Kevin Naderi was born and raised in Houston, Texas and opened his first restaurant, Roost, at the age of 25. His culinary roots are planted deep within the Bayou City. Naderi cut his teeth working at Picholine, Madrona Manor, and Houston favorites Brennan’s, Soma, Haven and Saint Genevieve.
Roost is an intimate 50-seat restaurant, located in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, and features a rotating menu inspired by flavors from the South, Asia and Middle East. Chef Naderi uses seasonal, locally sourced ingredients from local ranches and farms like Broken Arrow Ranch, Old School Produce and GH Urban Farms.
Roost opened with fanfare, garnering attention from Houston’s fickle foodie flock, to critical acclaim from the Houston Chronicle’s Alison Cook (among many others) and ultimately landed Kevin Naderi on the short list of Food & Wine’s Best New Chef Southwest of 2013. In addition to the Food & Wine nomination, the Persian-American Chef was a finalist in a Season 2 episode of Guy’s Grocery Games, is the retired four-time winner of the Houston Press Menu of Menus Iron Fork Competition, was the winner of the Beat Bobby Flay “Stop, Drop and Roll” episode in 2016 and was most recently named the winner of Super Bowl LI Kitchen Throwdown with his teammate and former NFL Pro Bowler Takeo Spikes. Chef Naderi has consulted on the food menus of restaurants like Saint Genevieve in Houston and Jack & Ginger’s in Austin.
Kevin Naderi is also an active member of his community and volunteers with several charities including the Houston Food Bank, Urban Harvest Farmers Coalition, Beacon Homeless Services, and the Recipe for Success Chef Advisory Board — a group of chefs who donate their time to help children learn healthy eating habits.
Where did the idea for Roost come from?
Roost was an endeavor that I came up with on the fly while trying to move out of my parents’ home. I was 24 and consulting for restaurants and bars at the time when I saw an apartment listing on Craigslist. I went to view it and there was a cafe attached that was serving Cuban food. When I asked about the apartment, she told me the whole building was for sale. I discussed it with my parents and we crunched some numbers to see what would need to happen in order to be profitable while also painting the property. One month before my 25th birthday, we opened the doors and it’s been great ever since. If I wasn’t to open Roost, I was actually looking at doing a taco truck. In hind-sight, I’m very happy I didn’t. These Texas summers are brutal!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day includes spending a little time with my dog in the mornings, walking and feeding him. I also try to do a small workout when I can. After that, I’ll sit down for an hour or two and answer emails, pay bills, etc. I’ll try to squeeze in a lunch with friends or a lunch meeting with wine vendors, anything like that. I’ll go check on Roost right before opening and do POS closeouts, check on orders, and taste sauces and other items on the line. I usually stick around into the first part of dinner service and then I’ll call it a night. It’s nice to stay productive but I can’t lie, 15 years of cooking and 9 years of running Roost, you get a bit tired. It’s nice to make more time for myself, my family, and my girlfriend these days. The dog is also my sidekick, and he’s super spoiled.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I like to research restaurants everywhere — within the country, around the world, but especially other local spots in my community to see what others are doing. It’s not just for my own motivation, but I also want to avoid doing similar items or fads. Roost has been pretty original when it comes to our menu ideas and luckily, it’s paid off. We change the menu every 5 weeks and we usually roll things out without needing to test them too much. Then, we tweak the items based on customers’ opinions within 48 hours.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Trends that excite me these days are ones that are more feasible and sustainable. I don’t think certain ingredients get to me as much as concept does. I like regions of food and working with individuals that are passionate about what they do more than maybe a piece of pork belly everyone’s cooking or a certain vegetable, etc.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
A constant habit I have that I feel has helped my success is being somewhat OCD. I’m constantly telling my staff the same things so they get it stuck in their heads. A server needs to think like a diner and know what their needs are while they’re at our establishment. What would you like to see? To hear? To feel? What would make your experience worth the money you’re spending? That’s something we talk about quite a bit.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Learn to delegate respectably. Don’t ever tell staff or coworkers to do something that you wouldn’t also do yourself. No one is more highly-ranked than anyone else, no matter what a dumb title says. Everyone is working towards a collective goal. I’ve been known to sweep floors, fix broken items, wash dishes, anything when needed.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
