Kevin Goldfein started his hospitality career waiting tables in a Los Angeles restaurant in 2000. Since then, Kevin’s career has taken him from New York to Las Vegas and back to Los Angeles. Kevin is the founder of KBG Dining Group, which owns two Rosti Tuscan Kitchen restaurants (locations in Santa Monica and Encino, California.)
In 2003, Kevin earned a Masters Degree in Business Hospitality & Management from Cornell University. While at Cornell, Kevin served as a member of the Graduate Student Council, and founded two annual alumni events that are still held each year.
Following Cornell, Kevin served as a Food and Beverage Operations Manager at Harrah’s Las Vegas. He was also a Foodservice Design Consultant, a Restaurant Manager, a General Manager, an Operations Consultant and the owner of a small café in Downtown Los Angeles called Loose Leaf.
With The Loose Leaf Salad Company, Kevin developed and managed all aspects of his business from concept and brand creation to operations and financial systems, to location build-out. Kevin directed all business operations and sold Loose Leaf one year after opening to realize a 25% return on his investment.
In 2008, Kevin formed a new hospitality management company called KBG Dining Group that purchased a small chain of informal Italian restaurants called Rosti Tuscan Kitchen. KBG currently operates two Rosti locations that have served the Los Angeles community for over 19 years. Kevin directs all business matters for the restaurant chain. Within the last year, Rosti has completed a new restaurant build out for one location, a remodel for another location, a menu renovation, and total brand rejuvenation. Kevin has revamped Rosti’s catering division, and has recently added vegan, gluten free and vegetarian menus. Rosti is knows to its loyal following for delicious, informal Italian cuisine.
Kevin is active with local organizations like the Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Los Angeles. He is a founding member of the Friday Night Lights Boosters Committee at Harvard -Westlake High School (Class of ’95), a Board Member for the Montana Avenue Merchants Association in Santa Monica, a Board member for the Cornell Hotel Society of Los Angeles, and a member of the California Restaurant Association. Kevin earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan in 1999.
What are you working on right now?
Ramping up Rosti Catering.
In the past 6 months, Rosti has really ramped up our catering division. Not just in sales numbers but in a variety of different types of catering. Up until now, Rosti catering was almost 100% delivery and drop off for parties or office events, now Rosti offers catering for cocktail parties, weddings, children’s parties, private in-flight dining, and pre-game meals for college athletic teams. Rosti also offers Cocktail Service, Italian-Inspired Passed Appetizers, Seated or Buffet style service, and we can offer the ideal venue for 5 to 100 people to have a private or semi-private lunch, dinner, or cocktail event. We are eager to expand Rosti Catering further and the possibilities are endless.
Expanding the Rosti menu for people with all types of dietary restrictions.
In the past 3 months, Rosti has begun to offer Vegetarian, Vegan, and Gluten Free menus. The idea came about when I started eating healthier because of high cholesterol. I quickly realized that there are a lot of things on the Rosti menu that don’t have cheese and don’t have meat. Those items translate into vegetarian and vegan. Given the growing number of Gluten Free diners, we went one step further and brought in Gluten Free Pasta to offer a Gluten Free Menu as well.
Since Tuscan Food is based on simple ingredients made with olive oil and fresh herbs rather than butter and heavy sauces, offering these menus doesn’t change the style of our restaurant. Additionally, we prepare everything fresh on site. Our sauces and soups are house-made. Therefore, we can control these special menus and have confidence that when we serve a vegan dish, it truly is vegan.
But just telling people that we offer these types of items isn’t enough. We needed to train our staff both in the kitchen and on the dining room floor, and that’s why we offer a menu. We want people to know that the entire Rosti staff is trained to accommodate their diet, and that Rosti is a place where vegans and non vegans can eat together. If you’re a vegan and you have a friend who isn’t a vegan, you can both come here and [the vegan] can feel confident. Our kitchen staff knows how to prepare each item properly and our service staff is trained to look for clues. If a guest says, “can I have this without cheese?” a server will ask them if they would like to see the vegan menu.
Rosti is proud to be a green-friendly and locally driven restaurant.
Many of the mouth-watering dishes and gorgeous salads are made with vegetables from a nearby farm in Tarzana called Country Fresh Herbs. If you are lucky, you may just see the farmer delivering her beautiful produce herself in the morning. Rosti also donates all the of restaurant’s grease to a company that turns the waste into bio-diesel fuel.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The first thing I like to do is discuss the idea with as many people as possible, especially those who are affected by the new idea. I talk to employees, guests, individuals with a strong opinion, people with experience in the field, expertise, or a stake in the game. The more people we can brainstorm with the better, because you have to look at things from all perspectives in order to create something that makes sense to everyone.
