Q&A Jody Pennette
Tell me how you got into the industry?
I was originally studying to go to medical school. At the same time I was really into music. My dad was a creative guy who worked in advertising. He saw me studying and actually suggested that I might want to consider pursuing something I would love and then having the success follow that.
So that was the end of the medicine. I moved to Los Angeles and joined a rock band. While earning a living as a musician I had dabbled in working at restaurants. I found something about it that appealed to me. I think the production, like a movie or a play. To me the meal was an ensemble performance. So it wasn’t food that actually attracted me to the business at first. It was kind of the flow and the production, the performance of it that really turned me on.
So talk to me about what got you into the restaurant business?
So I came back east and began working and learning in all kinds of different types of restaurants. I learned systems from fast food and white tablecloth operations at country clubs. In each case the common thread was how small groups of people would work as a team.
At the same time from my dad’s eyes, I saw the importance of the aesthetics and design of restaurants. Today even though he’s semi-retired in Santa Barbara we hire his design company to do a lot of our work. And I think he gave me an appreciation for the industry.
How do you balance marketing and food?
If your goal is to build on great restaurants and it’s all about your food and turning the world on to your vision of dining then you need to be in the kitchen grinding it out one dish at a time.
I think you can become a bit myopic with a food only approach. So if you want to create businesses that have the ability to connect to different markets then you need to balance food with marketing and be aware of trends. The DNA from my dad helped me. If you have great food, but lousy marketing, or mediocre food and great marketing which one is going to win, over the long term? I think the restaurant industry has become more of a performance art.
What’s changed is that it’s a given that with the cost of real estate that you must have good food and service. I think the consumer has become awakened and their demand for experience and to be fulfilled and entertained, that comes on the foundation of good food and good service.
Where did the name cb5 come from?
Our company’s based on the five Chinese brothers fable and the idea was to take individual talents, all masters in different areas and approach the business with those, left and right brains working together.
So where did the cotton candy and smoking dishes come from?
They probably seem silly and like gimmicks. They’re actually pretty strategic. The cotton candy at Red Lulu and the dry ice smoking dishes of fresh mint granita and grapefruit mint granita at Lolita are meant to get your attention. Customers walk in today with their faces in their cell phones.
So we needed to create something to get them to pay attention. I also changed the way our waitstaffs work with our guests. I told them with the smoking dish that we give; you have 10 seconds to bust a move. In that 10 seconds, don’t introduce yourself by name. Don’t ask if they’ve been here before. Try to size up the host, make eye contact, and let them know that, just maybe, this could be a different ride and a fun experience if you can get them to trust you. If you can get them to just look at you. That connection sets the tone for the meal. Make it more than an hour and a half of fetching Diet Cokes.