Pat Weber Puts Passion to Work as Restaurant Consultant
Mise en Place Consulting owner and chef Pat Weber.
Pat Weber sits at a high-top table workstation in COCO, a shared office space in the historic Van Buren building in northeast Minneapolis where he is a member. Though a test kitchen may seem a more fitting office for the owner of restaurant consulting company Mise en Place, Weber says he’s “pretty virtual when it comes to [my] office space,” and he meets at CoCo weekly with his staff of four.
An award-winning chef, educator, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Weber decided to formalize his restaurant consulting company in 2011. Not long before this venture, he’d gone from being a chef-owner to an instructor in the culinary program at Art Institutes International Minnesota. While educating young chefs, Weber realized he had a knack and a
passion for helping professionals in the restaurant industry as well.
Growing up on a dairy farm in Dyersville, Iowa, he recalls a love of food along with a pull toward business. After high school, Weber’s first move was to attend Iowa State University, and while in Ames he got a job at a greasy spoon diner and something clicked.
“I loved everything,” he remembers. “The pace. The energy. The shiny stainless steel. The productive aspect of it.”
In that restaurant he saw manufacturing, retail and the service industry combined with his interest in business. He was 19 when he got accepted to the Culinary Institute of America.
“I was a kid. I knew nothing. My mom thought I was crazy,” says Weber of his decision to hop on a plane for the first time to study in New York. “When it dawned on me that I could do this as a career, I bee-lined it to the best school and went to the best restaurants.”
He worked at two-Michelin-starred Bouley in New York City after graduating from the CIA in 1990. Weber remembers one night after a busy shift, the chef took his kitchen staff out “to this back alley hole in the wall” in Chinatown.
“He knew the guys in the kitchen,” says Weber of famed chef and owner David Bouley. “He brought his own wine. And they just started bringing out amazing things.”
The memory stands out for Weber because this kind of treatment was not indicative of the star chef’s leadership style.
“He was very demanding and the hardest chef I ever worked for,” says Weber. “He never thanked you. And I didn’t need a pat on the back every day to do my job because it was David Bouley.”
The sentiment underscores Weber’s own philosophy on the importance of motivating a kitchen staff, especially when the star chef isn’t there. People want to work for a business that reaches out to its employees, pays fair and provides an environment that is as stress-free as possible.
“Some of the most challenging projects that I’ve had where people call me up and say, ‘We’re just not meeting our numbers, the consistency is not there, our sales are down …’ And I walk into these places and can tell right away what it is,” explains Weber. “I can feel the negativity. I can feel the culture is down. The turnover is high. People don’t care.
“Time and time again, the problem is that owners or managers have failed to create an environment where people want to do the work and want to listen and want to be told what to do. When I see this, I think: The fix is simple. You get this light-bulb moment with the owners or managers when you tell them, you know, that is the problem is that you’ve created this environment.”
Weber’s team averages two restaurant openings a month and is now working on rolling out four different concepts: a Korean fast-casual restaurant in North Carolina, a brewery in Michigan, a bar and grill in South Dakota, and a golf club in Minnesota. His consulting runs the gamut from new builds to existing operations and from concept and menu development to kitchen designs.
“What makes us stand out is that I listen,” says Weber.
He speaks of his empathy for owners feeling helplessly caught up in the day-to-day of running a restaurant, unable to tackle larger operations issues.
“People want clear expectations of what they’re supposed to do,” says Weber, referring to a kitchen staff as he talks about the importance of systems. “When writing a recipe with a client, it comes down to food costs, labor costs and consistency. Then taking it and breaking it down into steps, pre-lists, set-up lists, and line guide and training the staff.”
Rolling Out a New Restaurant
Rob Hall, general manager of Fogerty Arena in Blaine, described Weber as a sounding board after working with Mise en Place. At the time, the restaurant attached to the ice arena was run by contract through a separate entity and Hall was looking to either find a new third-party operator or be faced with the challenge of taking over and running the space with no restaurant experience.
Pat Weber, pictured here with Sue Zelickson, is also heavily involved with the Cookie Cart nonprofit bakery in Minneapolis, co-founding its Chefs’ Dinner with Zelickson in 2009.
“He educated us on some numbers of what the restaurant could do for us,” says Hall of his early conversations with Weber in January 2016 that ultimately resulted in the decision to create what became Sticks and Stones Restaurant at The Icehouse.
Their first step was to hire management staff for the restaurant.
“He was a huge part of the interview process,” says Hall of Weber. “He was willing to ask the right questions to make sure we were getting the right people.”
They hired a manager with more than 20 years experience, which allowed Weber to focus his efforts on menu development, recipes, processes and training the kitchen staff.
“We let him take what was there and throw it in the trash,” says Hall of rebranding the restaurant through menu development, “He gave the guys who were there a whole new focus and perspective on how to make food.”
After the opening in June 2016, Weber sat down daily with the kitchen manager in between the lunch rush and dinner. The two would talk about everything from ordering and inventory management to kitchen prep.
“He was meticulous about that with [the staff],” says Hall, “and you could see a change happening.”
Consulting on a Historic Concept
Burton Joseph was in the process of developing Birch’s on the Lake in a building that once was home to the iconic Hanson House and Billy’s Lighthouse supper clubs in Long Lake when he reached out to Weber for help maintaining that nostalgia but in a concept all its own.
“I was looking for someone to take my contemporary supper club food and elevate a few dishes,” says Joseph, but working with Mise en Place
resulted in more than just tweaking the menu.
“[He] worked with us on the food, plates, silverware and kitchen equipment,” says Joseph, adding there was also an overhaul to streamline systems. “He came in and rewrote recipes but not enough to lose their identity. He made little tweaks in re-plating … how the kitchen equipment should be set up and managed, the logistics of each ingredient set up on the line.
“When you have 30 or 40 people in a kitchen who, most of them, have two jobs, you want to make it as simple as possible. “[Weber] has an ability to work with chefs and gain their trust and respect and not make them feel like they’re losing their identity.”
Weber’s passion for his trade is
“For me it’s really fun to meet people with passion,” he says. “People who get excited about what they’re doing. It’s my job to make sure that passion stays lit and is not extinguished by all the stress and complexity of this business.
“If we can make sure we take care of all the messy work … to keep chefs and owners excited and passionate about what they’re doing, then I think that helps them along with being a success.”