Whenever I have a new operations idea, I speak to my Managers and staff members who will be affected. I present the idea and ask them to poke holes in it. When they can’t poke any more holes, or when they offer tweaks and changes to improve the idea, I know that the idea is stronger and that I have my team behind it. There is nothing worse than imposing something on your team that doesn’t make sense or sets them up to fail.
Once the plan gets going I like to make checklists. Each time I have a new idea I like to think it through first and then make a list of all the things that need to get done to complete the task. It is the only way I can stay organized. As long as I keep checking things off the list, the idea gets closer and closer to fruition.
What inspires you?
I look for inspiration in a lot of different areas. I go out to eat and read a lot (magazines, web sites, blogs, newspapers etc.) But most of all I like to meet smart, hard working people who are doing cool things. I admire innovation and ingenuity and when I see other companies that are smart and provide things that make sense it inspires me to do the same. We live in a fast paced city with a lot of options for people. You aren’t going to make it in business if your company doesn’t make sense to customers or your product or service is harder to use than the competition. Staying on top takes constant improvement and upkeep. The only way to find ideas to change and improve is by watching the other guy. So that is what I do. I keep my eyes and ears open to see who is performing well and who falls short.
I can get just as inspired by a bad experience as a good one. Sometimes I have a bad meal or bad service and I get paranoid that that could happen at my business unless we create a system or policy that ensures that it won’t. Protecting ourselves from failure is just as important as offering a new and improved product.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
I make mistakes all the time and try to learn something each time it happens. Whether it’s a new menu item that no one likes, a service error, or a system breakdown, small mistakes do happen. It’s important to react quickly to correct them and then review the situation to find the reason for the error. Taking responsibility and accountability is important to avoid making the same mistake twice.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Let customers customize their orders.
I like when my customers come in and change a menu item to be exactly how they want it. Many restaurants refuse to make substitutions or serve their food in a different way, even if a customer wants to eat it that way. First of all, I do it all the time in other restaurants, so why shouldn’t I let people make changes?
But most of all, I think that if you let someone have it their way, they will enjoy their experience more and will appreciate the accommodation.
As long as we have the ingredient on hand, I am delighted to go the extra mile to make someone really happy. I find that when we do this for customers, they often come back to our restaurant. And then if you remember the specifications the next time they come in, you’ve probably got yourself a regular.
What is one book and one tool that helps you bring ideas to life?
Tool: Microsoft Excel. I use it for everything.
Book: Numerous cookbooks, too many to list.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
The Founder of Eataly, Oscar Farinetti.
I went to New York last month and visited Eataly. Eataly is amazing! I love what they have done there to celebrate Italian food. I work to do this everyday. They have 60,000 square feet of Italian food specialties…and it is packed with people. It has gone beyond a food store, it is an attraction! Can you imagine 10 years ago if you said that one of the biggest “can’t miss attractions” for a tourist in New York is a supermarket…they would have said you were crazy!
But now that food and culinary adventures are becoming mainstream it makes sense. People don’t want to just sightsee anymore. They want to interact. What do people do when they go to a place like New York? They want to participate. They want to feel the city and enjoy everything it has to offer. Eataly is the perfect place. They can see food, taste it, drink it, touch it, ask about it, learn about it, and best of all, they can buy items to take home and cook.
It’s the New York version of the Ferry Building in San Francisco. It’s an attraction that also lets people indulge and interact. I would love to talk with him about his vision and his business. There are so many moving parts. I want to hear about how he manages them all.
What does it mean to be a neighborhood restaurant?
Rosti has always strived to be a neighborhood restaurant and a true part of the community that we serve. We do this by going beyond simply serving food to our neighbors. Rosti gets involved by participating in charities, local organizations, local schools and neighborhood events. As our communities have changed and evolved, we have evolved too. Instead of reacting to opportunities that come along, Rosti takes the lead by organizing, proposing and creating new events and new programs in the neighborhood.
In the last few years, Rosti has created programs with the Santa Monica Lifeguards, Santa Monica Public Library, Encino Little League and AYSO. We have committed food and donations to over 50 charities including the Southern California Special Olympics, The Concern Cancer Research Foundation, Americans with Disabilities, The Saban Free Clinic, Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles and the Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Los Angeles.
Each year we bring kids from local Santa Monica Schools to decorate our windows for Halloween and Christmas. The kids love it and enjoy bringing their families and friends to come see their hard work. This connection to the local schools inspired us to work with a group of parents in Santa Monica last summer to create a program called “Lemon 8 days.” Rosti helped put together a program where all Montana Avenue Merchants donated 8% of their weekly sales directly to a fund that helped save 20 teachers’ jobs in Santa Monica public schools. This program directly helped the same kids who come to our restaurant every week and eat our food. This type of involvement directly impacts our neighborhood and our customers.
How do you relax when you are running two busy restaurants and doing community work?
I try to have balance in life and when I have some free time, I get on the golf course.