Finding a lifestyle balance in the craziness of the restaurant business is one elusive challenge. Keeping our restaurants and ourselves free from substance abuse is an even greater one.
It’s no secret this business is ripe for misuse.
Chefs selling steaks out the back door to feed cocaine habits, bartenders dealing drugs, alcoholic beverages at arms reach, etc.. It’s nearly impossible to run a clean business and keep it clean.
In this episode of the Restaurant Rockstars Podcast, I speak with Michael Chernow, a former abuser turned restaurateur, celebrity chef, author, fitness guru and business impresario.
Listen as we learn:
- How a stressed-out restaurant owner or manager can shift their thinking and their habits
- Michael’s steps to recovery, followed by his healthy new lifestyle approach
- Best practices that built Michael’s restaurant empire
- What it’s like to appear and compete on “Beat Bobby Flay” and “Chopped”
- How plant-based proteins combined with GF oats, vitamins and minerals are the perfect breakfast
We will also learn all about Michael’s new lifestyle brand “Kreatures of Habit” – inspired healthy products.
Listen on, stay healthy and ROCK your Restaurant!
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Michael Chernow 0:00
You’re walking down a dark alley, you need to, you’ve got more to offer you, you really need to figure out what you’re going to do. Because the chances of you getting through this are slim to none if you keep walking this path, and so I decided to make a decision. I got sober when I was 23. And thank God for that. As soon as I got sober, I, a whole new world opened up for me and I made a plan. And I said, I’m gonna go to culinary school, I’m going to get my degree in culinary arts. I’m going to work in a kitchen or two and I am going to develop a restaurant concept and open up my own restaurant at 27 or 28.
Roger Beaudoin 0:34
Welcome back to the podcast, everyone. You know, I get to meet some pretty interesting people on the podcast. But this week’s guest is no exception. I’m speaking with Mr. Michael Chernow, who is a serial entrepreneur, restaurateur celebrity chef, fitness guru and overall business impresario this is going to be a really action packed episode with lots of key learnings. But before we begin, I’d like to answer a listener question. We have a new feature now. And Jim called in asking Is now a good time to raise menu prices? Well, normally, I would suggest that on an annual basis, every restaurant so should strategically evaluate its menu and raise prices, where it makes sense to do so. But now, as we you know, emerge from the pandemic consumers, our guests are hypersensitive, to increase prices they’re noticing more and more, especially in light of the labor shortage. And the fact that so many restaurants are not able to provide the service that our guests have come to expect. So my answer there would be be very careful. But if you do choose to raise prices, communication is so important. communicate to your guests and explain your situation, honestly, transparently, because a lot of them have no idea. You know that you’re still struggling in so many areas, and we’re doing our best to serve our guests. Thanks for that question, Jim. If you’d like to leave a question, just go to our podcast page. And for this episode, on the show notes about halfway down you’ll see a button that says Ask us anything. All you do is press that button you can record a message and I’ll get right back to you with an answer. Now let’s listen to this week’s episode.
You’re tuned in to the restaurant rockstars podcast powerful ideas to rock your restaurant. Here’s your host & Roger Beaudoin.
Roger Beaudoin 2:24
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Michael Chernow 4:56
I’m really well thanks so much for having me.
Roger Beaudoin 4:58
I’m really glad you’re here. because again, this is such an interesting, you know, conversation we’re going to have. So let’s talk about, everyone has a backstory in hospitality. And you were a chef. And so you maybe discovered cooking in an early age, maybe discovered it later in life? I don’t know. But where did it all begin for you? Let’s let’s, let’s talk about your career trajectory, where you’ve been there, we’re going to talk all about substance abuse, which is prevalent in this business, you got a story there, you know, the fitness piece, but take us from the beginning.
Michael Chernow 5:28
Sure. Well, I grew up in New York City, I grew up in Manhattan, and my parents didn’t have an enormous amount of cash. And so in order to have money, because I wanted, I wanted things growing up in New York City, you’re exposed to things at a very early age. And so I was paid, I paid close attention to things early on, and I wanted them, I had to work. And my first job was actually at St. Thomas Moore church, when I was 12 years old, working in the rectory signing funeral cards or, you know, whatever I needed to do. And then I quickly got it I quickly learned that that wasn’t a job for me. I got a job a couch potato video delivering videos. And a buddy of mine, who’s actually my partner in the meatball shop, was working at a restaurants just down the street called the candle Cafe, and said, Hey, turnout, you know, you’re delivering videos, why don’t you come over to candle cafe and, and deliver food as well. And I said, I think I could do both, actually. And I was I was pretty quick. I was on rollerblades, at the time in 1993, that was a cool thing to do. I used to do that to get it, you know. And so that was my first opportunity to work in a restaurant. And to be totally honest, when I walked in the doors of that restaurant, I felt like I had arrived. I loved the environment. I loved mingling with older people. I was sort of an always an outgoing guy. So I connected with people very quickly. I started in the kitchen as a dishwasher and a prep cook. And, and a delivery guy whenever, you know, whatever job they needed me for. And I worked there for a year or so. And that started my career in restaurants at that restaurants. I really learned about my passion for Believe it or not at such a young age healthy food. It was a vegan restaurant or it still is a vegan restaurant, it’s still there. And I was eating kale and carrot ginger dressing before it was the thing. And you know, I continued to work throughout through through restaurants in front of the house in the back of the house. I ended up predominantly spending more time in the front of the house as my you know, career grew. all through high school, I worked and I graduated from high school and decided that I wanted to try Los Angeles for a little while went out to LA worked at a restaurant with Daniel now out in LA came back to New York. And you know, all along the way I was I was working in the night, and I was a crazy kid and I was partying way too much. And so finally I you know was able to gather my thoughts and have some people sort of tapped me on the shoulder and say, Hey, kid, you know, you’re, you’re really you’re walking down a dark alley, you need to you’ve got more to offer you you really need to to figure out what you’re going to do, because the chances of you getting through this are slim to none if you keep walking this path. And so I decided to make a decision I got sober