the landlords -- who live above the restaurant. After a last minute run to Home Depot, I was able to patch the leaking pipe with a piece of rubber and clamp and temporarily restore water to the apartments.
3am - 6am: Lay in bed staring at the ceiling filled with dread and visions of my amateur emergency plumbing job coming undone in the middle of the night and flooding our restaurant, which is about 85% of the way done with construction.
9am: Try all morning to no avail to get the plumber who performed said shoddy plumbing work back out to fix it. Later find out he is operating a roti stand at Brooklyn's annual West Indian Day Parade. So much for getting this thing fixed today.
2pm: Meet up with one of Littleneck's minority shareholders, who is also helping out with sourcing for our paper products, kitchen uniforms, and composting. I intend to go over where she is with everything for the week but we end up mostly just throwing back margaritas and a plate of nachos. Rethink the whole seafood thing for a second. Maybe a nacho stand would have been easier?
4:30pm: Go home, pay a bunch of bills, receive an irate phone call from the landlord whose water has been restored -- but is still not working properly. Call around to find a plumber willing to work on Labor Day for anything less than a small fortune. Not happening.
6pm: Go back to the restaurant to check on the contractor's progress. The backbar is nearly complete and the bathroom floor has been tiled and grouted. This place is starting to look like a restaurant!
Tuesday, September 6
9:30am: Gotta buy a few more pieces of equipment, so I hit the bank to take out some cash. I'm going to go over to the kitchen supply houses on Atlantic Avenue while my partner deals with our plumbing inspection. This will be our third re-inspection in order to get the gas lines turned on.
10am: Meet the contractors at Littleneck. They are putting up a final layer of drywall in the kitchen. I clean up construction debris from the floor.
10:30am: The air conditioner units we ordered are being delivered. I help get the units off the truck and into the front of the restaurant. Our dining room has been doubling as a staging area for various large pieces of equipment. I will be so relieved when all these fixtures are finally installed and we can refinish the floors and put the tables and booths there.
11:30am: Head to Atlantic Avenue to try and find an ice machine and refrigerators for behind and underneath the bar. End up scoring a great deal for all three and actually come in significantly under budget. Unfortunately, while I am there I get a series of phone calls and texts from my partner regarding the plumbing inspection, which is not going very well. Apparently the inspector took issue with a few things that had previously been approved by the city plan examiner and previous plumbing inspector. The comments he makes ask for things that are above building code and not necessary. Looks like we have no choice but to make these fixes if we want to get a sign off for our gas to be turned on.
3pm: Arrive back at the restaurant and get a full rundown on everything we got hit with on our inspection. Immediately get on the phone with our plumber, architect and a rep from the New Business Acceleration Team, which is a pilot program set up by mayor Michael Bloomberg to help restaurants open more quickly and with less red tape. Thus far, the NBAT has been extremely helpful with providing a direct line to various city agencies and expediting certain things that would normally take several weeks to turn around. I would like to dispute the above code plumbing requirements.
4pm: Lunch. Grab some tacos around the corner at Oaxaca. The owner, David, has been incredibly helpful and encouraging of us and has offered some sage advice...and anyone that makes a Korean taco that good obviously knows what they are talking about.
5:30pm: Head back to Littleneck to clear away the debris from the day's construction. Bag up all the loose garbage, wood scraps, saw dust, sheetrock scraps and other detritus and push it all towards the front door for a pickup. We have been working with a trash removal company called Mr. Rubbish. He has an 85% recycle rate, which means that 15% or less of what he carts away ends up in landfills. That is an industry high and also in line with the core values we set out with of running our business as clean and eco-friendly as possible. Gotta schedule a pickup soon and get this all outta here. There is something very psychologically soothing everytime we have a trash pickup.
10pm: Finally get home. Answer a dozen or so emails of varying degrees of urgency that were received throughout the day. Scan a bunch of documents and email them to our bank's customer service rep to finalize everything for our merchant services. Littleneck can now officially accept credit cards! Now all we gotta do is get the place open.
