Ken Levitan has opened Vector Eats, a chef and personality division of his longstanding artist management company. The venture brings in manager Andrew Chason to a resource pool of 70 employees in place at Vector Management’s Los Angeles, Nashville, New York and London offices.
“We were working with Jonathan Waxman and of course Trisha Yearwood, who considers herself a cook not a chef,” Levitan explained to MusicRow in an exclusive interview with Waxman at their co-owned Adele’s restaurant in Nashville. “Andrew already managed Aaron Sánchez and John Besh.”
In all, the chef roster boasts 10 clients, seven of whom have been nominated for James Beard Awards over the years, with four wins among them. In addition to the aforementioned chefs, the lineup includes Graham Elliot (Chicago-based), Andrew Carmellini (New York-based), Chris Cosentino (San Francisco-based), Amanda Freitag (New York-based), Alex Thomopoulos (Los Angeles-based) and Aliya LeeKong (New York-based).
Nashville’s Music City Food + Wine Festival—put on by Levitan, his clients Kings of Leon, Waxman, and event company C3 Presents—is the perfect outlet to feature Vector’s music and culinary talents. Yearwood appeared at the event, where she discussed the fifth season of her Food Network cooking show, currently airing episodes recorded in Oklahoma. “Garth and I just moved back to Nashville,” she said. “Going forward, I’ll be on the road so I don’t know how the [taping] schedule will look.” Her third cookbook, cutlery collection and cookware line are forthcoming.
The music/culinary connection is widespread. Carmellini is Chef/Partner at Joe’s Pub (where the CMA Songwriters Series originated) and Elliot is Culinary Director for Chicago music festival, Lollapolooza. Waxman and Sánchez have already appeared on a music cruise out of Miami, Fla. with pop/rock group Train.
“It’s all a late-night business,” Levitan explained of artist management and chef management. “It’s about marketing, similar to music in that you’re taking a creative vision and establishing a brand. What’s important is working with a person who has a vision of who they are.”
As for Adele’s, if you haven’t been, go! Waxman’s seasonal menu changes daily, centering around his favorite dishes from his New York City restaurant Barbuto. Not to mention, the martinis are every definition of intoxicating. Beautifully refurbished, the previous tire store is located in the heart of Nashville’s burgeoning Gulch neighborhood.
“I’m an early supporter of this area,” noted Levitan. “I own the Kayne Prime building and the Whiskey Kitchen building. I’m in The Southern and Five Guys—a handful of restaurants that I invested in even prior to Vector Eats.”
“If I was going to grow, I didn’t want to do it by myself,” explained Waxman. “It wouldn’t be fun to do it alone. Other pairs of eyes bring alternative visions, some look at branding, some worry about cooking, others look at longevity of the lease or even employer retention. If everyone’s focus on the same subject, then you’ll succeed.” Their third investor is Howard Greenstone.
“It’s hard to monetize creativity, propelling the brand forward and making it relevant year-after-year,” Waxman continued. “Music and cooks are in the same boat, if you don’t keep it relevant then people aren’t going to come.”
As for Levitan’s immediate future? “I’m enjoying the restauranting and hoping Jonathan and I do more of that, he has a great vision of what a restaurant should be.”
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What are the most lucrative parts of a chef’s career?
Levitan: In the music business I look at things as a puzzle, there’s different income streams— touring is the most lucrative. For chefs, TV is not always the most lucrative, but it provides visuals, which help branding. Jonathan has a number of restaurants, so that has become lucrative. There’s also a difference between restaurateuring and managing a personality. Sometimes it collides where you help a client find investment, but for the most part it’s about building a presence.
Waxman: My business went up 30 percent in 2009 after Top Chef. I didn’t want to do it at first, but it opened up opportunities that I never had before. A lot of people go into the restaurant business thinking they’ll make a quick buck. It’s a hard business because it’s fickle and driven by trends. People can sense if you’re not real.
Have chefs always required management?
Waxman: People have good representation, not as good as Ken, but they at least will have an agent. Many chefs start off as a dishwasher and work their way up. They understand food but may not have a mathematical background. Ken went to law school, giving him an understanding of finance, leasing, investing, permits, etc. That’s what makes a restaurant work.
Shep Gordon really started the trend for chefs to become stars. Also those who portrayed cooking as fun, like Emeril, Bobby Flay (who came out of Waxman’s kitchen) and Martha Stewart. Before the ’70s, restaurateurs hired chefs and took most of the notoriety. Nobody knew the rules in America so chefs could open their own restaurants. Chefs who learned to become businessmen were really inspirational for me.
What are Nashville’s culinary origins?
Waxman: You know who was really the pioneer? Margot [McCormack, of Margot Café and Marché]. She’s the mom. She set the bar. Here’s a woman from Nashville, who went to [The Culinary Institute of America], worked in New York and decided to come back home and perfect her craft, which I think is the greatest thing. She was the first one to understand seasonality in Nashville, and not just Nashville but East Nashville. She also spawned a lot of cooks, like Tandy Wilson (City House). My chef and pastry chef [at Adele’s] are both from Margot. It’s all connected somehow.
Levitan: Coming from New York, being a food guy, for many years Nashville was a scarce place to be. There were a few good restaurants and I really enjoyed the meat and threes, and going out to Ashland City for catfish, but I didn’t even think there was a lot of great Southern food. I’ve been here since ’75. When The Palm opened, it was a revelation for the town. The boom has really been in the past five to ten years. Nashville is a great place and it’s only going to get better and better.
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