Roost [Max Burkhalter]
When Kevin Naderi opened Roost two years ago, the twenty-something chef had already been working in kitchens for about half his life. Some might have thought the venture was over the top for someone so young, but he knew it was a "now or never" kind of moment. Fast forward to today, and the chef/owner knows his instincts for providing great service in an intimate setting and an ever-changing menu have been a recipe for success.
How was your second year in business different from your first?
I think the biggest [change] is that we hit more of a stride. We knew what we needed to improve on and we were much better able to look at sale projections. Our food got better, our service got better. And we tweaked some things.
We already knew the concept we were shooting for and we knew we were doing that well, so we played with small things, like how to position tables, where to place waiters. We adjusted prices, we looked at some menu items and re-thought them. We're always seeking to improve, so we never changed the concept or the ambiance. We will always keep the idea of shared plates. But I'm constantly looking for feedback. People will fill out comment cards, and I read all of them.
You try to change the menu frequently. That said, what are some of the favorite items, things that will never go away?
The fried cauliflower is probably our number-one. That's never going anywhere. The doughnut holes. But the menu is a mixed bag and I do change it out every three weeks. Our guests love food and I have always intended for Roost to be the kind of place where they can come in and experiment, and try something new every time.
Tell us a little about how you acquired the space.
Honestly, before I opened it, I was looking to do a taco truck. I was dealing with getting one, either custom-made or slightly used that I could renovate. That, and I needed a place to live, so I could move out of my parents'. This place was perfect. In addition to being small enough so I could be taking baby steps into running my own restaurant, I also live next door. It was also a question of it being the right place at the right time. Before I opened Roost, I'd been working in restaurants since I was 15, and I was tired of going from place to place. This really allowed me to stretch myself.
What's one of the most challenging things you've discovered about running a business?
You know, as a chef and as an owner, you do your job and you hope for the best. You realize you're never going to be busy all the time, and you try to keep everyone happy, from your staff to the guests. We want to provide a great experience for people. So, it's hard to hear any negative feedback, but that's part of the business. One of the big challenges is living next door. On one hand, everyone knows where to find me, whether it's staff or food or wine vendors. On the other hand, the downside is, everyone knows where to find me.
What's one thing you wish someone had told you before you went into business on your own?
I wish I had known that you really have to be a jack of all trades, and you're always juggling which hat you wear. When you're a cook, you come in and you prep and you cook and that's what you do. We're a mom and pop operation, so if a server calls in sick, I might not be in the kitchen; I'll be out there on the floor, helping to fill in the gaps.
What's next for you and the restaurant?
We'll keep doing more of the same. We want to maintain what we have but keep it new, keep it relevant. We get asked all the time, "are you going to expand the dining room?" Maybe. But there are other things to focus on. Will the food continually get better? Yes. Will we do more events? Yes. But we're not going to do anything that would mess with our concept of providing familiar food and flavors in a new way. We're not going to do tasting menus. We're not going to have a lot of high-priced items on the menu. For me, though, I'm always looking to push the envelope. I've been very fortunate to be in situations where I can be a success. And there is so much competition in this business that it's a push to stay relevant.
And how do you do that?
By being who we are. By changing the menu, but by realizing we're the kind of place where our regulars come in and we know them, we bring their favorite glass of wine to the table before they ask for it. We want people to feel that comfortable here. You can't get that in a lot of bigger places. But we want all of our guests to know that when you come into Roost, there's a friendly face ready to welcome you, and we'll get to know you and find out what you need.