The Meatball Shop, the small two month-old insta-hit on the LES, is the dream of two seasoned industry vets: chef/owner Daniel Holzman and owner/manager Michael Chernow. Holzman spent time behind the line at some of NYC’s best kitchens (including Le Bernardin) and recently was the executive chef at SF’s acclaimed SPQR. Chernow has been working the front of the house in New York and LA for the last fifteen years, most recently as the bar manager at Frank in the East Village. In its short life, The Meatball Shop has already received a great deal of press and more importantly, crowds of customers that line up for their signature dish. Chernow reveals what its like to get a table at the Meatball Shop right now.
Michael Chrenow, co-owner and general manager: People come here to eat, and the food is delicious. You can have a very light meal, you can have a really indulgent meal. Whatever you want to do. Unfortunately for the guests, fortunately for us, there happens to be a wait a lot of the time.
How is the front of the house at the Meatball Shop different from any other restaurant you’ve worked at? This place, it's roll-up-your-sleeves-and-eat, you know what I mean? That's what it is —it is a full service restaurant, but it’s like, roll-up-your sleeves. It’s a meatball shop.
It's 8 PM on a Saturday night, what's the wait for a table?I'm afraid to say it on-air man, but two-and-a-half hours —it's been that bad. But we also have a communal table, where we're able to shift and move and people are totally cool with it. For the first two or three weeks we opened up, I was hosting and I am who I am. I'm just a New York City dude who owns a restaurant, so I'm not afraid to be like “hey guys, do you mind zig-zagging your party a little bit?” So we fit people in, and people are cool with it—because they're here to have a good time. This place is about music and food, and smiles. And that’s the vibe we’ve gotten back from people. When anyone’s waiting more than 20 minutes, we stick a bowl of peanuts in front of them, and if they’re waiting for more than 45 minutes to an hour we typically send out some sliders for them.
And you're open pretty late? Thursday, Friday, Saturday, we're open till 4 AM, and I've been known to stay open till 5 AM. I've most definitely been here till the wee hours of the morning slamming balls. But Sunday through Wednesday we stay open till 2 AM, and again, I'm not going to kick people out of here. You know. If I get a crowd of guys rolling in at two o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday night, by all means. Balls to the wall. Is there typically a big rush late at night? Especially Thursday, Friday, Saturday night. More obviously Friday and Saturday. But, if you were to walk by here on any given Friday night, the restaurant is full at 3:30 in the morning, with a wait most likely.
What can I do to make my wait shorter...How about gifts or cash to speed things along? I mean, look, I've definitely seen a twenty or two being passed around, but I catch it, you know, it's not in my best interest to have that going on, and I don't like to see that, because, you know. We're a fair game place, we don't close the restaurant down for anybody, and I certainly am not going to have somebody slip a twenty to my hostess or myself to jump the line. Everybody's here to have a good time, and why create a negative vibes at the door? You know?
Have any celebrities stopped by? We've had some celebrities. They'd probably wish we didn't' talk about it, but yeah, there have been some eye openers in the restaurant for sure. It's definitely not a spot where the paparazzi to hang out, for sure. And regulars? I've got, I can honestly say, thank god, knock on wood, 70% of the business here is return. Three times, sometimes four or five times a week. But on average, I feel like everybody that comes here comes back.
What about restaurant industry folks? We've had a great turnout from industry people, people definitely shoot over here, and all the bars in the neighborhood order to-go from us every day. All the tattoo shops order from the neighborhood —literally, all the tattoo shops in the neighborhood, come here, without exaggeration, at least once, sometimes two or three times a day. The tattoo guys like to eat balls. And the chefs you've worked with? We've had a ton of chefs check it out. The Blue Hill guys, that whole team, a lot of the McNally guys come over here, we've had Dale from Buddakan, he's always in here. For me, I'm an industry guy, its embedded in me so when I said "I'm going to stay open late," of course I want the late night crowd, but I would love to be, like, you know, the industry spot to go to right now.
What’s the most popular meatball? Statistically, the beef meatballs with tomato sauce. You know, it’s classic, classic. For me, the spicy pork meatballs with the spicy meat sauce is my fave, and once I put it in front of somebody, it happens to be their fave.
What do you guys have in the pipeline? We haven't really put that to work yet, we're here, we're fresh, we're new. I feel like we gotta get this thing like a well-oiled machine, rock solid steel, before we consider doing anything bigger. But, I feel like we stabbed our flag in the ground here in the Lower East Side, and with the meatball idea. People talk about “oh you gotta try the meatballs there, oh you gotta try the meatballs here.” We decided to be like, “why don’t you just come here, and just like have meatballs.”
Did you expect things to take off like this? You know, I didn’t. This is my dream come true. I’m living my dream. This is without a doubt my dream come true. I guess Daniel or myself didn’t give ourselves enough credit for what this could turn into, but it’s taken off. Like a steam train out of the gates. I didn’t anticipate it, and I’m so grateful for it.
· All Meatball Shop Coverage [~ENY~]