The Pierre T. Lambert Podcast Transcripts: Michael Muser on Lessons From Working With The Top 0.1%, Starting a Three-Michelin Star Restaurant and Photography
Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Michael Muser. Michael Muser is a Director of Operations and owner of the Two Michelin stars restaurant Ever in Chicago with Chef Curtis Duffy. Michael is a 30-year veteran of the restaurant industry and an accomplished sommelier. He took a hands-on approach to his studies and spent time traveling throughout Europe, where he learned first-hand the winemaking process before coming to Chicago to join The Peninsula Chicago, as Wine Director and Sommelier.
The culinary world is a competitive and fast-paced one. It can be hard to keep up with the changes that come about so quickly, but this episode will give you some insight into what life was like for Michael Muser at just the right time: when he had an intense career in foodservice while raising his curious child during the pandemic.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
The Pierre T. Lambert Podcast is where Pierre interviews the best creatives in the world to share their tips and stories. Enjoy & spread the word to your friends about this podcast! Pierre T. Lambert is a travel & adventure photographer & YouTuber followed by over 600,000 people. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
#66 – Michael Muser on Lessons From Working With The Top 0.1%, Starting a Three-Michelin Star Restaurant and Photography – The Pierre T. Lambert Podcast
Pierre Lambert: Good morning. And welcome to the podcast, everyone. I hope you’re having a beautiful day and that you’re ready for yet another episode of the Pierre T. Lambert show. Today, we have another incredible guest. I know, all my guests are incredible lately, that has pushed boundaries both in my life and in the restaurant scene. And you’ll see exactly why in this podcast where we’re going into the restaurant scene to actually talk about creativity and photography and a bunch of things. I honestly think there is a ton to learn from my guest today. And my guest today is no other than Michael Muser. Michael Muser is a Director of Operations and owner of the Two Michelin stars restaurant Ever in Chicago with Chef Curtis Duffy. Michael is a 30-year veteran of the restaurant industry and an accomplished sommelier. Food & Wine magazine named him Sommelier of the Year in 2014. And Muser has worked side-by-side with Chef Curtis Duffy since 2009. Michael and Chef Duffy opened Ever in 2020, and Ever own Two Michelin stars for its first few months of service. Although it was in the middle of COVID, we’ll get to that. It’s a pretty intense story. His previous two restaurants with Curtis Duffy: Avenues and Grace earned Two and Three Michelin-starred respectively. If you’re unfamiliar to the Michelin star rating three is literally the same ground, the 0.1 percent of the 0.1 percent. Michael has hosted the annual Jean Banchet, I’m trying to mix like French and English pronunciation, awards, and lend his support to talents to the Grand Chefs Gala, both of which benefited the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Greater Illinois. In the 2016 documentary for Grace, filmmakers chronicle the creation of Chef Duffy’s former restaurant with Michael, including his role and its journey from concrete box to opening night. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime and YouTube new movies. And I’ll link it in the show notes, it’s a really great documentary. I highly recommend you to dig into it, especially after that talk I think you’ll get excited about it. So, Michael is also an avid motorcyclist and photographer, which is exactly how our worlds came to collide. Michael, thank you for being here, for taking the time. Your time is so precious doing this is crazy. Welcome to the podcast!
Michael Muser: Hey man, it’s an absolute honor to be on your show.
Pierre Lambert: Michael. Okay. Can you just give us a brief, brief understanding of how worlds came to collide because you’re the initiator, you’re the spark of that?
Michael Muser: How you and I collided was that’s a long time ago when my chef partner and I first got together, I very much kind of saw what he was doing is like this really fun kind of artistic factory. And every few days, this really cool food idea would come out. And you’d be surprised at how many things like show up and then just disappeared like days later. And you would go to the kitchen and be like, Hey, where did that go? That was delicious. That was elegant. That was pretty, it was, you know, this pink on this yellow and you know, who could not look at some of this stuff and be impressed by it? And that just disappeared so quickly, kind of bothered me. And so I got a camera which has been the bane of my existence ever since, trying to get good at this damn thing. I fell down a rabbit hole and said to myself, listen, it’s on me to make sure that each one of these pieces is seen in the way that, my chef partner wants it to be seen in all of the ways that it’s special and beautiful and unique. I need to figure out a way to capture that in a photograph. I mean, man, when I started this nonsense, we’re talking like 15, 17 years ago, Facebook was like waking up. Like it was just becoming this platform for which you could take these what we would now call NFTs. You could take these little pieces and show them to everybody. And really that was kind of the game, right? Who’s good at taking beautiful imagery of things that you create and putting them up on a regular and consistent basis to show everybody what’s going on inside your tiny little box. It became relevant immediately that tonight on the books, we might have 50, 60 people in the dining room, but I can take a picture of that thing. And 5,000 people will see it before we even open tonight. And that was special, right? that was kind of unique. Like back in its day, it’s almost sad to think about it. Cause like I hate Instagram so much now I get so frustrated because I think, I feel like so much of the stuff you put up now doesn’t get to the audience that you want it to get to the people that you want to see your stuff. I sometimes get frustrated. I don’t think that they’re seeing my things and I want them to see it so badly, but I’m not in charge of that stupid algorithm. So, I’ll take a back seat. That’s above my pay grade, but that’s how my life and taking pictures kind of got started. And then since then, I’ve just become obsessed with photography and photographers. And intern as YouTube has grown up and that YouTube space has been filled by people like McKinnon and you. You guys are inspirational, man. You give us a voice and we come to you when we need to figure things out and we come to you and we’re exhausted from taking pictures and being buried in Lightroom for seven hours a day. And you know, we all love to listen to music and drink coffee and fuck around with photos. But like my God, sometimes it just gets so much. And then you turn on YouTube and you’ve got a 30-minute video on what to do when you’re banging your head up against Lightroom. And you just can’t seem to want to pick up your camera that day. So, I went after you because I of course started a silly podcast, and the people that I admire, I fight for them. And I fought for a conversation with you, stupidly. I didn’t send you an email, like a normal person. I just started DM-ing you on Instagram incessantly until you responded. And why? Because I love photographers. I love photography. I love what you do. I love what the community does. I just think that photographers are, there are most worthwhile humans to have walking around the planet sometimes, they really are, man.
Pierre Lambert: I would say it’s chefs who feed us.
Michael Muser: They’re important too.
Pierre Lambert: Have you seen the hungry photographer? This is not pretty.
Michael Muser: Yeah, I know.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. This is exactly what happened guys. So I received a DM and I was like, who is this guy? And then I saw that you sent me like five DMs before at different times. And I was like, « Oh, he’s persistent. » Which is great. If anyone wants to get a hold of anyone, you need to be persistent in a way. And that was something I remember. And then obviously we struck the conversation. You’re like, come on my podcast and I checked your profile. I’m like, but he’s a manager of a Three-star at the time, Michelin it’s a restaurant. Or I can’t remember exactly the sequence of events. I’m like, this is so confusing, but I love it. Let’s just go with life. And that’s how we get to meet and your story and what we started digging into were just incredible. I was like, « Oh my God, this is you doing something in an industry, like pushing the boundaries in that industry. It’s beautiful to see. » And there is that connection point with photography because you love photography, you share really good photos. And for anyone who hasn’t seen it, I actually went to shoot in the new restaurant. We’ll get to that in a second, but this is how this, let’s call it Chicago, and friendship started because we’re both here and we’re both trying to push whatever we’re doing.
