Working in a fast-paced industry—in an increasingly fast-paced world—restaurant operators don’t always have time to crack open a book. Audio storytelling helps some industry folks stay relevant, and offers others 30 minutes of relief from an overwhelming schedule. “In the food industry, and adult life, free time is at a serious premium,” says Ben Lustbader, chef-partner at Giant in Chicago. “In the last year especially, I have leaned heavily on podcasts to keep me engaged with the world.” Check out the podcasts restaurant operators are tuning into in 2018.
Ben Lustbader; Giant
Podcasts have helped Lustbader explore entirely new foods. “The food-related podcasts I listen to often provide cultural, scientific and historic context for foods or food issues I am already involved with,” Lustbader says. After listening to food science and history podcasts like “Gastropod,” the culinarian is learning how to make injera, an Ethiopian sour-sponge bread.
News and politics programming such as “The Daily,” “Pod Save America” and “Stay Tuned with Preet” has helped the chef stay connected to contemporary social and political issues, despite his workload.
Kristen Majdanics; Firehouse Subs
In the car or on a plane, good podcasts make travel time more useful, says Kristen Majdanics, vice president of marketing for 1,000-plus-unit Firehouse Subs. Majdanics doesn’t necessarily go into a podcast with the intention of gaining professional insights, but hearing stories ultimately helps her become a better manager and marketer, she says. An episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History” about how data was used in the Vietnam War helped show her that interpreting information is an art as well as a science. “When I am thinking about how to proceed after a conversation or reading data shared from another source, stories like the 'Revisionist History' episode remind me to take several steps back,” she says. “The conclusion I think is the most obvious may not be the most accurate one.”
Majdanics also takes social pointers from Terry Gross of NPR's “Fresh Air”. "[Gross] brings a presence to each interview that is confident and warm, but also well-prepared and inquisitive,” she says. “I listen to her work to pick up tips on better ways to ask questions and connect with people I do not know well.”
To become a better marketing storyteller, the executive listens to “You Are Not So Smart.” “Learning more about confirmation bias, building a compelling narrative and how to use optimism to make my team more successful are all tools I can professionally use,” she says.
Gerard Craft; Niche Food Group
As chef-owner of St. Louis-based Niche Food Group, Gerard Craft is hungry for business insights. Craft, the founder of Pastaria, Sardella, Taste Bar, Brasserie by Niche and Porano Pasta, listens in to “StartUp” for advice on how to recover from business failures and succeed. The James Beard Award-winning chef also values the “The Tim Ferriss Show,” which interviews guests like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tony Robbins about their morning routines, favorite books and time-management tricks. “Tim Ferriss’ podcast has guests on from all different walks of life and all of them have a very unique perspective on life and business,” he says.
Caroline Skinner, Tupelo Honey Cafe
For the latest on labor, Caroline Skinner looks to “Working Lunch” from consulting firm Align Public Strategies. The vice president of human resources for Asheville, N.C.-based Tupelo Honey Cafe says the podcast’s legislative scorecards help her stay current on the most important state and local legislation. But don’t be fooled—this 30-minute employment update is no snooze. “It sounds horribly boring, but they’ve got a good sense of humor and occasionally provide really important updates, like the status to Kid Rock’s campaign for Senate,” she says.
Paul Hibler; American Gonzo Food Corp.
People talking about food doesn’t do anything for Paul Hibler, founder of American Gonzo Food Corp., parent company of Pitfire Pizza, Superba Food + Bread and Pie Society in California. “I’m not looking for any specific instructions,” Hibler says. “I’m constantly looking for tools to understand what people are thinking about.” He listens to programs that help keep him weird, such as “The Waking Up Podcast” by neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris. Management and marketing pod “The GaryVee Audio Experience” by entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk and “FoundMyFitness” by Rhonda Patrick, also help the industry pro understand the zeitgeist of his surroundings to help the people he works with.
Meherwan Irani; Chai Pani Restaurant
Meherwan Irani, executive chef and founder of the Chai Pani Restaurant Group, gets business inspiration from NPR’s “From Scratch” and “How I Built This with Guy Raz.” Both podcasts share the journeys of notable businesses. "I love hearing founders’ stories, and the challenges, insights and breakthroughs are invaluable to how I think about my business,” says Irani, who leads the group’s four concepts in Georgia and North Carolina.
Tim Donnellon; PJW Restaurant Group
Tim Donnellon never misses an episode of “Social Media Marketing Podcast.” The digital marketing manager for PJW Restaurant Group’s 21 concepts says this podcast always has the scoop on the latest helpful tools, apps and processes. “Much of the SEO marketing I do is based on topics covered by Social Media Marketing Podcast,” Donnellon says. “It’s my main source of updates whether algorithmic, trends [or] analytic opportunities."
Jenny Wong and Sheridan Su; Flock & Fowl
Husband-and-wife team Jenny Wong and Sheridan Su spends time decompressing from running Flock and Fowl and Fat Choy in Las Vegas with a comedy podcast. “We like to listen to a podcast that a comedian Jason Harris runs,” Wong says. “Humor is a key stress reliever, which helps us run a smoother operation.”
Corey Smale; Good Fortune
Corey Smale admits to having a bit of a podcast problem. The co-owner of Good Fortune, slated to open in St. Louis in February, has about five podcasts in his rotation. “The Eater Upsell” helps keep Smale hip to the trends, people, places and concepts worth knowing. Smale also appreciates the candor of foodie Joe House as he invites famous eaters, chefs and writers onto his show “House of Carbs.” And the restaurateur finds community in “The Church of What’s Happening Now with Joey Coco Diaz.” Smale warns that the podcast is not safe for work, at all. “[It’s a] family more than a podcast and keeps me hustling when I need it,” he says.
Dhara Shah, Parachute
A podcast helps Dhara Shah, accounts manager for Chicago’s Parachute, stay up to date on complex economic concepts. Shah appreciates how “Planet Money” breaks down marketplace and financial trends into words that anybody can understand. “Their recent coverage in 2018 tax reforms has definitely helped make sense of it all,” she says.
Matthew Kaner; Will Travel For Wine Inc.
Matthew Kaner, wine director and president of Will Travel For Wine Inc., uses podcasts to drink up more information about vino. His private selection includes “I’ll Drink to That!” by former sommelier Levi Dalton. “Levi is an old buddy,” Kaner says. “He has on wine professionals from all over the industry to speak about their work, and he gets people to open up in a way most don't.”