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Wolfgang Puck and Byron Lazaroff Puck Interviewed by D.A. Wallach

Wolfgang Puck
Austrian-American chef, restaurateur
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Upfront Summit 2020
January 29, 2020, Pasadena, CA, United States
Upfront Summit 2020
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Wolfgang Puck and Byron Lazaroff Puck Interviewed by D.A. Wallach
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About speakers

Wolfgang Puck
Austrian-American chef, restaurateur
Byron Lazaroff-Puck
Chef
D.A. Wallach
Managing Partner at Inevitable Ventures

D.A. Wallach is partner at Inevitable Ventures and a recording artist. He is also a songwriter, investor and essayist who was discovered by Kanye West and Pharrell Williams while an undergraduate at Harvard College. He has been featured in GQ, Rolling Stone, Vogue, and numerous other publications, and has toured with Lady Gaga, Pharrell, and Weezer. His solo debut album for Capitol Records, Time Machine, is available at: www.TimeMachineAlbum.com. Beyond music, D.A. invests in and advises several start-up technology companies, including SpaceX, Doctor On Demand, Ripple, Emulate and Spotify, where he was the official Artist in Residence. Forbes selected D.A. as one of its 30 Under 30 and Fast Company named him one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business. Since 2015, he has primarily focused on investments in the life sciences.

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About the talk

Topic: Business

Chefs Wolfgang Puck and Byron Lazaroff Puck talk with investor D.A. Wallach about the birth and expansion of the Puck global food empire; the connection between food and the arts; quality control across the brand; and how the Puck food empire is innovating for sustainability and cultural change.

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The first off I'm sure everyone here will join me in thanking you for the delicious food that we've all been enjoying over the past 48 hours. Thank you. And what would you may not have known was that Wolfgang had catered a large part of this event and owns an enormous catering business among many other components in your Global Food Empire. So starting as a humble restaurant or you've now got 25 as I understand it owned and operated fine dining restaurants around the world including three that have Michelin stars. You have 79

fast-casual and Casual restaurants in airports and sports venues in 7 million products on the home shopping networks. So the thrust of the conversation that I want us to have today is really behind. Scenes of Wolfgang Puck the famous chef. I want to understand Wolfgang Puck the business magnate and this incredible Empire that you've built in your time since wisely Coming to America in the 80s. So tell us how this happened walk us back to Austria and sort of the pivotal moments along the way. I think it's really

I got so I was born in Australia. And I had a very difficult childhood. My stepfather was like a terrorist heater, right me and my mom and dad everybody is so when I was 14, I decided to move out of the house. I moved 50 miles away and started my apprenticeship as a Coke. And the reason was we didn't have the money and I wasn't as smart as the a so I had to stop to cook I did that then a little town called fillers for 3 years. Then I move to France Brockton some of the best restaurants in France like Boma near Hotel Monaco in Paris. And then I came I move to New York because

everybody told me you were brought to America you make a lot of money and it's the land of opportunity and I really like it and I lived in Monaco for a year and I really loved it and I love out of writing so somebody offered me a job in Indianapolis. And I said I'm going to Indianapolis. I thought I was going to be like a monarch. Oh, you know. And when I arrived there I said I don't fuck. This is my address is Indianapolis nothing like what I thought it would be but unfortunately I ran out of money. I had my money

to go anywhere else. So I started to cook in this restaurant called Le Tour which exit fancy French restaurant in old christofle silver and everything and they only said I was there I think in one year and I spend there I cook my steak well-done then in the rest of my life. I'm not really appreciate the great food and Even when you saw them eating it and put the fork in the state and I think I didn't appease this and then put it foggy at the knife down and ate the right and I

mean it was such a different experience for me. I'll tell him how Indianapolis that sell them later and interesting place. But it was a great place for an immigrant because nobody immigrants to Indiana. So when I went to Hammond, Indiana to get my green card, I was the only person down and the lady asked me if you know what I do I cook and she said you would would you come to my house and cook one day I said if you gave me the green, and she gave me the green card. So it was really simple and

then after a year in Indianapolis, I got my green card. I move to Los Angeles and I became the chef at the restaurant called mama's home. And I didn't know much about business. The only thing was the first paycheck I got there. I went to the bank at the restaurant was on Melrose and the bank was right next to it on La Cienega and their pain cuz it's so if there's no money in the bank I said, wow. I just quit my job left Indianapolis. And now I'm in a place with no money. So Patrick that I hope then they own off the restaurant gave me a bottle of the restaurant.