Michael Muser: Yeah, a hundred percent. That for me, it’s uh, I’ve now lived in this city for a minute, 20 years or so. And I’ve always said that anything that I’ve ever wanted the city has given to me, it’s made me work my tail off for it and suffer endlessly. But Chicago has provided me that. And at every turn, even if you have to make it up, I make up the Chicago community. There was no real Chicago community between you and me, but I swear to God, as soon as I found out you actually lived in Chicago, I’m like, it’s over this, the guy’s on my podcast. There’s not a way. This is not fair. He can’t live in the city. I live in and I don’t know this guy, he’s on YouTube. He’s going crazy. I just so immediately I was like, I don’t care how many times I have to DM this dude. I want to have a conversation. I demand to have a friendship with this person. And however, and you know how friendships are these days, right? It’s all online most of the time anyway. Right? You probably have really good friends, checking in with each other digitally, texts, likes, comments, you know.
Pierre Lambert: It’s that. Yeah. That’s exactly true. I remember you were like, wait, you’re in my city. You’re shooting on streets that I walk every day around the restaurant. Like how come I never run into you? I’m like,
Michael Muser: I promise you, I wouldn’t be able to name the exact video that you did, but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. You made a video when you were in front of my restaurant and I’m like, “No, stop. Like he can’t be walking around the neighborhood and not come in.” Like it’s just too, it just didn’t make any sense to me. And so I made it make sense. I’m like this is over. I like taking pictures. You live in Chicago. There’s just no reason why we can’t build something.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. And even if I wasn’t in Chicago, I highly encourage anyone to reach out or like, yeah. I tried to respond whenever people are persistent enough.
Michael Muser: That’s the other part of it. That’s like, and I would say that too, like you want to get, like, on the real-world side of it, I have to say, I’d still be sending you DMS and for sure when you do that, there’s no offense like you can’t, you throw that out there and you know, it’s a message in a bottle and maybe it gets picked up and probably it won’t and you can just keep pushing. Persistence will win the day eventually.
Pierre Lambert: Absolutely. Okay. So, Michael, I have a bunch of notes and questions and I’m trying to guess, where are we going to start? Because there’s so much that we can dig into the stuff that relates with photography to just the creative mind and to how you work with things. Let’s just go with something like let’s step into feelings first. How did it feel? Do you remember the moment when you guys got your three stars with the Michelin?
Michael Muser: Oh yeah, for sure. It’s well, it’s just, as you described it, it’s like a very, it’s a very small percentage. So everybody’s filled with opinions these days, but the math seems to rule the day. And when you realize, I think at the time we were like one of 11 restaurants in the United States of America. In the whole country, you’re one of 11. So right away, it just takes a minute for all that numbers to sink in. And then for sure, I would hope that the next big set of emotions and was just an onus of responsibility, you know, not to bring it back to the Chicago thing, but instantly you’re like one of those things that makes a city proud, not just you’re not just a business anymore. You’re not just a restaurant, you’re now, it’s like a thing. It’s a thing that stands out. What do Three Michelin stars mean? It means excellence around every corner. It means precision around every corner, it means perfect first or die. Straight up, those environments are not for everyone. Lots of people think they want inside that they’re like, oh, that would be, the shit. Oh, he’s so awesome, I couldn’t wait to get in there. They’re like, “Nah, you don’t like that. You’re going to stand, you know, food runners stand like, like Nutcracker soldiers motionless for like 10, 15 minutes at a time.” And then immediately are called into play and have to move like rocket ships, you know, but almost in the way those Tron motorcycles move in the first Tron where there’s just you know, a left turn is an immediate hit, right? They move in that way, but prior to that, they’re completely just centered. They’re just, motionless. People think they love that kind of stuff. But when the rubber hits the road, these are very difficult environments. And when you get that third Michelin star and all that starts to sink in that this is not a game and these standards are made of concrete at this point, you feel a sense of responsibility, for sure. Yeah. There’s some glory there. We threw a raging party that night. It’s definitely even the most cynical of humans for which I usually find myself being, you go, « Wow, this is this big, this is crazy. Like, this is a really, really, really big deal. »
Pierre Lambert: I can’t imagine. And the reason I’m asking is can you just give us, imagine I’m told, like not moron but a lame person, not lame. I can’t find my word but imagine a totally outside of anything, restaurant. I don’t understand what Three-stars are, what Two-stars, how would you describe, or like find a pile to describe a no-star with a normal restaurant with Two and Three stars?
Michael Muser: Totally. I’m somewhat good at this. I get asked to do it a lot, right? So kind of like breaking down what goes on inside of our restaurant. I come from pretty normal surroundings, right? So, my parents, I usually like to talk to my parents in my head when I’m trying to describe what’s going on. Because my dad does not, are you kidding me? You know, he would look at a scenario like ours and go, why on earth would someone pay that much money? Because that’s kind of—
Pierre Lambert: Well, he didn’t grow up with 16 silver spoons.
Michael Muser: Yeah. Right. Not at all. You know, you take the average Joe or Jane, and I think what boils it down for them in the basic terms is it costs this much to have dinner there and they go, whoa, you know, what, what would be that? Well, I don’t even understand what’s going on inside of there. That would cost that much money, here it is: if you think of it from a standpoint of like a concert, you’re walking into a venue, we’re calling it a restaurant and onstage we’ll call the kitchen is an artist and look like all artists. We agree that they’re good at what they do or they don’t. Like, look, if you don’t think that that artist is that good, then don’t go see that concert. Right? But sometimes artists rise up and they go, oh, everyone, like on a level, everyone’s like, that is a voice to be heard. Now, this isn’t music, this is food. So they’re saying this is a culinary voice to be heard. This is someone who looks around each season, grabs amongst the ingredients, and puts things together in a way, in a tasting menu format that I would say, think of it as an album. And just like an album gets put together from a real musician, a ballad is followed by a rock anthem, which is followed by this song and that song because the album is a story from beginning to end. And so it’s not dinner because it’s a story that’s being told through some artists making culinary pieces that come out song after song. And some of them are pop hits and just taste delicious. And some of them are cerebral and weird and ask you to step outside your box and maybe rethink what you think isn’t great. You know, like, maybe it’s awful labor to you or whatever. And on a normal day, it’d be like, I don’t like it, but on this day, you’re going to dig in and go, why did they do that? Why did those two flavors get put there? I don’t understand that. It’s that experience it’s that you’re showing up on a night where this person’s going to play this album and you’re going to eat it. And then on the other side of it, from the service standpoint, you’re surrounded by an army of ninjas and every single one of them will take a bat to the head for you. Doesn’t matter what you want, you’re going to get it. It doesn’t matter what move you make. There’ll be someone there to assist. And we’re not weird about it. Cause we’re just hiding in corners, staring at the room, just waiting for you to need something, right? Excellence and service. I think often in restaurants will sometimes just boil down to the very simple anticipation of the need before the need is actually requested. Right? So you and I are sitting at a TGI Friday and your diet Coke is run down to the bottom and you’re now slurping the diet Coke. Cause you’re like, ugh, right? But if your diet Coke were to get down to the last 20% and then boom, another one shows up with like a fresh piece of lime in it. You’re like this place is the bomb. Service here is on point what’s going on, right? Your need was answered. You didn’t even need the next one yet. You didn’t have the opportunity to ask for another diet Coke. And it just showed up. My job is to do that. Like when you get out of the cab, find ways that the Three Michelin star motto carries with it, the onus to just blow you away all night long with what we simply around here called wow moments, right? Just go over the top where you stop and find normal, not okay around here. And no one comes to this place to our restaurant just because, I mean, some people do, but they’re very special. Most people come to celebrate. Most people are here for a big reason, you know? And I used to say pre-COVID, they’re like the city of Chicago had 20 billion restaurants. Now there are less, but there is still a lot. And as a diner, you can choose any one of them. And the fact that you choose us at our audacious prices at this price that it costs to put this show on. You chose me? No way.
