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.

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


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


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



  • Connect with Nick Kokonas:

The Alinea Group | Tock | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook


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.