July 9, 2024

Finding Mastery With Doug Katz

By: Gary Schoeniger
The Entrepreneurial Mindset Project | Doug Katz | Chef Entrepreneur

Welcome to another episode of the Entrepreneurial Mindset Project.

Today, I’m speaking with Doug Katz, who is an award-winning chef and an amazing entrepreneur.

People open restaurants every day, and, as you probably know, the failure rate is extremely high. Yet Doug seems to have mastered the craft not only as a chef but as an entrepreneur.

While he wasn’t a great student, from a very early age, Doug knew he wanted to be a chef. By the age of 14 he started a catering business and never looked back. Today, Doug is an award winning chef and restaurateur who is at the top of his game. As a matter of fact, the Rolling Stones showed up at one of his restaurants just a few days after we spoke.

In this episode, we cover a lot of ground, from finding your passion and knowing your strengths to authenticity and the power of working with teams.

So, without any further ado, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Doug Katz.

Listen to the podcast here

Finding Mastery With Doug Katz

Welcome to another episode of the show. I’m speaking with Doug Katz who is an award-winning chef and an amazing entrepreneur. People open restaurants every day, and as you probably know, the failure rate is extremely high. Yet, Doug seems to have mastered the craft not only as a chef but as an entrepreneur. While he wasn’t a great student from a very early age, Doug knew he wanted to be a chef. By the age of fourteen, he started a catering business and never looked back.

Doug is an award-winning chef and restaurateur who’s at the top of his game. As a matter of fact, the Rolling Stones showed up at one of his restaurants a few days after we spoke. In this episode, we cover a lot of ground from finding your passion and knowing your strengths to authenticity and the power of working with teams. Without any further ado, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Doug Katz.


Doug, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.

I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a while. We’ve known each other for a while. I’m a huge fan of your restaurants and what you do for the city of Cleveland. Full disclosure, I’m getting right out in front of that.

Thank you.

Maybe there is a little bit of selfishness in here also, but let me start with my normal question. I’m going to put a different twist on it maybe. I like to ask my guests what put you on the entrepreneurial track. What happened in your life? Did somebody influence you? Was it a necessity? How did you get there? Even before that, I wanted to ask you, do you even think of yourself as an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurial Track

I do think of myself as an entrepreneur. My entrepreneurial path started before I even knew what the word meant or why I was on this path. I was not a student. At six years old, I was struggling even with initial reading or the way schools taught me how to learn. I don’t think ADD was even a thing back then, but I certainly had ADD. I’ve never had a diagnosis of that. I didn’t learn in a traditional way. For me, I’m very visual. I’m hands-on. That’s how I learned. That’s what I enjoyed.

I was a theater kid. I was immersed in programming that allowed me to learn. In school, I was not good at those things. As an entrepreneur early on, if I’m calling myself an entrepreneur, I figured out other ways to learn. That is through hands-on and through watching through. I wasn’t good with reading comprehension. I wasn’t good with the traditional ways of sitting on the rug patiently and listening to the teacher tell the story. I was talking to my friends. I was always sidetracked, on tangents, and all that. My entrepreneurial mind started before I knew what it meant.

First of all, you and I are like brothers from another mother in that regard. We could go down a rabbit hole with ADD. I don’t think there’s a disorder there. It’s shaped as a disorder. In a lot of my work, I’ve looked at the way hunter-gatherers have learned. We’ve been hunter-gatherers for most of the time we’ve lived on this earth. Humans have occupied the earth. Humans aren’t meant to sit on a bench or a chair and absorb information all day long. The characterization of what you described as a disorder, I probably would’ve been diagnosed with it also. Especially for little boys, your mind’s reeling out the window, right?

For sure. Something about that too is I wanted to solve these problems that were in my head in terms of not being able to do this or not being able to do that. When you’re confronted with that and trying to figure out, “How am I going to do this?” You think of new ways to do it. An entrepreneur is a problem-solver. You learn those techniques early on too because you’re constantly trying to figure out ways to absorb things. Whether it’s flashcards or whether it’s your mom helping you with this or your brother, you think of new ways.

An entrepreneur is a problem solver. Share on X

What you’re saying in a different language is something I’ve suspected for a long time. It’s that for whatever reason, we become entrepreneurial because convention isn’t working for us. We’re forced to go off on our own and figure things out for ourselves. The straight-A students, God bless them. They’re going down the engineering track, the law track, the medicine track, or whatever. It’s working for them, and that’s great. It didn’t work for me. Were your parents supportive of that? Were you getting in trouble with mom and dad? What was that like at home?

My father was a physician. He was a very traditional learner. He was smart. He absorbed information. My mother was more of a creative. As parents, they were the most supportive parents. They were the most amazing parents, and they still are. They’re around here. They wanted me to be the best I could be and they helped me along. I remember reading with my father. I remember my mother helping me proofread my papers. I remember studying with them. I was super frustrated, but they were so patient with me.

They couldn’t have been more supportive. They got me every tutor and every reading specialist. In the summer, I had a tutor. At school, I was out of class for 1 or 2 periods, working with people. I had so much support and I liked it. I liked these smaller groups. It helped me in the long run. It taught me new ways to learn and other things, but I did not like school. No matter how supportive my parents were, I didn’t learn the way they did.

Did you go to college?

I did. I went to the University of Denver for a Hotel and Restaurant Management business degree. I loved college. By then, I had skills. I knew how to study, I knew how to learn. I went to a great school, a college preparatory school, that gave me the tools to do my work. I hope I’m not jumping ahead, but in my life, doing other things besides school is what motivated me to do well enough in school to survive.

It was all of the extracurricular things that gave me the inner ability to then do this thing that I didn’t like. I did many different things throughout my day, whether it was theater or whether it was working in a restaurant. It was all different time periods. I was also working in hotels. Those things motivated me to focus on this hour that I had to do in History or do the Math thing. I can’t say it helped me with the SATs or anything.

Culinary Arts

How did you find your way to the culinary arts?

I’ve only learned this in my adult life, but I would tell you that based on what we’ve already talked about, I had some learning troubles or other things in my head. I started at six years old eating a lot more food. My mother was an amazing chef. My dad was a gardener. He would bring his produce into our kitchen. My mom loved taking cooking classes. She cared about food.

Our lives revolved around food. My brother and I were both overweight. At six, I started to eat more. At ten, I was the heaviest in my class and stayed that way. I wouldn’t say I was the heaviest in my adult life, but I’ve been heavy. Six years ago, I lost about 60 pounds. I can’t say that I’ve learned how to deal with food, but I would say that I’ve always had struggles with food and love for food. It started going back to when I was six years old when I started to use food to resolve the way I felt inside. Your question was how did I become a chef or how did I get into food?

How did you find that?