Pierre Lambert: Can you give people a price range of like, what would their experience investment would be like?
Michael Muser: It’s like in the high two hundredths, like 285, 3-Michelin starred restaurants around the globe kind of depends on where you are, but yeah, they go from like we’re around that 280 to 325, 350. We float that area. It’s become crazy from the food cost standpoint, right? As everyone knows the inflation and the supply chain thing have wreaked havoc with everyone, but for sure, with the food produce industry as well. And you’d be shocked at what a banana costs and you know, all these things that come in the door, you’re like, are you kidding me?
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. It’s been a little funky. I was reading an article about that banana that I maybe they’re still charging you the same but look at the other items.
Michael Muser: Yeah. Or like an Alaskan King Crab legs. Insane. They were so expensive. And when you ask why, to the supplier, the supplier chain was telling me that no one’s fishing right now. They can’t get people to go out on the boats.
Pierre Lambert: Hmm. Interesting Yeah, Plus the fish shortage in general, that doesn’t help.
Michael Muser: Yeah, exactly.
Pierre Lambert: Who does, it might be a good thing for the fish.
Michael Muser: I know.
Pierre Lambert: They’re all resting and like having babies.
Michael Muser: Well remember when COVID first hit or whatever it was like in that first 90 days. And there were these photographs coming out of Venice and the channel water was crystal clear.
Pierre Lambert: Oh, it was beautiful. I remember. Yeah.
Michael Muser: I was eating those photos up on Twitter. I was trying to find everyone I could because you know, everyone that’s been there, you know, that water is doesn’t smell very good. It’s you know, it’s like, so to see it so beautiful as a picture taker, I was like, « Aw, I’ve eaten that up. »
Pierre Lambert: That’s insane. Okay. I’ve had the privilege of eating at the restaurant and for anyone who’s ever wondered, it is an experience. And that’s why I love to have you on the podcast because it’s something that a lot of people forget, you know. In photography, is when you interact with others, you’re actually giving them an experience, right? And that’s something I took from you a lot through our interaction. And even that being at the restaurant that was like, oh my God, how do they create such a welcoming ambiance, but not in a pushy way where it’s like in your face. No, it’s like you said, it’s like, it’s here. You just thought about it and it’s here, but not in a « Hey, you got to get this.” Or you know, it’s just like seamless and it made me think about even when I used to shoot with my clients back in Paris when I was doing weddings or portraits, I’m like, it’s all about the experience of the client gets, you know, the photos are the cherry on top of the cake. But if you have a great experience, you’ll probably get great photos unless you really suck with your camera, but then you’re not, you should probably start training there. But that’s the difference between a great photographer that gives you a terrible experience and that you’re going to be like, the photos are great, but this was so I’d never want to work with this guy again. Or, oh, the people who are like, oh, all my friends have to work with you because you’re so good. You know? And when I say good they don’t mean just a photo. I think they mean the interaction. And what do you feel like this level of excellence actually takes even from a standpoint, because there must be someone orchestrating that experience and how do you think about it? And when it comes to the restaurant, how would you translate that every day?
Michael Muser: Are you asking like, as far as what it takes to do it every day?
Pierre Lambert: To get the experience for people to that level for the customer. Like, how do you guys even think about that?
Michael Muser: Like going off of what you said, it’s obviously about the chef it’s obviously about the food. But no, it’s not. It’s not about the food, right? It’s just like you were saying the pictures of the cherry on the top. And that’s basically how the food is. That’s done. Like, I can’t control that the artist plays his music. If someone says, I don’t like this dish, I’m like, whoa okay. That, you know, you went to the museum and didn’t like that art piece on the wall. What it really is, what the experience is enveloped by and soaked in, is that what I always tried to lead with was is that what you kind of mentioned that sense of like warmth that you get in this, let me put it this way: the dining room is sexy, the chairs are like black leather. The tables are made of this amazing, matte black material. Like everything around you. If you’re a normal person, you’re like, Jesus!
Pierre Lambert: And if you’re a photographer, You’re like, oh my God, this is so photogenic.
Michael Muser: Totally. You’re like, I’m going to hit this. You’re like, there’s beautiful millwork and stuff. And we really went to town in the room. I don’t need to dump anything more on top of that from the intimidation standpoint or from the She-She-La-La standpoint, I don’t need to sheesh it up. The room is tight. The waiters wear nice suits from there on out. This is a simple process. I am here to love you, to care for you, to serve you, to meet you with a sense of Midwestern hospitality. Around this environment, that for sure is badass and is edgy and modern and clean and all the ways that it’s supposed to be. But we remind the team all the time. If you go out and pay this much money to have this lavish experience and you don’t have fun, what is that? Like, you didn’t have a blast? It’s the first thing you should say when you leave. And the food is not a part of any of that process, right? That’s all about experience and warmth and connection to your client, which again is exactly what you just said. Your connection and experience with your client on a shoot. The photos will be what they are, but their experience with you and that bond that you build, it takes about two and a half hours to have dinner at Ever restaurant. As a fair amount of time, for me to expect my captains, to develop some semblance of a relationship with their clients at the table, right? And also to we go, what kind of a fun note people up to know on the Michelin star front, is that a particular level? It was expected of us to kind of know something about you before you walked in the door. You’re not coming to me for anything normal. So for sure when you book, we check out your Instagram page. If you got one, we check out your Facebook page if we got one, we give you a quick Google and see if there’s any way we can bend or twist his experience in an unexpected fashion. That’ll benefit you. Maybe I go to your Instagram page and you’re like a huge prints fan, right? And that’s all you do is go to print stuff. and I have a captain on the floor that’s also a huge print fan. They’re not going to say anything, they’re not going to do anything, but there’s just a symbiotic note there that when we’re leading into service and I read to you and I go Pierre at 7:30, the Johnson’s are coming in and a fun note, Mr. Johnson is a huge prints fan and has been to the museum-like 12 times. It immediately as the captain, your bell was just wrong, right? Something there, you’re not just waiting on anyone now. You’re going to wait on this person. You’re expecting to come in the door. And that goes not just to dislikes or whatever, but you’re a principal at this high school. Okay. Well, cool. But what high school? What community? Where in Illinois? There might be someone who went to that high school. That would be a thing. Wouldn’t it? Like, these are just things we’re expected to know at a particular level.
Pierre Lambert: So it sounds like you’re seeing people like, not like clients, but just like people with their own story and who are coming to see you and just spend time with you. Just like you would feel friends, you know, you wouldn’t invite anyone in your diner, right?
Michael Muser: It’s a house, man. And you’re inviting all these people into your house. So you do all of those things that a good host would.
Pierre Lambert: I keep thinking like, damn, what if you created that for like portrait sessions or whatever, and like, I imagine you need a team to like pre.
