How Sweet It Isn't: 'Grub for Gluttons' is Law Student's Recipe for Success
Updated: Forget cupcakes and cookies, a culinary alternative-career option that has offered the sweet taste of success to a growing number of enterprising law school graduates.
Noah Bernamoff was destined to cook up a different recipe for success. Taking a leave from Brooklyn Law School after his second year, he employed his legal skills to market what the New York Post is describing as one of the tastiest forms of “grub for gluttons” available in the metropolitan area.
The smoked meat poutine offered at Mile End, the new deli Bernamoff opened in Boerum Hill in Brooklyn earlier this year, is a decadent salty dish well worth the $11 price tag, according to the newspaper. It includes hand-cut french fries, cheese curds from a Maine dairy, homemade gravy and bits of Montreal-style smoked beef brisket.
The idea of opening a restaurant in New York with a Montreal theme came to Bernamoff, who is now 27, shortly after he started law school, as the global economy was going into a tailspin.
Recognizing then that “graduating from law school right now just could not be poorer timing,” he began casting about for alternatives, he tells the ABA Journal. “I was working really hard for something that just wasn’t going to be there for me at the end.”
As a Jewish expatriate from Montreal, Bernamoff was familiar with the Canadian city’s Jewish delicatessens and built his menu around the smoked beef brisket (similar to, but different from pastrami) that is a classic there. New York magazine provides a photo of one of his restaurant’s signature smoked-meat sandwiches.
Poutine, he notes, is a classic dish in Montreal, but not one that would be offered in a Jewish deli there.
Although Bernamoff believes in offering high-quality food prepared from scratch and has cut no corners on that front, he got the restaurant up and running at the end of January by taking a bare-bones approach to other aspects of the business, he tells ABAJournal.com.
Aided by his legal background and the confidence in his skills instilled by attending law school, he handled the commercial lease negotiations, design, permitting and general contracting for the restaurant himself. He spent his afternoons combing restaurant-supply stores for used equipment and drove to Rhode Island to get the wood he needed to build counters and table tops with the help of a friend.
“Ultimately, if the food is good, the food is good–it’s undeniable,” he says, and a good restaurant with good food draws customers. “It doesn’t matter if I bought new wood or reclaimed bowling alley, which is what I did.”
With money from his own savings and contributions from family members and friends, he opened what he describes as a tiny restaurant. And, when it garnered more traffic, right from the outset, than he expected, he also established a second prep kitchen in an industrial area to provide enough food so that Mile End could stay open for dinner.
A fortuitous connection with a fellow Jewish expatriate from Montreal also gave the new eatery a boost:
Discovering a Save the Deli blog, Bernamoff wrote and introduced himself, explaining that he was opening a deli. The e-mail resulted in a friendship with blogger David Sax, who also happened to live in Brooklyn’s Park Slope and, like Bernamoff, to have graduated from McGill University in Montreal. Sax pitched a story about Bernamoff’s restaurant to New York magazine, and that led to further publicity, the law student explains.
Four months after its Jan. 25th opening, Mile End has routinely been busy at breakfast and lunchtime every day, even at the beginning of the week. Bernamoff hopes the same will be true at dinner soon, which the restaurant began serving several weeks ago. He expects the eatery to be profitable before the end of the year.
His wife, who had been employed producing audio guides at a New York museum, lost her job there when the company for which she worked was purchased and downsized, so she now puts in a full day at the restaurant. This has been both good and bad for their relationiship, Bernamoff says: He gets to see her more than he otherwise would, which is good, but it can be hard to leave work behind and relax once they get home.
Although he feels that his legal education was worthwhile and would like to finish law school and earn his degree, Bernamoff says he was was never passionate about practicing law and has no regrets about taking a leave from Brooklyn to pursue the restaurant business.
Of the law school classmates he still keeps in touch with, he estimates, “80 percent are taking bar review courses without any prospect of work at the end of it,” like many of their compatriots throughout the country. And, had he stayed in school, he would be in the same position, Bernamoff says. “For that to be the case in a city that employs just tens of thousands of lawyers, it’s frightening.”
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Last updated at 8:38 p.m. to include additional comments from Bernamoff.