when I was 23. And thank God for that. As soon as I got sober i a whole new world opened up for me and I made a plan. And I said I’m gonna go to culinary school, I’m gonna get my degree in culinary arts. I’m going to work in a kitchen or two and I am going to develop a restaurant concept and open up my own restaurant at 27 or 28. Excellent. That’s exactly what I did. I went to culinary school, the French Culinary Institute. I got a degree in culinary education at the time, they were for the first time offering this restaurant management program which is essentially a truncated Cornell hospitality program that that Cornell put together with some of the Union Square Hospitality Group guys and I applied for a scholarship for that and I won the scholarship and I did that it took me about two and a half years to graduate from from culinary program and the management program. And then I started putting pen to paper and I started writing business plan. And you know, I say this pretty quickly telling the story but like the whole way through, even when I was you know, an absolute mess. I was passionate about food beverage service and hospitality just and I still am you know, enormous Lee I have. And so, you know, I wrote a business plan. I was working at a restaurant in the East Village for a number of years and when I was done with that business plan, I finally convinced Daniel Holzman to move back from Calif Want you to join me in New York,
Michael Chernow 10:02
I put that plan in front of about 20 regulars at the restaurant that I grown up at, you know, I worked there for almost eight years at that point. And, you know, 14 of the guys wrote me a check, to start to start the meatball shop. And so we opened up the meatball shop in February of 2010. Coming out of the pit of a recession, to unbelievable success, we really got a crash course in business, we raised more money very quickly paid our investors back in six months and opened up five more restaurants. I learned along that journey, that my passion really resided in culture, design, brand, community, and creativity. And I really wanted to create again, and Daniel wanted to take the business in a different direction that I wanted to take it in. And so you know, I said to him, Hey, man, like, why don’t you do that. And I’ll sit on the board. And you know, you guys buy some of my equity so that I can then go on create again. And that’s exactly what I did. And in 2015, I opened up my second restaurant concept called Seymours, which is a sustainable seafood concept. There’s now five of those in New York. And that took me through 2019 When I had the same feeling. You know, I really wanted to create something new and fitness, wellness, mindfulness. overall wellness is has been a massive part of my life since I got sober. And I knew that the next thing I was going to do was going to be directly correlating correlated to wellness. And so I came up with a concept that restaurant concept called creatures of habit, creatures of habit was a concept that was going to be a dinner parts to the Sweet greens date part, I felt like a lot of people that were lining up for sweet greens in all major cities really sort of didn’t have a place with similar values and quality at night, really sort of thinking about people’s health and wellness, but offering a really cool experience. And so that’s what I wanted to create with creatures of habit. And I set out to do that. And then boom, march 2020, got, you know, smashed smashed me in the face. And yeah, and so the cool thing about my vision for this brand, though, was I wasn’t looking to scale the restaurant concept necessarily, because that I found out was not something that I really loved. My plan was to use the restaurant, obviously, as a revenue stream, but ultimately as an incubator slash marketing brand hub for a line of consumer packaged goods that I would ultimately scale in retail. And when the pandemic hit, and I watched our industry completely crash and burn in a matter of weeks, it was devastating. Luckily, the meatball shop and Seymours made it through and they’re gonna be okay. But, you know, I watched a lot of friends, you know, have a very difficult time, all of us were blown away by it. And so I decided to take a step back and think about what I wanted to do next. And I found out through some self exploration that I didn’t need to open up a restaurant that I can go straight to consumer packaged goods, and really see if I had what it took to be an entrepreneur in another industry. And that’s when I started developing the brand at what is now creatures of habit, which is a direct to consumer CPG company with a really awesome group of people around me gearing up to launch real soon. And the first product that we’re launching is something called the protagonist, which is as like all the concepts that I have done, or all the businesses that I’ve launched, as authentic to me as my teeth, you know, really authentic and, and the protagonist is a blend of gluten free oats, plant based protein powder, vitamin d3, omega three fatty acids, pink, Himalayan salt, probiotic, digestive enzymes, just all the wellness that I want to put into my body. In the beginning of the day, I made a formula to introduce to the market as an instant oatmeal or overnight oatmeal product that not only delivers nutrition, but performance. And I’m really proud
Roger Beaudoin 14:19
of that. You know, we talked a lot about the well, the ever present pivots that were so necessary for operators during COVID That continued to happen. Pivots aren’t over, you know, businesses and restaurants keep pivoting. But you’ve done a monumental personal pivot yourself. Because we did talk about your sobriety and you know, at age 23 and all that and that there was a road to recovery piece to that. And then you had this broad vision of you know, getting back into the restaurant business, going to culinary school, you know, getting the skills and then not just learning or enhancing your cooking ability but learning the business side of things to become an entrepreneur laid the foundation for your career and what you’re doing now, can you describe to me what that road recovery was like, because I know that this industry is rife. Like I said, with substance problems, and there are owners, there are managers that are addicted to multiple things. And they’re still some of them are functioning, and some of them are non functioning. But this business is kind of rife with that. And not every business is, but right down to the employees, it’s that you’re hiring and in a labor shortage, right now, it’s like restaurants will take anyone they can get, and there are going to be drugs and alcohol issues now brought into the workplace that may or may not have existed before. So operators and managers need to find a balance to stay healthy, because this is such a demanding business, and you’ve got so much knowledge to share and so many nuggets of information about your own personal journey, can you describe a little bit more about what that journey was like for you, and how you ultimately got clean how long that took, and how much better you feel now and all the opportunities that opened up to you that would not have had you stayed, you know, as a as a user of whatever the substance was?
