I used to go to Kenny’s restaurant when I lived in New York City. One reason I loved it, besides the six pages of comfort food offered on the menu, was that it had a lot of idiosyncratic rules; I saw real estate brokers get kicked out for talking on cell phones and bankers get asked to leave for thinking they could sit more than four in a group. I saw uptown ladies get schooled by Eve, the co-owner and waitress, about the uselessness of “dressing on the side,” and celebrities enjoy long lunches – undisturbed – because inside Shopsins, they felt safe. The main rule was Don’t Be An Asshole. That’s a heck of a mission statement.
I love how clear and unapologetic Kenny and Eve were about who could pay them, and who could F%ck off. I use that language because that’s how they talk – whether you’re a New York Times food critic or a condo broker. Being a customer was something you earned, not something you became by using a GroupOn. Here are a few gems from Kenny:
1. The most profitable item on the menu, out of hundreds (not a minimalist, but still an essentialist) is iced tea. And what is iced tea but basically …water. The margins on an item that almost everyone orders are enormous. He knows it and gives free refills. And still makes money on it. (Where are your easiest, biggest margins?)
2. A milkshake, once perfectly thick, will never become thicker. It just can’t get better than it is, it only goes downhill if you try. So don’t. (This is a don’t guild the lilly kind of thing. You don’t have to make something good even better. With so much pressure to evolve and recreate and entertain our audiences, sometimes a good thing can stay exactly, precisely the way it is.)
3. Running a restaurant (for him) is about running a restaurant. It is not a means to get somewhere else, like so many endeavors. (OH. THANK. YOU. Why must evvvvvverything be a means to a show or a book or… a whatever?) I’ve always had ambition fatigue. He’s refreshing.
In a time where “customer acquisition strategy” is part of our everyday small business vocabulary, Kenny, for me, is a beacon of hope. Make good food. Keep your good customers close, and let the others find somewhere else to eat. And… don’t mistake fancy for elevated. Shopsins is a 5-star establishment in my mind. You don’t need a white tablecloth to be extraordinary.