But I always wanted to be on my own. So after years like when I stand a big lost like $18,000 a month 5 and 1/2 years later when I left we grossed over $300,000 in the same restaurant. I know I got the lucky for the timing because I became good friends with or somewhere else who love to eat and Billy Wilder and Sidney Poitier. So we had a lot of Hollywood people come to the restaurant and then I will is at I want to open my own restaurant and be in charge. I don't want to go to Patrick or anybody to ask for a raise and so in 1981,

I found this place up on Sunset where the rent was really cheap because down on the boulevard at a time. You still at it? So nobody wanted to go there something you're not a great restaurant, but I thought you know, it's much deeper than on Melrose Avenue Delran. So I got plate which was a Restaurant called Comcast and I rented for $2,200 a month. And I wanted to be different. So I said if I want to manage the restaurant am I'm somebody in the back here in the kitchen.

I want to see anything what's going on in the dining room, so I said we going to put the kitchen in the dining room HEPA totally open kitchen, and I know to you all out there probably today UCF almost every restaurant with an open kitchen, but at that time there was no restaurant with an open kitchen really and so we started out I wanted to have a little Neighborhood Restaurant and The first day I turned around we had a hundred sixty people that restaurant was full of paper. I remember I ran out of battery tables around off of half the menu

and it just gave every Everybody pick this up louder Sturdivant home. I'm happy, but the restaurant was an enormous success and So much that like six months later some Japanese people can binders at work and you want to open a restaurant in Japan and Tokyo and I cannot even run one restaurant world. How can I open one now so far away and And I forgot about them and they came back like three or four months later and showed me the plan of the restaurant of spago Tokyo. I didn't know people with the name or anything. And then

finally they told me, you know, we going to open Spa go with you or without measure said that's open it with me. It's better in Tokyo. And then I saw that I'm tired of poking the same food everywhere. I look at the same place so that I want to do Chinese food show in 1980s radio finishing and it was the first Fusion Restaurant. So also with an open kitchen, but nobody really okay since I've started to do Asian food. I got influence from Japan from China from Southeast Asia and so forth, but it was really a

groundbreaking restaurant at that time. Just like Spargo boys with a wood-burning Fire Pizza Oven in the restaurant. But with different dishes like still people today's at all. We want your smoked salmon pizza, right if I go to Singapore tomorrow, and I said, how come you don't have you smoked salmon pizza? So I have to make it for them wherever we are really soft and signature dishes. We had already in the 80th spiritual still popular today and I want to start people, you know, it's a mixture of addition and Innovation. So that's really an important part and

because my son is with my ex-wife the mother of my son and Byron, she actually build all the restaurants at that time. So we really like a family operation and I still feel the same thing today. So when you when you talk about inventing some of these dishes and even combined in Traditions into the concept of a restaurant and get really gets at you as an artist, and I know when we've had conversations you said one day I'm going Retire and I'm going to go be a sculptor somewhere and I just want to

make sculptures. There's clearly something deep in you that loves creating and inventing. What is the connection that you've always seen between food as an art form and the other Arts I think being in La obviously that's so much exposure to artist of different varieties. But I even remember hearing that the original menu for Sebago David hockney had done designs on his steps of how did you tap into this connection with other parts of culture and I was always interested that became friends with Andy Warhol. David hockney people like that's what I sell food

and I always and I want to be an artist sculpture or painting but I said, you know to get that good like this guy's huh? I think I'm too old already, you know, so forget about it. So I really think cooking is modified the craft and part of it up is free. It really depends what you do a lot of it is repetition. Turn office to make Springs. Anyway, you know, they make one and played and then they make 20 or 50 or more out of it. But I think that for me and the creative side of me. It's always the most important part as your father walk

through this amazing history. What were you doing at this time? And I was your child at the beginning but you've had this interesting path outside of the puck Empire and then back into it and now a part of the operation. So be curious to understand how your experience is growing up in and outside of this and watching your dad informed the way that you think about what you guys run today initially as a very young child and my joke nowadays is that I can paint on plates and I'm very grateful for that opportunity. It's amazing but being around the restaurants growing

up all the time as a kid made it feel like a family experience and always felt like Home for me so that influence my pass when I was around sixteen or so deciding what I wanted to do. What I wanted to be. The first thing I did was move to London and I work for Nobu matsuhisa in London. I was absolutely amazing very different experience and working in a family restaurant where you know, everyone around you and everything feels very comfortable when your stuff into a completely new country and you know, no one lot a lot of things change and you kind of realize what you're made of

but from there getting the opportunity to study in Spain France, Seattle, Chicago New York and working for amazing chefs in between those places from Eric repair to Grant Achatz. Roca Brothers Pizza blob all of those kind of It's like I'm trying to take a Confluence of all of those different experiences in my life and bring them back to the Wolfgang Puck company where occasionally I can offer up maybe a different piece of advice or something that I lived through that not necessarily everyone in the room has a