Michael Chernow 16:00
Sure, well, you know, I I decided to get sober. And I had never taken a step out of the restaurant business, by the way, like, I stepped into nightclubs a little bit, you know, between 15 and 23, but I pretty much stayed in service hospitality the whole time. You know, we call ourselves pirates and the restaurants, the pirate ship, a lot of people end up in the restaurant business as opposed to look to seek it out. You know, we are unique individuals that thrive off of intense, like, there’s a level of of what’s the word, I’m looking for adrenaline, that rushes through a restaurant at 730 or eight o’clock at night on a Friday. That is that is really hard to replicate in any other industry.
Roger Beaudoin 17:06
It’s like being a rock star, you know, you’re on stage, and you’re performing for this audience that’s coming in, and it’s busy, and I get it. And there’s that chemistry of the team and the energy in the air. I think that’s what you’re talking about. But keep going.
Michael Chernow 17:17
That’s exactly what I’m talking about. And so every single component of that machine needs to function properly in order for it to actually work. And that is one of the reasons not the reason, one of the reasons why the restaurant business is so tough. You know, it’s a very tough industry, but but that energy and that that adrenaline is not for everyone. However, the people that it is for tend to be risk takers tend to be a little crazy. And, and I fit right in. And so, you know, being able to work at night and drink and do drugs. And you know, just especially for me, it’s such a young age, really be able to like hang out with older folks. It just it just felt like it was the right place for me. And, you know, I also didn’t come from the greatest family situation. I had a lot of struggles at home and I moved out of my parents house when I was 15. So it was a bit of a of a wild child. But I will say that, you know, my boss at the restaurant that I worked at, which is a place called Frank restaurant. It’s an incredible place. It still exists. It’s one of the best restaurants in the city. As far as I’m concerned. My boss, I’d slept through work for the umpteenth time, my boss took me aside and said Mikey, I love you. I really love you. I’m not going to watch you kill yourself. And I got to fire you. And very few people got fired from that restaurant because he vetted everybody and everybody sort of was like a real unit. And I said Frank, you can’t fire me man. I’m so sorry. I will never this will never happen again. He said Mike, I can’t watch this happen. I’m gonna You gotta go you just you gotta go figure your shit out. And I begged him and he gave me one ultimatum he said listen, if you 100% commit to getting sober. By the way he was not sober. By by any stretch. said if you commit to getting sober and show up to this restaurant every morning at 8am for 30 days and clean the restaurant with the porters and call me when you get there. If you call a minute late it’s over. I will give you an opportunity to have your job back you will not work behind the bar you will not manage that side of the restaurant and you can get sober and you can clean the restaurant with the porters
Roger Beaudoin 19:38
tough love right there.
Michael Chernow 19:40
Yeah and he saved my ass and I’m and because that Job was everything to me that’s at that time nice and and so that’s what I did got silver I went to you know, I got silver and I’ve met a number of guys along the way that taught me how to eat that taught me that fitness and, and nutrition. We’re going to save my life along with you No doing some work on myself. And they threw me into a boxing gym, a muay thai boxing gym. And they said, This is where you’re gonna get your energy. And they gave me a plan. And my life changed almost immediately. And I learned that I didn’t want to drink and do drugs anymore. I really, I really wanted to, to be something and do something. And I knew that, you know, I’d always been an entrepreneur, I’d always been crafty, and always been hustling and trying to make things and do things. Even when I was, you know, on the darker side of the tracks, but this gave me a real opportunity to be clear, and, and to put a plan in place. And that’s what I did. And so, you know, I don’t remember for me, it being that challenging only because I had been, I was at the bottom of the barrel, I was really down and out. One way to go. Yeah, I just didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t like who I was, I didn’t love myself in any way, shape, or form, I probably wanted to die at that time in my life, because I just didn’t feel like I was putting any value out there. Because I think ultimately, we as human beings are here to be of service and put out value. And if we can’t put out value, then we’re just simply lost. And so I was able to start to realize that I’m valuable person. And, and I can I can be of service to others. And that’s when everything changed.