Details Are In The Practice

It started in a very negative way. It started, for me, in a way that I used food to feel better. I hated school so much. I didn’t have good friends. At this point, I had already gained weight. I hated sports. I was that outcast kid and I didn’t do well in school, so when I got home, all of that struggle and stress turned into, “What’s in the sandwich store?” My mom would go to Giunta’s, my favorite store. It was right up the street. She would buy Challah, which is loaves of this bread that Giunta would make. It was this super soft bread. I could sit in front of the television and eat three loaves of that in about two hours. I would pull it, eat it, and watch these shows.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset Project | Doug Katz | Chef Entrepreneur

Chef Entrepreneur: I used food to feel better.

You were self-medicating. How old were you?

I was 10 or 12 when I was thinking of the Giunta’s Challah. My dad struggled with weight. He lost a lot of weight over the years and had better discipline than I did. Not to throw my mother under the bus, but she wouldn’t eat meals. She would eat M&M’s. She would eat Junior Mints. We had a gumball machine. My entire neighborhood would come over and line up at the door after school.

We had pennies and a little dish. They would come into the house, put the penny in, turn it, and get gumballs. We were known as that house. My parents would sit and take the gumballs out of the container. We’d get them to throw them in the gumball machine and they would eat the gumballs out of the container. After about five minutes when it wasn’t sweet anymore, they’d get a new piece and take the old piece out.

They were unusually unhealthy in certain ways but also cared so much about food. It was this hypocritical life where we were seeing all this candy and all this stuff. After my mom would make an amazing dinner on Tuesday nights, we’d go up to the corner where we’d get donuts. We’d sit at the table and be like, “Should we go get dessert?” It was a terrible health plan.

Food is love, right?

For sure.

The gumball machine is the origin story right there. That’s the beginning of it all. The community is coming in and they’re buying it.

You’re right. If the plate wasn’t empty at the end of dinner, they’d be like, “Why didn’t you eat? Wasn’t it good?” If it was empty, they’d be like, “You ate too much.” If you were in the kitchen too much, they’d be like, “I’m going to put a lock on the fridge because you’re eating too much.” My grandmother would have us over and make the most amazing meals every time. All they did was talk on the phone about what the next meal was and how they were going to plan it. In my mind, my world was food, and my struggles and my joys were food.

I can identify with so much of that. My dad immigrated from Europe in the 1950s with his brother. His brother went to medical school at Case, and my dad went to the art school. They both were into food. They were reading French cookbooks. Our families would get together. My uncle and my dad would make this amazing stuff. Food was and still is an important part of our culture, which is the real reason we’re having this conversation.

I’m glad.

It’s interesting. Also, what I identify with is, like you, I started off in school and I was fine, but by fifth, sixth, and seventh grade, the wheels started to wobble a little bit. By 9th or 10th grade, they had come off the wagon entirely. I started to self-medicate by smoking weed. It was the same thing. I was like, “I don’t fit in here. I don’t have a lot of friends here. I can’t excel at this.” Your entrepreneur origins might have been the gumball machine. For me, it was selling weed.

I went to many different things, unfortunately, to solve those issues, but food was the main one. In a way, it protected me from everything else socially without wanting it to. I couldn’t connect socially because I was overweight, I didn’t feel good, and all these things. Behind the food was all of the stress and all of that. Maybe it was the ADD or the learning issues. The entrepreneurial spirit was forced out of me because it was such a struggle.

It was a necessity. Was there a moment where you were like, “This is it. This is what I’m going to do.”

At seven years old, I said I was going to be a chef. My brother is two years older than I am. People would ask us at dinners and wherever we were with family to my brother, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” He would say, “I’m going to be a chef.” I’m the younger brother and I’m thinking, “What am I going to do? I’m going to be a chef too because I want to do whatever he does.”

My brother stopped saying it at a certain point and I kept saying it. I never thought of anything else. When you have that in your brain and you’re testing it every time you say that, and you’re saying, “I do like cooking. I do like food. I like eating.” By twelve, I couldn’t wait to get a job doing something in this field. I was chomping at the bit to learn from someone other than my mother and cooking in my neighbor’s house.

What was your first job?

My career evolved through cooking at home. My mom would let me help her in the kitchen. She would get frustrated over time. I would make a mess in the kitchen and she’d always talk about the mess. Over time, I was like, “My mom doesn’t like a mess. She doesn’t go with how I’m cooking.” My neighbor, my best friend’s mother, lived across the street from us. She hated cooking. She never wanted to go to the grocery store. I was there all the time and I would ask her, “Can I go to the grocery store with you guys?”

We would have three shopping carts. We’d go to Giunta’s and buy all this food. She didn’t care what we bought. Everyone got to buy what they wanted. We’d go home and she wanted nothing to do with cooking. We would sit there and I would help make dinner. I’d cook at their house. That evolved into doing dinners for some of my neighbor’s friends. She would have dinner parties for 8, 10, or 12 people. It was the same with my parents. They would have people over and my mom would let me help cook. Eventually, I was cooking dinners at my neighbor’s house and my mom’s house. I was developing a catering business, per se, doing that.

At thirteen years old, I had a bar mitzvah. I had extra bar mitzvah stationary Thank You notes that you get. I looked at them and looked at my printer sitting on my desk, and I looked through cookbooks constantly. I’m thinking, “Why don’t I create some menus that I could present to people like my neighbor?” I created about nine menus. You used to put the paper through your printer. It somehow printed pretty nicely on my bar mitzvah stationery. It looked beautiful.

It was called Douglas Katz’ Catering. I would have the forbidden chicken dinner. That included rice pilaf and this and that. I had all these menus. Eventually, not only did my neighbor like this and my mom, but her friends would say, “Can you do dinner for us?” I would show them all of these menus and they would pick a menu. I did that.

My mom would drive me to the party. She’d clean up because I’d run out of time. I was using the kitchen. I had to be at the party at 6:00 and it was 5:30 and I still had to make the dessert or something. She’d run me to the party, and then I’d come home after the party and she had cleaned the whole kitchen. I was 14 or 15 years old probably by this time. There’s more to that story if you want me to expand on it. I couldn’t get a job at this time because I was only 14 or so, but I was able to do these jobs.

You also had more autonomy in those experiences that a kid would get at a job at 15 or 16 where you’re ruined at that point. If someone else is telling you what to do, you can’t tolerate that.

With my mom, I don’t think she wanted to be in the kitchen with me because she didn’t want to have to clean up, be worried, or be anxious. My mom is a perfectionist. I love that because it taught me how to work cleanly in the kitchen and how to do things the way she wanted. She was the executive chef. I was more allowed to play in the kitchen. She didn’t necessarily come in all the time when I was.

