By Liz Warton
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
LW: How did you land your own
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
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
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
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.
5 Livingston Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
3 Livingston Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Restaurant Guys Radio
Monday – Friday 11am-12pm