Roger Beaudoin 21:20
Now let’s go back to your culinary institute training, because there are a lot of chefs out there that come up through the ranks either apprenticing under a chef that become a sous chef starting off as a prepper, line cook, they go to school, I mean, there’s lots of different paths to cooking, right, and to working in high level restaurants. But then ultimately, so many chefs out there are tired of working for other people like you, they want to put their stamp on something make their mark in the world. And a lot of them just have really amazing culinary skills, but they don’t suddenly realize that, hey, this is a business. And now suddenly, I’ve got to be a human relations expert and a marketing and a PR person. And I’ve got to manage people and manage processes. And I’ve got to know the financial side of the business. You obviously I’m hearing that you got a good foundational element in that. But it was also something internal about you that, you know, led you to become a serial entrepreneur, can you speak to that whole experience that, you know, might be good advice for chefs that want to build their careers and not just be chefs and go on to start their own restaurants? But it’s so challenging? Because you need all the pieces? Or else work with someone as a partner? Who has the pieces you don’t have? What What would you say your best advice would be they’re
Michael Chernow 22:35
not everybody’s meant to be an entrepreneur. Right? And I, I have a podcast called born or made, and my podcast talks exactly about this question nature nurture. I believe I was born with an inherent fearless gene, to have an idea, say it out loud. And then gonna fucking do it. And that is something that I’ve always had. Yeah, I was selling my baseball cards, I was selling my toys when I was five and six years old, you know, outside of my apartment building. I always had this sort of like, What do you mean, I can’t do it gene. And, and so if you are a defensive player, which by the way every single team needs, and it’s absolutely necessary. If you are a defensive player, chances are the entrepreneurial gene is not for you, because you are trying to protect your assets. Yeah, if you are an offensive player, your goal is every single day you wake up is to is to win. And to do it pretty much at at, at any means. And so you can’t necessarily be so focused on the protection component. Because you have to drive forward. And I don’t have fear when it comes to starting businesses. If I had if I had fear Trust me, I would not be where I am today. I am literally people still ask me my wife. She’s like, you’re fucking going to do another business. Like can we just can’t just stick with one and just be happy and, and go and I’m just like, well, you know, I just have this, this, this, this desire, this hunger, this this ferocious sort of need to create, and to take risk and inner drive
Roger Beaudoin 24:31
to right. So burning inner drive that,
Michael Chernow 24:36
like if I can’t I if I if I see something, you know, for me, it’s like I can explain it only like this. When I walk into a restaurant that I’m looking to buy, right because typically either you walk into a raw space or you walk into an existing restaurant when you’re when you’re expanding a restaurant concept. I literally walk into the space I look around. I take a deep breath and I close My eyes. And if I can see physically see the business in the restaurant. I know, it’s totally possible. There’s a hundreds of restaurants that I’ve walked into that I’ve actually attempted that, that exercise and have not been able to see it and turned around and walked right out. And so that is my I think in business and restaurant business, that’s sort of my superpower, I have the ability to close my eyes, hear it, see it, smell it, believe it know, where everything’s gonna go, lighting the whole thing. And then I’ll sit down, and I’ll look at my business partner, and I’ll say, Hey, this is how this thing is gonna look. And let’s pull the trigger on it. And I and at that point, like, obviously, rent isn’t is something that I take into consideration. But if I can get that vision, it’s not really that important to me to worry about. The downside? You know, it’s just not. So I think that that entrepreneurial thing for any chef out there or any, you know, restaurant entrepreneur, you know, you got to ask yourself a serious question. Just because you are a technician, and a really fucking good one does not mean you’re going to be an incredible business owner. Right? Yep. And like, and that’s okay, too. By the way, there are amazing management, restaurant managers that I know, that are that make, you know, six, mid six figures a year, that don’t have to worry about the stress of rent and the stress, you know what I mean? Like, it’s a tough, it’s a tough business to be in. But I say if you are that person that just can’t sleep at night thinking about doing your own thing, stop fucking questioning it, stop analyzing it, write it down, put it out there into the universe, and just go and do it. That’s just it. Like you can’t like there’s never going to be right time, the light, the stars are never going to align. It’s not like, you know, like none of that shit. Actually, all those, I’m just waiting for the right opportunity. Like, you just got to go do it. And you got to take the leap. And you know, oh, I can’t raise money, well, then you’re not meant to do it. Right? Like, if you can’t raise money, and you want to be an entrepreneur, you might as well throw in the towel. You got to be able to raise money. And by the way, everybody starts somewhere. Everybody starts somewhere, ask if you ask 1000 people, and you get one person? Well, now you know that you got to ask 15,000 people to get to where you need to go. And if you’re not prepared to do that. That’s what it takes.
Roger Beaudoin 27:51
I’m hearing relentless turn over every rock, go for it leap of faith. either got it in the air you don’t. It’s like, wow, that’s all amazing stuff.
Michael Chernow 28:02
I mean, that’s it.
Roger Beaudoin 28:03
Yeah. Let’s go back to the protagonist. Let’s talk about You briefly mentioned what it was you were having a bowl when we first got on this call? Let’s let’s talk about what your vision is for that product is sort of, you know, launching forward, what new products do you have on the horizon? Obviously, you know, creatures of habit, what a cool name. And it’s spelled with a K, not a C, it’s like, you’ve got a budding company here that has, you know, global potential to to change the world and to change the way people eat and change the way people feel about themselves. And sort of total shift their lifestyle. Let’s talk about that. Let’s start with protagonists. Let’s talk about what you see as a future vision. What can complement that product? But start again, with what is it? And why and how do you feel when you start eating it? Does it take a while to really feel the benefits of this new way of of eating and nutrition and all that stuff? And is it combined with exercise to make give you the whole picture? Take me through all that.
