Decision Dialogues
Decision Dialogues

Episode · 1 year ago

Nourishing the Soul - Ep 07


Episode 7 of Decision Dialogues brings Mike Merida, chef and owner of Rockin’ Roots, to the show. Mike is a Michelin star chef with training in accounting. He discusses his journey from restaurants around the world, from Japan, to England, to Spain and others, to appearing on the Beat Bobby Flay show, to using his expertise to consult with new restauranteurs around the New York City area, to opening the plant-based Rockin' Roots. Get the full show notes and more resources at

Are you paving the way for the life you want facing decisions that may affect you personally and financially? The decision dialogs podcast, brought to you by Modera Wealth Management, presents personal stories about navigating through life's pivotal moments, narratives that we hope will inspire you as you create your own story. You'll learn what influence their next steps and gain insights that could help you with your own critical choices. Welcome to decision dialogs. Thanks for joining us on decision dialogs. For Thrill to have you long. My name is Mark Willoughby and I'm a principal wealth manager and the Chief Operating Officer of Madera Wealth Management Llc. Today, my colleague Jennifer Ferrety, who is chief Client Experience Officer at Madeira, and I will be chatting with Mike Merida, who's the chef and owner at rocking roots in Hillsdale, New Jersey. Welcome everyone to the show and I'll hand it over to Jennifer. Thank you. Thank you, mark, and thank you Mike. Welcome to the show. We're so thrilled to have you here and I know you have a really interesting career, a journey so I'd love to start us off there if you could tell us kind of how did you become a chef and owner of a restaurant? Sure so, I'm the owner, are you said of Rock and roots. We are a mostly plant based CAFE restaurant and Hillsdale, New Jersey. The journey to come here from working in a fine dining Michelin background, was a lot of twist and turns. Coming from the big kitchens from Europe. In Japan, it was always an afterthought, you know, cooking for Vegetarians, vegans or people that just wanted to eat healthier. I decided, you know, I wanted to take a different approach, my wife being a vegetarian myself now being more of a pest catarian, I thought it would be a good way to really reach out to the community and showcase what we could do with vegetables and plant based type items to make people feel more familiar and feel that they could have something that's really worthwhile and make them feel that they're eating something that's just not to eat, you know. This way they could get more protein and they going to feel healthier about it. So that's where I'm at with this place. That's great and it's definitely on trend and I'm definitely going to be one of your first customers. So it sounds like you have a really mission driven kind of passion for this particular restaurant. Has that always been a case and in terms of your journey as a chef? No, it actually happened about three years ago. I went through a terrible trauma. You know, flash forward, I was repaired and saved by a surgeon who happened to be also a vegetarian. We got along very well, my wife being a vegetarian. Things just started to align well for me and I felt like this was my path, that I should not cook fog raw and things like that anymore and really start focusing on, you know, what matters. And you know, a trend is one thing and we wanted to make sure it's not a fat and it's a really growing area in our industry. Everyone is trying to get out there and make products as quick as they can because they know this is the new way of the future and how people are eating. So once these type of things happened, you know, it all fell in line to me and my daughter was going to this place that was a fashion camp. I saw the storefront and I said this would be a perfect place for me to set foot in the community and really, you know, you know, set place of what we're looking to do here. You know, I'm very happy about it and especially, you know, working in the old Michelin Star Restaurants, it was always when a Vegan came in or some you know, we got to cook for a Vegan. God and you never heard a Vegan person at a restaurant saying oh of carnivores. Here we had to cook for a carnivore. You know, now restaurants like John George, very famous places, understand that it is a trend and it is going forward. You know, he's changed his menu twenty percent to really adhere to those guidelines on what people looking for ...