At that age, I wasn’t able to get a job, but I constantly was looking to see, “Where can I work? I want to work at this place.” I had a dinner party for one of my parents’ friends who had a big wine cellar. I was underage, but he gave me six wines to research. I studied the wines. I looked up what foods go with these wines. I knew nothing about these wines. There was Château Mouton Rothschild and Chateau d’Yquem. I’m thinking, “I don’t know what these are, but whatever.” I created this menu of a rack of lamb, Parisian potatoes, and roasted tomatoes. I made some country pate. I made crudité vegetables. I made a beautiful salad after dinner with goat cheese. I made chocolate soufflés for dessert.

You were 14 or 15?



I went to this party for twelve people. My parents’ friend had me do this. At the party, there was a news reporter woman who wrote for Friday Magazine. Her name was Donna Chernin.

She happened to be there as a guest.

Yes. The dinner went well. It was great. I was paid $100. About a week later or so, Donna Chernin who was at the dinners said, “I would like to write about this dinner that you created. It was so special.” She wrote an article in Friday Magazine. As a teenager in Cleveland, Friday Magazine was the thing you waited for all week because the movies were in there. It was a popular thing. She wrote an article. It said Katz Out of the Bag. It was in this feature. I started to get calls from people who wanted me to do parties at their houses that I didn’t even know. I started to do that. Maybe I would do four parties in a year or something. I wasn’t allowed to do so many parties. I had to focus on school.

At fifteen and a half when I could get my workers’ permit, I wanted to work in restaurants. If you asked Zack Bruell what I called him when I was little, he was my mentor, for sure. I went to him. I took a cooking class. My parents, for a gift, gave me a cooking class that he taught in his kitchen when I was young and I loved it. He had this restaurant at Van Aken in the tall office building there at the bottom of that office building. It was called Z Contemporary Cuisine. There was no chef at that time. Parker Bosley was in town and he was doing amazing things with local food.

I remember that back in the day, Parker Bosley. This is Cleveland inside baseball.

Did you know Pamela Grosscup?


She was an amazing caterer. I was connected to some of these people on the periphery. Zach Bruell had moved back from California. He had worked with Michael McCarty, this famous chef. He was opening this contemporary restaurant. We went there. I was so in love with this place. It was all about the food and the way they described the food. As a diner, I went there. I got to do a cooking class with Zach.

Did he recognize you in that cooking class like, “This kid is standing out. This kid is different.”

I had come to the restaurants and I certainly wanted to meet him at the time. I’m sure I knew him at that point. I set up a meeting to meet with him to get a job when I got my workers’ permit. I said, “I would love to work for you. I love your restaurant.” He said, “How old are you?” I said, “Fifteen and a half.” He said, “Do you have any experience other than the classroom?” I said, “No.” He said, “I can’t hire you if you don’t have any experience.” I said, “If I get experience, will you hire me then?” He said, “Yes.” I went and worked at Shujiro by Hiroshi Tsuji. It was, at that time, the best sushi in Cleveland. It was on Lee Road. Hiroshi hired me as a busboy.

That was the first sushi in Cleveland.

You’re right, at least commercially. He was super passionate. He was always in the restaurant. I was so excited to be a buser there. I got my driver’s permit. Maybe it was the first week I was hired. The parking spaces behind the restaurant are all permit parking. I didn’t even look at the sign. I was going to work, and then I parked the car. I came out after work and the car was not there.

Welcome to Cleveland Heights.

I was freaking out. I didn’t know what to do. I called my parents. I was like, “I don’t know what to do. Your car is not there.” It ended up that they towed my dad’s car because I was in the permit zone. That was my first week working there. My parents were super supportive. They didn’t care. I loved that job. Every day that I worked there, we would have a family meal at 11:00 or 11:30 at night.

Think of this teenager who gets to eat with all the service staff and the chefs. We all come out and we’re eating this maybe Japanese steak meal where all the steak is sliced up. You eat all the extra rice that was in the rice cooker and get all the vegetables. We’re all sitting around eating. This woman makes her own kimchi. She brings it in and you get to eat that. I felt like such an adult and was so excited. I did that for about a year. I loved it, but I was a busboy and I wanted to go work for Zach.

This is what I can’t understand. How does a busboy experience qualify you to go work with Zach?

Honestly, I still wasn’t going to be working in a kitchen. Kitchen work is more for adults. There are more internships and things, but with the safety factors of that, I don’t know that I expected to be hired as a cook in a kitchen at 15 or 16 anyway. That’s how you get your foot in the door. You’re able to learn how a restaurant works by busing tables and working at the dishwasher. You would certainly do that too. That’s where I started. I knew that when I went to Zach’s I was going to work in front of the house. I was not going to work in the back of the house to start. I knew that he would never hire me.

I got it.

He was a chef. He had two people working with him. He was a control freak. He wouldn’t let anyone do anything anyway.

You knew at 6 or 7 years old. That’s astonishing. Part of my theory about entrepreneurship is that, and this might sound a little bit new age-y, we all show up in this life with gifts, interests, and abilities that are unique to us. When we figure out how to use our gifts to contribute to the community or the greater good, we tend to flourish. Convention doesn’t support that way of thinking. The force of socialization is, “Get a good job. Get a safe job. Get the highest-paying job.”

We all show up in this life with gifts, interests, and abilities that are unique to us. When we figure out how to use those to contribute to the community or the greater good, we tend to flourish. Share on X

Parents don’t allow you to have the jobs that would teach you so much in that period of your life. I was a theater kid, so after school, I was at rehearsals most of the time. I was doing theater. I was used to that work. Most parents won’t let you do theater. They won’t let you have a job. They want you to do well in school.

It’s not serious work. Paul Graham wrote this beautiful essay about that. It’s how building a tree fort is a path like engineering or architecture and how parents don’t allow that. I don’t know why this happens to some people at 7 years old, 6 years old, or however old you were, but to know with that certainty and have a direction is powerful. That’s cool. A lot of people don’t ever figure that out or they figure it out way later in life.

There were some negatives and positives in my life that came together to allow it. Looking back, and I’m not getting into these, my parents had struggles growing up. The way they parented my brother and me was about being happy. It was about doing the best you can and being the best person you can be. They love people. They are the nicest people.

Any interaction is all hospitality. Their entire world was hospitality because, to be honest, they wanted people to like them. That’s what I want in my life. I want people to like me. I learned that early. This career couldn’t be more perfect for that. Some people don’t like you. Your family hurts because someone tells you they don’t like your food.

1,000 people love you and 1 doesn’t and that’s what you focus on.

All I’m trying to do is I want to make the best food because then, people are going to like me.

Flourishing With Your Gifts

Doug Katz makes perfect sense to me. You answered all the questions that I wanted to ask. I’m going to ask them anyway. I’m a foodie. I’m a bit of a food snob. Some of my friends tell me, “You’re difficult.” I don’t make scenes at restaurants. I’m not that guy. My dad was reading Escoffier, the cookbook that’s big and is 100 pages. A recipe is one page. It would take four days to make it. It was, “First, you start with a brown sauce. How do you do that?” That’s what I was raised on. I came into your orbit like, “Who is this guy?”