Michael Chernow 29:06
Sure. So I mean, I’d like to start with creatures of habit first, because, you know, creatures of habit is really sort of the brainchild of the protagonist. So creatures of habit is a business that I all the businesses that I’ve developed, I’ve actually developed on long distance runs. Running is when I do my best thinking, running without music. And so I knew that I wanted to do the next thing and I started thinking about what that was going to be habits are not only for me everything but habits are everything for everyone. You are your habits, you are your decisions. Every decision you make, will ultimately develop or produce an outcome that is either going to help you or hurt you. Right. And so I learned that pretty quickly when I got sober. And I started to implement and stack habits Paul Is it a daily habits that helped me make better decisions every day. It starts from the second I wake up in the morning, the second I open my eyes, I’ve got a long list of very small things that I do that set me up for success. I can’t necessarily I can share those things. But I can’t necessarily sell all those things, aside from the first thing that I put into my body every day. The first thing that I’ve been putting into my body every day, habitually, every single day without fail for many years is a blend of gluten free oats, plant based protein. I have, I have on the side of that my vitamin d3, my omega three fatty acids, I put pink Himalayan salt into it, I put pumpkin seeds into it, I put flax seeds and chia seeds and, and a probiotic I have on the side, a digestive enzyme I have on the side. So I have all this stuff in front of me every single morning as I’m preparing my first meal. And that first meal comes typically after I workout in the morning. But that first meal doesn’t have to be after a workout, that first meal is is something that is going to nourish me and give me an opportunity to feel good about the first nutritional decision I make in the day. And so I said, you know, nobody’s really done anything revolutionary with oatmeal, and people eat oatmeal globally. And it’s a $4 billion dollar market. If I can get even a tiny sliver, if I can figure out a way to put all this good stuff. Not only because oatmeal is delicious, and oatmeal is comforting. And you know, but if I can add all this sort of like optimizing, like elevating performance based stuff into this product, it’s going to be a little bit different than oatmeal. But it’s going to offer an enormous upside. So that that was my path for starting the protagonist. And I call it the protagonist because it’s protein and oats right so I spell it PR O A T
Michael Chernow 32:08
and I started that journey. You know, I believe the business of business is relationships and storytelling. And I’ve always had a story when I launched a business that was authentic to me. The meatball shop started because I used to eat meatballs in Frank restaurant. It was a dish called the right rigatoni red goo I took out the rigatoni I would just have the meatballs in the sauce. That was my home. That was my family meal most nights. Seymour’s was a restaurant that I started because I grew up fishing. And it was one of the only things that I really felt like I had a connection to my father with. And I absolutely loved fishing, and I fished on the, you know, I fished in right outside of New York, and I caught blue fish and black fish and Porgy and Tautog, and all these fish that no one ever heard of. And I said, shit, man, I’ve got to put a highlight on these fish come to realize that those fish were sustainable and underutilized. And that was the story of CMOS. And so now the protagonist is a story that I feel like I can change many lives with because if I can give people a habit to implement into their life on a daily basis to help them make better decisions and actually feel good and know that like, look, 90% of the population is vitamin d3 and Omega three deficient, our bodies do not produce those essential things that we need d3 and Omega three, d3, specifically in today’s age with COVID. And all that stuff is enormous for immune immunity, it is enormous. Without d3, your immune system suffers period done with the right amount of d3, your immune system functions on high octane. So I wanted to say okay, d3, there’s an there’s a there’s a litany of other things d3 does, but I knew that d3 was something that I supplemented with for years, and I wanted to be able to put that in the product plant based v3, Omega three. Omega three is absolutely integral for brain health, heart health. So many things Omega three does. Many, many people don’t get the proper amount of Omega three. So I wanted to put in D three and Omega three, those are two very important pieces of the puzzle on the protagonist. Because if you are supplementing with it, then you’ve got it on the side and you’re paying extra for it if you eat the protagonist on a daily basis. It’s all in there made in under three minutes or overnight. That’s a long way of saying the product of the protagonist is the ultimate way to kickstart your day. It’s the ultimate pre workout meal post workout meal. If you’re a traveler and you will you struggle with eating a healthy breakfast or a healthy meal on the go. Like you take five pouches of the protagonist with you and you’re and you’re good to go. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. You know you’re going on a road trip like there’s just so many applications for the protagonist for me. It’s what I keep in the pantry. I wake up in the morning if I want hot oatmeal, I pour it into a bowl I had hot water I stirred up I cover it for about 90 seconds and it’s good to go or I make it the night For like in the summertime, I prefer it a little colder. So I make it the night before and I put it in the fridge and when I when I wake up in the morning is ready to go. I just believe that that oatmeal is something that needs a little bit of life and and if I can add really life optimizing ingredients to it that are all natural, that are plant based that are allergen free, that that is that is available to everyone and anyone, I’ve got something special. The other piece of the brand that I think is really important to talk about is the lifestyle component. So being healthy is not just nutrition, right? Being healthy is how you feel, what you think how you dress, who you hang out with, where you work out how you work out, all those things are, you know, like healthy lifestyle is something that is all encompassing, who you hang out with. And so I wanted to create a lifestyle component to the brand that was going to allow me to tell better stories, that outside of just the oatmeal story or the CPG story lives, you know, fashion is something that I’ve always loved. I grew up in New York City, I pay attention to it, I’ve always been a collector of fashion. And so I created a really cool line of apparel, to go with the brand. So that people that are a part of it can feel part of a team really so that they can feel like they’re wearing a jersey, they’ve got the uniform. It’s really cool stuff. It’s small little capsule collections. And and it’s gonna allow us to tell stories in places that we wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell stories with just the oatmeal product
Roger Beaudoin 36:37
is the apparel branded creatures of habit? Yep.
Michael Chernow 36:40
So the apparel is creatures of habit. Awesome. You know, it’s kind of it’s it’s, it’s it’s nothing fancy it is but it’s all custom cut. And so every single piece was made and designed by me. It’s T shirts, it’s hoodies and sweatpants. It’s socks, it’s we did a collaboration with vans sneakers. So we have two two custom vans sneakers that we’re launching with. So really cool. It’s it was for me, it’s just the only component that’s going to allow me to collaborate with others and tell great stories
Roger Beaudoin 37:08
that is cool. And it complements protagonist and anything in the future it all sort of is consistently branded and it just fits the lifestyle. That’s
Michael Chernow 37:17
no one thing to just put a put a put a stake in it right like Yeah, our habits. Yes, make great decisions in the beginning of the day, your chances of making great decisions throughout the rest of the day are far greater, right. If you eat a doughnut, chances are you’re gonna eat up eat a you know, burger and fries for dinner. If you eat a delicious bowl of healthy oatmeal in the morning, you might just have a you know, a piece of fish and veggies for dinner, right? Like, I’m just trying to say, hey, habits have changed my life I am living up. Like for me. I never thought that I’d be able to live the life that I’m living today. It is all directly resulting. It is all a direct result of my ability to consistently make great decisions on a daily basis. From the moment I opened my eyes to the moment I go to bed.
Roger Beaudoin 38:02
That’s awesome. Let me ask you a question. Let’s go back to the protagonist. For a moment. Let’s talk about the flavor profile. Because a lot of healthy foods are really good for you. But it takes a while to get used to them and either like it or you don’t. But I also heard that you have all these supplements. We talked about omegas. And we talked about D threes and all that. So I guess I want to understand is everything now all inclusive in that packet? Or do you still need to add anything to it to bring it to the level at which you’re eating it like you did this morning?
