Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen proves that you can lead a guest to the counter, but you can’t make him order. Not if the guest wants full service.
When Craig Bernstein was 10 years old, his family drew straws to determine which of the three siblings would get to go to the New York Knicks game, since his family had won only two tickets. Bernstein had the lucky draw, and he and his dad enjoyed the game from the last row in Madison Square Garden.
During halftime, Bernstein’s dad pointed to a viewer in the courtside seats called “celebrity row,” and said, “See that guy down there? He’s my friend.” They climbed down row after row to meet the friend.
Soon after, the friend called Bernstein’s father to tell him what a great kid he had and to offer them tickets to another Knicks game, with dinner beforehand at a restaurant called Morton’s Steakhouse.
After experiencing the food and hospitality of Morton’s and then sitting on the court at the Knicks game, Bernstein asked his dad what his friend did for a living—because if it involved amazing food and courtside seats at the game, he wanted to do it himself.
Turns out, the friend was Allen Bernstein (no relation), and he was the owner of Morton’s Steakhouse. From that point on, he became his mentor. Soon after, Bernstein had to write an essay for school on what he wanted to be when he grew up. The answer? Restaurant entrepreneur.
Fast forward to today. Sadly, Allen Bernstein died in 2011 and wasn’t there to see Bernstein open the first Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen, named after his father Doctor B, which he opened in Chicago in September 2013.
He also wasn’t there to see the brand’s launch struggle that winter, which the nation dubbed “Chiberia” due to the frigid temperatures. Doc B’s was assaulted by burst pipes, blown-out transformers, and insulation problems that made the inside temperature plummet to 20 degrees.
To sum up those first six months in business, Bernstein says, “We persevered.” Despite the challenges, we never had to lay off staff or miss payroll. Bernstein had learned from his parents and mentors that the expression “expect the unexpected” is a cliché only because it’s true.
So he made sure, before he started, that there was enough funding to handle emergencies, instead of merely enough funding to make it through the launch and hope that sales would take over from there.
The first Doc B’s location was set up as a hybrid model. “The premise of Doc B’s when it opened was to take traditional restaurant-quality food and table service, and put it in a counter-order environment,” Bernstein says. “It involved the architecture, the level of service, the plateware and glassware, and the cooks in the kitchen to execute that level of food.”
However, the model that was clear to Bernstein and his staff wasn’t so clear to customers. “Our guests came in and were slightly confused as to what we were doing,” Bernstein recalls. That’s because the atmosphere resembled full service more than fast casual or quick service. Though the staff would attempt to guide guests through the ordering process, many diners replied, “How about if we just sit down and you take our order ... because that’s what this place feels like.”