Opening a Restaurant? Follow This Chef’s 5 Keys to Success
A conversation with Adrian Jeronimo, Executive Chef at The Goat in Philadelphia
As a boy growing up in Mexico City, Adrian Jeronimo learned valuable culinary lessons from his mother and grandmother: Always cook with fresh ingredients, always cook from scratch, and — most importantly — always cook with joy and passion.
Jeronimo kept those lessons close to his heart as he opened The Goat in Philadelphia alongside Fergie Carey and Jim McNamara. The restaurant offers next-level interpretations of traditional favorites and comfort foods. The executive chef is serving up a reuben burger, short rib poutine, pork belly mac-and-cheese, and even vegetarian- and vegan-friendly options like a green chili BBQ jackfruit sandwich and seitan bulgogi bowl.
Jeronimo has 12 years experience as an executive chef, but takes a little extra pride in opening a restaurant in Rittenhouse Square, a high-end neighborhood in Center City Philadelphia featuring skyscrapers, expensive homes, and boutique shops amidst the city’s informal charm and character.
“[Rittenhouse Square] is basically the Big Apple to me,” said Jeronimo. “I know I’ve got one shot. One opportunity. That’s why I’m working so hard to make this restaurant a success.”
Sitting inside The Goat on a recent winter day, Jeronimo reflected on his experience opening a restaurant with xtraCHEF. Donning a baseball hat and chef’s apron and speaking with steady, intense energy and humor, he shared five things he learned in the process.
Hire the right people, and train them well
Jeronimo hires kitchen staff with energy, courage, and a passion for great food. But finding the right people isn’t easy, so he relies on his network of chefs and cooks for recommendations.
“I have a lot of connections with chefs in the area. We’re always recommending people for each other’s restaurants. It helps us keep all of our kitchens strong,” he said. “Everybody should be working together so we all bring the best of the best into our restaurants.”
Now that he’s staffed up and open for business, Jeronimo prioritizes training his people so he doesn’t have to micromanage every process in the kitchen.
“I’ve got diners asking to talk to the chef. I want to be able to leave the kitchen and spend 20 minutes at someone’s table talking about the menu without the kitchen descending into chaos,” he said. “That means training people who can lead the kitchen in my absence.”
Learn your audience — and the neighborhood
As you prepare to open a new restaurant, Jeronimo suggests getting a lay of the land around it. Walk around; grab a bite at the restaurant across the street; get a drink at the bar on the corner. Who is the clientele? What food seems to be selling at surrounding restaurants, and how are their menus constructed?
In his exploration of Rittenhouse Square, Jeronimo saw a diverse mix of people, from families to construction workers to professionals to the wellness set toting their yoga mats to their meals. He’s confident that he’s constructed his menu to have something for everyone he encountered.
“Learn the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s a crucial part of your research.”
Learn Spanish, even if it’s un poquito
If you’re opening a restaurant, chances are high that people will be speaking Spanish in your kitchen. Even if it’s not your first language or even something you studied long ago in school, you’d be smart to embrace it, said Jeronimo.
“Kitchens have a lot of Latinos. You have to use Spanish, at least a little bit,” he said. His suggestions for beginners to the language? “Rapido [faster], ahora [now] and ahorita [right now].”
Expect the unexpected
Opening a restaurant brings plenty of surprises — especially when you’re rehabbing an old building. The Goat wound up having tunnels running through its basement. While Jeronimo had hoped to spend the bulk of his time constructing the menu and building out the kitchen, practical problems had to be solved first.
Take, for example, the soda line setup. Jeronimo had to choose between paying an exorbitant fee to have new lines set up, or crawling through an underground tunnel to hook it up himself. He chose the tunnel.
“I spent an hour down there connecting it,” he laughed. “It was really tight, but I got the job done!”
Embrace the challenge
When Jeronimo saw the size of the kitchen at The Goat, he knew it would present a challenge.
“We don’t have all the tools,” he said, “But we have knives, cutting boards, pots, pans, gas, and water. And still, everything is made from scratch and tastes delicious. I got into this business because I sincerely love challenges.”
“This is a big and very worthy challenge.”
Jared Shelly is the founder of Shelly Digital, a content marketing agency in Philadelphia.
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