Michael Chernow 38:33
You don’t have to add anything to it outside of toppings that you would want to potentially put in like fruit? Yeah, like everything that I listed. gluten free oats, plant based protein, 30 grams of plant based protein, which we are the only person in the whole entire market that has 30 grams of plant based protein and 30 grams of protein in general. Pink Himalayan salt, chia seeds, flax seeds, Omega three, vitamin d3, probiotic, digestive enzymes. It’s all there. It’s all there.
Roger Beaudoin 39:06
That’s tremendous. Let’s also ask, is there different flavors to the protagonist? Does it come in different varieties? Or is it the the one product
Michael Chernow 39:16
so we’re launching with three flavors? I wanted to get those chocolate vanilla and blueberry banana. There you go. They are all delicious. And they’re not overly sweet. I wasn’t trying to create a dessert but they are all delicious and craveable incredibly satiating and nice. Yeah, they’re, it’s really it’s really great. The the other the other component that I didn’t mention or I breezed over was was the versatility of it. So you can make it with adding just adding hot water, throw it into a bowl or a jar stirred up really well cover it let it sit for you know 60 To 90 seconds. You can add water stirred up really well too. According to a microwave for 90 seconds, you can add milk water any you know, liquid that you feel like you want to eat it with zero it up, well throw it in the fridge overnight, and it’s ready and delicious in the morning, you can also make a smoothie out of it. So you can just pour it into a blender, add a little liquid, some ice, blitz it, and it’s an it’s an it’s awesome. And if you’re really in a pinch, and I’ve been known to do this, I just you know, if I’m walking out of the gym, and I want something really fast, I just take it poured into my water bottle or a shaker bottle ag fold water, shake it up and and down it and it’s it’s delicious.
Roger Beaudoin 40:37
That’s killer. Let’s talk about you’ve also had some major network television appearances beat Bobby Flay and chop like how did all that come about? And what was you know, what were those episodes about? Tell us about, you know, the competitions or what you actually did on those shows?
Michael Chernow 40:54
Well, I mean, I’ve been I’ve been a judge on a number of shows over the years, you know, media became something that was a part of my life early on, you know, with the success of the meatball shop. I was on Yeah, it was on beat Bobby Flay a bunch I was on. I was on chopped, I was on a number of Food Network shows. And then I landed my own TV show called consume the real restaurant business with my partner Daniel that aired on CNBC was a really cool six episode season. And then shortly after that, I landed another TV show that I hosted called food porn, where I traveled around the country for 26 episodes, and, you know, found the coolest food to eat, and that was on the FYI network. And so, you know, media is something that I’m super comfortable with, I actually really enjoy. I really enjoy television. I enjoy being on TV. I’m not it doesn’t scare me. You know, actually, I remember the first time we were on live TV, I think was Fox and Friends. And that was my first time doing live television. One of the first three or four times Daniel and I were on TV, and that was kind of terrifying. But aside from that, that sort of like, you know, broke me in and then I just, you know, I just sort of fell in love with it.
Roger Beaudoin 42:08
That’s great. Let’s, let’s get into the workouts now. Do you? You mentioned something called muay thai boxing, which I’m not familiar with, you still do that? And what is that? And let’s talk about other things that you do besides that, I know you’re marathoner, you’re a you know, a bodybuilder. Let’s, let’s talk about all of your, you know, activities that round out the diet now.
Michael Chernow 42:29
Yeah, so similar to nutrition, I’ve implemented fitness habits over the years. And I’m not a unique guy, really, honestly, anybody who wants something and then does it gets it. It’s just that’s like the one plus du equals have, it’s just that there’s only way to get one way to get to have and you got to, you got to want it, you got to do it. And then you get it. And I knew that I wanted to get in great shape when I got sober. And these guys saw the energy level that I had, you know, I was a bit of a, I was a really fun drunk to be around. But if you said something that I didn’t like, you know, I’ve been known to soccer one being a new york city kid. And so they knew that about so they so they said, Hey, we’re gonna put you into a place where you’re gonna get your ass kicked, and you’re gonna get humbled, and you are going to learn the hard way and enjoy it. And so they took me to this Muay Thai gym, which is a it’s a martial art Muay Thai, it’s the it’s the Thai form of martial arts. It’s the national sport in Thailand. And it’s a pretty brutal, you know, striking sport. I, they took me in there, I saw a bunch of people that I, I said, this is the coolest thing ever. I always wanted to be a ninja when I was a kid, I never got into into, you know, martial arts as a young kid. And when I walked in there, I said, this is something I can wrap my head around. And I can honestly say that I learned an enormous amount about who I am. And I was given a toolkit, and a set of morals in that. In that Academy, it was called, it’s called Five Points Academy. Because I consistently got beat up. And I learned that I might not be the best in anything I do. But I will promise you that I have a heart of a lion. And it doesn’t matter how big you are, and how scary or how tall the mountain, like I will fall down and get right back up every single time. And I learned that they’re through pain and suffering. In a positive way, though, you know, I really needed to be right sized. And that’s how I learned it. And the guys in there took me in they knew that they knew my situation. They knew that I was trying to get my life together. And they taught me how to be a man there. And I trained that. That sport For 12 years intensely, I really trained it intensely, I got very good at it. And it taught me introduced running into my life, which in many ways is was was a lifesaver for me. Whenever I was struggling with something I would put on my running shoes and go out for a run. Fitness saved my life between getting sober, you know, obviously getting sober, saved my life, really, but it introduced me to fitness, and fitness saved and saves my life every single day. When you can do something consistently, that gives you a level of confidence that you can see yourself getting better at, that gives you that offers this ability to to learn about discipline and commitment, and integrity, and growth. There’s very few things in the world on a daily basis that can offer those things. Every single time somebody asked me to, you know, talk to me about, you know, struggling with something I asked them on when the last time they worked out was