...and that clientele. I could only see it growing more exponentially over the time and you know, I'm happy that. You know, we're at the forefront of it and really trying to, you know, get out there and, you know, spread the word. You know, that's just so much I want to talk about and just that that segment there so you can usinking of the podcast is called decision dialogs and we as planners really navigate a lot of these decisions with our clients and when you're talking about this, it sounds like you had both a mix of kind of a personal passion or reason for going into this particular area of the Food Industry and restaurant business. But it seems to also align with the trend, so there was maybe a financial aspect to it as well. Is that will correct or was it sure? I would say, you know, also have an accounting background. I understand that this type of establishment will have a better, you know, gross profit margin than, you know, a typical, you know fine dining restaurant per se or just a full functioning restaurant. This is the first establishment that I've been in where there's a zero waste. You know, I'm really happy to say that. You know, that's something we could be proud of. Most restaurants do have spoilage, they have waste. I couldn't believe that that was part of what was happening here and, you know, I was hoping that more places like this will be able to evolve. That could also continue that trend. Unfortunately, there are a lot of places that aren't Chefron and it's just really about, you know, getting their product out and it's more sugar based. It's not natural, it's not seasonal. We take pride in trying to deal with our local farmers. We have seasonality with our menus. You're not seeing raspberries in January here. You know. Now it's citrus season, so we have blood orange, we have lemon, we have line items. So besides that, you know, we just want to make sure that from a profitable they point, you know, everything is aligned well. Like I said, the margins are much different than a restaurant, the Labor is different, the wrench structure, your overhead. So you know, this product that we've developed is really sound and I think it's going to be something, you know, for us that we're going to look to open up more in the future. You've given me enough to go in about fifty different directions here. Yeah, yeah, Mike, but one thing I want I was curious about. It sounds like there's been travel in your background, yes, and, and it sounds like you've worked with some big restaurants, big name or restaurants. He's this the first time you've owned your own restaurant? It is not. I was partners with a TV celebrity in Manhattan. We had a restaurant together. You know, I got my fix in there and try to understand the whole business concept and then it really wasn't the model that I wanted and since then I've opened up other restaurants for people as a consultant. Most recently was Montclair Social Club in Montclair. It was a live music venue with fine dining food, nice establishment, but unfortunately, you know, it was hit by the pandemic and is now closed. My place here is a culmination of my life experiences traveling around the world, as you mentioned. You know, worked in Japan, France, England Spain, all very wellknown restaurants, you know, all three style wischile in based. Not that we're serving three month Misston here, but we like to give that type of hospitality. So that period of time working in different countries, different and establishments is kind of in a preparation for the last few years for you going into consulting and launching your own restaurant. That's correct. Yes, I'm going to head back to Jennifer, but I love to hear about the thinking in the decisions you had to make in preparation for that transition. Sure. So, as far as the transition, I started at the restaurant we had, Montclair Social Club. I used it also as my test hub and it's a very diverse clientele, very e collectic. People were coming and living from Manhattan. So we understand that they had a, you know, fine, a sense of what they were looking for in food and there was a calling, you know, for more vegan vegetarian options. We wanted to get away from the tradition of steam vegetable, green vegetable, grilled vegetable platters and and such that you would see in any wedding...

