How a Restauranteur Takes on Every Day

We were able to catch up with chef Ryan Hardy to see how he gets it all done and how music plays such a large role in his restaurants.

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It is no small feat running three restaurants in New York, but chef Ryan Hardy makes it seem easy. Co-owner and chef of the venerable SoHo haunt Charlie Bird, along with the Hudson Yard’s Legacy Records and Pasquale Jones in NoLita, Hardy has a lot on his plate. We were able to catch up with Hardy on a whirlwind day to see how he gets it all done — and the essential gear (and playlists) that help him take on every day.

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Q: What drew you to the restaurant business? Did you always want to be a chef?

Ryan Hardy (RH): I got started in the restaurant business when I was a teenager. And I liked it. I liked the brotherhood of the kitchen, and I felt comfortable there. It was something that I stuck with. As I moved out west — I went to enroll in graduate school — I kept cooking on the side. After a while of living in Washington state, I decided I really wanted the culture of a city, and so I moved to San Francisco. That’s when I decided I was going to take up cooking full time. When you get into the culture of fine dining, particularly in a city like San Francisco, it’s addictive. You’re immediately sucked in. And so from there — that was in the late ’90s — 20 years later, here I am in New York City.

Q: With three restaurants in New York, you’re probably pretty busy most days of the week. How do you start your day to stay on track and centered?

RH: I think when you have a stressful schedule, you have to find moments of clarity and peace inside the busy days. So for my wife and me, that little hour we get in the morning is very precious. For my children, my wife and myself, to just find a connecting moment together. By putting in a really great espresso machine, like the Slayer we have, it allowed us to take that moment seriously. Not just have a pot of coffee on the stove, but something that we could really stop and craft and make an artisanal moment out of, and then reflect with each other. It sounds kind of overblown, but it’s really important to us.

Q: Why is having the right gear — like the Slayer Espresso machine — so important to you?

RH: I grew up in Kentucky, and when I was younger, we didn’t have a tremendous amount of technology in our lives. Partially it’s because of my age, but also because of just where we lived in the world. I always had an appreciation for the finer-made things. So I wanted very few things, but I wanted all of those things to be really well made. As I got into my career those things applied to everything else that I have. Be it the way I carry my knives into work, or be it the Vespa that I choose to ride, or just the general wellbeing of my small area, I try and work on things being curated a bit in my own life. The ability as a chef to have the right tools in your hand is absolutely important, whether the knife is sharp or dull makes the difference between a great experience or a failure in that point.

Q:Your restaurants are known for great music. How has music shaped your restaurants?

RH: When we opened our first restaurant, Charlie Bird, we built the restaurant ourselves. The whole time we listened to hip hop. The night before we opened, I went to my partner and said, by the way, one of the details we haven’t spoken about for tomorrow is what kind of music we’re going to play. He looked at me and he said, ‘What’s wrong with you? We’re going to play what we always play.’ From day one, we went out in the dining room and people were nodding their heads and they loved it. It was old hip hop — that was the idea; it was hip-hop from the early to mid-90s. So it became a real theme for us as people loved Charlie Bird for the food, the wine, but really, the music was really a statement that we made there. We subsequently took it to jazz and funk and soul for a pizza place, inspired by our spirit animal, James Brown. And then Legacy Records became a further iteration.


Q:So, how would you define the vibe of your restaurants?

RH: Every time we look at meals that are individually plated, we find refinement. We also realize that it breaks up conversations — you’re focused on yourself in a very personal moment when you have your own plate of food. So we try to break it up and go back and forth throughout the meal based on that. Those are the key moments, it’s not something you can put your finger on. You can’t push three buttons or pull two levers and make a vibe happen in a restaurant. I think for us, we really tried to come up with something that wasn’t ordinary. So what’s the vibe? People ask me that all the time — What is Charlie Bird? I say that it’s an Italian hip hop restaurant.

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