Nick Liberato is the face of the hit Netflix series “Restaurants on the Edge” (Season 2 just released), which focuses on helping restaurants in distress by performing consulting, restructuring, and turnaround services in a holistic manner. His worldwide adventure takes viewers to some of the world’s most spectacular locations, including mountainsides and white beaches, which despite their outstanding views, need a push to live up to their magnificent views.
Nick has teamed up with Mike Dalewitz to specialize in business restructuring and turnaround. They have created a new company, 618 Hospitality Group, which provides restaurants with the tools to perform, prosper, and profit while navigating the Covid-19 pandemic.
They took time out of their busy schedules to chat with Journalist Raj Gill, culinary things, and the impact that the pandemic has had on the hospitality industry.
First of all, let me start by saying I am a huge fan of the show, as are our readers. Will, there be another season, and if so, when can we expect the next season to air?
Nick: Unfortunately, with the pandemic and travel restrictions, it keeps a lot of production from moving on. So it is difficult to say.
How did you secure your job on the program?
Nick: I worked very hard at what I do to be the best for the job.
How were your co-hosts selected?
Nick: Very carefully, and they were absolutely the best picks.
How do you select the restaurants that you makeover on the show?
Nick: We go through online reviews of restaurants with great views and look for struggling ones.
And how long does it actually take to turn the restaurant around?
Nick: Roughly a week for each episode. It’s up to the owner to really carry that out after we leave. Consistency is everything.
You work closely with the restaurateurs; what impact does that have on you?
Nick: A lot, actually. I want nothing more than to see them succeed and flourish in their business, but we are always running against the clock to give them as much help as possible for the time we are there. Peoples’ lives and family are on the line, and I always take that very personal to give them my all.
Once the job is complete, do you still keep in touch with the restaurateurs and keep an eye on their progress? Have any of them regressed to their old bad habits?
Nick: I have actually kept in touch with a few of the owners. Mostly just keeping tabs and answering business-related questions. I have really enjoyed seeing them grow with their business.
I particularly enjoyed the Hawaii episode. Did you really get high?
Nick: It was much more about “getting centered” rather than high. It gave me clarity; I was definitely in the moment.
Nick, who is the most famous person you have cooked for? Did you feel intimidated?
Nick: A big part of my career was working as a private chef to the stars. There was one party in LA when I cooked for a small dinner party that included Oprah, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Ringo, Tom Hanks, and Martin Short. I was for sure nervous, but once I started cooking, all was good. I treat everyone I cook for like a rockstar, but after that meal, I was happy to say that I cooked for the Beatles!
Which star did you most enjoy cooking for, and which star did you least enjoy cooking for?
Nick: I really enjoyed cooking for Anthony Kiedis from the Red hot Chili Peppers and comedian/actor Hank Azaria. Both are great guys. The person I least enjoyed cooking for, I would rather not name, but at one time, she was one of the biggest stars in the world and put the “D” in diva.
These are exciting times for you both, launching the 618 Hospitality Group to respond to the pandemic. What significance does the digits 618 holds for you both?
Nick: 618 is the birthdate of our daughters and one of our favorite Grateful Dead shows in 1974.
Mike: 618 Started as my favorite live Grateful Dead show to listen to (6/18/74 – Freedom Hall, Louisville, KY). My wedding date changed last minute after our hotel shut down for construction and was switched to 6/18. My daughter McKenzie was born…you guessed right on 6/18. I met Nick, a fellow Grateful Dead Head, and admired that show as well, but oddly enough, his daughter Bella was born on 6/18. What a Cosmic Connection!
What specifically is your role Nick? And yours, Mike?
Mike: Nick is our COO and Executive Chef. His role as COO is to create and implement strategies for both the front and back of the house to make restaurants run more smoothly and efficiently with the best systems. Nick’s role as Executive Chef is to be the “Chef Executive Officer” of 618’s Restaurants and our clients who have signed on with us for Consulting Services.
And I am the Chairman and CEO of 618 Hospitality. I am also the Primary Investor, General Counsel, Business leader, and Turn Around Specialist. I create alternative financial models and build and implement technology that is responsive to commercial and social issues. I also owned a Creative Agency and am responsible for the creative direction of the company.
Have you worked together before? I love the fact that a Rabbi brought you together, divine intervention?
Mike: We had never worked together before but instantly became “brothers from other mothers.” We were brought together by Rabbi Eric Goldberg of Shir Ami, who is also a “deadhead” and just an all-round authentic, caring person and spiritual leader. He also has a passion for food and may have inspired our first 618 concepts.
And what is your background, Mike?
Mike: Former NYC Club Promoter/Hustler, Creative Leader for Marketing /Event Agency, Lawyer Turned Serial Entrepreneur, Award-Winning Software Developer, Business/Life Coach, and Turn Around Specialist, Brought 3 “Boot Strapped” Startups to Double-Digit, Multi-Million Dollar Exits in the last 10 years.
What inspired you to create the 618 Hospitality Group?
Mike: I exited my Company, HaystackID, in January 2020, after 13.5 years in the Legal Services and Technology Space. I was preparing to use my degree from Penn State in Wine Making and start a small vineyard and winery, but my passion in life for wanting my own restaurant group resurfaced. After a 15-year hiatus from wanting that dream to come true, I could now launch it with tremendous life experience and capital that I did not have back then in my 20s.
Will it be available online? Or will you just be focusing on specific areas?
Mike: In the midst of the disruptive effect of Covid-19 on our Community in Bucks County Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia Suburb, we will predominately have our focus over here and the Greater Philadelphia area. As our company scales, we will be having both a virtual and on-premises consulting option for restaurateurs.
What is the first piece of advice you give to restaurateurs struggling to operate during the pandemic?
Mike: Think out of the box, push the envelope, stay focused, and lose any ego you may have to bring in the proper outside resources, whether knowledge or capital based.
Nick, you own two restaurants; what changes have you put in place to deal with the crisis?
Nick: There have been many adjustments since day one of the pandemics about staffing, menu, hours, and capacity. One of the best things that have happened is setting up 618 Hospitality.
And how will you adapt to 618 once this crisis is over?
Nick: 618 will be the umbrella that sits over multiple restaurant concepts, consulting for businesses the need help, a ghost kitchen for chefs to rent, and tech integrated into restaurants.
One tragic fall out of the pandemic is the closure of some renowned restaurants. Do you foresee them re-opening in the future?
Mike: Some renowned restaurants that have closed may remain closed, others will reopen with a different take on things, learning from what has worked and what has not. I just saw Gotham Bar and Grill, a favorite of mine, will be reopening under “Gotham” after closing “for good” in March, and I am sure we can still expect excellence and some needed modifications for the post-Covid-19 World. I wish the other establishments have the same capability, and I hope they feel free to reach out to 618 Hospitality for some capital and consulting needs in this crisis.
In your opinion, what is the future of the culinary industry?
Nick: I feel things are getting simplified again. Fine dining will be less desired as it’s expensive and also makes it tough to be sustainable for a business with so many restrictions to cover costs. A liquor license always helps, but ensuring you have outdoor dining will certainly be something to look for.
What is the one question you wish a journalist would ask you?
Nick: What do I really want to say to people who make modifications to a dish then judge it on a review?