Michael Muser: Bro, I walk into experiences every day, wanting to redo like all of it. All of it. Like I want to go to work in the auto industry as like some sort of like hospitality guy to like redo the experience of buying something like that. Right? Like as you mentioned, I’m a motorcycle guy. So I bought in a few bikes in my life and it’s like, you go, bikes are fun because they’re not that crazy, you know? And within the realm of lunacy, you see people driving a hundred thousand dollars cars. Like you go big on a bike and you’re out 25 grand. But in my world, that’s a lot of money, man. And you go and you buy the bike and whatever, and it’s okay if you’re lucky, maybe you get a pair of BMW socks with your bike, right? Like the experience of buying one of those things, it needs to be re-engineered, dude. The whole hospitality side of it. And it’s not that hard. It wouldn’t be that hard to do it, I don’t think.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah, no, I agree with you, It’s true. Like and I’ve noticed the difference between Ever and other Michelin-star restaurants, where we went to because Trina, my wife introduced me to it because she lived in London and all her colleagues were like trying stuff. And I was like, yeah, whatever, my mom cooks great French food, you know, why do I need that? And then we went, but there was always that very intimidating aspect. So you’re like, oh wow, this is a big deal. But then also the people made you feel like it was a little bit too much of a deal. Also, at least for me when I was there or it was overwhelming on the experience on the menu. Like, I remember my wife, barely started passing out at the dinner table and she had to be outside for 30 minutes. And then I’m like, are you coming back in? We’re still dating. You know, I’m like, are you going to come back in? And she’s like, no, I caught. I’m like, oh shoot. And I’m like, okay, I’ll eat your dessert and we’ll go. But I know there were way too many dishes. Everything was too much, you know, trying too hard. And the difference I felt there was, as you said, the experience was more engineered. I understand that the other might have done it, but whoever is your captain or whoever’s like and you have great energy towards, what making people feel welcome and that translate into the whole team. And so if you have a great artist and you create a great venue in the leisure show and everything, and people dig into the experience, I think it makes, Yeah. It’s just beautiful. So, yeah. I’m sending you a lot of flowers.
Michael Muser: Well, you bring up a lot there, but yeah, for sure, that experience on the dining realm, I’m no historian of anything, right? I don’t know what I’m talking about half the time I’m doing the best I can. Most everything is above my pay grade, but I will say that for sure, throughout the growings of the tasting menu format, this concert, right? Let’s keep that analogy. Like we’ve all been to plays that like at intermission, you’re like, Jesus really, there’s a whole nother half of this? We’re going to roll me halfway through this play. And I’m exhausted. I gotta get out of here, or concerts that were disappointing in that way. This can do that to dinner. Like you have to be very, very careful and some people are more experimental, we would say in that, right? For a while there, for sure. In the, I would say, I don’t know, I’m scared to say years, but like say the mid-2000s, 2003 to 7, like 4-hour tasting menus were not uncommon. These big, long drawn out, you know, my partner and I, Curtis and I, we decided a long time ago, like two and a half hours is the end time for me. I am not out for that. I’m just not. So we always try and experience or drive our experience to that two and a half hour hit, but I totally relate to that whole, “This is too much that are you kidding me? It’s still coming. Where are we at 17 more courses? Oh my God. Oh my God. Like, I can’t eat. I’m done eating. Where is this food going to go?” Like, I’ve been a part of those and they’re disasters, right? The other scary part about tasting menus is that the food doesn’t stop coming. It needs a rhythm and a cadence. And you know, diners are on their own. As far as their timing, their cadence, the room is moving. It’s breathing, it’s shifting in different areas. And it’s the restaurant’s job to keep everyone on this kind of rhythmic note, but they want their own specific rhythm, right? And so we have systems to deal with all of that, but I will tell you that even then, it’s very difficult, right? You have to have, what’s called an expediter in your kitchen and this person has to be a Maestro. I mean, they drive the whole thing all night long.
Pierre Lambert: Guys, watch the video. I’ll put it in the link below. There is someone who’s literally like making magic happen for everyone, it’s incredible. It’s like a chef doc, yes, Orchestra Maestro. It’s incredible.
Michael Muser: They basically, he will sit there, his job, mostly when a dish walks to your table, he clocks it and then you eat it as a client for as long as you want. Cause that’s you. But when we clear it, that time is also immediately clocked. And then we will come up. We’ll take that eat time, right? And let’s say it’s like 12 minutes on the first course, 14 minutes, second course, 12 minutes, third course, look, we’re going to work a cadence for you. And it’s your cadence. It’s not ours. We’re not doing work, you know? So you’ll have in our dining room, some people sit at five and leave at midnight, and then some people get there at 7 and bail at like 8:15, right? They just ate fast. That was just, their intention.
Pierre Lambert: Wait, I have a side question from that. What happens let’s say if you have a couple and it goes south into like, they’re arguing? Like, how’d you guys think about even a situation like that?
Michael Muser: Expo hears all. The expediter and that, that position we were just discussing, they have to hear everything, right? So if the table makes a move in any way, shape, or form, if the babysitter calls and somebody gets up, or there’s an argument that spurs at the table, for sure, the expo will be alerted. That’s kind of the good, the system is built. When I say system, I mean, captains back, waiters, food runners, floaters, the expediter, the chef de cuisine, this whole network of humans that are focused on the dining room. When one table blurps, celebrates, fights gets up, leaves a proposal goes awry for sure the alarm systems go off the restaurant is aware and ready to usher through whatever’s being presented. Does that make sense?
Pierre Lambert: Yeah, It does. I just can’t help but think about that scenario. I’m like, you guys in give them the chill cake. Yeah.
Michael Muser: Yeah. Oh no, for sure. I would be lying if I said I have not heard in the kitchen where it’s like, look, we need to pick it up on 12. It’s not good. Like, this is not going, this is not going good places. So we should pick this up. This is a date and it’s not, I’m hearing things we need to go.
Pierre Lambert: Interesting. Okay. Let’s dig a little bit into the origin story. How did you, because you mentioned your dad’s not into this, you didn’t grow up in this. How did you even fall into that world? Like what gets you excited about even getting in that industry? It’s so tough.
Michael Muser: Yeah. I went to college was mostly a theater geek for a good portion of my kiddom. if I ever did anything athletic, I was a bicycle guy for a long time in college. You know, I got steeped into road cycling for a really long time.
Pierre Lambert: Thus the motorcycle.
Michael Muser: Yeah. Its motorcycles are literally the old man’s road bike You’re like, I’m not putting in 80 miles today, but I’ll put in 500 on that machine over there. Yeah, for sure, dude. It’s the same for you. It’s shocking how similar the two are. I mean, if you ride bikes, competitively, and then you get on a motorcycle, you’re immediately overconfident. You’re like, oh, I know this game. No, you don’t, but you need to be careful. And then I waited tables for the longest time because you always need money, right? If you’re going to be some struggling actor guy out of college or whatnot, I’m originally from California and I went to school in Northern California. And then when you graduate college, it’s like, I went to school at Chico State, you know, those small college towns, when you graduate, it’s like, get outta here. You know, the college is the town and if you’re not a student anymore, it’s like, oh, I should probably leave now. Because I was happy in Northern California, it was beautiful up there. And then, I worked in restaurants to just basically pay bills and I got bit by the beverage bug. And you know, I think you get to a particular age, you’re waiting tables. You’re like, yeah, this ain’t going to last. I can’t do this forever. I became super interested in wine, fell down that rabbit hole for, oh God years, man. That’s like a dangerous one. Be very careful because when you make a decision where you’re like, I’m going to understand this topic and I’m annoyed, I basically got annoyed with the idea of wine, working in the hospitality industry, and dealing with it. It just became very frustrating to me. And if you set out saying, I want to know it, I really want to know if you’re in trouble because that’s going to take a long time. And it did, it took years and years to just work my wine life out and hit a wall where I said, I’m done. I don’t need to study anymore. and I need to make a living at this somehow.
Pierre Lambert: Were are you studying on the side while waiting table? Or how does it feel?