This is back to the entrepreneur thing. One of the things about entrepreneurship that’s fascinating to me is the people who succeed at it tend to tap into a deeper social or emotional dimension of human needs. They somehow look beneath the transactional level and the functional dimension of the need and they intuitively understand a deeper thing. You seem to have that, whether you know it or not. In any of your restaurants, there’s an experience. First and foremost, the food is amazing.

Thank you.

It’s the ambiance. The staff is trained. You have all three of the legs under the stool.

I have to say. If you were asking me where did that come from, I was a theater kid. I love performing. I was in the Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus.

That’s what I’m saying. Doug Katz makes perfect sense to me.

When you put on a theater production and you’re sitting there every day after school, you have a small part in the play, you’re looking around and watching the people paint the scenes, you’re talking to the director, the director is coordinating it all and conducting, and an assistant director is doing this, you see how a team comes together and creates something.

The week of final rehearsals, every night, you’re there until midnight. You’re this teenager and it’s so cool because you get to be out so late. You’re at this theater and you’re going over your lines practicing and making it perfect. The dress rehearsal is the worst thing ever. Afterward, you look at all the notes that the director tells you. The next day, you do it and something about it clicks. To me, it’s like opening a restaurant. Every time I open a new restaurant, I think of these theater experiences and the drive-up to that day. It’s so similar to creating a production. Since I did it so repetitively in my childhood, it was something I was used to that kind of production.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset Project | Doug Katz | Chef Entrepreneur

Chef Entrepreneur: Every time I open a new restaurant, I think of these theater experiences—the drive up to that day is so similar to creating a production.

With the culinary art and the performing art, I can see that perfect storm. In my view, you stand shoulders above any other chef in Cleveland. I’m trying to figure out how you got there. What are the assumptions? You and I had a conversation at Zhug about how in the beginning, it sucked.

It usually does.

I interviewed a guy one time who had started a company that qualified for the Inc. 500 and he said he started it with $400. When I asked him how he did that, he said, “I was willing to do it poorly before I was able to do it well.” I thought, “There’s a little nugget there.” You have to put your stuff out in the world, interact with the world, and get that feedback. It’s not always easy to do. Can you talk a little bit about that part of your journey?

That was not my journey, for sure. I always thought that doing it as best as I could, but I was maybe naive and idealistic. I thought what I was doing was the best. I love being a chef because I love practicing. Every day of my life, I had to peel carrots, peel onions, dice tomatoes, dice onions, mince garlic, or roast a chicken five million times.

To me, what I love about cooking is the practice. Every time I do it, there’s a little nuance. Maybe the oven wasn’t working right and I noticed that the temperature was wrong or I seasoned it with this kind of salt. When you do something over and over and over again, your mind starts to notice all the details. That’s what I love about cooking. As an ADD-type person, it allowed me to focus on something. When I chop parsley, mince something, or I’m in the kitchen doing one job for five hours, it allows me to focus. That’s what I love about cooking.

When you do something over and over and over again, your mind starts to notice all the details. Share on X

When I go to restaurants where there are fourteen different methods and the food is Michelin, I’m not into those types of experiences because I want to have the best roast chicken, the best steak, or the best potatoes. I want to be able to discern when I’m eating it, “Why is this potato so great?” or, “Why is this vegetable so great?” I don’t want someone to create a show for me and put food on the plate that I’m not sure what it is. I eat it and I like it, but there’s nothing I can take away from it and learn from. It’s not to say you can’t.

Maybe what you’re talking about is a difference between being intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. You don’t care about the Michelin Star like you want to understand. It reminds me. Years ago, I interviewed Ed Lee, the Korean chef guy on TV. He said he was an English major in college. His parents were Korean and they were all over him.

He then got out of college and went to work as a busboy or something in a restaurant. His parents were freaking out. One of the things he said to me that stood out was, “People look at me and think that I’m gifted. It’s not like that. I read 300 cookbooks over 5 years. Every morsel of food that came across my tongue, I was analyzing constantly.” That’s what you’re saying.

I could never do that, but there’s something about my senses. I’m still a chef with senses. I’m very aware of smells and tastes. I can look at a picture and if I was seven years old, I can still remember what that smelled like or tasted like. I can’t tell you exactly, “The duck needs this today,” but I could tell you, “It’s missing this.” Through experience, you learn what it needs.

What I’ve learned in my career is that a lot of people don’t have that. They make something and they’re not sure if it’s good or bad. Most guests have no idea if something is good or bad. I’m not saying that good and bad is when someone says it’s good and it’s bad. What I’m saying is I feel like I know the way I want it and I know how to get it there, and I know what it should be based on all of the food experiences I’ve had and all of the practice I’ve had.

Karen and I were at Amba not long ago. It boggles my mind. We were looking around at the decor and were like, “Look at the details. There goes Doug. He seems like he’s floating around the room. I would be stressed out of my mind.”

Kitchen Culture

It’s relying on teams. None of that detail was anything I imagined. If you’re looking at the atmosphere, Kelly Schaefer was the designer. When I met Kelly, when I learned about Kelly, or when I wanted to work with Kelly and then sat down with her, there was no one else I was going to choose to help us do this because her passion and excitement for design and her ability to put things together spoke to me. That’s who I want on my team. I would say the same with everyone else. In whatever aspects, you have to choose people based on something you see in them. If you see that, that’s going to transfer to whatever you’re doing.

With my restaurants, Cameron, my chef, has been with me for seventeen years. He would want to kill me every week if he could, but we’re also, in some ways, best friends and the closest people on this. I’ve never had a closer person in my life because we’ve had so much together. We know each other well. He has expertise in organization, breaking things down, and getting to the core. I can say to Cameron, “This needs more of this.” Cameron is the one who does all the chemistry, the research, the science, and all that to make it happen. He does all the organizational things like the spreadsheets.

I’m one of those that I could give you 50 million ideas all day and I could tell you what I want, but for me to sit down for an hour and do something is the hardest thing for me to do. To have a Cameron, a Phoebe, a Todd, and all these people help me. I’m lucky that I’ve known where I’m not so great at doing things and I’ve found people who can help me do those things. It is creating a team that we love being together and working together.

I can relate to that. I’ve got an idea every five minutes and they’re like, “For God’s sake. Stop with the ideas. We have to execute.” They’re like, “Stop.”

I feel the same.

The point is part of your success is attributed to the fact of understanding your weaknesses and knowing where you’re strong. I see a lot of people in any business, let alone the restaurant business, being control freaks. They want to control everything, and that’s so limiting.

You picked to talk to me now. We’re talking about things I’ve learned. When I went to culinary school and then I had my work experiences, every chef I worked for was that control freak yeller type of chef that made you feel terrible.

That’s part of the culture. I’ve studied some of the great three-star Michelin chefs, Fernand Point, Bocuse, and those guys. That’s part of the “This is disgusting to me” culture of dominance and screaming at somebody. That’s nuts.

