Founder of the Feast / Mike Shatzel
Generating good food, good times
Name: Mike Shatzel
Nickname: “Shatz” is about the only thing people call me… to my face.
Restaurants: Allen Burger Venture, Blue Monk, Brennan’s Bowery Bar, Cole’s, Liberty Hound, and Moor Pat. By the time this magazine comes out, he hopes to have renovated and reopened recently purchased Colter Bay, and, he estimates that Thin Man Brewery, a project with Rocco Termini, will open this summer, located in the former Toro and Flaherty’s space.
Mike Shatzel, a third-generation restaurateur, has been working in his family’s restaurants since he was ten years old. He started out bussing tables for Sunday brunch and moved up to substitute dishwasher soon after. He’s never looked back—or considered another career path. He now owns six successful restaurants, and he’s not done yet.
How long have you been in the restaurant industry?
It’s always been in my blood. My grandfather owned a pub in Lackawanna. My dad bought Cole’s in 1973, the year after I was born.
What do you like about it?
I enjoy the camaraderie; I liked seeing my dad be the center of the party. And I like that you’re your own boss. When I moved out west for a while, I worked for Enterprise car rentals. I did not like answering to someone else.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into the business?
It’s not as easy as it looks. Most people think that you open a bar, sit there, buy people drinks, and suddenly make a ton. It’s not so glorious. You can’t half-ass it. One of the most important things is to hire quality management and pay what they deserve.
Another thing is to find the right location. I’ve been blessed with waiting for the right locations—if you rush and think it’s a bad location, it is.
What challenges do restaurateurs face?
Keeping social media positive. It has its pluses. But the way things can blow up on social media, or if you get a couple of bad reviews on Yelp—you don’t have control.
Also, DWIs are a big thing. Twenty-five years ago, the cops drove you home. Now you are going to jail, rightfully so. New York is not the easiest state for running a small business.
How hard is it to succeed?
It’s getting harder every day. Average customers are more educated and informed. They know more about good food; they can compare prices online.
Why do you think so many fail?
People place too much emphasis on décor. They think that if it looks nice, they can just whip up a menu and open up. If you are not ready, and [Buffalo News food editor] Andrew Galarneau gives you a five-plate rating [out of ten], you’re screwed.
What benefits are unique to Buffalo?
Buffalo is a social blue-collar town. When times are good or bad, Buffalonians like to go to bars, pubs, and restaurants. They like having fun, having a drink. That’s what moves the city.
What is rewarding for you?
It’s nice to be recognized and appreciated for doing my little part in making Buffalo a better place. With Blue Monk, I felt like I changed Buffalo’s craft beer scene. And with Liberty Hound, I took a chance on being the first one located right at Canalside.
Also, it’s great when former employees say working for me had a positive effect, and when I see how well they have done.
Do you have a specific management philosophy?
When it was just Cole’s, it was “lead by example.” Now, I can’t be everywhere. I try to make each place better each day; it could be miniscule or a huge discovery. I want to treat my employees like they are special. Let them show their personalities.
What makes an ideal restaurant employee?
They need to be hard-working and personable, yet not overly dramatic or emotional. There are battles sometimes between the kitchen and the “front of house.” You have to handle getting yelled at and also know how to relate to people from all walks of life.
How would you have described Buffalo’s restaurant scene to an out-of-towner when Blue Monk first opened?
I’d say we were ten years behind New York City. We were just getting into “celebrity chefs.” [Steve] Gedra [formerly Bistro Europa, now Black Sheep] was starting to make a name, Mike A. [SeaBar, Tappo, Bourbon & Butter, Cantina Loco] was prominent, obviously—we were starting to see more chef-driven restaurants rather than restaurant-owner driven.
How is it different today?
It’s become even more chef-driven. It’s exciting. Downtown is blowing up, with Oshun, James Roberts’ Toutant, etc. Ed Forester, currently chef at Buffalo Proper, moving here from Chicago forced a lot of people to step up. Brad Rowell has done great things at Elm Street Bakery, and I’m looking forward to his new place in Hamburg.
Do you have any regrets?
Not opening Allen Burger Venture earlier. Dino DeBell and I had been talking about it for years. And not opening a brewery earlier; I wish we would have jumped on that ten years ago.
What are some of your favorites at your restaurants?
Blue Monk and Cole’s breakfast burritos, which are on the brunch menu. (Buffalo is lacking a really good breakfast burrito.) I love Blue Monk’s short rib sandwich, and the burgers at ABV. The Clancy at Cole’s is a classic sandwich.
The restaurant business is exhausting. How do you maintain work/life balance?
Since I got married and had children over the past five years, my life has changed completely. I used to close the Pink at 4:30 or 5 a.m. Now I get up at 6 a.m. I put my family first. My kids are four and three, and I spend as much time as possible with them. I have great management teams; I’m comfortable being at home with my kids at night.
Jana Eisenberg is a longtime contributor to Spree.