Ever Heard Of A Restaurant With A Five-Year Waiting List? Didn’t Think So! Amazingly It’s True.

Posted By on December 16, 2013

We thought we had heard or seen almost everything, until this! Chef Baehrel won’t provide exact numbers but says he serves a few thousand guests each year and generates annual revenue of at least $750,000. The waiting list is five years…yep, five long years!

By contrast, a successful restaurant in Manhattan’s crowded West Village might break the $1 million mark, though the business model is much different. Baehrel’s expenses are less predictable each season; they can include one-off big-ticket items such as a $5,000 trailer or a $10,000 hauling cart. But with no payroll or mortgage, and no food vendors except for his wine, seafood, and meat, which is from a local farm stand, he can stay both small and successful. “The biggest risk,” he says, “is that it’s just me there.”  What makes Baehrel’s restaurant the most exclusive restaurant in the world is not the decor, nor the patrons, some who fly overnight from Manhattan to pay $255 for dinner (before wine and tip), nor the hype (although all the advertising is through word-of-mouth), but the food, which is all cultivated, grown, prepared, cooked and served from and on the property, and where Baehrel is literally the only employee. “I’m the chef, the waiter, the grower, the forager, the gardener, the cheesemaker, the cured-meat maker, and, as I will explain, everything comes from this 12-acre property.”

However, what is most unique, and why Baehrel’s kudos and fame, are well-deserved, is his passion for working, cooking, that he takes no shortcuts, and that he has learned how to survive and thrive in an isolated ecosystem with zero supply-chain constraints and considerations, and with zero outside influence by the all-powerful megacorporations (although we have a nagging feeling it is only a matter of time before a major publicly-owned restaurant chain dangles a multi-million dollar check before Baehrel, and acquires his 12-table basement restaurant.

It’s not Spago, nor Per Se. It isn’t located on Rodeo Drive or in Columbus Circle. The restaurant with the longest waiting list, five-years to be precise, is a small, nondescript, 12-table basement located in Earlton, N.Y., named simply enough Damon Baehrel after its owner and chef. Its guests come from 48 countries and include such celebrities as Jerry Seinfeld, Martha Stewart and Barack Obama himself. However what makes Baehrel’s restaurant the most exclusive restaurant in the world is not the decor, nor the patrons, some who fly overnight from Manhattan to pay $255 for dinner (before wine and tip), nor the hype (although all the advertising is through word-of-mouth), but the food, which is all cultivated, grown, prepared, cooked and served from and on the property, and where Baehrel is literally the only employee. “I’m the chef, the waiter, the grower, the forager, the gardener, the cheesemaker, the cured-meat maker, and, as I will explain, everything comes from this 12-acre property.”

The reality is that farm-to-table dining is not exactly a revolutionary concept, although it certainly makes for a far more enjoyable eating experience. As Bloomberg reports, “even McDonald’s touts its farmers and ranchers in feel-good ads. Increasingly, though, entrepreneurial chefs are doubling down on the eat-local trend and bringing customers into their own homes (or cozy approximations thereof). At these culinary salons or underground restaurants, as they’re often called, professionally trained cooks host for-profit dinner parties in unexpected spaces. There’s Wolvesmouth in Los Angeles, where chef Craig Thornton invites patrons to come to his house and pay what they want; City Grit in Manhattan, which rotates Top Chef winners through a downtown furniture store (yes, the communal dining table is for sale); the Underground Restaurant in London; Supper Underground in Austin, Tex.; and Hush Supper Club in Washington and Chicago. The food world revolves around hype—the harder it is to get into a restaurant, the more people want to go—and so culinary tourists obsess and war over the limited space at these secret spots.”

In this world of self-contained gastronomical universes, Baehrel is the most secret:

He has no staff, unless you count his wife and a tech-savvy friend, who help him manage the reservation e-mail address posted on his website. He spends no money on marketing and doesn’t have a business manager cultivating endorsement deals. There have been no profiles of him in major food magazines nor write-ups of his restaurant in any newspapers. In spite of this, or possibly because of it, the wait time just keeps getting longer.

The chef, waiter, gorager, grower (etc), never started off as one: “He learned how to cook from his mother, an avid gardener, and also from years doing odd jobs in mountain-resort kitchens in the Northeast. “I learned bits and pieces along the way, but I never did the research, never looked in a cookbook. In my family, we just learned to do it ourselves, and the inspiration came from nature,” he says. After an injury in 1985 derailed his nascent career as a professional motocross racer, Baehrel and his wife bought their land and opened a catering business specializing in foraged food. It eventually morphed into the bistro concept in 2006 and since then has relied almost entirely on word-of-mouth buzz.”

And a lot of buzz there is: as Michael Chernow of New York’s chain of Meatball Shops says, “With [Baehrel’s] skills, it’s like he’s the Michael Jordan of culinary art.”

So just what does the cook of cooks serve?

Baehrel has a thing for molecular gastronomy; his small bites are dehydrated, infused, and tinctured on their way from lawn to mouth. All of that work happens in a red and white-trimmed kitchen-as-barn the chef built himself. It could pass for a rustic guesthouse. He keeps the space meticulously clean, laying down plastic sheets every few days to protect the linoleum floors. On steel prep tables sits the usual restaurant gear of blenders and food processors; neatly organized shelves store hundreds of containers of carefully labeled ingredients such as powdered bracken ferns or pickled maple leaves. “It occurred to me one day—and this was really an epiphany, 25 years ago—that everything I needed was here,” Baehrel says. “And I was going to spend the rest of my life developing and exploring what was possible.”

Sources: Zero hedge, Wise Dog Research, Bloomberg

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