The following interview was conducted by Tisch Center student worker, Haley Park.
How did your career journey lead you to working at 3 Michelin-star restaurant Eleven Madison Park?
I was brought up in the restaurant business as my dad owned his own restaurant. I grew up with a single father, who put in more hours at the restaurant than at home. The one way I could spend more time with him was to follow him to work. Over time, I fell in love with the restaurant and the staff. I started working when I was 13 washing dishes and eventually took a role in every aspect of the operation as cashier, cook, and server.
When it came time to look at colleges, NYU was very appealing to me as I had wanted to pursue a career in restaurants in New York City. My first job in the city was at Morimoto, a collaboration between restaurateur Stephen Starr and iron chef Masaharu Morimoto, as an entry-level host and reservationist. From there, I decided to work in hotels as well, spending time as an intern at Ian Schrager’s Morgans Hotel Group, Rocco Forte Hotels, and The Ritz-Carlton in Central Park. However, I quickly realized that I had an unwavering passion for standalone restaurant operations.
I then decided to become more serious and dedicated to my craft by seeking to work for a Michelin-star chef. I started a position in guest relations at Chef David Bouley’s downtown TriBeCa flagship restaurant. That summer, I additionally accepted a restaurant operations internship with another famed French chef, Daniel Boulud. Back at restaurant Bouley, the assistant manager was departing to pursue another opportunity and the chef was looking to hire someone to take over the role. With a stroke of luck I was at the right place at the right time, and I was promoted to assistant manager. Juggling a full-credit school workload and a full-time management opportunity proved to be excruciatingly difficult. However, this experience would open many doors.
The first door to open would be at Hakkasan, an upscale, modern Chinese restaurant corporate chain with over 10 international locations. As I accepted a restaurant manager position, I put in a leave of absence at NYU. While school was important to me, I was doing what I had been dreaming of to do all along. The second stint was with Soho House as an opening Food & Beverage manager for their first public-facing Italian restaurant, Cecconi’s, on the DUMBO waterfront. Cecconi’s was truly a unique and career defining moment for me as I was performing a range of tasks unpacking boxes, designing service stations, creating floor plans, and formulating steps of service. As we settled in, I spearheaded payroll, employee performance and development, as well as scheduling over 100 dining room employees.
I returned to NYU the following year to finish my last semester. When reassessing what I wanted to do upon graduation, I wanted to further my education in restaurants. While managing was a dream come true in a sense, I felt I was doing my employees a disservice as experience was something I lacked. By happenstance, I was coordinating an end of the year event for the Restaurateur Club that I’d started. The hosting restaurant was Eleven Madison Park — a restaurant named #1 in the world in 2017 by World’s 50 Best and a 3-Michelin star rated restaurant. I knew right then and there that this was the restaurant for me.
Since March 2018, I have been working in the dining room of Eleven Madison Park. I am currently a server and an expeditor. Top restaurants like Eleven Madison Park require employees – even those with experience – to work their way up.
What experience and skills do you think are necessary to be able to succeed in restaurant industry?
In addition to being warm and hospitable, you need to understand and exercise empathy. Empathy is extremely important in a restaurant setting as not everyone’s expectations will be the same coming in and the best experience for a guest is one that is specifically catered and personalized for that guest. Being dynamic with situations, knowing how to read guests; all the while exuding a cool and calm demeanor. Sometimes during service, certain things do not pan out the way you’d like — and that’s okay.
Can you share advice for undergraduate students looking to get into the industry?
As much as I hate the term millennials and the negative connotation associated with our generation — we are truly a generation that constantly wants fast results. However, it is important to be present, to relish the time in college. Take advantage of being in school and work for as many companies and have as many diverse opportunities as you can. Capitalize being at NYU and build out your network. There are many resources available at NYU; it’s up to you to decide how you’d like to spend that time.
How has your NYU experience shaped and impacted your career?
NYU has been a tremendous gift that keeps on giving. Many of the opportunities I’ve had in this industry is because of NYU alumni, the career fairs, and the positive brand name that’s associated with the program. NYU has helped me to succeed and has been a huge part of helping me to get to where I am today.
How do you spend your days outside of work?
Outside of work — I have been dedicating time to building out With Warm Welcome, a hospitality-based podcast that features entrepreneurs, creatives, and small-business owners. Speaking with people that have a passion different than mine further encourages and motivates me to become the best at what I do.
What are your future plans and where do you see your career moving from this point?
Career-wise, I’d love to be continuously involved in restaurant operations; whether at a consulting or directing capacity. For now, I am dedicated to attaining as much experience and knowledge at Eleven Madison.