It creates this culture, and it makes you closer. You join sororities and fraternities. You go through the initiation weeks or the hazing. I know that none of this is happening now, but these things, in certain ways, make you closer as a group because you have shared experiences. You worked for this terrible chef who used to throw pans. It connected all of us. There are five of us who still talk because this guy was an a-hole. He did that all to us and we made it.

Way back then, I was the control freak chef. When I was the chef at Moxie, for instance, I was a 30-year-old chef. I had employees who were 40 or 50 years old who would walk out because they didn’t want to listen to me. I was telling them to do something that they didn’t want to do. With the way I told them, I think I was respectful, but I was this young kid who thought I knew everything and what I wanted. I would delegate, but I also wanted it the way I wanted it.

I’d lose people all the time. The way I managed was much more control freak and much more not relying on other people. It took me many years to not talk over people, to tell them my ideas, and to tell them what I want and not to listen to them. That took me so many years. Even in Fire, I have a business partner who has been with me for twelve years. Cameron has been with me for seventeen years. In the last couple of years, I’ve allowed other people to take their areas and let them make their areas the best they can be.

I used to think as the control freak chef that I couldn’t have other ideas and other people in the mix. It’s only going to dilute everything. It’s only going to muddy everything. I need to have the whole vision and I need to manage every part of it or it’s not going to be right. What I’ve realized is by doing the customer service, the marketing, and the idea stuff, Phoebe can do this, Todd can do this, and Cameron can do this. They can all feel great about it. You’re seeing in front of your eyes how terrible a boss you are for most of your career and then you realize, “This is the way it should have been.” You don’t know that until you do it, lose all these people, and start to realize, “It’s working now. Why? I didn’t tell them to do this. Why did it work out?”

You created the right environment. You were doing these catering things when you were 14 and 15 years old. That’s a taste of autonomy. What I would call self-directed value creation is the way I think about entrepreneurship. You go to work as a busboy. You want to go work in the front of the house of other restaurants. What was your next entrepreneurial venture on your own? How did that evolve?

Entrepreneurial Ventures

Up until Fire closed, the catering started then and it never stopped.

You’ve always had that side hustle. Is that what you’re saying?

Yes. When I lived out of town it stopped, but I would work at other restaurants. For about 11 or 10 years, I was not in Cleveland. During those years, I worked on teams in different restaurants. During that time, I didn’t cater. That was the start. I worked at restaurants in high school for Zach Bruell and Hiroshi, and then I did my catering.

We were lucky to have Stouffer Foods in Cleveland. We had Stouffer Hotels in Cleveland. I happened to know one of the people who worked at Stouffer Hotels. His name was Rudy McCosh. He went to the University of Denver. Before I went out to college, I met with him and said, “I want to work when I’m out there. Is there any way that I could work at the hotel?” He said, “Sure.” I ended up working as a bellman, not even in the restaurant in the hotel.

At that time, I knew I was going to be a chef, and I’ve told you that. I knew that in the back of my mind, but I did want to test out, “Do I want to be in hotels? Maybe I do want to work the front desk.” I needed to test the waters there. I loved being a bellman. One of the reasons was because the NCAA tournament came the first year I was a bellman.

After about six months, whoever the teams were were staying at the Stapleton Hotel. They come in with all their bags. I must have made $1,000 in one day because of the amount of bags you’re taking to the rooms. They give you great tips. I was thinking, “I’m going to be a bellman for the rest of my life,” but I still loved the food world. That was a great experience because it taught me more customer service, greeting people, taking them to their rooms, and doing all the things. It’s still hospitality and it’s still what I love to do in my restaurant but it is a different area. I did that.

Once college was over, I went to culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. I finished college in three and a half years. It tells you a lot about it. I was not a student, but I went to college in the summer. I couldn’t wait to go to culinary school. Senior year in January, I went to the Culinary Institute and I came back for graduation in June because I was so excited to start school.

You doubled down to get it over with as quickly as possible.

I know this isn’t your question. I’m segueing. I got to culinary school and it was January of 1992. It was in Hyde Park, New York near Poughkeepsie. There’s a road that goes next to the school. The school’s on the Hudson River. It’s the most beautiful school you’ve ever seen, but there is nothing around the school that you could walk to or that you could get to very easily.

If you’re a runner, you could run up the road and go to the Vanderbilt Mansion, the Rockefeller, the Roosevelt Mansion, and things like that, but you couldn’t leave the school. It was the most depressing. All you did was go to class. You had no life except living in the dorm. As someone who had gone to college and had the best experience of my life with my friends, being social, and everything, you go here and it is depressing.

It feels like a vocational school, which is what it is. Most of the students who go there come from New York City or Boston. They come from these areas where their families have run restaurants for years and they’re the next generation going to culinary school to take over those kitchens. They have no passion for this. They don’t want to talk about how to roast a chicken, food, or all this stuff. I’m thinking, “That’s why I went here. Why am I here? These people are depressing me. The place is depressing.” I hated it at first.

You were probably thinking, “This is the pinnacle.” Hyde Park is the Harvard of the culinary school.

In that process, all I keep thinking is, “What clubs can I join? What can I do outside of this?” It was because I hated it like I hated school growing up. I loved the school. I loved going into the classrooms and doing those things. I joined the Gourmet Club. I joined the Wine Society clubs. We could do extracurricular things, do dinners, and do fun things and trips to New York. I got involved in all of those things to make me feel better about the experience. There’s nothing like it. You go for eight months and then you leave and go do your internship, and then you come back to the school.

I was in Boston for my internship. I worked at a hotel there. I’m going back to your question that you were asking. Portland, Oregon, where I went next, I worked at a restaurant called Wildwood. It was a brand-new restaurant that opened in Portland. An amazing chef from San Francisco moved back up. I worked there, but working there wasn’t enough. I loved working there, but I needed to get another job.

I then worked at that Portland pretzel company. I learned how to make pretzel dough and learned how to form pretzels. In the mornings, I’d make the dough and work in the pretzel shop. Lines of people in downtown Portland would come in and order all the pretzels. It was such a fun thing. Those were the types of things I did in addition to my jobs. I would diversify because if I didn’t love one aspect, I knew that I was going to do something else too that I did love.

It seems like every time you find yourself in a situation that’s not working for you, you find strategies to adapt. It’s pretty amazing.

I don’t know if that’s the culinary world or if it’s the theater world. I loved what I was doing, but you feel like you have to have these other outlets.

Something is going on underneath. It’s like, “This isn’t working. I’ve got to find a way.” A sentiment I hear from entrepreneurs a lot is, “I got to find a way.” The hope circuit in the brain is open. That’s it. Someone of equal or perhaps greater ability who construes that situation as like, “There’s nothing I can do,” will have very different outcomes.