At the end of the day, I’m just a cook. What we’re doing at Roost is feeding people, although others love to argue that we’re an institution of a restaurant and that we’re doing fun and wild things that no one else is doing. Anything can happen in this field and I’m just happy to be a cook with a little bit of instinct as to what people like and enjoy. I just try to instill that daily to my staff.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I would have to revert back to question 5. I think getting in a habit and being efficient with your time is very important. We work in a fast-paced field that is constantly changing and there will be hiccups along the way. People won’t always be happy. You just have to stick to your laurels and know that you’re trying to do something great.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
At Roost, we consistently listen to our diners. If something is wrong and I’m hearing about it on two or three different occasions, then it’s wrong. I’ll go back to the drawing board and fix it. The day that you think you’re 100% right is the day you are 100% wrong. You have to know that you’re constantly learning, trying to improve, trying to fix your mistakes, and growing as a person.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My previous restaurant, Lillo & Ella, didn’t take off like I expected it would. We were a casual, fun Asian-fusion concept in the Heights area of Houston with cool cocktails and a large patio. It did well for maybe a year before it started to nose-dive. We were told our prices were out of whack for the area and that the neighborhood was still changing. I honestly didn’t want to de-value my concept and change what I was doing, so I decided to sell it. It was definitely an eye-opening experience and really brought me back down to earth. I changed my whole personality and mindset on what was really important, and that’s when I went back to focus my full attention on Roost and my other personal concepts. You can’t be scared to fail though, it’s all part of the learning and growing process. It’s honestly made me a better person.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
This isn’t something new, but something that should definitely be improved. I think food delivery will obviously be a big wave during and after this pandemic, but it has so many issues and flaws — from inflated pricing by these companies to items being poorly packaged and handled before they get to the diners. A lot of times, food takes up to 30 minutes to arrive after being prepared, and food dies dramatically after 3-8 minutes of being plated. It would be nice to find some fun alternatives to keep items fresh, cost effective for the diner AND the restaurant, and also efficient.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The older I’ve gotten, I find myself spending more money for convenience instead of trying to save a buck. If I can pay a bit more but have something done faster or more correctly, I’m definitely doing that. A strong piece of advice I got when I was younger was, “You get what you pay for. Paying less, but paying twice, doesn’t make sense”. Whether it’s $100 or $100,000, do what you feel will relieve a headache for you in the future and stick to your decision.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I think the web services I use the most have to be Google and Amazon. From looking up news headlines to searching for a product I don’t want to drive across town for, they are both handy. Dining out? Search Google. Need to buy any item? Order it on Amazon and it’s here in the next day or two. The web can be a helpful place just as much as it’s a detriment. Choose wisely what takes up your time and what saves you time.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I don’t have a specific book to refer to, but anything on accounting and money management. I can’t tell you how many people I know who don’t know food cost, balancing a budget, taxes, or where to put their money once it’s made. You don’t want to bust your butt your whole life and have nothing to show for it. People should be constantly learning about their finances. It’s something I find myself trying to be stronger in also.
What is your favorite quote?
I’m not too sure who said it, but I know many have heard it and use it. A quote I definitely go by is, “Work smarter, not harder.” No one wants to do things the hard way, and things will get easier with repetition. How many times have we all assembled something without reading the instructions first, only to go back and do it the right way? That’s the exact explanation to this quote. Spend the extra time to do it smarter.
- Listen carefully to your staff and customers.
- Don’t be afraid to spend extra time and money to get things done the right way.
- Originality pays off.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.