or when the last time they took a run or even a walk. And a lot of the times they can’t give me an honest answer. And so my solution for for recovery, in many ways, is wellness. And it typically starts with fitness. I believe it’s, it’s, it’s given me everything I have today, and it’s only because I’m sober. But fitness has really given you know, given me this, this ability to build confidence within myself to feel like I can do things. I don’t just have to want things I can actually go out and do them. And then I started becoming very competitive and I wanted to compete. And so I started running marathons and I started getting a Muay Thai. Then after, you know, getting my nose broken one too many times and you know, feeling like I was not going to be a professional Muay Thai kickboxer. I started to get into weight training. And weight training was something I really fell in love with. I ran the New York City Marathon in 2018. And I was just weight training, you know, like I was doing it as a supplement to my running. And this this girl who I know who I deeply respect, said, Hey, you know, have you ever thought about doing a bodybuilding competition? And I was like, why building competition? I’m like,
Michael Chernow 47:19
like, Are you kidding? I’m like 160 pounds. She was like, no, no, like a men’s physique bodybuilding competition where you can really, you know, like, get focused, and challenge yourself and see what you can do with your body. And I said, No, and she was like, Well, I think you should try it out. And that’s it that day, I made a commitment to myself. And I said, I’m gonna do it. So I went out, I got a coach. And I started really honing in on what that was. And that is an intense dedication to a life of, of structure, and foundation. And so I competed as a bodybuilder a couple of times, I got my pro bodybuilder card. So I’m a pro bodybuilder. Now in September of last year, I’ve got a competition coming up in November. And then I believe, after my first pro show, chances are unless I do really well, and when I’m going to step over and try a new sport, but
Roger Beaudoin 48:16
let’s put yourself back in the meatball shop, and Seymours Do you still have a position in those companies? Or have you moved on and just cashed out of them,
Michael Chernow 48:26
I still own a substantial amount of both companies. I, I sit on the board of both companies on there for both companies in many ways. You know, we meet pretty regularly, but in terms of day to day operation, decision making, I do not, okay, doesn’t leave myself with those responsibilities.
Roger Beaudoin 48:48
But I’m sure you can relate to a typical restaurant owner manager, whether it’s an independent guy with one single place, or you got five locations, and you’re juggling, and hopefully you’ve got a management team in place, and you can I hate the word delegate because anyone can delegate but empower your staff to really have your back run it like they owned it. I mean, that sounds like your trajectory in this business. But just put your yourself in the shoes of the typical operator or GM today in this business, how what would your best advice be on how they can beat the stress, find a healthy balance in life not be tied to a business that just, you know, makes them fat makes them drink too much and just you know, makes them a generally miserable person when literally, if they’ve survived to this point during the pandemic, and they’re really trying to move forward. They need to pivot their home their own lifestyle, not just do business as usual the way it used to be like, what would you say to that?
Michael Chernow 49:41
Well, what’s your best I mean, look, you know, I think that you know, the person I am today the first thing I would say is what kind of what kind of self care are you? Are you doing that would be my first question, or my first bit of advice because if you’re not doing any self care, ie, eating well, making sure exercise Just part of your life, spending some time in silence and quiet, you know, giving yourself an opportunity to breathe actually, like, really pay attention to your breath. I know that that sounds, you know, a little ridiculous as a response to your answer to your question. But I can only tell you that like, without that you are incapable of being a great leader, in my, in my experience, right. And that goes for business and family, you know, like, I put myself first and not in a selfish way, I wake up at five o’clock in the morning, and spend two hours focusing on myself, fitness, wellness, you know, like writing, reading, eating, you know, I only do that because, well, it makes me feel good. And, and as a byproduct of it, it makes me look good, which gives me confidence. And then I’m able to actually love myself, which ultimately allows me to absolutely be of immense service to the people around me. Because if I hate myself, or feel like shit all the time, the chances of me being available for someone else. Zero. I put myself first. So I would recommend anybody who’s out there who’s really, really struggling to start thinking that way. It’s not selfish. It’s selfless. I’m a better husband, father, business owner, business partner, friend, brother, son, all that stuff comes from me feeling well inside. Secondly, people are everything. People are everything. And I don’t mean the guests in the restaurants, although they’re very important, and I love them. Yes, people are everything. And if you do not put your team first, meaning you walk into your restaurant, manager, Chef, whatever cook bartender owner, and you don’t address every single person on that staff are the kind Hello, looking in the eyes, give them a high five. You know, you’re, you’re you’re you’re making a mistake, right, like leat, for me leading with kindness has always been the way I have gotten people to stand behind me. Every time I walk into the restaurant, you can ask anybody who I’ve ever hired, anybody who’s ever worked at the restaurant, I before I even glance at the guests, I walk in, and I address every single person upstairs, downstairs, front, back, whatever. And I say, Hey, what’s going on guys, good to see you. When I leave the restaurant, I don’t just walk out of the restaurant, I address every single person that’s working in that restaurant and say, Hey, I just want to say thanks. Awesome, awesome night you crushed. You know, I constantly give positive positive reinforcement to the team. And sometimes it’s, you know, it’s unwarranted. But I just know that there’s a time and a place to tell people they suck, right. And when I have to tell somebody that they suck, which is I’m an owner, business owner, right? Like, I got to tell people, they suck. I do something called the sandwich technique, which is, I am very well aware of if I’m working in an environment, the great things that the people do, I always pay attention to the great things I pay not not a lot of attention to the shift that they don’t do well, but I pay very close attention to the things that they do do well, because when I have to go tell that person that