Wednesday, September 7
8am: Wake up and sit down with a cup of coffee. There is a staggering amount of paperwork involved when you open a restaurant. Every morning I try and get through as much of it as possible to keep it from overflowing. After about an hour in I am interrupted by my partner, who needs me to go on a run with him to grab more building supplies. After hitting 3 stores we have what we need and head to the restaurant.
11am: While supervising construction we go over our proposed menu with Littleneck's chef Ten Vong and make a few last minute tweaks and revisions. We are trying to keep the menu as simple as possible, but there are still dozens of variables with each dish that we have too review. Ten has also been working on the sourcing for ingredients. Talk about getting a few more clam and oyster purveyors to stop by for a meeting. Despite all the stress and legal wrangling and red tape negotiating this is what makes the endeavor totally worth it: clam and oyster tastings....lots of them!
2pm: We meet with a reporter from a radio wire service who is interviewing us about Littleneck. Turns out she is also a cookbook author and a decent chef to boot. Who knew?
10pm: Drinks with a newspaper reporter interested in pitching a feature story about Littleneck.
11pm: Eat some pizza. Rethink the whole seafood thing. Pizza has such a steep markup for what the ingredients are. Also, I love pizza.
Thursday, September 8
10am: Walk to Littleneck to meet the guys who are installing the air conditioning units and get them set up for the day. While they are working on running the lines and doing the install I sand down the drywall in the back hallway, bathroom and kitchen and paint on a coat of primer.
2pm: Run down to Lowe's to buy paint and then return to the restaurant. Paint the kitchen a nice semi-glossy off-white. While I was gone the dishwasher was delivered. Although we took measurements on everything when we put the machine in place, we realize that is is covering the pull for the fire suppression system, which is a major code violation. The dishwasher has to go back and we need to find something that is smaller. Just the latest in a series of unforeseen obstacles with getting this place off the ground. No worries, though: the rep at Ecolab sends over spec sheets on some slammer undercounter style units.
3pm: Head over to the kitchen supply house to pick up faucets for the bar sink and a few other miscellaneous items needs to complete the plumbing job. Hoping by the end of the weekend everything will finally be plumbed in.
4:30pm: While we are in the car on the way back, I have a phone meeting with the plumber regarding the next inspection, which was scheduled for Friday but now has been pushed out until Monday. Fingers crossed we can finally nail this one and won't get hit with any more violations. The strange thing about building to code is that the code is always changing, so things that were approved initially may be irrelevant by the time you actually finish build-out.
8pm - Midnight: Put in a full shift of drinking with my partner and our general contractor. We plot out and schedule the major work that still needs to be done in order to get us to opening. We realize that, due to the mess of red tape with the city inspectors over our gas lines, we will not be able to make our original September 15 opening date. With the paint now dry, we also move a lo-boy refrigerator into the kitchen which, despite the fact that it is on wheels, is harder than it sounds. The fridge is too big to make the corner turn into the kitchen so it has to be turned vertical and put on a dolly and moved in that way.
Friday, September 9
3am - 6:30am: Lay in bed and stare at the ceiling. Wish for the toothfairy to swing through and leave a Xanax under my pillow. Check under pillow. No Xanax. Bummer.
8am: Up and out of bed. We have a full day today with four crews working simultaneously -- including two separate crews of plumbers, one to do the work needed to pass our next plumbing inspection and get our gas turned on finally and another to fix the shoddy work from earlier in the week that caused so many problems for the upstairs tenants. The electrician who is hanging all the lighting fixtures and our general contractor who is putting the final touches on the bar and countertops. While this is all going on I have a couple friends stop by and kindly pitch in a little free work in exchange for some beers. We had to tape our windows a week prior in anticipation of Hurricane Irene, which was supposed to touch down in Brooklyn. Today I have them cleaning off the duct tape residue with a scraper and hopefully next week our friend Leah will be able to get in and do the gilding.
Noon: Field what seems like a never ending string of phone calls from city officials, banks, contractors and equipment salesmen. The back and underbar equipment is delivered and while that is happening I negotiate a deal to unload a large bain marie that we bought early on but that is too big for our kitchen. Hoping to swap it out for a few other key pieces of equipment and various smallware items.
