Bruce Buschel, proprietor of new-ish restaurant Southfork Kitchen, on Long Island’s tony East End, has spent more than a year detailing the trials and tribulations of opening his establishment in the Start-Up Chronicle blog in The New York Times. He writes honestly and openly about problems big and small, in a voice that will sound uncannily familiar to fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Questioning conventional wisdom at every turn with refreshing candor, Buschel’s blog has a developed a rabid following of fans and foes, both of which he seems to relish.
I talked to him recently about whether he feels that the blogging has been a blessing — or perhaps something worse.
Bruce, you’ve received a lot of advice and praise as you’ve blogged about your restaurant’s conception and opening along the way. Any regrets?
I have no regrets about blogging about this. At certain times, I have regrets about certain details or specifics. I’m sorry if somebody is frustrated or doesn’t get what they’re looking for. I just hope it’s not in vain — not vain as if vanity, but vain as in all for nothing. I believe that if somebody puts out something as honestly as they can, somebody else will benefit. That’s my personal mission. I have no lessons and nothing to teach other than to relay my own experience. And, because I’ve never opened a restaurant before, I may be more open to the oddities and the peculiarities of the process.
How has blogging about things after the fact been helpful to you as a restaurant owner, from an operations perspective?
It’s very helpful. I imagine it’s similar to people keeping a diary. I’ve always used sitting down and writing to figure out what I’m feeling. Like e-mail, though, sometimes you have to read it and say, “Hmm…this is not for the public. This was written in a moment of anger or frustration. Let me see what I think about this in a day or two.” And, that’s a lesson in most restaurants: You can’t stop the show in the middle of service. It’s been an exercise in long thinking and patience.
Has this been good PR for attracting diners? Or are many patrons oblivious?
It’s both. People are aware of it to a degree, but I would hope it’s good PR, even though that’s not the purpose of it. I’m sure some people read it and it becomes bad PR!
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve gotten via crowdsourcing?
I think I went to crowdsourcing because of the comments on the posts. I was stuck in old-fashioned, advertising PR cycles. When I wrote about that, people kind of pushed me into social media. Generally, the comments are really well-spaced across the spectrum and I’ll get counsel from east, west, north, and south. So, it’s a pretty good pluralistic response. I usually weigh a whole lot of factors before making a decision in the restaurant.
What’s the worst?
What I thought was most ironic was that PR representatives were highly incensed that somebody said something bad about the PR industry. They kept saying, “We have such a bad reputation and it’s because of jerks like this.” And I kept thinking, “Why does public relations have a bad public reputation? Don’t they realize they’re doing something wrong and they should hire a PR agency?” They did en masse defend the public relations industry. The waiters did that, too. They’re the only two groups that defended their professions. Restaurants are critiqued every day, and I’ve never seen a restaurant write in and say, “You can’t say this or that about restaurants.”
There will always be detractors — and you’ve attracted your fair share. However, what I’ve found refreshing is your Larry David-style honesty about certain practices that are established – but that should be challenged.
I do think I bring that kind of naïveté to the scene. I don’t know how it’s done, and it’s all new to me. And, half of it is ludicrous, starting with people writing in and asking, “What’s your business plan?” How many people are going to be there in April? Is it going to snow in April? Will the economy be good? Will we be at war with Syria? I had three different business plans, and they were all wildly different, depending on who I was talking to. Instead of trying to predict nine months out, I finally found an accountant who said, “You need at least 90 days before you come to conclusions about anything.” You gotta get in there and think you have a good idea and be as smart as you can about it, and let the chips fall.
Would you tell someone to open a restaurant?
Excuse me. I have to go to the bathroom. Really, I have no advice. I only have my experience. I will tell them everything as well as I can and what I’m going through. No matter how evil the stories [about opening a restaurant] are, everybody keeps doing it. There’s something in us – I think it’s deeper than business. There’s something about food that’s elemental — serving people and having them gather to have a good time. There’s something beneath the business of it. You can go into it for monetary reasons, maternal reasons, for political reasons, or maybe because you just don’t know what to do. I would never drive anyone away from anything. So, no, I have no wisdom about whether to open or not a restaurant.