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Q&A with Joseph Leonard's Gabe Stulman

Throughout the New York City Food & Wine Festival this weekend, Eater welcomes bloggers, journalists and food world stars to our lounge at the Standard Hotel. As the peeps pass through, we're going to chat them up and spit out the dialogue here in this business, From the Eater Lounge. Right now: Joseph Leonard restaurateur Gabe Stulman.

2009_10_STULL.jpgSo how is this year’s festival going for you? GS: I missed last year’s festival because I wasn’t in New York. And I’m missing this year’s food festival because I have the unfortunate—or fortunate, depending on how you look at it—obligation of having to run Joseph Leonard. We just started brunch service last weekend.

So right now the restaurant might be imploding? GS: No, I think we have an amazing team and I think things are going well. I managed to get out of the restaurant because I’m a huge Eater fan, ever since Ben Leventhal snuck into The Little Owl to take pictures before it opened.

How have things been going at Joseph Leonard? GS: We launched brunch and lunch within the last month. Mostly what I’ve been excited about is the process of building a team. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to see this though a few times. I love seeing your team getting to take ownership of the restaurant.

Will you ever get a day off? GS: I really get into it. I’m behind the bar four nights a week. I’m at the door two. I’m there for all lunches. I’m there for every service. I do payroll, I do bookkeeping. It’s a fucking blessing is what it is. I’m really grateful. I feel like the vertical integration of my life is very important. I got to build a very personal restaurant. I have photos of my family in there. I work with my best friends. I moved into the building, with my girlfriend. She runs the days and I run the nights, she’s like my counterpart.

And reviews are starting to trickle in? GS: Yes, people have been coming in. It’s the blessing and the curse of being in NYC and having a pedigree. On the one hand you hope that you get a little more time because you need to find your rhythm when you’re constantly switching out staff. It’s tough to figure out what you want on your menu when you haven’t cooked them one hundred times. You’ve only been open for six weeks than then someone starts writing about how that dish is flawed—I know that dish is flawed! I’m working on it. But you know what, it’s a fucking honor to be reviewed in the dining briefs! We just got reviewed by TONY and, if I see Jay Cheshes, I’m going to give him a hug. Big up Jay! That guy’s a champion.

You’ve always opened small restaurants, have you ever thought about going a bit larger? GS: I’ve always preferred smaller restaurants. What made me want to do all of this was this mom and pop team at Café Montmartre in Madison Wisconsin. I bartended there for like four years. It was just off of campus and it was the bar that wasn’t the college bar. It was where al the chefs went and the college kids didn’t. Everyone knew each other, regulars had tabs and could come back and pay the next day. It was a bar at night and a place for food. But it was small. I came out here with the goal of trying to make that happen in New York.

Anything else going on? I gotta give a shout out while I’m here to Jim McDuffy. I’ve never seen dedication like that with anyone I’ve ever worked with. He lives in Brooklyn so he can have a backyard for his huge dog—it’s like a 160lbs—and the guy had been working around the clock, even before we launched lunch. He was coming in from 8-2 and then taking a 45 minute subway to Bed-Stuy at 2am. Now he has to be there at 7am. He slept on my air mattress in my apartment for two weeks. That’s how dedicated he is.
· All NYCWFF 2009 Coverage [~E~]