2:30pm: Amidst the chaos, I get a call from the Department of Buildings letting me know that our Letter of No Objection, the last piece of paperwork needed in order to pick up our liquor license, has been approved and is waiting for me at the office in downtown Brooklyn. I've been working since April to secure this very necessary document so this feels like a major victory.
6pm: Realize that we still need to build a platform in the backyard to mount the air conditioner condenser units on. Amazingly we are able to throw a 4 foot x 4 foot deck together in little under an hour. Wow.
7pm: The various crews have finished up for the day and my partner and I and whoever is still left hanging around head down the street to sit in the backyard of the local dive bar and pound a few Genesee Cream Ales, our cheap beer of choice. This day felt like it would never end, given that I was awake all day yesterday, most of the previous night, and all day today.
8pm: Abruptly peace out from the bar and walk home.
8:30pm: Shower (realize I haven't had time to do that in a few days).
Saturday, September 10
6:30am: The HVAC guys want to get started early and thus I'm rudely awaken by a phone call that they are about 10 blocks away from the restaurant. Jump out of bed and throw on some clothes and run down to the restaurant to open up and get them started on finishing the air conditioner install.
7:30am: Go home and sleep for another couple hours.
11am: Back at the restaurant to clean up and answer any specific questions the A/C guys have. They are miffed that the electrician did not run power to the units the day before. Great. Now I gotta deal with that.
2pm: Run into an old friend who is in the neighborhood working on an architectural project in the area. It is a proposed development and clean up of the land around the Gowanus Canal. We head down the street and grab a quick beer and talk about the various issues affecting the neighborhood where Littleneck is opening. This whole thing is still a gamble (but one I feel very strongly about) as we are still one of the first few restaurants to open up in the area. I feel there is a lot of really cool stuff bubbling up around there right now-- such as Brooklyn Brine, Four & Twenty Blackbirds, The Bell House, Issue Project Room and Oaxaca to name a few-- and there is certainly an underserved creative and working community around.
4pm: My friend Rachell stops by to check on the progress. She has been incredibly helpful with getting all the front of house issues and kinks worked out and is also collecting resumes for when we start staffing. Hoping that we will be doing that by early next week.
4:30pm: The AC guys finish up for the day and so do I. Gonna try and get out and enjoy what is left of one of the most beautiful Saturday afternoons in recent memory.
Sunday, September 11
10am: Every Sunday I like to go over the receipts from the previous week and do an accounting statement to figure out where our money is going and how much more it will take to get Littleneck open. So far, in spite of all the hidden costs (and everything has at least two or three hidden costs associated with it) we are still coming in under budget. Not bad, considering this whole thing has been a real learning process in a lot of ways for my partner and me. Neither one of us has ever done anything like this before so it has been a major trial by fire.
1pm: Done with paperwork and thankfully not much for me to do over at the restaurant space today. The plumbers are putting on the final touches for tomorrow's plumbing inspection and my partner is doing a little light carpentry today. We have done a really great job of delegating work between us and really figuring out where eachother's strengths lie and thankfully today I don't need to be there. Finally a little down time before the craziness starts up all over again.
See previous Food Informants below:
Geoff Bartakovics, 34, is the co-founder and CEO of Tasting Table, the free daily email publication all about food & drink culture. Before starting Tasting Table, Geoff was a business manager in asset-backed finance at UBS Investment Bank, where he coordinated business activities among the fixed income trading desk and the bank's middle- and back-office functions. Geoff was formerly a business analyst at Deloitte Consulting. He attended The University of Chicago, from which he graduated with honors in English. He was a Fulbright Scholar in comparative literature and philosophy in Berlin and Hamburg. He's an obsessive dinner party entertainer and a serious home cook. Read Geoff's diary here.
Elizabeth Laseter, an aspiring food journalist, is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University and lives in Washington, D.C. She received her diploma in Writing and Art History and is now pursuing a Culinary Arts Degree at L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Md. The one-year program includes six months of learning techniques in the classroom and six months at an externship in a D.C. fine dining restaurant. Elizabeth documents her food adventures through two blogs, The Baltimore Food Rag and The D.C. Food Rag. She decided to attend culinary school after interning at Baltimore magazine and working with the food editor. Read Elizabeth's full diary here.