Michael Muser: Yeah, for sure. There was a Starbucks, still is a Starbucks on North & Wells. And I had armies of flashcards, libraries of wine books and I would wait tables and steak houses and then go to that Starbucks because it was 24/7. I don’t know if it still is, but it was a 24/7 Starbucks. And you could study until five, six o’clock in the morning. And there were tons of students there and everybody’s cracked out on coffee. So nobody’s tired, right? It’s like three and four in the morning, Pierre. And everybody’s like, Hey, how are you doing? What’s going on, how are you tonight? You’re like, I’m good. I’m good. No one blinks an eye at the fact that we are all vampires. And I did that for the longest of times, and then started traveling and going to places and visiting vineyards and saying, listen, enough is enough that I’ve not been to Burgundy. I’m not studying and memorizing another Burgundian vineyard. And not have actually walked around. It’s so crazy, right? It’s like a mountain climber studying a mountain and being like, well, I haven’t been, but I know every crevice. I know every part, right? Cause when you go down that rabbit hole, you end up making flashcards on top of flashcards, right? It’s not just enough to know Gevrey-Chambertin and all the GCs you got to at least know the top 30 premier cruise. You got to know the village producers that are banging that really high-end level stuff that is just kind of off the radar, but they’re stuck in their section of the Burgundian pyramid. They ain’t never going to get out of it. So there’s Gevrey-Chambertin then there’s Gevrey-Chambertin. Your job is to know those cats. How do you know those cats? Memorize them. How do you memorize them? Make another flashcard.
Pierre Lambert: What would you bring bread at Starbucks, sorry to interrupt. Would you like to break bread, taste stuff at Starbucks, or was it purely theoretical and that’s in that stage?
Michael Muser: Totally theoretical. Memory like I, for me in the way my brain works, I just got to know it as a platform, I’ll build off that. I just need to be able to, when you say to me, “Hey, would you happen to know the native varietals of Corsica?” I need to be able to be like, yeah, but a little bit, a little and just hammer it out to you. When you, unfortunately, when you reached the end of that road, you realize you passed the general public, like six years ago.
Pierre Lambert: It’s like, it takes a short time to get to the 90% best. And then the top one percent is exponentially longer.
Michael Muser: You’re an expert on Italian wine. Congratulations. Like what did you study for a week solid? Like nobody, it’s so confusing. It’s such a topic that the general public is walking around half the time. They don’t understand Appalachian Law. Why would they, for God’s sake? They don’t need to know any of that stuff, right? Your job immediately becomes very clear. I have to communicate this stuff to someone who doesn’t know any of it
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Michael Muser: In a way that they get it, and fast, and the job of a sommelier, which is when I decided, look, I got to make money somehow. I started taking sommeliers in restaurants. I was in hospitality, but some liaise like, an older waiters job title for, I’m not that stupid. I deserve a little respect cause that’s got, you know, it’s just like, I’m just sommeliers are waiters, man. They’re on the floor. They’re in the pattern. They’re hawking, they’re literally just flying around the room, eyeball, and clients, seeing wine lists, open walking up. May I ask this? What are you in the mood for? What do you normally drink? Would you want to step outside that box? You know, assessing a price point elegantly without ruining someone’s night for their $12 bottle of Chianti they’re trying to buy on their first date or some shit like that, you know?
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. I dunno why Chianti is, so, so famous and yeah, that’s, besides the point, I much prefer multiple channels.
Michael Muser: Like, there are, epic renowned Sangiovese on the planet, you know, and then there’s, you know, this Chianti there’s this Chianti and then there’s Chianti. So, yeah, I don’t know. Where was I?
Pierre Lambert: You picked up the job as a sommelier. By the way, just a quick question, because I think for anyone international, they might be interested. Did anyone require that you had some kind of certification to pick that up?
Michael Muser: All along the way? Yes, all the time. So I studied formally with like a traveling circus of Canadian sommeliers, that would come to a city and pitch camp teach classroom time, which is still very, almost unheard of right? Actually, I needed somebody to help me make sense, like give me some sort of foundation, right? And so I went to a conference and I met this guy. His name is Wayne Gotts. And this guy was like that professor in high school where you’re like, yeah, yesterday I was a theater major and now I’m an African history major. You’re like, this is, I’m doing this, for sure. And Gotts was definitely, my guy and so I studied with them for like three or four years and then taught sommeliers for a few years after that. Mostly because like I said, there’s nowhere to go with the information. So like, if you can assemble me a room of 30 people that are like me five years ago and one every little squirt, then we can sit in this room for seven hours and talk about the Burgundian pyramid. And we’ll destroy this place for a while but those people are few and far between, man.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. I can imagine like that many, wait, so what is the first time you actually went on the ground with wine yards? And how was that experience after studying so much under Wayne or like,
Michael Muser: So most of the time when people like when studiers go into the vineyard or whatever you think it’s one way, and it is you very quickly understand this is an agricultural product, like all the others and you are slapped in the face with the reality of it, right? I’ve always said that like my experience is when I’m at wineries, is humbling because it almost becomes humorous that this thing ends up in like this uber fancy restaurant being decanted by this like half snobby sommelier or what, you know, because it is literally an agricultural product. It comes out of the ground, man, there’s bugs and rats and mice and snakes and there are tractors and stuff, getting moved everywhere. And there are canisters of sulfur and pumps, tanks, hoses. I mean, it’s you know, it’s chaos, and beautiful all at the same time, it gives birth to this universe of debate over winemakers, their hands in the product. How much is too much, use of particular items to make the wine stable, winemaking philosophies, Cooper Ridge barrels, Jesus, you swim in it, right? You just, you absolutely swim in it. Viticulture versus viniculture is what we do in the vineyard versus what we do inside the winery. And the process of making it versus the process of actually growing what’s out in the vineyard. Two totally different worlds in a sense, but the universe is amongst themselves, right? My experience in that world has only humbled me and sent me back to whatever dining room I was in. Like, whoa. You know and sometimes levels your sense too. Sometimes, you know, you make gods out of certain things and then you go there and you’re like, oh, I get it. You know, like as this, for example, you might laugh at this, as a student sommelier, right? You study champagne like a crazy person. And in the deep carved out, clay cave network that sits underneath the hillside, of the region of champagne, the wine is stored while it goes under secondary fermentation inside of the bottle. I’m not explaining any of that, but all that anybody needs to understand is a sense of like a dust settlement starts at the bottom of the bottle. And there are these old men, they say that walk around these cold caves in champagne, they’re called Riddlers. And they walk up to the bottle and shake it two or three times turning it to the right or to the left. They have some like motion that they do. And when they’re finished, they’ve angled the bottle up a little bit causing that dust settlement to make its way slowly towards the neck of the bottle. This is the story, as it’s told the ancient Riddlers of the caves of champagne, but then when you get there, you see these massive machines, right? Picking up cages of bottles that house like 900 Veuve Clicquot bottles. And they’re being turned by this massive artificial intelligence machine that turns this massive, you know, a box of bottles over little by little. You go one way, you come back with a sense of reality. You don’t see all of those bottles of Veuve Clicquot at Costco by the hands of Riddlers. It doesn’t happen that way.
Pierre Lambert: That’s amazing. It sounds like it’s almost like you took that kid on that writing. Doesn’t it? And then you showed him all the machines and how the characters are only half painted, you know?
