Tips From a Restaurateur: How To Run Your Business
Henry Meer offers sage advice to ICE students
ICE students in the Restaurant & Culinary Management program learned key lessons on how to open a business from a veteran NYC restaurateur.
Restaurateur Henry Meer says the most important piece of restaurant equipment isn’t labor or gas and electricity, but is, in fact, the garbage bin. “It’s hugely important to your bottom line,” he says. “This is your world…you’re responsible for being environmentally aware of everything you create.”
Meer shared this advice and more with a group of Restaurant & Culinary Management students at his Pure Liquid Wine & Spirits shop located in the Oculus mall in Lower Manhattan, just steps away from the ICE New York campus. At ICE, students taking the Restaurant & Culinary Management program have access to site visits, whether it be wine shops, restaurants or even hotels.
“Our ability to bring in industry experts and our ability to get a facilities tour, whether it’s a wine shop or a restaurant, is incredibly unique,” says Rick Camac, Dean of Restaurant & Hospitality Management. “We have access to a tremendous amount of industry experts — it’s one of the many aspects that makes the program so special.”
Prior to opening Pure Liquid, Meer was a chef for nearly four decades, working at some of the city’s best restaurants, including La Côte Basque and Lutèce, before opening up his own restaurant, City Hall, in 1998. The restaurant, which focused on steakhouse classics like oyster pan roasts, dry-aged steak and potato gratin, was a fixture of Tribeca for 17 years.
During his 38-year tenure as a chef, he learned the ins and outs of the industry — not all of them being glamorous.
Here are some of the key tools of the trade to consider when starting up your own venture.
Persistency and Consistency Pay Off
Meer got his first restaurant job through a combination of happenstance and commitment: A friend informed him he was leaving his post as a commis at Le Côte Basque and someone would need to immediately fill it in. Knowing his self-worth, Meer showed up to the restaurant every day, promptly at 9 a.m., to speak with the chef-owner. Every day, he was told the chef would “think about it.”
After four days of the 9 a.m. wakeup call, he got the job.
From there, Meer landed a line cook job at the lauded Lutèce in 1985, where he would work for a decade, learning from the establishment’s legendary chef and co-owner, André Soltner. “Chef made an omelet with a two-prong fork,” he says. “It took me 10 years to make an omelet that was even remotely close to his — and that’s when I left.”
Have a Plan and Stick To It
Meer opened City Hall in 1993. “I had a vision and an amazing team,” he says. That vision involved a sprawling and roaring steakhouse bringing hip vibes to the hustle and bustle of Duane Street. Meer informed ICE students of key business plan tips like funding, what he calls “hustle money for concept and operation;” and location, which he says is “now more important than ever."
Invest In Your Relationships
Meer firmly believes that perhaps the most important part of opening any business is to create an environment built on respect and safety. “Not only hire the right employees, but also surround yourself with smart people — in fact, people smarter than yourself — and nurture those relationships,” he says.
His City Hall team became his family. The hardest part of closing City Hall was saying goodbye to the team. “I put their kids through college, [and now] I wasn’t there anymore to protect them,” he says. Family, indeed — Meer's former director of operations at City Hall, Richard Hanano, is co-owner of Pure Liquid Wine & Spirits.
Meer also emphasizes the importance of nurturing those relationships outside of the kitchen — your customer base. He applies this ethos at his 12,000-square-foot wine shop, which features a barrel stave ceiling, a large section dedicated to good value wines priced at $20 or less and a particularly lovely air freshener system giving off notes of white lotus. “This is retail, but it’s no different than hospitality,” he says.
After a full Q&A with budding ICE students hoping to run their own business in the near future, Meer left them with succinct parting words: “Trust your instincts and listen to your instructors.”