…Re-orient Black folks to get healthier, smaller portions to improve overall health. There is a correlation between hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and dementia and what we eat and how much we eat. I want to be able to get more African Americans to healthier.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Gasby the CEO of the B. Smith retail brand he co-founded with his late wife and business partner, the American chef and lifestyle brand pioneer, B. Smith. Smith was the victim of early onset Alzheimer’s. Gasby and his daughter Dana Gasby were her chief caregivers.
He co-authored along with Smith and Vanity Fair’s Michael Shnayerson, Before I Forget (Harmony Books/Crown Publishing, 2016). At its heart, a love story, the book illuminates a love of family, life, and hope. It offers practical and helpful advice for dealing with Alzheimer’s day-to-day challenges including ways of coping, information about promising research, and lessons the family has learned along the way. Additionally, the two hosted Too Soon to Forget: The Journey of Younger Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, an American Public Television documentary presented in partnership with the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s Without Warning support program in Chicago.
Gasby and Smith’s remarkable collaboration included B. Smith magazines, television shows, restaurants and books. The first was B. Smith with Style, a weekly syndicated lifestyle program. Then came B. Smith Style magazine, and three highly successful books on entertaining. B. Smith’s restaurants were among the first to attract a completely diverse clientele and were popular watering holes amongst celeb A-listers and high-profile tastemakers in the highly competitive markets of Manhattan, Sag Harbor, and Washington, DC. Unfortunately, because of Smith’s early onset Alzheimer’s, the restaurants have closed.
As a spokesperson for Alzheimer’s awareness, Gasby works particularly for greater understanding of the enormous challenges faced by Alzheimer’s caregivers. In 2017, he was instrumental in bringing about the Alzheimer’s Semipostal Fundraising stamp and appeared with Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan and The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) for the first day-of-issue dedication ceremony at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. He is a frequent keynote speaker. Most notable appearances include the 2017 Public Leadership in Neurology Award hosted by The American Academy of Neurology (The AAN) and The American Brain Foundation (The ABF). He is a board director, The American Brain Foundation and partnered with AARP to present a caregiving webinar.
Prior to joining forces with Smith, Gasby had a highly successful television sales and production career that began in 1977 at a startup UHF television station, WPTY-TV, in Tennessee. In 1985, Gasby King World Entertainment, as an account executive, where his accounts included Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and The Oprah Winfrey Show, the three most successful shows in the history of TV syndication.
In l989, Gasby created and co-produced Big Break, a musical variety show hosted by Natalie Cole that was the forerunner to American Idol. Gasby went on to produce the first televised Essence Awards in 1992 and served as Executive Producer for the 25th Anniversary Essence Awards celebration in 1995. That year, Gasby also served as creator and co-executive producer for the Newsweek American Achievement Awards, shot on location at The Kennedy Center.
He is a graduate of Colgate University and makes his home in East Hampton, New York.
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 restauranteur or chef?
When I married B. Smith, I married into the business by virtue of B.’s love of owning her namesake restaurant, and then I also fell in love with it.
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?
B. and I both loved all types of food. While we both grew up in traditional Black households, each of our mothers cooked for different types people while they were in their employ, and they passed that exposure on to us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
People never fool you. They tell you who they are. You just have to listen.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
We ran B. Smith’s, the best restaurant in the Hamptons on the water for 17 years. One day I was telling people what to do, and a customer who was white asked, “Are you the manager?” I said, “No, I’m the owner.” He looked around and said, “C’mon, you really own this restaurant?” And I responded, “I’ve got a secret I’ve got to share with you. There’s a Black president too.” And then I walked away.
The lesson is when you’re Black, people don’t ordinarily associate you with being an owner, a leader, or successful. But you have to make sure that possibility does and will continue to exist. That is why I’m dedicated to sharing my knowledge for future entrepreneurs and restaurateurs.
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?
My wife, B. Smith and I, always believed that together we were unstoppable, and we’ll figure it out. There were times when we had to dip deep into our bank accounts to pay staff when there were national emergencies like hurricanes, or sniper shootings (DC), but we did so, then we hugged each other and kept moving.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
B. always listened to people and absorbed what they were saying, then put her own spin on it. She was constantly absorbing. Her greatest inspiration was her mother and grandmother, whose name was Heart.
Personally, what is the perfect meal for you?
Any meal I had with Barbara Smith was perfect. I mean that.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
I’m working on a second memoir about my life with B. It focuses on our challenges as Black entrepreneurs and caring for her before she passed away from early-onset Alzheimer’s. I continue my work as a speaker to advocate for Alzheimer’s research and caregivers. Alzheimer’s disproportionally affects the Black community. I continue to manage the legacy of B. Smith and her brand through new products and partnerships. I take my role as a Black business owner and thought leader very seriously and hope all my efforts will better the world.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Exercise is a must for restaurateurs. It’s got to be made a daily routine like brushing teeth. I also recommend taking the time to meditate even for five minutes each day. The restaurant business is all-consuming.
Do you have any advice for “up and coming” young chefs who are in need of guidance to become successful in the culinary world?
Understand that the front of the house is just as important as the food.
COVID-19 has been a trying time for all of us. How are you growing your business during COVID-19? What advice do you have for any chefs who are trying to stay relevant during this time?
Look around, you see what other people are doing. Figure out how it can fit into your way of doing things and go for it. Nobody invented anything; they just modified what was done previously
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 Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- It can be challenging to work with your own people within the Black community. White people will make you angry. Black people will make you mad.
- Avoid partnerships at all costs.
- Never loan your employees more money than you cannot afford to get paid back.
- Stay away from people who are negative and toxic.
- Do not listen to someone who gives you advice about the restaurant business if they’ve never been in it. They do not know what they are talking about.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
B.’s disease forced us to close all three B. Smith’s restaurants. Still, you can find the recipes for two of the most popular items on the menu in her book B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style: Swamp Thang (shrimp, scallops, and crawfish in a Dijon mustard sauce served over a bed of collard greens and garnished with deep-fried Julienne vegetables); and her mega hit dessert Sweet Potato Pie with Brown Sugar Pecan Topping.
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?
Re-orient Black folks to get healthier, smaller portions to improve overall health. There is a correlation between hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and dementia and what we eat and how much we eat. I want to be able to get more African Americans to healthier.
How can our readers follow you online?
Bsmith.com, facebook/bsmithstyle, and linkedin/dangasby
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!