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Chefs on the mistakes they’ll never make again

Memorable blunders led to lessons learned about running a restaurant that can survive the odds.

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Be kind

Dave DuBois, co-owner and CEO, Franklin Restaurant Group

“The behavior I learned coming up in serious kitchens was shouting, name-calling, brutal sarcasm. It dawned on me that younger chefs wouldn’t have it, whether they liked the place or not. They’d quit. This came to a head when I found myself cooking on a busy Thursday evening, alone.”

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Don’t underestimate your success

Nadia Liu Spellman, owner, Dumpling Daughter

“When we opened in a small town like Weston, we thought we would sell under 10 orders of [steamed] buns. Boy, were we wrong. [On the first day,] we had to close for two hours to replenish while poor customers waited outside. . . . Always be ready for a storm.”


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Make things right, no matter what

Michael Lombardi, co-executive chef, SRV

“While working at New York’s Del Posto, I had to cook short ribs overnight, but I accidentally left them at the wrong temperature. I woke up in the middle of the night realizing this, so I returned to the restaurant at 5 a.m. to start over. I’d like to think I’ve continued this work ethic.”

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Don’t crowdsource your vision

Ian Just, chef-owner, Society on High

“When opening, I took a poll: ‘What food do you want? Sushi? Barbecue?’ I’m a classically trained French chef, and I designed my restaurant around a poll! It was an abject failure. I redesigned the menu around what I’m good at, and it took off. Trust your instincts.”

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Test your recipes

Brian Poe, chef-owner, Bukowski Tavern, Poe’s Kitchen at the Rattlesnake, The Tip Tap Room

“When I was the new chef de cuisine at a restaurant in Arizona, I created a smoked salmon quinoa sushi roll. Quinoa was new to me at the time. I realized it wasn’t quite done. I had to eat it all so the [executive chef] wouldn’t catch me. Now I won’t let a dish go out until I test it a few times.”


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Know your audience

Patrick Gilmartin, executive chef, The Independent and River Bar

“Never open a restaurant with the word ‘bar’ in it without a burger. We happily thought of ourselves as the alternative, but everybody wanted to know why we didn’t have a burger. I refused to do a normal burger, but it had to end up there, one way or another. So our burger is served with bacon spring rolls on top.”

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Be careful what you wish for

Jason Santos, co-owner, Abby Lane and Back Bay Harry’s

“I dyed my hair blue about 20 years ago for a TV appearance. I ended up keeping it because it became part of my look. Now, I realize that it’s so tied to me that I’m probably going to walk around as a 70-year-old man with bright blue hair, because I don’t think anyone would recognize me with black hair anymore.”

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Don’t be all things to all people

Deena Jalal, co-owner, FoMu Ice Cream

“Keep your menu concise yet diverse. When we first started, we had way too many flavors! Now we’re able to make each flavor really amazing. Don’t spread yourself too thin or do too much at once. You can give 150 percent with less.”