...venue or, you know, typical restaurants, a pasta dish. You know, things are all really not so healthy for you, you know, especially with everything it's all modified, you know, wheat and you know, at ammi being soy and sugar. So we tried to come up with a new plan of how we wanted to feed everyone and give them, you know, what they deserve. You know, they should have excellence, just like, you know, anyone else that was having anything other than vegetarian meals. It was overwhelmingly the positive reactions, email saying thank you for creating things that were adventurous for us to try, not a typical type of meal that we would get anywhere else in town. So I knew from there that that is a trend. So this was, you know, three years ago, and I knew that this is a trend, not a fad, and we really wanted to push that envelope and start working harder and what we would doing. And then it was a restaurant that I had visited in Manhattan. It was called Nicks. It was a very awesome experience eating a vegetarian, Vegan restaurant which was the only mischilin starred one in New York City. I was also able to see what they were doing and they were also on the same trend. It was awesome to see it, you know, in the New York City set point and now to bring it out in the suburbs. For me tells me I'm on the right track. Well, you had such a interesting career, you know, again, from Michelin Star restaurants all over the world and then now having your own place in the specific area of Vegan and healthy food. So kind of looking back and making all those pivots, you know what has been you know some of the hardest decisions you've had to make and what I've been some of the easiest ones. For my establishment, I would say, you know, in the beginning it was hard to open up a place and just say your plant based. Its scares a lot of people away sometimes that don't understand what that means. But, you know, everything is part of education. Me Being on the bobby flay show was definitely something that, you know, showed people that vegetables can be great and it was really good enough to win, you know, and so I think education, you know, to my clientele was a big part of it. Getting out there in the public, showing people what we do and it's just not, you know, smoothies or it's just not a salad. I think that was, you know, a difficult portion to do over the time. The easy part now is now that everyone's got to try it and see me in a lot of, you know, magazines, a different periodicals. They see me about, so they said wow, we something must be going on there. Let's go try it up. And then once they come in, it's the experience. It's not a just about the food. Unfortunately, nowadays, you know, it's fifty it's hospitality, of service and also of the food. Food will bring people in, service brings them back and I always relate to everyone that you got to treat everybody like norm from cheers, if you haven't seen it, and he walks in, everyone knows his name, his chair is warm, his beer is ready for him by Sammy. It's we try to give that same hospitality and it's really important to try to remember everyone's names a little like you know, it's all that nice social aspect that keeps everyone coming back. Absolutely you're we're definitely on the same page. I'm ahead of the client experience. That are orms. I completely agree with that's great. I can jump in here. I'm originally an accounting for my sins as well. Mike, Oh nice. Okay, so I look at you and you're just curious combination of accounting financial guy with food. Did you have to think long and hard about departing the sort of working for other people situation to getting ready to launch on your own as an entrepreneur? We did, you know, obviously I counted beans, so why not literally do it in my own establishment? Yeah, but yeah, being entrepreneur it's very tricky, it's risky, especially in this climate and especially in the the restaurant climate. But I felt that, you know, after my research. Took me about a year of research or what I wanted to do and the position myself in the area that I wanted to be in. I felt that this type of establishment was really going... be successful. You know, and being account and very helps a lot, you know, knowing the numbers, knowing you're you know, like I said, your gross profit and that profit. You know everything that goes in place before it bitter. You know. This type of a business, I think, really set forth for me something that's going to be profitable and something that's going to be fun for the community. When I came here, I was all in. We've been here about a year and a half now and we open up during the worst time. Could make two months into it. You know, we went right in the covid but we stayed strong and I think we're doing better than me you ever have now. That's great. Yeah, before you decided to go out on your own, you know it's a big decision, right, and yeah, you'd obviously put some money aside to get you through the initial how difficult was that decision, or did you feel good that you'd hind it out and that you had enough time to get this thing up and running well. I think for me it's I'm very good at the planning stages and far as the finances, what I have, you know, as far as experiences opening up rather restaurants for people, I understand how to get things done quicker. I understand how to get things manage wise so that it comes in under budget or hopefully at budget. You know. So when we look at what I've developed here at this place, you know, most people come in if they're contractors or other people looking to be business partners with me in and next venture, they think it probably cost, you know, five, six times the amount that it actually cost me to develop the place. So understanding values of what you're putting into an establishment is really important. I think that's where a lot of restaurants tours go wrong and they want to buy all top notch and they want to buy everything they can to make, you know, the place look beautiful and not worrying about, you know, what it's going to be on the bottom line. And I said that could all come later on, you know, because if the place fails, it's only worth ten cents on the dollar out there in the market. So it's really important to buy wise and to plan it correctly and fortunately that's been a strength of mine. Good thing you can count beings. Yeah, see beings on both sides. Yeah, true, true. Sounds like your accounting background certainly helps you a lot throughout your career. then. Curious, how did you actually make the decision from accounting to being a chef? Well, I actually became an accountant later on because, you know, in the field I said to myself, you know, if I'm going to have a family, I thought about want to be off on weekends and doing projects and going away with them. And then, unfortunately then, when taxison always came around, I was like, well, that's not going to happen either way. You still put an end the time, but for you know, captain was Nice, but I feel in the restaurant world you're able to be more artistic. At least for me it's an edible art. You know, I enjoy what I'm doing. You know, I like working with my hands. It keeps me going. It's a form of exercise, you know, for me as wow, granted, and you know, not all the headaches that come along with it sometimes, but everything else seems to fall in place. So it's very easy decision. Did you get any good advice before you started your journey as a chef and owner of a restaurant? And I did. You know, when I was at the firm, though, that they wanted me there to help them to open up new gaps for the whole hospitality industry and especially when it came for people really not understanding what they would do, and that's where my consulting portion came in. So I started consultant, you know, more so for restaurants prior and, you know, making them successful. I've had a couple here in New Jersey, New York City, Long Island, and, you know, proud to say they're all successful, they're all doing well. They had great reviews from the local papers and also profitability has been, you know, key for them and I think for me, seeing everything that I've done there, I knew I would be able to do this on my own and get the same effect. Great. On the consulting, like, yeah, did you start doing this when you were still working at another restaurant? I took some time off just to do consulting and then while I was at the restaurants, I would also get calls and do it for...

