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America's Next Great Restaurant Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Bobby Flay

This is a transcript of an interview with Bobby Flay on April 27, 2011 about the show America's Next Great Restaurant.

Question:
Is there anything you can tell me about this finale without spoiling things?

Bobby Flay:
There's three people left. There's Soul Daddy, Spice Coast, and Brooklyn Meatballs. And basically you're going to see them build I guess for a lack of a better description pop-up restaurants of what they want to actually have as their own restaurant. And they're going to actually go through the motions of opening a restaurant, getting it staffed up and then actually serving real customers. And it's basically sort of the final test of everything they've gone through to actually get to this point. So that's where sort of all the action is going to take place and then ultimately we'll decide we'll get their own restaurant.

Question:
How hard do you think it's going to be decide? Do you already have somebody in mind or does it really just depend on this episode or their last task or all of it together?

Bobby Flay:
I think the most important thing is that as an investor you have an open mind in terms of what you've seen, what you're going to see a finale, what you seen up to this point in terms of how people how people react to mistakes that they've made in the past and whether or not they're going to be people that we want to work with as investors. I mean ultimately it's more than just a game. It's actually going to be a livelihood for one of these people and hopefully for the investors as well. So I think that we take all that in consideration.

Question:
Do you ever have time to go spend the night cooking in any of your restaurants anymore?

Bobby Flay:
Oh every day. I mean I'm in one of my restaurants right now, actually I'm at Bar American in New York and we're changing a bunch of dishes for the spring. Actually I think we're changing about 16 or 18 dishes over the next two or three days. So I mean I'm constantly in my restaurants.

Question:
When are the restaurants are going to open?

Bobby Flay:
The restaurants, all three of them in - Minneapolis in the Mall of America, in Los Angeles California off Hollywood Boulevard, and in the South Street PC Port in New York - they all open the very next day which is Monday.

Question:
What drew you to this project?

Bobby Flay:
I get offered a lot of different television opportunities. And this is one that really struck a chord with me because it's what I do in my real life. I don't usually go around investing in people's restaurants. In fact I've never invested in somebody else's restaurant before. But I invest in my own. And I and I conceive and come up with the concepts and help design and get open restaurants. I mean that's really what I do for a living. So it's something that I live every day. So I thought that it would be really a terrific opportunity to help mentor someone else to take that step in their own lives. And why not offer it to anybody in America who actually has a good idea? That's what I loved about this entire idea for America's Next Great Restaurant.

Question:
And what were you looking for in the winner?

Bobby Flay:
Lots of things. First of all a great concept, something that I think is going to resonate with the American people. Someone who is truly passionate about what they're doing so it's not just a good business idea but something that it really means a lot to them. Somebody who has an incredible work ethic that will be able to make great decisions and basically throw themselves in front of the bus to stop it if something goes wrong. You know, somebody that's going to be completely in it 1000%.

Question:
In your opinion, what formula truly makes a great restaurant?

Bobby Flay:
The obvious things are great food, great service. But I think beyond that I think value is incredibly important. Creating an environment that people are going to enjoy and that it fits the actual mood of the food and also the style of service of the restaurant. And I think that energy is really important. It's something that I talk a lot about in my restaurants that I think that restaurants, especially casual restaurants need to have a very, a really terrific sense of energy so that people think of it as not just a meal but an event.

Question:
What is the first meal that you've ever prepared?

Bobby Flay:
Mighty Fine Chocolate Pudding which is like it's like chocolate pudding that you've add milk to and it gets thicker and then yes. And then also it was either that or deviled eggs. I can't remember which came first.

Question:
Thinking back to the very beginning when you were being pitched all these different ideas for the restaurants, would you have thought that the three contestants that are remaining would have made it this far?

Bobby Flay:
You know what, in a way yes. But it's hard for me to think of it that way because the process took such a long time. And so I felt like these people just kept growing on us more and more. I would say that there are three very interesting ideas.