Michael Muser: Right, you know what’s funny is we just went to Disneyland, not that long ago with my 4-year-old for the first time. And I’m from California, not too far down the road. So I’ve been a bazillion times and I had lots of experiences going to that park, but I hadn’t been in a while and going back with my daughter, you’re dead on, dude, you go on those rides. It’s just black lights. That’s all there. They’re just using black lights everywhere. Like 90% of the rides are that glow-in-the-dark paint and black lights. It just totally blinds the eye. All you can see is what they want you to see. And I was like, going on these rides, I’m like, these are legendary rides. The Peter Pan Ride is a legendary ride, but it is, I bet if you turn the lights on, you would just be like, oh my God. You know, some of the characters, Pierre are like a board, right? They’re like a painted board. It costs like $200 to get in there now. It’s just a black light with a swivel board. I’m like, what is that? It’s still amazing. I love my time, but,
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. Okay, so you’re deep into the sommelier, you finally tasted the ground. Like, it tastes disgusting. It’s not what you thought, but it’s cool at the same time. How do you weave into that?
Michael Muser: I ended up taking a job here in Chicago as the wine director of the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago, exactly. Your response was kind of like why I took the gig. It was like, I kinda was at that point where I was like, look, I don’t know if I’m going to do this, I got to be good at it. And if I’m going to be really good at it, I got to go to one of those crazy institutions. I got to get one of those jobs. And that’s where all the accreditation and stuff would kind of get you in the door. But just as you were saying before, with experience and connection, like, to get a job at one of those hotels, back in the day, it was like 12 interviews. You were making it through that process with credentials. You’re not getting through some of those people with credentials. You need to not only have the smarts, but then you need to showcase a sense of management, a sense that you can make your way working through hotels or big, big monstrous animals. And I didn’t really know any of that at the time. But once I got my gig, it became very, very clear that like, wow, this thing is monstrous. And I have the ability to sell a lot of wine. I mean, I can really start pushing products around a banquet department gives you this like epic, oh man, you can swing hard and just be like, well, let’s sell this. You do that through your relationships with the distributors, you know, a sommelier in Chicago, Illinois, or in the United States, you don’t have a lot of the choices you get to choose from are the ones that are brought into your state via a network of distributors who import that wine right into San Francisco or New York and trucking into Illinois. They pay for all of that. They do the deal in Italy and buy the Chianti there and put it on the container and get it to the States and then get it to Illinois. And then I can say, oh look, I found a Chianti yesterday. That’s really beautiful. You should come and taste it, right? So when you see yourself that far down in the decision-making processes of the sommelier, you’re like, damn man. You know, we’ve been lucky in the past in Chicago where we’ve had an army of distributors that have brought like rainbows of flavors to the city. And by that, I mean like small appellations in the Lamar Valley that you’re not, you know like they dig, and they work with the right importers, but COVID is really just kind of had its way with that, it feels like. And dispersed my wine world in a pretty big way. But anyway, I worked at the hotel for like six or seven years, and then it was there that I met, Curtis, Chef Duffy. And he and I became friends very quickly. And that’s when I really started shooting food on a, Hey, I’m going to get better at this, or I’m gonna die trying. And from there, we split off and opened our first restaurant together, which is called Grace and that lived for five years and then it died. We opened a business, but we didn’t own the business. And then we weren’t happy. And the door was the only way out, we had to leave. And that was soul-crushing, man, like awful.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. I think a lot of people are curious. I even asked you those questions offline. Like when, around a few times we met, I was like, how, does it work? Like restaurants are like venture capitalist-backed startups in a way, or because I know some of the restaurants are super expensive to run.
Michael Muser: Oh, totally.
Pierre Lambert: You have so many people.
Michael Muser: First, I should say that I was listening to one of your podcasts. It was a couple of ago and you were talking to a friend of yours and you were talking about branding, and then you had brought up a point to him where you’re like, well, I wouldn’t want a brand after my own name, because then I’m eventually going to sell that brand. And then I don’t want it to, you know, that way, this out in the other. And I had the exact same, response to that comment that your buddy did. I was so happy when he said to you, he goes, « Oh yeah, you think of that stuff. I don’t think of that. I wouldn’t have thought of or whatever. » And as you asked me about how these, how restaurants get financed, and how the artists are almost never the rich people in the room that have that money to go, let’s get this thing started, right? That’s just not, that’s not how this goes to your point and your friend’s reaction. I say to you that like everyone needs to understand chefs don’t have a course in culinary school on how not to get totally screwed by someone who is well-versed in the business realm. Well-versed in how to construct membership for LLC 101, Pierre. It doesn’t happen. They don’t get that. I didn’t get that. My dumb ass graduated from college. I didn’t understand, the first one that we went through was a full-fledge lesson. The worst way to learn it ever.
Pierre Lambert: Which is the best if you want the lessons to stick.
Michael Muser: People in business will sometimes be like, yeah, you’ll live to really thank that person you know, I’m not there yet.
Pierre Lambert: Not yet, not yet.
Michael Muser: I have forgiveness and stuff for me, but you don’t get that training. And so that process for us was big lesson learned in that. And sorry, back on your question, how does it get started? So we got kicked to the curb, we were down and out. So I’m pretty well versed in how to start it. I mean, you want to hear like stories, but it’s good to email this together. Sit down, grab your phone, look through it. Find the people that you think would be down for something like this. Get an email together, a serious one, send it out, and start tapping people on the shoulder consistently. See who bites. They’re not into it, they’re not into it. They are. They are. And I had to hit the street. Ooh, who doesn’t like asking people for money? Me. I hate it. I hate, oh, it’s the worst. And I had to do it. Yeah. So then eventually what happens, Pierre is that, or eventually if you’re lucky, I guess I should say, You come up with a, you make a business plan, you hire a lawyer, you sit down and you go, « Okay, listen, this is what I think our deal should look like. » You put a proforma together that says what the business will produce from a financial standpoint, it’s all lies. It’s all assumptions, right? But you’re like, look, if we do this many covers, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, this many covers on Friday and Saturday, we charge this much. This is what it’ll generate. Put that pile of money over there. And then this is how we’re going to divide it. That’s in a document and I give it to you because you have lots of money, right? Everyone knows you’re rich. So you look at it and you go, listen, this is cute. I like this idea. What if? And I see the raise. I see what you’re trying to build here, what if I come in for boom, what if I did this? Would it change the deal for me? What if I came in for this? Would it change the deal for me? What if I came in for this and wanted to call myself a capital P Partner and have a say so in stuff. And be able to position me to correct things if they went awry, right? This is divorce talk here. And it’s done with lots of lawyers in the room and there are shitty conversations to have. But from my last experience, we were having these conversations and these go all the way into the bizarre world of like, what if Curtis dies? What if the chef dies?
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Michael Muser: You ride motorcycles, that’s not out of the question.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. I mean and he’s living, so he will die eventually.
Michael Muser: Right? What if he dies? What if you have died, Muser? What’s going to happen? Well, you know, who’s gonna run the show. Who’s going to mouth off all the time. You have all these conversations. And so in our case, we took on this legitimate partner and made our raise through other entities, through other people, and put this agreement together. And it’s a massive agreement. It’s got psychotic amounts of ‘say so’ in it. They’re ridiculous documents. I don’t know anyone at a certain point, like my wine knowledge, it was super sharp. At a certain point, you could have asked me the interior details of all the aspects of my business agreements and I could have crushed it, right? But I’m not in that mode now, I’m operating. Now, you asked me what deliveries are coming in. What employees are upset, or what’s got to go down to make next week work I’m in that world, but I’m telling you, I remember walking through it and it starts there. It starts with putting people in the room and then everyone gets it once everyone’s like, I want to be in this room. Then you basically put the word fair in the middle of the room. And everybody starts walking towards that word with good intention, always with good intention, but you’d be surprised how you got to say some pretty crazy shit in those moments, man, you gotta be like, » Oh, I’m going to have to dig my heels in on this one, guys » I want to be able to do this. This is important to me in this deal.
