Food Writer's Diary

CEOs at Soul Daddy

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Did you know that a cabal of restaurant CEOs get together several times a year to scheme and plot?

Okay, maybe that’s not exactly true. They don’t really plot. They get together and talk about the restaurant businesses and visit restaurants in different cities.

And I guess I wouldn’t call them a cabal. “Some guys” is probably more accurate.

But I don’t really know. Which Wich chief executive Jeff Sinelli just told me about them. They’re in New York now, and Jeff asked me to join some of them at Soul Daddy, the winner of America’s Next Great Restaurant, for a quick bite.

So I went to the South Street Seaport and met Abe Ng, president, CEO and chief sushi officer (so says his business card) of Sushi Maki in Miami, and David Goronkin, who doesn’t have a business card because he’s between jobs. He used to be the boss at Bennigan’s, and on June 1 he starts as CEO of Real Mex Restaurants, which operate the Chevys, El Torito and Acapulco chains.

We picked at the food, and then Jeff asked for a manager and quizzed him about the restaurant.

I didn't have to do anything. I just sat there and sampled the wild rice salad while Jeff interviewed the guy.

It turns out that America’s Next Great Restaurant was filmed last year, and the winner, Jamawn Woods, didn’t know he won until it was announced on Sunday. But in the meantime, Steve Ells and the other investors in this next great restaurant got to work hiring staff and securing real estate and generally making the restaurant happen in three places at once — Los Angeles, New York and Minneapolis.

That they kept the restaurant’s identity under wraps all that time is amazing.

The manager confirmed that the New York restaurant was packed on its first two days of business. But it was pretty quiet when I met the CEOs there at 5:10 on its third day of business. It was a crappy, rainy day, which might have had something to do with it.

The food is supposed to be soul food that's good for you.

We tried the ribs and the chicken and the pulled pork sandwich, the black-eyed pea salad and the wild rice salad and the sweet potato salad and the cabbage slaw. We had a cornbread waffle and some cheese grits.

The manager told us that the menu items were developed based merely on their names, which the investment partners gave to their development team in Denver.

And I don’t like to badmouth a place, so I’ll say I liked the waffles and the cheese grits. The rest of it tasted like it was good for you.

It would be harsh to say it’s soul food without soul, but, well, I guess I just did.

Jeff, Abe and David had dinner plans with Drew Nieporent, who was going to show them Tribeca Grill, Nobu and Centrico, so that was probably fun.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @FoodWriterDiary

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What's Food Writer's Diary?

Food Writer's Diary is a blog written by Bret Thorn, senior food editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, which covers culinary trends and his adventures.

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Bret Thorn

Bret Thorn is responsible for reporting on culinary trends in foodservice for Nation's Restaurant News. He joined NRN in 1999, after spending about five years as a journalist in Thailand, where...
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