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  Twenty Years in the Restaurant Business Landed Them on the Radio
 

By Liz Warton

Mark Pascal and Francis Schott, the Restaurant Guys, on StarChefsJobFinder.comOver the past twenty years, Mark Pascal and Francis Schott, otherwise known as the Restaurant Guys, have carved out a remarkable niche for themselves. Their work in various restaurants during and after college led them to open their first place, Stage Left in 1992, which has become one of the top rated restaurants in New Jersey. Four years later, they started a consulting business to share their expertise with other restaurateurs. They were able to widen their audience even further with the launch of the Restaurant Guys Radio show last year. They also opened a second restaurant named after Mark’s grandmother, Catherine Lombardi, which serves her traditional Brooklyn Italian recipes. Now they spend their days interviewing some of the top names in the culinary world and their evenings strolling the dining rooms of their two successful restaurants in the heart of historic New Brunswick, NJ.

Liz Warton: How did you guys meet and get into the restaurant business?

Francis Schott: We met in college. We didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do but knew we wanted to be in the restaurant business and work for ourselves.

Mark Pascal: That’s not true. I was an Economics-Psychology-Statistic triple major and Francis was an English-Political Science double major. After college, Francis went to graduate school, and I started work as a Statistician for Blue Cross/Blue Shield. After only nine days I gave notice and called the manager of the restaurant I was still working at and asked him for more shifts. Francis left graduate school after the first semester and we both started working in various restaurants.

FS: When we came looking for our own place, we met Lou Riveiro at a wine class, who became a third partner and made Stage Left restaurant a reality.

MP: The most important thing for us, having spent so many years as bartenders, was to create a place where people came together and talked about local politics. New Brunswick is one of the oldest cities in the country. The Declaration of Independence was read on July 5, 1776, three blocks from here, because this was the stop over from Philadelphia to New York. We wanted a place where people came together, turned off the television and talked to one another.

LW: What was your first job in the restaurant business?

MP: I worked at a catering hall called The Mayfair Farms in West Orange, New Jersey, and the hardest thing I had to learn was how to use two forks to pick up a potato without dropping it into a bride’s lap. I also worked at Red Lobster and I was a short order cook for a local bar. A highlight was Evelyn’s Seafood Restaurant, which was like a seafood restaurant from the ‘60s. My favorite thing was that the menu offered scrod for $13.95, cod for $14.95, and haddock for $15.95 but to the kitchen, those dishes were exactly the same piece of fish. Tom Colicchio, who was a recent guest on the show, also worked there.

FS: My first job was at Sandwiches Unlimited. I had to cut the Spanish onions for the submarine sandwiches. They would send you into a room with no windows and you wore an old WWII-issue gas mask in order to slice four 5-gallon boxes of onions. You’d strap it on over your eyes and you’d be crying inside your gas mask while cutting onions.

LW: How did you land your own radio show?

FS: We started this radio show in 2005 on a lark. Ralph Saviano, one of our regular customers, does a financial show on this local radio station in New Jersey. Ralph had been trying to get us to do a demo for ten years. He said, “You guys totally have the chemistry, you have a rapport that translates well to radio. Listen, come down, and I’ll coach you through it and we’ll do five demo tapes and present them to the radio station.” In a little studio in Freehold, New Jersey, we sat in a telephone booth together and shared a microphone. The one thing the station said to us was “You’re just going to talk about food? What are you going to talk about - nine ways to make a grilled cheese sandwich? See if you can come up with five ideas for shows.” We came up with forty-seven.

MP: We started the show, in the very early days, where we would interview someone two days a week and the other three days we’d be talking about service, telling stories about wine auctions, or various things we encounter in the lives of a restaurant owner, like dealing with a crazy chef. Whatever the story may be, and there are thousands of them, they generate constantly, so it’s very simple to do. As far as the listeners go, they’re getting insight into the restaurant business. Because we’re not radio people, and we know that, we don’t follow the standard radio formula. In the beginning it was our friends who came on the show. We interviewed Ariane Daguin from D'Artagnan and Fritz Maytag from Anchor Brewing Company. I believe people are saying yes to us now because we own a restaurant, we are one of them.

FS: Anyone we want comes on our show. We’re not radio personalities talking about restaurants. We don’t know what we’re doing on the radio, but we know restaurants for twenty years, so when Ruth Reichl was on the show she has a great time talking to us. I must mention Shari Swansboro, our fantastic producer, who never takes no for an answer from people who we want to be on the show.

LW: How do you manage to have time for the radio show while running two restaurants and a consulting business?

FS: At the time, we built up Stage Left so that it was top heavy in management because we knew we were going to expand. We were honestly working 35 hours a week, which is unheard of in the restaurant business. One of us was there every night, to walk through the dining room, shake hands and say hello to people, but our amazing staff was running the place, so we knew we could do other things.

LW: Who have been some of your favorite guests on the show (Besides Antoinette from StarChefs!)?

MP: My favorite was Patrick O’Connell from The Inn at Little Washington. He was entertaining, fun for me to listen to, and he was interesting. I felt like I was learning while he was talking to me, and he had his own perspective. The person I could most relate to was Tom Colicchio. He was on our show the day he opened his restaurant, Craftsteak. I’d like to hang out with him.

FS: My favorite was Dr. Peter Wybrow, who talked about mad cow disease. He was an incredible scientist who calibrates how the brain perceives, smells and tastes. Gael Greene was great too!

LW: What’s next for you guys?

MP: The first thing is that Francis and I are really enjoying doing the radio show, much more than we thought we would. The next thing will probably be trying to bring that to a bigger audience. Will we do more restaurants? Sure, probably. It’s a very interesting way to make a living.

 

Stage Left Restaurant
5 Livingston Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
732.828.4444

Catherine Lombardi
3 Livingston Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
732.296.9463

Restaurant Guys Radio Show
WCTC-1450AM
Monday – Friday 11am-12pm
www.restaurantguysradio.com

 

 
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