Pierre Lambert: What would be one or two things that surprised you the most that people wanted to say, or maybe ownership over, or that is something you did not foresee?
Michael Muser: That’s a really good question. I mean, the knots in the rope are many, uh, rights over social media. Right? Like the business is a thing, but it’s a thing based on us. And what I do in my time on social media affects everybody involved. Everyone in the room right then and there Pierre would be like, listen, Muser, don’t get upset. We all know you’re a good guy. We all know you would never, never do anything to upset someone, we know that. But we also know you talk fast. So maybe there should be something in there that says, if we need to, we can intervene in that way or what, you know it gets weird. Sometimes does, but, you know, as grownups in the room but it’s part of it, man. It’s like from the entrepreneur business pushing standpoint, I’ve been that boots on the ground. It starts with your phone and email lists, hustle, and grinds in finding those people, putting them in the room, pitching. Oh, man, it’s war. I always say it’s like, in the launching the Spruce Goose, you know, just at the end of that Leonardo DiCaprio version of that word, just that thing. It just so hard to get it, to take five inches off of the water. But, got to do it.
Pierre Lambert: Did you feel ready when you left the Peninsula to go on a genetic that or were you seeing yourself as a manager or like a director or, were you like, Hey, you’re good. I’m good. We’re going to make something.
Michael Muser: I mean, I was confident in our ability to do all the restaurant stuff but I was scared out of my brain. I left a consistent job. I mean, here I was the wine director of the Peninsula, okay. Like it was a nice gig, man. And I loved my family there. And step out into this? They’re going to hire, they’re going to replace me, I’m never going to get this gig again. I kept thinking to myself. But we jumped in wholeheartedly, especially once construction started. And you know, it’s just one of those things. And once you’re on the ground, it’s like, this has to win, man. This has to win, has to work.
Pierre Lambert: Interesting. I keep thinking about that moment where you’re like, okay, did anything help you make that decision of quitting or do you know what it boils down to?
Michael Muser: Curtis, my partner. Yeah. I think that he has a way to kind of push me around pretty good when he knows he needs to. He’s like, we’re all where everyone that, you know, if followers or whatever watch the documentary, you’ll see that he’s a guy of very few words. I’m a guy of way too many. So when he pulls me over and hits me with something, I usually know it’s important. And there was no way at the hotel he was done. He was miserable at the hotel. You know, there’s a downside to that whole structure too, right? It’s like that they’re beautiful prisons.
Pierre Lambert: Absolutely. Which is why I quit too.
Michael Muser: Yeah, no, run your heart. Yeah. They’ll run your heart. And so he was dying to get on and move on to bigger and better things. And I went, so I was courageous enough to go, but I was for sure, scared, man. I was like, oh man, I’m leaving a good gig here.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. And I imagine that I mean, you didn’t have kids at that time, did you?
Michael Muser: No, thank God.
Pierre Lambert: If I fast forward, I kind of went in those, something around, if I’m looking at my notes, I was like writing about launching Ever, because I remember it was so beautiful and a little disheartening at the same time when we met, was Ever open? Or was it like, you guys didn’t even know when it could reopen. And I remember, So you create that incredible restaurant and you guys like really put your heart into it. And suddenly I’m like in the pockets and you’re like, no, it’s not open, but if we have a burger place here, I’m like, what happened? Like, just give us a quick bite of how the launch, when in the timeline was COVID because that impacted so badly.
Michael Muser: It’s good on the photography front too. So we get started on the restaurant, right? Funding done. It’s pre-COVID. Donald Trump is president for God’s sake and the economy is bullish. Right? Remember back, it was weird. You almost can’t remember pre-COVID, but it was like, everything was crazy. Trump was president, but the economy was, there was this confidence in it. It was just kinda crazy. So we made it through that. We started construction and I grabbed my camera as I always do. And because we’ve got an Instagram account and we don’t have a restaurant yet, I’m going to promote this thing, come hell or high water. You’re going to go on a ride with me. You’re going to follow construction every step of the way. I would never go to the site without my camera, man.
Pierre Lambert: Which I love. I absolutely love that’s something you still do now. And when I look at your account, I love how you document just do everything.
Michael Muser: For sure one of my favorite aspects of what we do. So we’re going along and we’re building and I’m posting, getting there. We’ve got like, you know, 15, 20,000 followers and we’re not even open yet. So I’m super happy about that. And then COVID hits about halfway through construction and the world shut down and the way that it did and you know, weirdos like you and I hit the street and just start taking all these zombie apocalypse shots at downtown shy.
Pierre Lambert: Love that asset.
Michael Muser: That was the best dude. I was eating your videos at that time too. Cause I was just like, where’s he going to go tomorrow? Cause I was creeping in alleys and you could just stand in the middle of Michigan Avenue and shoot whatever you wanted.
Pierre Lambert: This is crazy. I remember Trader Joe like empty, nothing to sell.
Michael Muser: So I come to my restaurant and I’m like, where is everybody, right? Because construction was an essential trade at the So now it’s a game of keeping the plumbers over there, keeping the electricians over there, and fighting our way through. But it weirded me out as a photographer because now I’m going to take pictures and promote this thing. This thing is a restaurant, but we are now in a world where no one really will believe you that a restaurant will ever be. Not just the one that you’re building right now. Now I look silly. Now I look like an idiot. Look at me on building this fancy restaurant, everybody. Everyone’s like, are you— and every time I posted here, I was like a sense of embarrassment, like, confusion, right. It was the weirdest thing to do to promote it and shoot it and edit pretty photos of a thing that everyone thought—
Pierre Lambert: What’s going to kill you.
Michael Muser: Yeah,
Pierre Lambert: I go to if I go there and I pay I’m going to die and come back as a zombie.
Michael Muser: Restaurant looks cool, dude. I’m not dying to go there because I’m not like, it was just kind of like that. It was the weirdest thing, right? So then we got right when the restaurant was done, construction-wise, the restaurant industry was allowed to open to 25%. Twenty-five percent capacity of your dining room could be used. And chef and I looked at each other and we’re like, do we give a go? Do we do this with 25% capacity? And ultimately we went, we opened, we hired a team. We went through the weirdest orientation. I mean, this is phase one COVID man. Everyone was, so—
Pierre Lambert: Yeah, we didn’t know. thought that we would die if we caught COVID at one point at the beginning, everyone’s like, oh my God.
Michael Muser: And I’m assembling a team of 33 front-of-house employees, 20 plus back-of-house employees. And we’re going to talk about standards, Michelin stars, food art. I mean, there were parts of us that were like, so happy to be there at times. Cause it’s like, at least we’re not in our apartments anymore or whatever, but mostly it was weird. And then we’re going to welcome strangers into our house and how are we going to treat them and how are we going to make them feel comfortable in this environment where,
Pierre Lambert: How close can you be to them?
Michael Muser: I got to treat you like, I love you, but stay away from you. I’ve got to offer you a hand sanitizer. Like it’s just was the weirdest thing. And then three months after they allowed 25% capacity, they shut everybody down again. And that’s when the real pain hits because you lay everybody off. Restaurants are fully the humans inside of them. That’s the end of it. If there are good people working towards something, you’ll have good service without your humans, you’re done, Adam. And I had to fire them all, furlough them. You know? And then they look at you and they go, what does that mean? It means you don’t work here. Till when? I don’t know. What? It means tomorrow we’re not open. And you and I are not going to talk to each other for an undisclosed amount of time. None of you and I like, I don’t know what, I can’t. They cry, you cry, brutal, dude. The worst. And then to survive, we started doing to-go experiences and I don’t even know a shitty enough analogy to give a photographer. Can you help me with that? I mean like, what would it be like. I don’t know, dude, imagine shooting something. You’re just like, no way. I’m taking pictures of this as a job. This is my new job.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Michael Muser: We hated it.
