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Martha Stewart: ‘Restaurants are one of the hardest businesses on earth’

The legendary businesswoman and multimedia maven discussed her career reinventions and plans for the future in a wide-ranging chat at Restaurant Leadership Conference.
Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart said she's now exploring artificial intelligence. | Photo courtesy W. Scott Mitchell Photography.

Martha Stewart, the original lifestyle influencer who found success in magazines, book publishing, television, retail and more, waited until she was 80 years old to open her first restaurant.

The Bedford by Martha Stewart, located in the Paris Las Vegas casino-resort, is modeled after Stewart’s home in Bedford, New York, and serves a menu of old-school opulence, with dishes like Oysters Rockefeller and Golden Ossetra Caviar.

“Why I didn’t do a restaurant sooner, I’ll never know,” Stewart told Restaurant Leadership Conference attendees Tuesday in Scottsdale, Arizona. “I kept saying, I like to go out to restaurants. I don’t want to work in a restaurant … Restaurants are one of the hardest businesses on earth.”

Stewart detailed her storied career reinventions and future plans in conversation with Anne Fink, president of global foodservice with PepsiCo.

“I read a book in college that said you metamorphose every seven years,” Stewart said. “And so I started living that way.”

She spent one of those seven-year chunks as an institutional stockbroker, during a time in which “McDonald’s had just emerged as a fantastic company,” she says.

“We invested in that company early on and I learned so much about the business of fast food.”

Then she moved into the catering business.

“I found that catering was extremely similar to stock brokering because in stock brokering, you’re dealing with people’s money. In catering you’re dealing with people’s tastes and homes,” she said. “I learned a lot about how people were living, what they wanted to eat, how they wanted to entertain.”

She wanted to capture some of that knowledge in a book, and “Entertaining” was published in 1982. That book sold hundreds of thousands of copies and many more books followed. Stewart is currently putting the finishing touches on her 100th book, which will feature 100 of her favorite recipes.

She has hosted TV cooking shows and found success selling home goods with Kmart and other retailers.

So, what is next for Stewart? A documentary about her life is slated to air on Netflix this fall. She plans to write a memoir. And she’s dabbling in artificial intelligence.

“We’re now trying to figure out AI,” she said. “That’s the next big challenge for all of us. I have lots of proposals already for AI. I’ve seen little avatars of Martha, which are pretty good, by the way, pretty good. And Martha answering any question you could possibly ask. And I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it might solve some problems.

Just don’t expect the country’s most famous dinner party host to open a plant-based restaurant concept.

“I think people really like deliciousness,” she said. “They like tradition. They like familiar, not too unfamiliar … There’s the trendy restaurants, the vegan restaurants, which are rather difficult to entertain at. You don’t feel so comfortable eating some of the unusual foods. It’s a fine balance between what you choose to serve, what you choose to promote, how you serve it, how you show it.”

The annual Restaurant Leadership Conference, held at the J.W. Marriott Desert Ridge in Scottsdale, Arizona, is presented by Restaurant Business and its parent company, Informa.

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