...other people. Okay, so it's good preparation to launch on your own. Absolutely great preparation. You know, working on their money, but you know, make it as though as mine and really, you know, working the numbers for them and making it profitable. So I'm being a pivot a little bit because you kind of just slipped in that you were on the beat Bobby flay show. Yes, but I'd love to talk a little bit about that experience and how that came about and what was the impact afterwards. Sure so, one way that it came about it first, so I was at Montclair Social Club. My daughter's had really pushed me, want me to get on one of the TV shows. You said, come on, Dad, we want you to do it. Can you do it? Can you get on? I sorry, let me see what I could do. So I contacted bobby fly the show, and and next day, I know the producers, you know, they called me back and so they were very interested in me going on. I said, wow, isn't this great? After two months we kind of got everything narrow down about what we wanted to do, the dates and get everything coordinated well. And it was funny because then, I think after we already had the date book, then two weeks later someone from the show called me at the restaurant and said wow, we've been seeing you, you know, and all the local stuff out there, wondering if you might consider want to compete against bobby. Flay. Said, why does he want to rematch already? I can go in. Nevertheless, we went on the show. It was a great experience and the impact from it after we won was awesome. The local papers here did a lot of coverage on us being the first Cheffenberg in county to beat him. You know, it was really exciting. We wanted to make sure that when you watch the show, you know, if I was a judge, a lot of times I could tell who's dishes who's just by knowing the ingredients. You know, if there's going to be Calabrian Chilisi in something or salsa, it's Bobby's dish. So I said I have to create something if I go against him, that's similar to his cuisine. The show. Who's going to be the better cook that day? So I threw the judges off. We came up with a Spanish type dish and it worked in my favor, you know, and it was nice to hear Marthor Stewart say that I want unanimously as I could add to that. Wow, that's great. Yeah, some people don't know this, that I happen to be such a fan of that show. Yeah, I do. I watch it actually, and I really like it. So, congratulations. It's earlyer. Thank people. Also might not know that it's hard to beat Bobby Flay. Very few, I don't think, manages that. One day I'll tell you the inside track of what happened. Okay, all right, get to know. But the impact of the show was was it was an awesome day, to say the next day we were lines at the door, people coming from all different areas, from New York, coming to meet me and, you know, I almost felt like a little TV store for a second. That's great. Yeah, and then two weeks later covid hit. Oh Wow, it was just before the luckdown, that's correct, and we were getting ready to open up store number two and then we had to pull everything back and unfortunately, you know when it happened, we weren't able to keep riding the wave of the show. Wow, you had to really do a one hundred and eighty at that point, right. Yeah, so we're hoping then, maybe one day bobby wants a rematch and and it'll, you know, progress again. So you talked about being in Cheff, an owner of establishments, working for some other people. Which would you prefer? Having your own place and kind of taking on all that responsibility, or are there some aspects of kind of working for someone else that you prefer? Well, I think it's more controlled. It the establishment that I have now. The places I work before, you know, sometimes I'd have thirty, you know, forty people to manage and you know, things like that. You know, it's just a lot more moving parts, especially in the country club settings. You know, when I was there, there's a lot going on in different areas, you know, especially if you're in a sixtyzero square foot, you know, clubhouse. So being here it's more controllable, you know, again with the no waste, you know, everything, staying fresh,...

