Across America (and the world) there are restaurant that out last the odds – they stay in business for generations, even as other restaurant fade and close. Why? What is the secret to longevity in the restaurant business? Is it great food? Great management? Great location? Or just a combination of circumstances customers find endearing so that they return again and again.
Finding the answer is the premise behind Emeril Lagasse‘s new show The Originals with Emeril, which premiers on May 5th at 10:30 pm ET/ 7:30 pm PT on The Cooking Channel. Essentially, this is a travel show – Emeril gets to visit a different city each episode and profile a few restaurants. The owners and chefs of the restaurants are articulate about why they survive and why they have become institutions in their cities – these aren’t tourist traps – at least in the premier – these are restaurant that locals go to again and again.
Emeril is a good choice as host – after all, he’s been a head chef at a restaurant that counts as an “original” – Commander’s Palace. It is the kind of restaurant that is anti-celebrity chef. These are restaurants that outlive their owners, outlive chefs, bartenders, managers, and waiters, and yet retain loyalty. None of the restaurants founded by super chefs and celebrity chefs in the last 40 years have yet managed to achieve this kind of longevity. Perhaps they will – Spago could outlive Wolfgang Puck, Aureole could be sold by Charlie Palmer and still be celebrated, Todd English‘s Olives could live beyond Todd’s ownership. But all of these restaurants are in some way tied to their chef/owners, and though they have beaten the odds and survived over a decade each – they haven’t attained the longevity of the restaurants Emeril visits. Of course, three-star restaurants run by celebrity chefs in France are sold and do re-attain their stars.
Super Chef caught a sneak peak of the premier in which Emeril gets to visit San Francisco “Originals”. He first goes to Nob Hill’s Swan Oyster Depot that was founded as a fish market over a century ago. He goes with the current owner’s son Bryan to pick up fish at different vendors – and marvels at freshness of the various fish. He serves customers at the cramped counter, and announces, “They keep it fresh. They keep it real. They keep it coming.” The owners haven’t expanded, they haven’t enlarged the menu, and they haven’t invested in any high tech financial help.
Next, Emeril goes to the Buena Vista Café at Fisherman’s Warf for Irish Coffee, made the same way since it was brought over in 1940 – hot glasses, sugar, coffee, whiskey, and thick cream. Emeril even has a go at racing the bartender Paul Nolan in making Irish Coffees. It’s fun to watch and later copy.
Finally he goes to California’s oldest restaurant, Tadich Grill in the Financial District. It’s also a seafood restaurant serving mesquite grilled fish and “Hangtown Fry” as well as Cioppino. Is it the food that made this joint last or the flirtatious waiters?
Watch The Originals – sure, and think about what makes those old restaurants in your city survive and thrive.