they made a mistake. And I don’t actually know what to say, for I don’t actually know what they do. Well, I put myself in a tough spot. So the sandwich technique is I take somebody aside and I say, Hey, John, I just want to let you know, the sales that I saw under your number three days ago, absolutely incredible. You crushed, I watched you were killing it. I just like I couldn’t believe it, you know, the bottle of blah, blah, blah, that you sold just like it was like it was like easy for you. However, you came in late three days, three days this week. I really need you to focus on that, man, I really need you to be better at that. You know, like, the people around you are, are seeing you show up late. And I don’t want to have to fire you. So I have to write you up for it. Do me a favor, man. Please, if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for me in the staff. I don’t want you here, dude. And by the way, go out there and kill it tonight. Man, I know that you got what it takes. Let’s pick out three bottles of wine that you’re going to sell tonight. That’s it, you know what I mean? And that’s how I that’s how I do
Roger Beaudoin 54:11
it. You’re bringing me back to Frank. You know, in that whole story you told about the tough love and you know getting booted out the door but saving in at the last minute and that was so pivotal in your life that you’ve never forgot it. Now you’re treating your own people with that same approach and instilling deep powerful lessons about what you’ve learned along the way. What what do you
Michael Chernow 54:31
want nobody nobody wants to hate their boss. Nobody wants to Yeah, in many cases they do. And let me promise you something. Guys, if you are an asshole to your staff, the second you turn around, the second you turn your back on that person. They’re going to roll their eyes. There’s toxic toxicity in the restaurant that that is that is spread like a cancer. They’re going to steal from you every opportunity they get. They’re not going to show up at all and You might as well throw in the towel if you are not friendly and kind in most at most of the time now, I’m not saying that you have to be friends, because there’s a thick line between being friendly and friends. However, people want to love their boss. People want to love the leader. I know they do. And if you don’t give them a chance to because you can’t get out of your own way, because you you’re miserable in your own life. Yep. And I also gave you a solution for that your chances of success are slim to none.
Roger Beaudoin 55:31
Yeah, you’re you’re absolutely on target right there. And that’s exactly how I ran my restaurants. And we called it the culture of hospitality, family and fun, where it was all about hospitality and what that really meant. And everyone knew what the true meaning of that was. Everyone was family, we treated the customers I call them guests as family. It’s like the staff became family. Turnover went way down, there was recognition and rewards, there was a lot of praise. I mean, there were incentives and bonuses. I mean, all that stuff is important. So there’s the family piece. And then obviously, the fun of it’s not fun, why do it, you know, and that was kind of our guiding mission forward. And it served us well for decades in the business as well. So I totally think that, you know, you’re right on target. With that. Let’s talk about how we can find creatures of habit. And the protagonist. Is there a certain URL people can go to? It’s like, you’ve got us all intrigued about this new, you know, line that you’re starting, you’ve got the apparel line, you’ve got the protagonist. I mean, how do we find it? The best,
Michael Chernow 56:30
the best way to get to creatures of habit is to go to creatures of habit.com. That’s where the KKR EA T. You are creatures of habit here. You can spell. Sure, yeah. Okay. Yeah. And, and we have an awesome website. And that is going that is our main way to purchase. You can also follow us on social media, on Instagram, specifically at creatures of habit to sort of see what we’re up to. And then you can you know, you could follow me at Michael Turnhout, pretty much on all platforms. Michael turner.com. I mean, there’s a, I’ll be you know, my focus is 1,000,000% on the creatures of habit brands, so I will be pushing it out as much as I possibly can. We’ve got some really great investors on the cap table, guys like Gary Vaynerchuk. And David Meltzer and a couple of professional athletes and you know, it’s really gonna be an awesome, yeah.
Roger Beaudoin 57:26
Wow, you’ve been a tremendous guest, Michael, I certainly appreciate hearing our audience certainly appreciates hearing your entire journey. It’s been motivational. It’s been inspirational. It’s given us food for thought, no pun intended, on how we can change to a healthier lifestyle and the awesome things that you’re doing, you know, not only in the industry, but for people in general. I loved your, you know, your guiding philosophies on leading by example, and praising your team and respect and teamwork. All those things came out in that in this episode. So thanks for being our guest.
Michael Chernow 57:55
Thanks so much for having me. It was it was a great time. All right,
Roger Beaudoin 57:59
audience thanks so much for tuning in. That was the restaurant rockstars podcast. And as you know, we’ll see you next time. Stay well. Wow, Michael, thank you so much. You’ve inspired us all on how we can change our lives for the better, live a healthier lifestyle and move our businesses forward in a positive direction. You know, in order to do this, your business needs systems, it needs to be optimized. And when you do this, obviously, you can take on new projects, it frees up your time, you can spend more time with family. Now the systems I’m talking about our financial systems, knowing your critical finances, knowing what your true food, beverage and labor costs are knowing what your daily breakeven is, and obviously increasing sales and profits. Also training your staff to recognize opportunities to serve and sell to deliver amazing dining experiences, and to build your dream team, as well as proven marketing ideas that drive return on investment, new and repeat business. All of this is found in our restaurant, rockstars Academy, you can find that at restaurant rockstars.com. I’d like to thank our sponsors this week, thanks to seven shifts, the all in one labor management platform pop menu, which turns more first time visitors into regular repeat guests, as well as Cisco thanks again to our sponsors. If you like what you’re hearing, please leave us a review on iTunes. And also we have that new question feature. So if you’d like to ask me a question, all you need to do is go to the show notes of this episode, obviously on our podcast page at restaurant rockstars.com. About halfway down the page, you will see ask us anything. Click the button, record your message and I’ll get right back to you. Thanks so much. I’ll see you in the next episode.
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