Everything is more expensive than you think — Ideas are wonderful but executing them costs money a lot of the time. You may have a rough idea of what it will cost, but it will always be 25–35% more expensive. Plan accordingly.
As part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restaurateur”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chris Amirault.
Chris Amirault is the co-founder, chef, and beverage director of PARMBOYZ, the viral Italian-American food & cocktail pop-up turned residency. PARMBOYZ was recognized as best new pop-up in 2019 by Timeout LA, and one of the best Chicken Parms in Los Angeles by the Infatuation. Amirault was named one of Zagat’s “30 Under 30” and received the StarChefs Rising Stars Award for his cocktail talents.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restaurateur?
I’ve always been a creative person, and throughout my life I’ve continued to find ways in which my creativity reinvents itself in another medium. When it comes to hospitality, I initially thought my niche would be creating cocktails, yet as I’ve gotten older, I have found that I enjoy creating entire experiential concepts from the ground up. I wanted to find a way to make those come to life, so becoming a restaurateur and working for myself was the only option.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
Finding food that is personal to me is always the type of food that shakes the creative juices alive. I don’t have any formal culinary experience; I just grew up eating constantly and being interested in the process. For PARMBOYZ specifically, I grew up in Boston where you eat so much American-Italian food, so naturally that was part of my story that I wanted to share. Connecting with my Asian roots is also extremely important to me, so my next concepts will primarily be focusing on Chinese & Korean cuisine and beverages.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a restaurateur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
PARMBOYZ started as a drunken idea that we used to execute out of an apartment. We were trying to get a late-night table at the OG Italian spot Dan Tana’s and they couldn’t fit us in until late. So, we stumbled out of the bar and walked to the grocery store and bought all the things to make a parm dinner. There were three of us and I’m pretty sure we made enough food for 15. We filmed the cooking process on Instagram and a bunch of our friends messaged us asking for an invite to the next one. We eventually began doing these Sunday suppers for friends and family members every 6–8 weeks. It got to be a pain in the ass to try and cook a red sauce Italian meal from scratch out of an LA apartment kitchen, so we shopped around to see if someone would let us cook out of their kitchen for one night only. Eventually the chef/owners of Ronan let us do it. We sold out in two hours. That was the moment when it kind of clicked that we had something here. The rest is truly history. Sometimes the best ideas can come from a few too many sbagliatos! Seriously though, I think people really respond to food that is personal. It was our way of sharing a bit of how we grew up with our friends. You don’t need to go to culinary school or stage in France to make good food. Food is artistic expression that you can smell and taste. Find something that’s personal to you, flush out some ideas to complement it, put together a plan, and share it. You never know what will happen!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
It goes without saying that the Pandemic was nearly a knockout punch. We went from breaking sales records and having tables booked months in advance to clawing for $400-$500 a night in take out. We had to let go our whole staff and it was just one cook and myself. On slow nights, I would send him home and it would be my dog and me waiting for an order to come in. It was lonely, it was depressing, it was the hardest 10 months of my life. I listened to a lot of podcasts, I read a lot of books, I tried creating new dishes. I was just trying to find anything that could spark that creative flame so I could keep going. What got me through was a combination of remembering that this is not supposed to be easy, and to give myself permission to feel what I was feeling and know that I wasn’t going through it alone. But that was the key — I wasn’t the only one experiencing this. I was often having conversations with friends about my business, and they were always so complimentary. I would explain how it was rough and they would answer by saying they could not believe I had the balls to open during the pandemic and I should be proud of myself for going for it. They believed in me when I had lost belief in myself. Sometimes you just need a confidence boost from your friends. They made me realize that if I could stick it out during this time, things could only get better from here.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
Make it personal is number one but make it fun is one b for me. Esoteric ingredients and technique can certainly impress people, but I think food that people can have fun with will get the best response. Nostalgia never dies so if you can find something that the guest can connect to before they even smell or taste, it is a huge win.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
Pan Fried Pork and Leek Dumplings from Dumpling House in Koreatown.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
Los Angeles is truly an inspiring place for me. The fact that you can shut your eyes, spin a globe, and randomly point to a place, then drive 35–45 mins to find authentic cuisine from that location is truly incredible. When they teach about the melting pot of America in grade school, I believe that LA is quintessentially that. Whenever I’m feeling stuck, I go out and eat or drink cocktails.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
Yes! I can’t wait to dive headfirst into our Asian pop-up project under the name Try Hard LA. I’ve always wanted to pair traditional Asian dishes with cocktails so this is my opportunity to work with other great chefs and put together an experience that would make my Po Po (grandma) proud!
What advice would you give to other restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Set boundaries, turn off your phone, stay off Instagram, go on vacation, invest time in your relationships, get massages, go to therapy, exercise, drink more water, in no particular order 🙂
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restaurateur” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Everything is more expensive than you think — Ideas are wonderful but executing them costs money a lot of the time. You may have a rough idea of what it will cost, but it will always be 25–35% more expensive. Plan accordingly.
- Excel is your best friend — Since execution is expensive, become an Excel wiz so you will always be recording accurate COGs to create a fluent relationship to your PNLs.
- The enemy of my enemy is my friend: Social Media — Social media is annoying and I hate it, but it is a necessary evil. If you can afford it, it’s worth hiring someone younger than you to tell you about what is what. Trying to learn Tik Tok & YouTube while also maintaining an Instagram account and Facebook page can be challenging if you don’t know how to make the right content.
- Take more freaking pictures — And there’s the C word. Content. Everything can be content. Constantly take pictures, record videos. You may think no one cares about seeing what it’s like under the hood but I think your true fans will LOVE that stuff. Having tons of pieces of content will make marketing your concept so much easier.
- All guts and hopefully some glory — You will work your tail off for probably less money than you’ve ever made in your life for a good portion of your venture. When you say you are a restaurant owner or restaurateur most folks will assume you are able to make it rain! Restaurateur: Oh la la! It’s totally not true! At PARMBOYZ, I’m the chef, the bar director, the GM, the Marketing Director, the Janitor, and the Repairman. It’s going to be grueling, but it’s up to you to find the joy in that grind because ultimately, it’s you that has to live with the decision to do your own thing. No one will ever understand the amount of work you put in unless they do it themselves. But if it makes you happy, if it revs your engine in the am when you get up, it’s all worth it.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
Our Chicken Parm and side of Dream Cheese Garlic Bread.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Want to build your own business? Find something that is personal to you and flush it out. Personal stories matter. It will magnify all the innovation, hustle, and determination it takes to make it happen. To quote Simon Sinek, people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. I truly believe that.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!