Leisa: Hello, I’m Leisa Holland Nelson and this is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business. My guest now is Jonathan Levine, Founder and Executive Chef of Jonathan’s The Rub; welcome to The BusinessMakers Jonathan.
Jonathan: Thank you for having me.
Leisa: I’m so excited to have you, I want you to tell us all about Jonathan’s The Rub.
Jonathan: Jonathan’s The Rub the name actually comes from the Shakespeare quote from the to be or not to be soliloquy. My mom was an English professor and when she’d have a couple of vodkas and she’d stand on her chair and recite those soliloquies and the to be or not to be one was one that got my brother and I and it was “here in lies the rub” and the rub meant all the conundrums in life, all the questions in life that had no answer. So when we came to Texas and they have Texas rubs on meats it was just such a natural thing to make Jonathan’s The Rub.
Leisa: Well that makes perfect sense but a lot of our listeners may not know what Jonathan’s is so tell us what you’re doing.
Jonathan: I’ve been in the business almost 30 years and I’ve taken all my experiences, all the different cuisines that I’ve learned over time and consolidated them onto one rather large menu. It’s a place where people can come and enjoy Italian food or great America food. We have a whole new thing of new Houston cuisine which is trying to reflect what’s going on in Houston, Texas right now. So it’s just a free-thinking menu that when I feel like something I put it on the menu and people seem to be loving it.
Leisa: Tell me about the ambience of the restaurant. What’s it like to come to Jonathan’s the Rub?
Jonathan: What I hear most is that it’s got a New York feel.
Jonathan: Like growing up in New York City and Brooklyn I guess it’s natural, I just sort of built what I thought I’d be comfortable with and my guests would be comfortable. It’s not foo-foo in any way but yet we have extremely high end cuisine. It’s comfortable, warm and great, great wait staff and hosts and it’s just a very, very comfortable place to be.
Leisa: How long have you been in business?
Jonathan: The restaurant’s been open 7 years, it’ll be March 22nd is our 7th anniversary.
Leisa: Jonathan, why don’t you describe two of your most popular dishes for us.
Jonathan: In Houston, Texas one of the biggest cuisines is burgers. We got a couple of awards for our burgers. We start off with 10oz of ground chuck and go crazy after that. We have one that’s called the Mac n Cheese burger; so we take a 10oz burger, mac n cheese, bacon, fried egg on a great, sweet sour dough bun and we make our own fries. Another dish that is really taking off is our Pasta Del Rio which is, they call it fusion food, I just call a hybrid – I don’t really have any problems with fusion as a term, it’s food – so we take the flavors of Italian food and we marry it with a chipotle marinara and we put some heat into a pasta dish with shrimp and chicken and then we finish it with oyster mushrooms, top it off with Arugula.
Leisa: Okay, so 7 years, I’m guessing this is not your first rodeo. I want you to tell me how you got to Jonathan’s The Rub; what did you do before?
Jonathan: Well I started way back when I was – I got my Masters in Business and I thought I was going to be heading for the commodity trading world in New York City.
Leisa: As did everyone I think.
Jonathan: And 3 years into it I just was sick of it. I didn’t like it, I didn’t like the whole environment and I had a chance to buy a restaurant on Cape Cod. So having gone to school in Massachusetts it seemed natural to okay, let’s think about this; well I did it.
Leisa: Was it a year round restaurant?
Jonathan: It was 10 months; Cape Cod is a 10 month place. So it was on a golf course and I’m an avid golfer, so it was breakfast and lunch so we started breakfast and lunch and 2 weeks into it I fired the cook because he wasn’t doing what I wanted; scrambled eggs that were brown doesn’t make it in my world. So I’ve been owning restaurants for the last almost 30 years from behind the line. I became a chef on my own skills, I always had a great knack for it and I just read, read, read and then when the internet came in I exploded; I just kept learning and learning. So I started breakfast and lunch at a small place and then we went breakfast, lunch dinner then we went breakfast, lunch, dinner, and clam bar then we went breakfast, lunch, dinner, clam bar and a catering facility we built in the basement. And then we got bought out and then I did it again and then I did it again.
Leisa: All on Cape Cod?
Jonathan: All on Cape Cod. Just three times and I had no intention of selling it but I had people looking for a restaurant so I just decided okay, we’ll sell it and move on to the next one. And then in 2000 I moved here to Houston and started Jonathan’s Catering that turned into Jonathan’s Catering and Jonathan’s The Rub restaurant, that’s the history.
Leisa: So I’m going to ask you I’m guessing not an easy question, what’s the favorite meal to prepare for you, or item?
Jonathan: If I’m eating – I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and Italian food in Brooklyn is like Mexican food in Houston – and the big night out for us as a family was chicken parmesan and spaghetti and the place we went to – Carolina’s – put a meatball on top; well that’s it, that’s the cat’s meow, that’s Mother Earth to me. But food, as far as preparing, I’m all over the place. I love to create new things using new and exciting ingredients and our menu evolves and I keep learning and I keep tweaking and that’s the excitement of it.
Leisa: How many meals do you serve a day?
Jonathan: Averaging a little over 200 dinners a night.
Leisa: That’s a lot.
Jonathan: Plus we have about 188 lunches, so that’s on average.
Leisa: That’s a lot of meals.
Jonathan: It’s a small place; it’s only 90 seats inside and about 25 outside.
Leisa: So you’re turning it over two or three times daily. What do you think is the secret to your success in business?
Jonathan: I think it’s a combination; the biggest part about it is you’ve got to love what you’re doing because the love shines through.
Leisa: Especially in the food business I think.
Jonathan: Yeah, I mean I didn’t get into this because of the profit motive, it was all because I love to be around food and I became a really, really good cook. And so for me it’s an expression of love, of being in the hospitality business. I’m a caretaker by nature so to watch people enjoy my food and to be able to do that for them, that’s it. You marry that with great service, we have a team approach at the restaurant so every wait staff handles every table at any time.
Leisa: So restaurants fail all the time as we both know. I’d love for you to share a few tips for others about why you’ve been so successful or how you’ve done it.
Jonathan: So many people that want to be restaurateurs, because it’s a sense of glamor and I can cook and I want to cook or I don’t know exactly why everybody wants to get in it but the criteria is such that you have to be a numbers cruncher; fortunately I have an MBA so I went all through it and so I have that behind me. And then you have to be able to endure long hours and have a great flavor sense. Now if you can put all those three together and consistently do it over time then you could have a successful restaurant; but to get those – to marry the numbers part and the flavors and then of course I didn’t mention earlier you have to know what service and hospitality is, and it’s a love issue.
Leisa: Thank you so much for coming here and telling us about it.
Jonathan: I really appreciate you sitting down with me, this is pretty cool.
Leisa: It was great. That wraps up my discussion with Jonathan Levine, Founder and Executive Chef at Jonathan’s The Rub. This is The BusinessMakers, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.
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