I learned that from my parents too. You can achieve whatever you put your mind to is what they’d always tell me. I believe that. When a guest asks me a question, it’s a yes. When a person in my kitchen says they’re not sure how to do it, I know that there’s always a way. When my business partner tells me, “There’s no way this is going to work,” and he still says this to me, he looks at me and smirks because he knows I’m not going to accept that.

There is nothing you can’t achieve if you put your mind to it. There's always a way. Share on X

As soon as he hears the words come out of his mouth, he’s like, “Let me walk that.” A dynamic of leadership is to instill that idea.

My ex-wife would say that I was debilitatingly optimistic, and it got me into trouble at times. An entrepreneurial thing is being optimistic that there’s always a solution. I do believe that. I don’t believe in debilitating optimism or whatever, but having that mindset, there is always a way and there is always a solution. There’s always something.

You’re always working on those solutions in this business because you’re always trying to solve people’s problems, trying to make a recipe better, or trying to make this work out of something that didn’t work in the recipe. You’re set up for that. My parents also weren’t going to let me quit. There was always a solution to figure it out, whether it was getting a tutor. There was always an answer.

What you said could be translated into any domain. It’s like, “This recipe isn’t working. We got to find another way.” It’s not that complicated. There was a guy in Cleveland. You might know him, John Osher. Does that name ring a bell?

It does.

He’s an inventor and entrepreneur. He became a bazillionaire. He produced the Jersey Boys.

I don’t know that.

I interviewed him back in the day for a research project I did for the Cisco Entrepreneur Institute. He was a serial inventor of consumer products. The SpinBrush brush was his big thing. I don’t know if you ever heard that story.

I know this. Feel free to expand.

He had invented a number of things and was already wealthy and bored. If you recall back in maybe the ‘90s and early aughts, you could go in any gas station and there’d be a $3.50 lollipop on the end of a motor with a battery in a little box by the checkout counter. Do you remember those?

I don’t remember those.

They were lollipops on a motor. It’s a little lollipop where you’d buy the lollipop, put it in your mouth, and hit the button and it would spin around in your mouth. They’re called Spin Pops. He extrapolated from that to the $5 electric toothbrush. He had the basic technology. He said, “There’s a $60 electric brush. There’s a $20 electric brush. If there was a $5 electric toothbrush, everybody would buy it.” The story is amazing. He wound up selling this SpinBrush for $500 million to Colgate, Crest, or Procter & Gamble.

The thing that he said to me that I want to come back to this conversation is, “I’m asked to speak at entrepreneurship colleges all over the country. I could answer any question you could ask me about entrepreneurship. I could answer with the same three words. Find a way. I know it’s not that helpful, but it gets you in that mindset that you have to find a way.”

My mom would tell me about that. She was also into theater. We had the same director at times. His name was Michael LiBassi. He wanted perfection. She would always tell a story that she wasn’t sure how she could get up on the stage and do this dance or whatever and he was the type of guy who said, “You got to do it. Figure it out.” That’s the mentality too. When you’re on the stage, you don’t stop. You figure it out at that moment. If you have to do something different than what’s in the script, you do it.

It’s the same with the restaurant. There’s the amount of times that people come in and you have this dinner. You’re trying to get twenty plates out of the kitchen and this person cuts their hand or this person falls on the floor. Those are two experiences. You have to figure out what you’re going to do at that moment because you’re not going to close your restaurant. You’re not going to tell the customer, “We’re sorry. We’re not going to serve you.”

This career is almost set up for that entrepreneurial spirit of figuring it out and doing it right. You have to. Some people aren’t as successful because they don’t. They’re there to stay in their lane and say, “This is the way it is.” You start upsetting people or you start to do things that aren’t necessarily going to generate income for your business if you handle it that way.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset Project | Doug Katz | Chef Entrepreneur

Chef Entrepreneur: This career almost is set up for that entrepreneurial spirit of figuring it out and doing it.

Karen gets mad at me when I say this. I walk into restaurants sometimes and in my mind, I can go dead man walking. I don’t know if it’s the pink tablecloth. I’m not sure what it is. She thinks I’m being overly critical, but it’s an exercise in my brain. Maybe the food is good, but the experience and the ambiance are like, “Eh.” You’re not paying attention to the whole picture.

Entrepreneurs don’t see themselves as entrepreneurs. Maybe some do, but it’s this progression over time. You evolve and then become this great entrepreneur because you’ve made it through all of these things. Someone looks at you and says, “You’ve done all this stuff.” It’s all the problems you’ve been able to solve and all the things you’ve made it through that have gotten you there. Most of us have no idea how we got here. We kept trying and kept doing it.

Minimally Viable Product

This goes back to the conversation we were having as a joke. People see Doug Katz and you make it look effortless. You’re floating around the restaurant. You have all these successful restaurants. You’re the guy in Cleveland, Ohio. Your top chef heads and shoulders above anybody else, at least in my opinion.

Thank you.

You make it look easy. It’s so easy to look at Doug Katz today and say, “He’s a naturally gifted genius.” They don’t see the Doug Katz of 10 or 20 years ago struggling through that. Some of which you’ve already talked about, like the control freak and how that was limiting to you. They don’t see that.

It’s the daily practice. You’re right. It’s interesting. We’re opening a new restaurant in the fall. Everyone is so excited for this restaurant. They want to know what it is. As we go through this, I’ve opened many restaurants. In my head, I know exactly what it’s going to be, but I can’t always get those ideas out to everyone else. What’s in my head doesn’t necessarily translate to Cameron even though he has been with me for seventeen years. For Todd, it’s the same thing.

For this last year, we met every single week and talked about this restaurant. A reporter calls me and wants to know about the restaurant. I don’t know how to tell him what the restaurant is. The baby is inside and isn’t born, but the day the baby is born, do you think you know everything about that baby and how that baby’s going to do this and that? They think somehow, my story is something that I get, but I’m not going to know what this new restaurant is probably for five years. It’s one of these things.

I’ll know it in a lesser way than you as a guest coming in know it because you’re coming in and experiencing it. You think we know what we’re doing, but we don’t. You’re experiencing it and you’re like, “This is amazing.” We’re like, “Is it? Why?” We start to hear and we’re like, “You think it’s great because of this. This other person thinks it’s too loud. This other person thinks this is this.” All of those things formulate who we become, and then we start to know ourselves in a much clearer way. We’re going, “I hope people order this. I hope this is this.” There are systems and things that we’ve done.

What you’re saying is important. What I hear you saying if I understand you is you’re putting something out there which is your best guess. In the entrepreneur land, we call it a minimally viable product. Maybe it’s a little bit more advanced than that because you’re an experienced chef, restaurateur, and so forth. You’re putting something out there not expecting it to be exactly right. Do I have that right?