weird question about your father. You just mentioned a bunch of chefs who are a bunch of world. You mentioned a series of world-renowned chefs with Michelin stars and restaurants in Vegas and Paris and Tokyo and just sort of like your dad. Why is he the the celebrity? I mean people know Nobu people have heard of you survived stuff it but Wolfgang Puck is an institution. And what do you think along the way made this more than just a restaurant made it into a brand and recognizable identity

that people everywhere are familiar with the food side and creating quality side of things working myself in spago Beverly Hills and Hotel Bel-Air more recently managing those floors. I still see him in there every single day. And I think that was something he put forward in the very beginning and starting this company was being people-centric and always being guest-centric and making yourself available to your guests at all point in time. And that's still something that we continue in the company to this day. And I think

that's what David that extra Edge ultimately was going out in the dining room. That's not something you get to see it every single restaurant Chef actually coming out and making the time to come Text with you as if your Orson Welles or Billy Wilder and everyone was treated in the most egalitarian manner possible. Everyone felt like they were Orson Welles or Billy Wilder as well. And I think that's what helps ultimately Propel the Wolfgang Puck topic will attest to it myself every time I go to the Bel-Air Hotel or to spago you're there. If you're in town you're there and every night. I

figured you must be driving around all day. But but something about that, I understand the idea of the hospitality being Central of the experience, but is it also a management style? I mean we just talked about you going out to Harvard Business School. And you said you learned a lot about how to dispense realize your operation. But you being there every night shaking hands talking to people seems like it's incredibly Central. So how do you as you move into the future and expand this? How do you keep that level of human touch everywhere that you can't be, you know. If

you have passion in life, whatever you do, if you make clothes shoes drive to race car, whatever if you're really passionate about that, and you really enjoy it then and you get good at it. I think there is no better place to pee for me then an hour restaurants, you know, I really love it, and I was very worried when I was about 35 years old. I said one day I going to be tired of food. I don't want to see food. I don't want to go to the restaurant anymore. Like I knew his older steps at that time, but I think for me the food industry carried on in so many different

directions like we open Spargo. Chinois Danbury open restaurants over see in Singapore and its importance of chest day out about the food from this country. So tell me keeping my interest off and picking orders excited about new things and never waiting really to change. Change I love Innovation. I also like the addition but we have to find the right major to mix together tradition and Innovation because we all know some of you who are from Los Angeles when we open spago be headed down we had lunch today. If you had my

meds don't look at stop all this restaurants are gone. One of the reasons they never change their menu. They always kept the same thing and for me to have the same saying it's very boring. I tell everybody is much easier and much cheaper to change the menu then change the wife. So if I change the menu, Let me ask you about another aspect of controlling the quality. You've diffused the brand to. Places in airports to Quick Serve, you know at Gelson's supermarket and your name is on it, but obviously when you're operating a sort

of kiosk in multiple supermarkets around California, you can't be there every day. How have you thought about going short of lower Market are going to a broader lower price-point audience without compromising what you stand for what you know lower prices doesn't mean lower quality. You can get the same Caesar salad as Fargo as you get at the airport. We make the same day by the same song. It's basically the same. Yes, you can get the pizza. There may be noted smoked salmon pizza or pizza or you can get pasta at the airport or in some of all places in

Disney World and so forth, but I think it's really big try to do the best at that level at the beginning. I was very confused almost because I always Paper we got the vegetables from The Palms. We get the best fish. We know the people who produce the food for us. And then I was going to go into the frozen food business. And the funny thing was it was one day actually Johnny Carson who was the host of The Tonight Show, he came to the restaurant and one day he picked up 10 pizzas to go home and the next Friday and not a 10-piece. I said show me what you going to do

with all these pizzas. He said I put them in the freezer. I said, I never going to give you another pizza again. You put my pizza in the freezer. And then I said they're more than their pizzas in the freezer case already. So I tried out a piece so depressed when I cook them totally it didn't come out right at home. It was 2 already and then I'll cook for you know what John is right? It's not that bad. It's just almost the same people wouldn't know the difference. So I got interested in so many different things. They say everything is with pots and pans. I was friendly with

George Foreman who invented. He did name and he sold this girl and a friend of mine was running that business for him. And I said shut if a box I can do that I should be able to do. Stop. I don't know what was a success of the business. This is a time of immense change in what people want to eat how they want to eat it how it gets delivered. There's a concept of cloud kitchen. Shout out to Chris somewhere who told me to ask about Cloud kitchen, but the whole supply chain around food to the restaurant and then to the consumer seems to be

shifting. So what is your business do to adapt to this changing set of models? And how do you think about some of these trends for me? It's easy. I have thank you. I think it's kind of higher spending cap where we're deciding a lot of what the American economy is putting out in terms of the goods that are sold. So it's really interesting from the restaurant perspective when you've been key. During a specific generation for 30 years at this point that your kind of shifting into this younger generation that General genuinely wants different things. I think it's