Jane and Terry Levan operate a 20-acre pastured poultry farm outside of Lexington, Texas called Dewberry Hills Farm, after the dewberry vines that grow wild on their land. They raise antibiotic- and hormone-free meat chickens for sale. Their chickens mostly live outdoors. The Devans call themselves "omnivores with a conscience;" Jane won't eat any meat unless she personally knowns who raised it and how it was processed. Jane and Terry began farming in 2003, after reading Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma. The pair had always wanted to farm, but they didn't want to follow the industrial agricultural model. Jane and Terry built a processing building on-site and became state certified so they could sell their birds commercially in May 2008. Read Jane's diary here.
"James" is an Apple employee. He works at Caffe Macs, the on-site cafeteria of Apple's campus in Cupertino, Ca. Reminiscent of Google's epic food offerings, Caffe Macs is pretty much a corporate food court dream-come-true. Read James' diary here.
Brooklyn-based Aaron Lefkove used to work in book publishing and as a freelance writer. After his office re-located to New Jersey, Lefkove decided he didn't want to do the commute. Lefkove and his business partner, Andy Curtin, had the idea for a Cape Cod-style seafood joint for awhile. One day at a barbecue, they decided to commit to opening a restaurant, Littleneck, Brooklyn's first and only classic New England-style beach side seafood shack. Besides working in restaurants growing up, Lefkove had no experience as a restaurateur. He acknowledges that the process has been a major learning curve, but so far, there haven't been any obstacles they couldn't get around. At first, he thought opening up a clam shack would be easier than finding a new job but it turns it that it is actually "WAY WAY WAY harder." Despite this being the "hardest, most stressful, most frustrating, most time consuming, most ambitious thing" he has ever done, it isn't nearly as hard as he thought it would be. Plus, he says he loves working for himself, working toward something he has "always dreamed about," and building something really exciting. Read Aaron Lefkove's diary here.
Jonathan Stich, 29, is a third generation farmer from Burlington, Wisconsin. He grew weary of the corporate world, went traveling and decided to become a farmer. After reading about how heirloom tomato grower Tim Stark in Pennsylvania sells his products to New York restaurants, Stich made the decision to spend a night in restaurants in Milwaukee and Chicago asking if they'd be interesting in buying local produce. Read more about Jonathan Stich's week here.
Erika Nakamura and Amelia Posada are the owners, managers and butchers in chief of LA's artisanal butcher shop Lindy and Grundy. (Erika is Grundy and Amelia is Lindy.) The two, who also live together and are a couple, opened their store on Fairfax last spring (profiled on HuffPost Food). Lindy and Grundy has already been feted as one of the most best butchers in Southern California -- and quite possibly its most sustainable. Read about a week in the life of Erika Nakamura and Amelia Posada's here.
Recently, inspired by a meeting at the San Francisco Food Bank, chef Karl Wilder started the food stamp challenge: living and eating on a food stamp budget. What began as a one week project has turned into a two-month long commitment. Wilder calculated that a family has $1.33 to spend per meal, and decided that when using oil and seasonings, the cost would be $1.22. In total, he has less than $4 to spend on food per day. He monitors his nutrition and caloric intake on FitDay. You can read more about his daily experiences at on his blog, Fusion On The Fly. Read about a week in the life of Karl Wilder here.
Chris Cosentino is the executive chef of San Francisco's Incanto, an offal-heavy (not sure what offal is? Check out our Whole Animal Guide here) rustic Italian restaurant located in San Francisco. While encouraging patrons to try different cuts of meat, Cosentino also champions eating locally. He's previously cooked at such renowned restaurants as Kinkead's and Chez Panisse, and cites Jean-Louis Palladin as a big influence on his cooking style. He also co-owns Boccalone, which sells various cured meats and house-made salami. To learn more about Cosentino, check out his website, Offal Good. Read about a week in the life of Chris Cosentino here.