For sure. I’m a perfectionist, but I know that there is no perfection. I know that I can never get there, but I want to get as close to it as possible. It’s all about all the steps that you can take, all the practice you can take, picking the right people, having as many opinions as you can, getting all of this information, and then making a decision that is hopefully 90% to 100% accurate.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset Project | Doug Katz | Chef Entrepreneur

Chef Entrepreneur: It’s all about the steps and practice that you can take, picking the right people, having as many opinions as you can, getting all the information and then making a decision that is hopefully 90 to 100 percent accurate.

How do you deal with the feedback? How do you separate signal from noise? How do you separate the haters from real feedback? How does that work in your mind?

When it comes to culinary creativity, I try to stay in my head and try to create for myself. I don’t want other opinions. I don’t want to see other people’s menus. I want to create what I’m going to create first and know that it’s there where I’m like, “This is the authenticity that I want.” I start looking at pictures, looking at recipes, and looking at other people’s doing this and that, and then I have it in my head where I know, “This is what it is.” I’m comparing and contrasting. I want every piece of feedback I can.

I’m opening this restaurant in September. For a year, I’ve known I’m opening it. I tell every guest. I go to the table and away, “We’re going to open this new restaurant. We’re looking at Van Aken. It’s going to be called Kiln.” I start talking about it and telling the story and I start getting reactions from people. To me, by sharing all of my ideas and sharing what’s in my head with other people, I’m starting to get feedback and data that’s going to tell me, “This person says to me, “Why would you ever call it this? That means this,” or “Why would you want to serve that?” or, “Aren’t you going to have vegan food?” If I hear twenty people say, “Aren’t you going to have vegan food?” That’s got to change my mindset. If I’m doing a steak restaurant, maybe I need to have a vegan item on my menu.

The more I can share, the better. There are so many people in the business world and the inventor world, I’m sure, that don’t want to share their ideas. They’re worried about competition. I want to talk to everyone in my world. I want to talk to all the restaurant owners. I want to have the doors open. I want to talk to every customer. I want to talk it out with people because if it’s all in my head and I’m talking it out with myself, how am I going to ever learn what other people want? How am I going to create something that the public wants? This is my research and development as we do it.

Your minimally viable product is in dialogue even before the restaurant opens. You have a rough vision and you’re getting a feedback loop before you’ve even invested in the decor, the menu, the equipment, or anything like that. That’s utterly fascinating to me.

I’m 54. I’ve had it for 47 years.

Had what?

All of that feedback because I’ve always been in it doing all these different things. Things change. Things that I think are the right approach, I learn that they aren’t, but there is all of that history.

We can use the culinary art or the restaurant business as a metaphor for entrepreneurship more broadly. My first book is titled Who Owns the Ice House? The compulsion for the autonomy to create self-directed value creation to do your own thing is powerful but it can also easily be misguided. As Richard Feynman once said, “The first trick is not to fool yourself, and you’re the easiest person to fool.”

What I learned from my co-author in the Ice House book is that the simple idea is that we get what we want by helping other people get what they want. Opportunities abound, but they require us to think about what other people want and need. Back in the day, I interviewed David Morgan. I don’t know if you ran across that guy. He is one of the first venture capitalists in the United States. He invested in Steve Jobs. He was in the Terminal Tower building. He told me straight up, “The world doesn’t give a crap about what you like to do. It’s about understanding what other people want and need.”

We can use the restaurants as an analogy for entrepreneurship more broadly, but I see people open restaurants and they’re like, “I want to open a Cuban restaurant because I’m from Cuba.” That’s great, but what do the people in your community want? Is this what they want or is that what you like to do? That many people fail is my point because they’re thinking about what they want and they’re tone deaf to what other people want. You seem to have figured that out. You’re all about that feedback loop.

My wanting people to like me also impacted my career. I love what I do, but I also want to do things that I want to make sure other people would want what I’m doing to work for them. I’m constantly interested in that. I want that feedback, and I want to make them happy. I picked a career that other people don’t want. They look at it as “This is the hardest life. This is the hardest career.” Even Zach Bruell was saying, “Are you crazy? Why would you ever want to do this? Are you sure you want to do this?” Every year of my life, he has asked me, “Are you sure you still want to do this?”

No one wants to do this. They don’t want to wash dishes. They don’t want to prep vegetables. They don’t want to cut themselves with a knife. They don’t want to be in the kitchen. Most people don’t like food production. To me, I picked something that I love, but it’s also something that most people don’t love. They have this appreciation for it even more so than they would because they want nothing to do with it or they’ve had negative experiences with it.

I’m lucky that I have a career I love. I like to beat myself up a little bit, challenge myself, and do something that other people think is super difficult and hard. They have more respect for me as this person because they don’t realize that I love doing these hard things. I like scrubbing the floor. I like scrubbing a stove. I like turning vegetables or doing things that a lot of people maybe don’t like. Maybe I’m hiding behind that they think that I wouldn’t like it either, but I do. I’m lucky.

Maybe we can wind down on this note. It’s hard to believe we’ve been on a call for 1 hour and 20 minutes already. Your comment brings me back to a point I made earlier. When a human being can find that intersection between their interest and abilities, work isn’t work. I wish everybody could at least have that experience once in their life where we go from “Thank God it’s Friday” to “Thank God it’s Monday.”

I lived that. I have this guilt that I feel like I don’t work. I feel like Cameron doesn’t give me enough stuff to do, Todd doesn’t give me enough stuff to do, or Phoebe doesn’t give me enough stuff to do. I’m sure it’s because I’ve driven them all crazy enough that they’re like, “Please stay out of our way.” I feel like I don’t work. If I’m up, my mind is racing. I’m thinking, I’m working, and I’m trying to stay productive and do things. I’m lucky to have a career that I love. It isn’t work. I don’t feel like I’m working ever.

I wonder sometimes. Isn’t that available to all of us though?

I’m lucky that I was able to start when I was so young. Unfortunately, in school and parents, there are so many factors that can impact that for people. What we don’t realize is we have one life. If we’re constantly preparing for the life that either our parents want for us or is what the system expects of us, we’re not giving ourselves the voice of who we could become. As parents, at 4, 5, 6, or 7 years old, you should be noticing what your kids are into and trying to help foster that development. They’re not wasting fifteen years of their life that they could be putting towards learning whether they like something or not.

What we don't realize is we have one life. If we're constantly preparing for the life that either our parents or the system expects for us, we're not really giving ourselves the voice of who we could become. Share on X

We start too late. I interview people who are 25 or 30 and they want to switch careers and they want to get into this. I have a pit in my stomach and think, “I wish that you could do that, but now, it’s a little too late.” I don’t tell them that. I say, “If you’re passionate about it, you should try it and do it.” You got to use every bit of time you have on this planet. Parents, mentors, and our education system should be fostered towards, “Let’s figure out what you like and what you’re good at and what you don’t like and what you’re not so good at.” Create that direction when you’re 4, 6, or 6 years old. It doesn’t mean you have to stick with that path.