...being home, seeing my children, you know, I couldn't ask for anything more for that, you know, and regular restaurants. It was more difficult, but this has allowed me to, you know, really have that type of life right now. Spending time my wife and the kids is just I can't, you know, ask for anything more for that. I've asked this of previous guests. My I don't know exactly how long you spent working in the restaurant industry before you branched out on your own, but do you think you could do what you're doing now without having gone through working for other restaurants? I could, but probably not be as successful. If I didn't have that experience behind me on both the finance and and the culinary portion. I don't think I would have been as successful as I can now. You know, that's just goes for many of the restaurants I when I've consulted for one, they were doctors. They had no idea what was going in a restaurant bus it. Just wanted to have a place to call their own. So, you know, you see a lot of that in the industry and a lot of places go belly up, you know, real quick, because they just don't have that experience behind them. You know, when something fails in the kitchen, something breaks down, you know you need to know what you got to do. If someone calls out sick, you know you need to know, well, how am I going to get that person, you know, replaced, you know, or at least for that day. So, you know, getting all that experience behind me is surely helped. If I didn't have that, I again, I wouldn't be a successful as I would be today. So it sounds like broadly you wouldn't have done anything differently, but is there anything that you look back on and you said maybe I've could have missed that one or done something differently? Yeah, there was a time when I came back from working in Spain and England. These two restaurants in particular were voted number one on a top fifty world list, you know, for the restaurants by the San Pellegrino learning what they called molecular astronomy, which was to me was more of a fad than a trend. But when I came back to New York, no one was really doing it yet. So I really had the opportunity, if I wanted, to stay and go into the Manhattan really showcase this new form of cooking. I could have done it, and would it have brought me bigger notoriety in the industry? Could have, you know, but that was a chance I wasn't willing to take at the time and I decided to stay at a country club that I was at. You know, for me I think everything aligned better that way and it was one gentleman that did do it in the city and and then he went onto some big famous thing. What get you out of bed in the morning? You know what I think now, having a new second chance on life, it's like breathing fresh air every day, getting to see the sunrise mostly, you know, it's something I didn't have, you know, prior. So I think those things were, you know, really important. Now I feel healthier, especially knowing that I'm able to, you know, feed the community and give them things that they haven't had before that's going to make them feel better in educating them, you know, and you know why, plant protein. You get more protein from that than you would from any flesh protein, and people didn't understand that. How could that be? How could that be? When you exercising the gym, it's always eating egg whites, eat your chicken and it's like, well, now it's totally different. You know, science is really driven US and taught us a lot over the years, especially in this industry, and you'll see so much more plant base going forward. You hinted you were on the cusp of setting up a second restaurant. What's division, Mike? I mean when we get back to normal. What success for you going forward? Well, the success I was going for would be for a chef planted type of restaurant format where I can have chefs that are out there at want to do something different, be one of their own bosses and, you know, have their own place, you know, almost like a franchise, but not not same format, but have each chef half something where they're going to be able to own the place and they could come every day and really feel humble about, you know, working where they are. So I think that's the future for me and I think hopefully soon. You know, I'm probably the short future, in six months, we're looking hopefully have another store once this pandemic is put behind us. I read... article once by the writer olive, that Gilbert, who made a distinction between job, a hobby and a calling, and it sounds like this is really turned into a calling for you. So we wish you much success with it. We're excited for you. We always like to end our interviews with a final question. What would of the last non financial related decision you had to make today, the last one? This is usually the toughest question we ask. Yeah, well, I guess one would be about marketing. You know, do I want to stay up in the northeastern market or move down to the southeastern market only because of weather? Carolina seemed to be coming up in our conversations. Not that it involves finance, but that's probably something that's been on our minds lately. Okay, thanks very much to gender for ferity and to our guests Mike Merida for litting US listening on their conversation. We appreciate your time and perspectives and thank you for tuning in. We hope you'll join US next time on decision dialogs for more stories from successful business owners. So long for now. Thank you for listening to decision dialogs. We hope you found today's stories helpful for your own decisionmaking. If you like to listen to more episodes, you can subscribe on your preferred podcasting APP or visit our website, where you'll also find show notes and important disclosures. WWW DOT wellcom. Forward Slash decision dialogs. This has been a production of twin flames studios,.

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