There's a Spice Coast which is an Indian idea sort of a new modern Indian idea which I think is very of the moment and I think that it's a great idea for a couple of reasons. First of all it's got lots of flavor and people really want a lot of flavor these days. It's a much healthier cuisine than some of the other cuisines. And I think that that's also obviously a very big subject in the way people are eating these days. And I think that Indian culture in general has really percolated a lot in terms of fashion and furniture and of course food. And so I think the Indian ideas are very sort of very viable idea.

Soul Daddy is soul food with a twist in terms of I think that what he's trying to do is actually take some of the calories out and savor the flavor and the soul of the soul food. And I think that it's obviously it's a very true American food concept. And so I think that also resonates really well with the American public.

And the meatball concept is something that we all know. You know, meatballs are a true comfort food. And I think that if Joey is able to pull off his concept and make it interesting enough than just somebody's meatballs that I think that he has a really good possibility of being successful as well.

Question:
What surprised you the most during this whole long competition here that you've had going on?

Bobby Flay:
The thing that surprised me I think across the board was that a lot of people with little or no restaurant experience that were very, very smart people who had really good ideas weren't really keen on listening to investor's advice. It's a Catch-22 because if you come in there with an idea it's like it's your idea. And you want to be passionate about it. So you don't necessarily want to change your idea. But at the same time I think it's important to listen with two people who have had tons of experience at this and also they're putting up the money.

I think that sometimes people forgot we were actually sitting there listening to them deciding on who we we're going to invest in. And they just were sort of just competing to win. There's a difference, you know? I think that sort of got lost in their vision somewhat. And that sort of surprised me. I think that people that sort of have their eye on the prize, the real prize which is getting these three restaurants, did better.

Question:
Was there anyone who is not part of the final three that you really believed in and you were surprised that they didn't go further?

Bobby Flay:
I think the person we got the most reaction about after we asked them to go home was the Meltworks, the grilled cheese concept. And I think that he had a very good idea. In fact I always tell people like if the competition was one day long he would have won because he came in completely ready with a concept that he thought, just give me the money and I can open this tomorrow. And we found a lot of holes in the concept. And so what we tried to do was get him to do some things and think about things a little differently. And he just didn't feel like doing that.

I mean that's his choice. But when you're asking somebody for money to put up these restaurants I think that you have to take into consideration what people think. So basically I think that his concept started out really good, very solid but it didn't grow over time. So I was a little surprised that he didn't sort of go with the flow of little bit more. And I think that if he would have done that I think that he would have been fighting for the restaurant right this weekend.

Question:
(It seems like the panel of investors is very respectful of each other and but you also seem to have very strong opinions. Did you debate the decision for long among limitations?

Bobby Flay:
The thing you don't see because the show's only an hour long is the hours on top of hours on top of hours of debate. We all come from very different backgrounds in terms of where we're actually from to what we actually do in our business lives. And so everybody's had a certain amount of success. And so we all have pretty strong opinions. And it's almost like being in a jury room. You kind of hash it out until you come with come up with a decision.

Question:
Since the restaurant business is so tough how do you think shows like this will eventually make it easier, given the accessibility?

Bobby Flay:
It's not going to make it easier. The ironic part about it is the person that wins this, the tough part really starts the next day. It's a very tough business. The margins in the restaurant business are very tight even if you're incredibly successful. There is so many things that can go wrong and only a few things that can go right to make it work. And so I don't think that shows like this are going to help it get easier. I think what it's going to do is it's going to give people an opportunity that would not have had an opportunity otherwise.

I think what it does is it gives you sort of an installation of people who are professionals like the panel, like the investors who are - who could actually help somebody who have a really good idea, who have the drive and the work ethic to do it but aren't really sure how to actually get it done or how to get it started. I think that it's a process that you learn basically every day how to do a better. And I think that that's what will be able - that's what will make it easier for people because we'll give that sort of a team of people that will actually help them, us. And but other than making the restaurant business easier that's never going to happen.

Question:
Can you talk about what you saw in the finalists early on in the series that you think led them to the finale?

Bobby Flay:
Sadir who's got Spice Coast, the modern Indian concept is a very smart guy. He's smart, he's savvy, he's got a good business sensibility and he really is passionate about his - the food of his land. And so that sort of - that to me was a very - he was very obvious from the very beginning.