"Jane," 24, has been working for Trader Joe's since 2007, though in 2009 she left for over a year to go work for Whole Foods. She did not like it there and returned to TJ's. At Trader Joe's, every employee does a range of tasks, but Jane's speciality is dairy. Below is her explanation of the pros and cons of the job: I like working for Trader Joe's because they pay me well and offer great benefits. They also respect me as an employee and make me feel like I'm useful and needed and not just another part-time employee that can be replaced (which has been the case at other retail jobs I've had). Trader Joe's is really good at hiring great people and I'm lucky to have so many wonderful co-workers. I don't like working at Trader Joe's because the work can be strenuous on my back and wrists. Being on a register for several hours at a time is tiring and somewhat soul crushing due to ignorant people who feel the need to be condescending to me because I work at a grocery store. I also feel that the company is becoming more and more corporate as it grows and it is beginning to have an impact on the enjoyability of being a part-time "crew member." I also work in a very busy store which causes the managers to stress out a lot and I don't enjoy being surrounded by it. Read about a week in the life of a Trader Joe's employee here.
Chef Nate Appleman is the Culinary Manager at Chipotle. This involves a range of tasks including developing new menu items, opening ShopHouse (Chipotle's upcoming Asian fast-casual chain) and furthering Chipotle's commitment to sustainable sourcing. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Appleman was previously executive chef and co-owner of San Francisco's super popular Italian restaurants A16 and SPQR. Appleman moved to New York in 2010 to open Pulino's. After leaving, Appleman took his current position at Chipotle. He has received a James Beard award for Rising Star Chef, been anointed Best New Chef by Food & Wine and is the champion of Food Network's Chopped All-Stars. Read about a week in the life of Nate Appleman here.
Freeganism is a lifestyle in which one employs "alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources." Gio Andollo is a writer, artist, musician and freegan. Andollo became a freegan when he realized that artists don't get paid much, but he didn't like the idea of working a "crappy, part-time job" to pay the bills. So he found another way. Andollo performs on the subway for about 20 hours a week, typically in two-hour intervals. He makes $10 to $50 per shift and has a love/hate relationship with busking. Andollo will buy food, but very rarely. The majority of his food comes from trash touring, or dumpster diving. He's become increasingly concerned with the abuses inherent in current economic systems: waste of resources, exploitation of people, degradation of the environment, calloused treatment of animals, commodification of time, labor, even war (thus human life in wholesale). In addition to busking part-time, he writes songs, blogs and books about these issues. Read about a week in the life of Gio Andollo here.
Captain Jason Joyce is an eighth-generation resident of Swan's Island, Maine. He is a Coast Guard Licensed Captain and a registered Maine Tidewater Guide. He has done lobster and fish research with the University of Maine, the University of Massachusetts, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Lobster Institute. Joyce is currently doing a lot of work with the Penobscot East Resource Center, which works to secure a viable future for the fishing communities of eastern Maine. Each week, he records HD video of lobstering that he gives to restaurants to educate customers about sustainable lobster fisheries in Maine. Captain Joyce is married to his high school sweetheart and they have four children. Learn more about Captain Jason Joyce here. Read about a week in the life of Jason Joyce here.
Martin Kastner is a serviceware designer extraordinaire/jack-of-all-design-trades for Grant Achatz's Alinea, Next and The Aviary. Kastner creates custom pieces that work with Achatz's elaborate and intricate food. Born in the Czech Republic, Kastner trained as a blacksmith and received an MFA in sculpture. (His thesis was about air). He met his American wife in Prague and moved to the US in 1998. In 2003, Kastner received an unexpected email from Grant Achatz, who had emailed a host of designers. Kastner was the only one to respond. They've partnered not only on serviceware, but also on web design, video and the Alinea cookbook. Kastner's other clients include L20 (an upscale, seafood-focused Chicago restaurant), Le Bernardin (Eric Ripert's homage to seafood) and Empellon (Alex Stupak's new Mexican restaurant in New York). Read about a week in the life of Martin Kastner here.