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From Back to Front of House: What It Means to a Chef to Be Up in Your Grill

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
July 24, 2014

Spike Mendelsohn serves costumers during the grand opening of Good Stuff Eatery. (Photo credit: Tom Williams / Getty Images)

chef goes from cooking in a fine dining restaurant to a fast-casual space.

Translation: A chef goes from being tucked into the kitchen, where he can huff and puff and cuss the house down if he wants, to being on display as he works.


Franklin Becker, who we first met while he was calling out orders at New York City’s healthy fast-casual joint The Little Beet, had previously served as the corporate chef of EMM group. At the Little Beet, Becker does 1,300 to 1,500 covers in a day, 800 to 1,000 of which are sandwiched between the lunch hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. He and his team cook all of the food for the guests right in front of them.

“There’s a trust level that these people have developed,” Becker told us. “There are no smoke and mirrors; everything is out there in front of you. People like that, and they can gain trust in that.”

And they have. Becker expressed the success of The Little Beet through its broccoli orders: “When we opened in December, we purchased four cases of broccoli a day. Now we’re moving through 14 cases of broccoli a day.” A case is about 14 heads of broccoli, meaning Becker’s daily broccoli output is 196 heads. “I’ve experienced volume, but never [with] one particular item like that,” he said, and the trend is the same with chicken and salmon.

Trust goes both ways. Becker taps his regulars—“we probably have 600 of the same faces every day, and I know 100 by name”—for feedback, asking what they think he can do to improve. The payment for their time? A free lunch.

A view of the Little Beet dining room in midtown Manhattan. (Photo credit: Courtesy the Little Beet)

Spike Mendelsohn, who owns the fast-casual Good Stuff Eatery and We the Pizza in Washington, D.C., agrees that facing customers is beneficial to business. “This kind of interaction is the key to success,” he told us. “I love being able to communicate with customers at all times. You get to hear about the consistency issues and things that people you work with won’t tell you.”

Mendelsohn’s inner Chatty Cathy came pretty naturally. “I was always an entertainer at heart. My family [which is composed of restaurateurs] would always say, ‘We’re not in the restaurant business, we’re in show business.’ My parents were always taking to guests.” He’d also been a contestant on “Top Chef" by the time he opened his first restaurant, an experience he said took him from “kitchen rat into the public eye in a matter of weeks.”

Mendelsohn interacts with customers at Good Stuff. (Photo credit: Tom Williams / Getty Images)

Still, the lack of that high-def barrier between him and his viewers took some getting used to. “I was literally flipping burgers for the first two years [of Good Stuff] and people wanted to take pictures with me, all greasy, in front of the grill,” he said. “You might have 10 tickets in your hands and you’re totally in the weeds and you have to cozy up to it.”

Mendelsohn trained at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in California and Le Cirque in New York, two industry stalwarts with very serious (and very private) kitchens. And there are things Mendelsohn misses about that, sure. “I miss my everyday routine,” he said. “I miss the roasting of bones and the smell of it, and your daily kitchen banter with the guys, and the adrenaline rush at the end of the night—being completely burnt out at the end of the night and having a cold beer.”

Enough to go back to it? “No.”

"When you’re in a kitchen, behind the swinging door, you know you’re cooking for people, but you don’t see their faces,” Becker told us. “Now, every time I pick up my head, there’s a new face in front of me. The effect that has on you is tremendous.”