My son is a film major. He always talked about film since he was a child. A few months ago, he was like, “I’m frustrated with this.” He was working in a restaurant and was loving it. He was like, “I want to maybe take a break from film.” I was so happy that that happened to him. You need those opportunities to separate yourself from what you’re focused on at times.

I would always notice after three weeks, I was missing it so much that all I wanted to do was do it again. You don’t know that if you’re in it every day and burning yourself out. If you know at four that this is your trajectory, at eighteen, if you decide you don’t want to do it, you haven’t lost any time. You’ve learned a ton about something and drilled into it deeply.

There’s a great quote I put in my new book from the guy from the Chief Education Evangelist at Google, Jaime Casap. He said, “Let’s stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up. Let’s start asking them what problems they want to solve and what they need to learn to solve those problems.”

I look at the data and 87% of workers worldwide are not engaged in their work. Two-thirds of kids that come out of high school are not engaged in learning. I have these conversations with people like you and you’re optimally engaged. The world is getting the best that Doug Katz has to offer the world. You found that intersection of your gifts and your interests and a way to share that. The world benefits from it and you benefit from it. The converse of that is we suffer for all the people that are out there languishing. They’re not necessarily depressed or suicidal, but they’re not thriving.

The thing is that there’s a thought that parents or the systems can protect us from things that are traumatic or that are difficult.

You need those things.

I was born with those things, unfortunately, in my body, whether it was generational or not. I had so much to work through, and I was so lucky to have this career that allowed me to work through so much of it. What we don’t realize is you can’t protect people from the traumas and all these things. They’re going to happen whether you try to control your kid’s career or try to control what our population is doing. It’s going to come out somehow. I’m lucky that my career has been my best therapist in a way. It has allowed me to deal with all of these things that I could never deal with otherwise.

Work On What You Love

One thing that you were talking about a few minutes ago, I want to go back to it for a second and then we’ll wind down. I remember watching a video some years ago of Bruce Springsteen in his home studio with his band trying to get a song out of his head. If I find it, I’ll send it to you because it perfectly describes what you described with your new restaurant. It’s like you got a song playing in your head and you got the E Street Band. You got these people you’ve been working with and you’re still struggling to get out. You’re like, “It’s not quite that. It’s more like this.”

I love the way you say that because I’ll listen to an album and be like, “I love this song, but I don’t like any of the other ones. Why is that song the one I like?” I can only imagine as a songwriter, “How would you ever create that song?” It’s the practice that they have.

This is great. I want to end with a little anecdote that I wanted to share with you. I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood, which is Euclid. My friends’ parents were cops and worked in factories. My dad was an artist who had emigrated from Europe. He worked as a commercial illustrator. He painted on weekends and cooked.

I was the oddball in this little community. These were solid blue-collar folks. My friends would come over, and this is age 14 or 15, on a Saturday. My dad would set them down at the table. He had a pate that he had made. There was cognac in it and bacon strips that lined the terrain. He’d put a little slab of the pate on a plate with a little bit of bibb lettuce underneath it, a gherkin, a piece of French bread, and a little glass of wine, which was freaky and taboo. One of my friends became a chef. That was my dad’s influence on the neighborhood. He was always messing around with food and influence.

Someone with passion does that or someone with pride. You feel like you want to bring a community together and you’re looking for feedback. You’re seeing how that experience affects these kids. For that kid who decided to be the chef, it was so nurturing for that kid that your dad would do that. It was probably the seed.

This is a great entrepreneurial story. Do you have any final thoughts for someone out there who might be thinking about the restaurant business?

I would say to never let anyone tell you that something isn’t right to do or that it’s too hard. As an entrepreneur, you find the things that you’re driven by. I’m so lucky to have had parents that allowed me to take the path that I wanted to take. To me, it is also slowing down. I have so much trouble with this, but taking the time.

When you’re young and you have a passion or you have something that you love to do, to me, it’s a division of labor. You do a little bit here and a little bit here. All of those pieces add up to the most fulfilling career when you’re able to do that slowly. If you’re moving too fast, you misstep, miss the details, and miss the education opportunities.

As someone who was not a good learner and who had these challenges, I needed 50 years to learn this. I was not born to be a chef. I didn’t have this innate knowledge and chef knowledge, but I learned to be a hard worker, and I’m able to be a hard worker because I love what I do. If you are lucky enough to know what you love, you need to work that much harder to grow that for you and other people because many people don’t have that. They don’t have that opportunity. It’s a true gift that I feel I was given. If you have that, you should take your time and allow it to grow little by little. Don’t look for that immediate satisfaction or payout although that’s what a lot of us look for day-to-day in the business.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset Project | Doug Katz | Chef Entrepreneur

Chef Entrepreneur: If you are lucky enough to know what you love, you need to work that much harder to grow that for you and for other people because so many don’t have that and they don’t have that opportunity.

If I’m interpreting what you’re saying, it’s to pay attention to what’s in your heart. You have to listen to what’s happening around you. Pay attention to what’s in your heart too. Who are you? One of the ways this conversation is landing in my brain is about authenticity. It’s about honoring that something within you and finding a way to use that thing to make yourself useful to other humans in a way that you flourish also.

Other people want that from you. I don’t know why you like my restaurant, why someone else does, or why they think I’m a great chef. I have to say all of those things are secondary to me. I love waking up every day knowing I’m doing what I love. I love that authenticity statement because that’s what people want. Don’t let other people tell you who you should be. Don’t let other people tell you what you should create as an entrepreneur. If it’s in you to be an entrepreneur, then do it.

Also, explore. Someone told me, “Your life is made up of connections.” If you don’t say hello to people in the elevator or if you’re on the sidewalk and someone passes you and you look down, every experience is an opportunity to meet someone and connect with someone. You don’t know where that’s going to take you. That could be your business partner. That could be your spouse. That could be your best friend. That could be the person who saves you from who knows what.

If you don’t take opportunities, that is the saddest thing. I want to experience as much as I can. As an entrepreneur, a non-authentic one, I want to connect with you and connect with everyone on my walk as well as all the customers. I can’t wait for the day. I know I’m going to have a great conversation with someone because I’m open to it.

This is a conversation about human flourishing. At the end of the day, that’s what entrepreneurship means to me. That’s why it’s so important. It’s a way of being where humans flourish. That’s what it all comes down to. Thanks so much for doing this. I enjoyed this conversation. I can’t wait to be sitting at a table at Zhug, Amba, or up on Van Aken, or wherever. I’m grateful for this opportunity.

Thank you. As I talk, I feel like that was like tangent after tangent. No wonder it went so fast because I probably was babbling half the time.

I love it. It’s a great story. It is about living authentically and demystifying the entrepreneurial mindset. These are real people pursuing their passion in ways that create value for other people. That’s all it is.

Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.


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