74% of Millennials roughly are willing to invest in engage in businesses that not only invest in the local community, but author health-conscious options and operate at a sustainable level as well. And if we want to keep progressing in this Society, that's something that we're going to have to find ourselves catering to and it's ultimately for the betterment of society as well. So it's not only good for for everyone. It's good for the business as well. And he has nothing really interesting when we spoke on the phone about spago approaching carbon neutrality at some point you would

have that look like for a restaurant to be carbon neutral walk through the thought process. It's incredibly difficult from the point of sacrificing what you do from a menu perspective. So if let's say 75% of our menu is including Meats or fish anything along those lines. Those are one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases that currently exist if we're willing to make changes to that. Obviously that kind of one off quick and simple thing would be like remove all the meat right? If you become a plant-based restaurant, that's not

something we can do. We would alienate an entire clientele that we've already gained a lot of people that we want to gain as well since very difficult from that standpoint to reach full carbon neutrality for making changes to our menu when you're sacrificing the core competency of your business at the same time. That being said, there's many other things we can do to kind of reach a carbon-neutral level. I think a good way, but it's slightly a cop out in certain senses are going after carbon credits and helping the environment through planting trees and other methods of receiving

carbon credits by in general. We need to be doing more in house whether that be setting up water. Call trason system. So we're not recycling all these glass bottles every single year and incurring those cost weathered be looking at new and different styles of energy to help us in the kitchen starting shut off times for machines. In order to save energy. There's a there's a multitude of ways in which we can reach carbon neutrality. The issue is is going forward. Also, I don't think it's something that is always seen as the most economically beneficial for your business. Also, so

government obviously is going to be ending up. I think playing the very strong role in that and you hear people talk about carbon taxes and such so I don't see businesses. I'd love to see businesses move in that direction that is most certainly a dream of mine. Are there new ingredients for new sources of ingredients that you guys are excited about. I mean, I'm an investor in Memphis need some enthusiasm at the queen meet movement as people call it but beyond meat had a phenomenal public offering this year a huge success on the stock market. And it seems that this is spying a series of

other competitors that are trying to do interesting new ingredients. Are you guys playing with any of these or thinking about 40 years ago really to help small farmers and small Growers to stay in business because we have all this factory farms for vegetables for Animals, whatever and I always say we want to see how you treat would we eat and to me it's important to have both and there's a way for both, you know, if somebody wants to buy a hamburger bed. Impossible me

it's not but if they are happy and you know, I'm okay with it. You know, and the way we live do we need a steak 16 oz at 10 at night now if I ate a iPhone 6 of Veep and I'm perfectly happy and Have the best quality it's not about quantity. It's about the quality and often in food. It's about quantity. If we would eat smaller portions of one syrup or half of the Catholic people have to raise it. Sure. I want to close out with one final question for you guys. This conference to the marks

Testament is so much a celebration of Los Angeles and you've built this incredible business reputation from Los Angeles, which over the time that you've been here is becoming increasingly powerful Global City. So as a food city outside of the Wolfgang Puck restaurants, what are your favorite restaurants are dishes in Los Angeles folks who have flown and if they can grab one things before they had to LAX. What should it be? We're incredibly bias. Creature of habit. It's like

scary almost like when I go for Japanese food for the last thirty-five years old and I know that many grades of a nice restaurant downtown or around your dad's phone call. She crazy or whatever. It's amazing, but I know the people and I'm friends with Nova and Yoko and everybody the same thing with Italian food. I generally go to Angelina. I know I know there is a capo and many other places around and I tell our customer Stone why you go there so much I said because they know me that I have friends that I think people will treat you the know your name that nobody or

like so it's really an important part to have your favorite places. And then with the new ones do now doesn't work as much as I So he goes out more he knows more about the new restaurant didn't have to quite take it there. But I don't know the first thing that popped into my head was Angelini shoes. No other restaurants in the 03 on Beverly if I'm looking for classic traditional and expertly executed Italian food. That being said there's a new wave of restaurants popping up. I can the arts district downtown is

making huge waves in the food industry right now, especially in Los Angeles other places, like you'll see like Bevelle for instance downtown have a fantastic experience there and all these restaurants are kind of moving into this smaller plate you get to try out the entire menu and I I really enjoy that when I go I don't want just a steak in it. Appetizer. I really want to see what the whole menu has to offer another restaurant like that is Kali Kali also on Beverly and then Republic by Walter manske is Fantastical

missed so much. This is been a real pleasure.

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