Jamawn who has the Soul Daddy, soul food idea just I feel like he's doing it for all the right reasons. He's doing it because he wants to make a better life for him and his family. It would be an extension of what he was doing before he got here which was actually selling fried chicken and waffles out of his apartment. And so he just needs somebody to kind of give him the bricks and mortar and also a little guidance.

And then Joey from the Brooklyn Meatball Company, I mean you see how passionate he is about his grandmother's meatballs. He reminds me of lots of kids when I was growing up. I was always jealous of my Italian-American friends because they had these wonderful mothers and grandmothers who basically cooked all week long and taught them how to make these delicious meals. And so I think that creating a comfort dish utilizing meatballs as a vehicle to all of America is an idea that works and it's something that's very true to his heart.

Question:
Did the show change your mind about what America wants in a restaurant?

Bobby Flay:
I'm not sure yet. We'll know that after this is all over because America doesn't really get to vote in this one. You know, it's for people who are investing their money. I'm one of those people. And so we're actually deciding what we think America wants to eat. And I mean obviously the proof's in the pudding. We'll get to see that as time goes on.

Question:
How will you personally continue to advise the winner after his restaurants open?

Bobby Flay:
As investors we are putting our money up and we're actually going to be paying attention very closely because we want this to work for lots of reasons one of them being that we've actually have a financial investment, the other being this is the person that we've picked and we think this is a good idea and so we want to help it follow through. We don't feel like we're cheating by actually helping them after they're just getting after the restaurant's open we don't feel like we're cheating and helping them get the restaurant to function right. And so I think that I think that that's sort of part of the deal. It's like you sign up for this thing and it's not just decide who you think is good and who you think is bad but you have to see it through for the long run.

Question:
Chipotle has been a great model for quality sustainable ingredients in casual restaurant food. Is it reasonable to think that more restaurants could and should pursue this?

Bobby Flay:
I think that there is a cost with everything that's good unfortunately. And I think that from a sustainability standpoint listen if we could all source things ten minutes outside of our house the world would be a better place. Unfortunately when you're serving a lot of people, it's not always feasible for lots of reasons, one of them being just logistical the other being financial. There's all kinds of reasons why that can and cannot work but you can certainly try. And I think from a health standpoint I think that it's clear that people across the board want to eat better food.

Now that doesn't necessarily mean less calories although it can mean that. It just means that better sourced food, better quality ingredients. And I think that people are willing to pay for it. And I think that a concept like Chipotle which is still very value orientated is more expensive than say what we think of as traditional fast food. It's the next step up. It's quick casual which is what we're trying to create at America's Next Great Restaurant. And so I think that obviously Chipotle has proven that can be very successful.

Question:
How has the health factor of the food being prepared in these restaurants has played a part in your decision in choosing who the winner will be?

Bobby Flay:
It actually plays an important decision because it's something that's important to all of us. And I think that if you listen to Steve Ells talk about it is something he talks about all the time. And so it was always top of mind.

There are three concepts left so the Indian concept can really lend itself although it can be high in calories as well. But it's a place where it can really lend itself to being healthy. The meatball concept I would say has a little bit more of a difficult chore in that department but as long as it's not really fat laden which you can totally make happen and devise things around the meatballs that things like salads that really bring a sort of fresher approach to it I think that is really helpful. And then even soul food which just traditionally very high in calories can be made can be made in a much healthier way.

I think that if you watched some of the programs, if you watch some of the episodes the last few weeks you say that Jamawn was really working towards that because he knew that was incredibly important. So I think that they all had that top of mind and I think the investors did as well.

Question:
In your own restaurants in your own cooking any tips or tricks you have for home shots that you use for taking traditionally fatty calorie laden foods and making them healthier but preserving the flavor and even textures that we love so much?

Question:
As far as staffing of the winner's restaurants goes, is it something that is already taken place or is it something that like the winner will need to go through and make sure as far as the chefs in each individual restaurants go?

Bobby Flay:
We've actually started hiring staff because we have to staff up because we're actually opening the restaurants the day after the show which is Monday. And so staffing has definitely begun. But that's a job that never ends. And so, you know at that point the winner of the three restaurants will really be involved in that a lot.

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