Learn more about our Member Chris Jaeckle!
By: Chris Jaeckle
Meet the NYCHG Members: Chris Jaeckle of Kitchen Connect Consulting
By Caroline Potter
After stints in the kitchens of some of New York’s most storied restaurants, including Ai Fiori, Eleven Madison Park, Morimoto, and Tabla, Chris Jaeckle opened All’onda in 2014, where he serving Italian food with Japanese inflection. The restaurant garnered rave reviews from Thrillist and Eater, the latter of which hailed him as Chef of the Year. The son of accounting professionals, the born and bred New Yorker used his innate love of numbers and his culinary talents to start Kitchen Connect Consulting, a firm to help restaurant operators with everything from menu development and staff assessment to designing systems and management techniques to reduce overhead. Jaeckle’s clients include No Kid Hungry, LDV Hospitality, and Union Square Hospitality Group.
Q: Tough question for a chef with your pedigree, but what is your favorite restaurant in New York City?
Chris Jaeckle: This might not be the sexiest answer, but I really love Great New York Noodletown in Chinatown. It’s just always consistent. The soft shell crabs are the best soft shell crabs in New York. They only have them from the end of March through June. And, they do one suckling pig a day. When it’s gone it’s gone, so you have to get there at 4 PM. It’s amazing. I just love it!
Q: How did you come to start Kitchen Connect Consulting?
CJ: After leaving All’onda I was at a crossroads. I didn’t want to work for another chef again, and I didn’t want to fundraise to open another restaurant, but I realized I have these skills that a lot of people don’t possess at the level I’m capable of executing. I knew there was an opportunity for me to help people improve their systems, their operations, and their businesses overall.
Q: What types of clients do you work with?
CJ: I think the ideal client is the operator who is looking to expand their business from, say, two locations to four and five, to help them structure, simplify, and streamline their systems so they can expand. That’s a big one for me. And, of course, first-time operators. I love helping them navigate through kitchen design and concept development. That’s always a lot of fun!
Q: A lot of operators want to expand to increase revenues, but it sounds like what you’re saying is that it’s not just a snap of the finger to scale up to multiple locations. What are the challenges with this type of growth?
CJ: Well, the keys here are translating processes for new employees. Very few operators have the systems in place where they can just copy and paste a new system. Also, no location is the same. You can have the same concept, but no matter how much you want it to be identical, it’s just not. So you need to have a personalized checklist and systems tailored to each location.
I worked with a group that had two locations and they were opening a third. They had solid recipes, but they weren’t very detailed or specific. So Kitchen Connect came in and we photographed and organized every step of each recipe with photography and detailed instructions so that things were consistent in training new staff.
Q: It sounds like you’re the business partner every chef needs. Would that be correct?
CJ: That is exactly it. Where I find myself most effective is when there seems to be a disconnect between what ownership wants and what the chef wants. I speak the chef language very clearly and my skill set is strong. I can meet chefs where they are.
For example, I was working with a restaurant in which the chef was quite skilled but didn’t want to deal with processes. When I went in to meet with him at a scheduled time to sort through all these things, he said he didn’t have time for me. Instead of just rescheduling, I said, okay, what do you need? And he said he needed to butcher twenty ducks. And I said, okay, and I took down twenty ducks — and then I asked if he had time for me now.
So, I can be a key player because I can do virtually anything at the back of the house that needs to be done, but because my parents are in accounting, the business and financial side of things have been ingrained in me since I was a kid. I act as a bridge between the creative side and the business side of restaurants. I’ve been in the most creatively driven, least cost-attentive business to ones that are completely numbers-driven, so I can have conversations with chefs or general managers and meet them where they are and coach them to get them where they need to be.
Q: Can you talk about your process? How do you absorb a restaurant’s culture and processes?
CJ: I work hard to fit into the culture of wherever I may be. I usually spend a couple of days at a minimum just working in the kitchen, whether it be butchering fish or peeling carrots, and just observe the culture before I even have conversations with anyone. If the atmosphere is brash, I can speak to that or if it’s nuanced and caring, then that is the approach I use.
Q: What are some common issues you encounter?
CJ: When it comes to expansion, you may have staff that are loyal to you and work hard, but they lack the skill set to manage multiple facilities. And not every chef is willing to relinquish control of their existing kitchen or coach people into performing at the levels they need. And that is a must when it comes to expansion. I can be the person that works a sixty-five thousand dollar a year sous chef into a ninety-thousand dollar a year executive chef through coaching and being there with them once or twice a week for a few months to get them where they need to be.
For first-time operators, it’s an issue of getting them to understand a chef’s perspective and helping them talk to chefs and interview them. That’s really meaningful.
Q: How do you address the disconnect between what an owner wants versus what a chef wants? Say, for example, the operator wants a burger on their menu and the chef is opposed. How do you bridge the divide?
CJ: I would talk to the chef to hear their concerns and then work with them to figure out how we can make a burger that is representative of what they want to do. Maybe it’s around harnessing their belief in local farming, so we find someone producing quality beef in the region. Let’s negotiate some way to highlight the farm and also make it special, make it the chef’s own interpretation. That’s an opportunity to compromise that makes both parties happy.
I worked with a farm-to-table restaurant that had an avocado toast on the brunch menu and the chef hated it. He wanted to take it off the menu because he didn’t feel it was farm-to-table. But they were selling seventy-five to eighty of them every brunch. It can’t go anywhere! So you have to come up with some verbiage or a way to massage the dish into something that’s more conducive to the chef’s point of view to make it work.
Q: What are some of the things restaurateurs can do to set themselves up for success?
CJ: At the end of the day, you’re in the marketing business. Forget all the egos and desires. You’re in the marketing business. So whatever your concept is, you’re in the business to market it to the people that are interested in that. Make sure your restaurant’s story is simple enough to understand.
And going back to my point about the avocado toast, the numbers don’t lie, right? If the business is working, the numbers will tell you the business is working. Never ignore numbers. And if a dish isn’t moving, there’s a reason it isn’t moving. Don’t be afraid to revisit or reimagine anything in your business. The numbers do not lie to you and will never lie to you.
To learn more about how Jaeckles and the Kitchen Connect Consulting team can help your restaurant, visit https://www.kitchenconnect.co/.Back to Blog Posts
Established in 2009, The New York City Hospitality Group ("NYCHG") is a New York City-centric organization dedicated to serving the restaurant and hospitality industry. NYCHG is comprised of the best in class professionals that act as a resource to each other and the hospitality community.
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