Nick Kokonas on Resurrecting Restaurants, Skin in the Game, and Investing (#429)

“It remains to be seen, of course, whether or not this works. But what I didn’t want to do was wait to see what happened.” — Nick Kokonas

Nick Kokonas (IG: @nkokonas, TW: @NickKokonas) is the co-owner and co-founder of The Alinea Group of restaurants, which includes Alinea, Next, The Aviary, Roister, St. Clair Supper Club, and The Aviary NYC.

Alinea has been named the Best Restaurant in America and Best Restaurant in The World by organizations and lists as diverse as the James Beard Foundation, World’s 50 Best, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Gourmet magazine, and Elite Traveler. His restaurants have won nearly every accolade afforded to them.

Nick has been a subversive entrepreneur and angel investor since 1996. He spent a decade as a derivatives trader, has co-written three books, and believes in radical transparency in markets and business. As an outsider to the restaurant industry, Nick’s approach to the business of restaurants is markedly innovative, and he has been featured in Businessweek, Fast Company, the New York Times, Forbes, and Crain’s Chicago Business, among other publications. He has given talks on innovation, entrepreneurship, and experience design across the country.

He is also the founder and CEO of Tock, Inc., a reservations and CRM system for restaurants, serving more than 10M diners and clients in more than 30 countries. Tock also recently launched a to-go platform, which has helped restaurants pivot to fulfill pickup and delivery orders.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

This podcast is brought to you by Helix Sleep and ShipStation. More on both below. 

#429: Nick Kokonas on Resurrecting Restaurants, Skin in the Game, and Investing


Download


This episode is brought to you by ShipStation. Do you sell stuff online? Then you know what a pain the shipping process is. Whether you’re selling on eBay, Amazon, Shopify, or over 100 other popular selling channels, ShipStation was created to make your life easier. ShipStation lets you access all of your orders from one simple dashboard, and it works with all of the major shipping carriers, locally and globally, including FedEx, UPS, and USPS. The Tim Ferriss Show listeners get to try ShipStation free for 60 days by using promo code TIM. There’s no risk, and you can start your free trial without even entering your credit card info. Just visit ShipStation.com, click on the microphone at the top of the homepage, and type in TIM!


This podcast episode is also brought to you by Helix Sleep! Helix was selected as the #1 best overall mattress pick of 2020 by GQ magazine, Wired, Apartment Therapy, and many others. With Helix, there’s a specific mattress for each and everybody’s unique taste. Just take their quiz—only two minutes to complete—that matches your body type and sleep preferences to the perfect mattress for you. They have a 10-year warranty, and you get to try it out for a hundred nights, risk free. They’ll even pick it up from you if you don’t love it. And now, to my dear listeners, Helix is offering up to 200 dollars off all mattress orders plus two free pillows at HelixSleep.com/TIM.


What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear Nick’s first time on this podcast? Listen to our nearly three-hour conversation in which we discuss behavioral economics, talent-spotting, cocktails, misleading averages, resources for aspiring entrepreneurs, and much more.

#341: Nick Kokonas — How to Apply World-Class Creativity to Business, Art, and Life

Download


SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Nick Kokonas:

The Alinea Group | Tock | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

SHOW NOTES

Note from the editor: Timestamps will be added shortly.

  • Nick expands on the idea of asymmetric risk-taking and its opportunities that he presented in his first appearance on this podcast.
  • During the mandatory shutdowns required for containing COVID-19, no sector has been so swiftly decapitated as the arena of restaurants. But when did Nick start assessing the risk of this as a serious possibility, and how did he begin to piece together a plan for salvation?
  • Who is Grant Achatz?
  • How did Nick’s floor-trading experience inform his strategy for the potentially hard times ahead?
  • After assessing the situation, how did Nick break the news to staff in advance of things going sideways, and what steps were immediately put in place for their safety and the safety of their customers?
  • With the Tock startup and his restaurants in peril, what plans did he have in place if a shutdown became mandatory, and how did the unique way the restaurants were already running perhaps give them a better chance than most to get through the crisis?
  • How does a company that specializes in fancy, fine-dining experiences with servers who can pull over $150,000 a year (without tips) pivot to an affordable carryout/delivery option for people under quarantine?
  • How did the first round of the experiment go?
  • How does a high-volume restaurant meet demand while ensuring its staff is maintaining social distance from one another (when it’s open to customers and when it’s not)?
  • How does recapitalization work?
  • How are the kitchens utilized, and do they involve use of induction stovetops?
  • Is Nick running into supply chain disruptions?
  • What types of restaurants does Nick see weathering this pandemic? Of the strategies he sees being used in the hospitality industry, which ones seem most effective — and which seem counterproductive? What opportunities might present themselves to aspiring restauranteers during this time and in the aftermath?
  • How has Nick avoided the trap so many other restaurants have fallen into — of buying today’s food with tomorrow’s revenues?
  • Nick’s dad’s three-shoebox business finance model.
  • It’s not too late. But what comes next?
  • Books and resources Nick suggests for people trying to improve themselves during this time, and thoughts on corporate responsibility and bailouts.
  • What companies does Nick particularly admire right now?
  • How did Nick and the Tock team create the Tock To Go platform in a matter of days instead of months?
  • Parting thoughts.

PEOPLE MENTIONED