What This Successful NYC Restaurant Founder Thinks About Entrepreneurship

Michael Chernow has a lauded line of successful restaurants in New York City, one with eight locations and one with six. He is a serial founder, using his creative powers to kick-start awesome businesses and then building teams to carry his vision forward. With his podcast Born or Made launching this fall, he says he believes, much like Shakespeare’s line in Twelfth Night, that people are either born great or have greatness thrust upon them. 

We got to sit down with Chernow at the ONE37pm offices to talk shop and pick his brain with our most pressing founder questions. His responses were packed with value. Take a look. 

Give us the two-sentence journey of founding New York’s buzziest seafood restaurant, Seamore’s. 

Michael Chernow: My number one priority at work is making people happy through memories and experiences that keep them coming back. That’s it. The number one goal in my business is to make people happy through food and if you can offer an awesome experience and lasting memory, then you’ve got them for life.

If you were pitching your business on Shark Tank, what would you say?

Chernow: I have figured out a way to cast a wide net and bring people together around a table to experience something that is accessible, fresh, sustainable and delicious. We’re making change through sustainable practices and working with local fishermen. 

I have momentum behind another business that I already created called The Meatball Shop, so I believe that I can move people around through culture and good food and good energy and a little bit of tuna poke.

How do you manage your time as a cofounder of so many ventures?

Chernow: There are three businesses that I am focused on: The Meatball Shop, Seamore’s and WellWell. I’m essentially a board member and cheerleader for The Meatball Shop. Day to day, I have little involvement. At Seamore’s, I am slowly stepping back from the day-to-day to focus on a new project that I will be announcing soon. WellWell is a totally different business—a functional CPG beverage business. But there are CEOs running all of those businesses. 

My goal is to be the quintessential founder: I love to come up with the idea, launch it, build a team, create the culture, down and dirty for two to four years, and then bring on great people who continue to do great things without me. 

As a creative person, I’ve learned that my value is best spent creating and not operating in the day to day.

Do you have any advice for someone who is reluctant to let go of their business?

Chernow: As entrepreneurs, the biggest mistake you can make is listening to your ego and not hiring people who are better and smarter than you. Don’t try to be a jack-of-all-trades. Know what you’re good at and know what you’re not good at. 

If you don’t know what you’re not good at, you’re pretending. And no one likes that. It’s inauthentic. 

What is your number one way to inspire positive company morale?

Chernow: If you don’t make the staff stoked, it’s over. In my business, my priority is my team. Period. The guest is nowhere near as important as my team. The minute a guest is more important than the team, they’ll start to hate me. They’re gonna rob from you, steal from you, drink on the job, they won’t care about the music, the lights, the garbage. When they like you, they want to kill for you.

Your kids are so cute. How do you balance your career and your family life?

Chernow: I don’t believe in many priorities. I believe you have one priority in life. I have found mine: my family. They are on a pedestal. I draw a thick line in the sand. I do not work on Saturday and Sunday anymore. Physically, I am not available and I’m with my family. 

The other stuff that I like to do, like fitness and things like that, I wake up at 5 in the morning to do. If I really want it, I have to wake up super early in the morning to get it done.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to launch a business?

Chernow: The business is storytelling. If you don’t have a story, the business is over. If you do have a story but you don’t know how to tell it, you have a shot but it might be over. The ones that win are the ones that have a story and really know how to tell it. People for thousands of years have loved the art of storytelling.

Did you like this article?
Thumbs Up
Thumbs Down