Pierre Lambert: Maybe Ikea photographer?
Michael Muser: Right? Because like, I don’t I want to say shoot rocks, but rocks can be beautiful. I would shoot rocks.
Pierre Lambert: I know maybe more like a manual to build the Ikea furniture here and take a photo of that piece.
Michael Muser: Anyone thinking that anyone restaurant that was doing to go to survive was having fun doing it. Maybe there were, I don’t know, but I didn’t know any.
Pierre Lambert: What was that Ever experiences to go?
Michael Muser: We called it Ever To Go. And the fine dining restaurants started doing these take-home experiences where you rewarmed aspects of the meal at home. And they were great. I mean, my guys are great, right? So the food tasted good and it was what it was. But this relied on people coming to the restaurant and picking up this stuff and then taking it home. And the generosity of Chicago is only going to go so far. I mean my gosh, this is like getting crazy, got so crazy. We ran out of money to a level where the partners show up. And I have good partners and they don’t show up. Because they love us and they’re like, we’re messing with these guys. And then they were like, can we talk? And I knew this was bad, and it’s the pandemic and it is all that it is. And there’s BPP coming, but who knows when that’s going to get here and the world’s on fire. And when everybody enters the room, despite our fine-dining pedigree, despite our careers spent at high-level hospitality, when there’s no money in the bank Pierre, it’s only a matter of minutes before someone says pizza or burgers.
Pierre Lambert: That’s interesting. I bet I can see how it happens.
Michael Muser: Dude, I saw it before it happened. Cause I was sitting in the room and I’m like, one of these guys, I even named the one that was going to do it, is going to say burger. And like three minutes later, we should just do burgers. I was like, here we go. We’re going to do this because I knew we would.
Pierre Lambert: Hey, hey, maybe if it had been a year later, you guys would have turned into the Ever COVID center.
Michael Muser: Exactly.
Pierre Lambert: I’d still be higher on the preference then.
Michael Muser: God, man. And so we turned the word Ever around, called it Reve Burger as exactly, and chef like that, right? Dream burger. He’s like, that’s kind of cute. I was so bitter at the time, Pierre I’m like, whatever, just please kill me right now. I’m yeah, exactly. We start selling cheeseburgers, and they sell to my chagrin, to my disappointment. They’re selling like hotcakes, man. Oh, I’m like, oh no.
Pierre Lambert: Your business lesson, then burgers. Oh, look, we’re making money.
Michael Muser: I mean, it’s just the worst idea of all time. So here we go. To long story short, the dining rooms are allowed to open back up a couple of months later and the cheeseburgers allowed us to make payroll, which is a big deal because three or four of these people that are on staff, I can not let go. They’re far too important to me. And so they’re so important to me, as a matter of fact, that I gave cheeseburgers a run. Like I just want, I accepted it because I’m not losing these humans that I love so much, in this restaurant. And so they opened restaurants Ever goes back to being Ever. Here comes the picture taker in me, the guy across the street from us has this big building and it’s a warehouse and it’s got a hood in it, a kitchen section to it, and he offers it to us to make the cheeseburger thing move across the street. As you would know already, I wasn’t really happy about the cheeseburger thing and I’ve got a gun to its head and I’m ready to kill it at any moment. When I go see the warehouse and it’s like a legit big warehouse, and immediately I’m like, there’s a scrim over there with a photography studio on the corner. For sure, I could do that. And over there is this old bank vault with these two big crazy doors. And I bet I could turn that into a podcast studio in about 30 minutes. And here I could put a big lounge in the waiting area with a bunch of TVs and stuff. And so believe it or not Reve Burger becomes this huge hero for me because it provides us an opportunity to kick a concept around a little bit in a mostly inexpensive environment where I can manipulate to take pictures, do portraits, shoot food, like, you know, nice it is to just have a light set up then just put the food in front of it and not have to throw all this world together, every time.
Pierre Lambert: Oh yeah. If anyone listening, if you’re able to create anything consistent, like where you don’t have to think about it, then you just use it. It’s so freeing.
Michael Muser: It’s amazing you that you can put something down and like count on the light source and be like, I know what this does when I put food in front of it. I don’t have to worry about what time of the day it is, or if we’re in the kitchen or in the hallway, or you know, I’ve spent so much time doing that my whole life. And when you know, this situation with this warehouse isn’t going to last forever. And when it goes, I’ll lose that little gift, but I take advantage of it as much as I can.
Pierre Lambert: Is it still running?
Michael Muser: Oh Yeah.For sure. It’s there as long as the gentleman who owns that building is one of them, Chicago builder guys, and he’s got big plans for the lot and it doesn’t include the existing building that’s there, which is why he’s so sweet to me in allowing me to kind of like, parasitically take over sections of the warehouse and build photography studios I’m really not supposed to be. He’s just kind of cool.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. That’s really cool. And to anyone in Chicago try the burger as a really good, yeah, I bought them after the podcast. We brought them back and Trina was like, « Oh, this is really good, we should get some more. »
Michael Muser: Yeah. And kind of a halfway secret note as the end. Like, it looks like a walk-up window thing, but you actually kind of can go inside and sit down now and it’s pretty fun inside.
Pierre Lambert: Oh you can now?
Michael Muser: For sure you should come. It’s like a demented Pee-wee’s Playhouse now on the inside.
Pierre Lambert: Cool, I’ll come tomorrow.
Michael Muser: For sure, dude. I got you.
Pierre Lambert: It’s only minus 23 tomorrow. So we’re going to go shoot at the lake.
Michael Muser: I know. Oh, you know, what’s happy town is that I leave for vacation tomorrow.
Pierre Lambert: Oh, perfect.
Michael Muser: Maui.
Pierre Lambert: Oh, it sounds terrible.
Michael Muser: Let’s see if we finally get there.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. You’re leaving at the right time just to get a breath of warm air and remember that life doesn’t have to be so cold forever.
Michael Muser: It’s going to be freezing tomorrow in Chicago, dude.
Pierre Lambert: I know. We’re going to go shoot. So wait, Ever is running and how is it running now for you guys? Is it like, are you clear? Are you back to business as usual?
Michael Muser: Yeah, I admire how organized you are when you’re talking. Now currently, because I just go in thousands of directions, we are operating when the CDC a minute ago said, take your masks off like that unleashed a flood gate of pent up « I want to go out tonight » energy, most restaurants that were still standing, I think, saw an abundance of that energy became very busy, very fast. Problem is, we didn’t have staff. No one had anyone anymore. And as I told you before, restaurants are simply the humans inside and whether you have good or bad service, too, it just totally depends on who works here how much do they care? And you got, And it has gotten to the point as an operator, you’re very unhappy all the time, because talk about doing to-go food, dish kit, food running, clearing tables. Your job is whoever didn’t show up today. That’s your job now. It has put a lot of the restaurants in a tailspin. And just made everybody kind of like, you know, who will salty cause you’re just not, and it’s hospitality-wide and it’s not just the hospitality industry. You know, everybody knows this, or at least, I would hope that everyone would know that all of our nurses and doctors just burnout is real on a very tangible level. And I see it sometimes it scares me when I look over at my chef de cuisine because three people didn’t show up today and the Mise en place on those dishes Pierre, it doesn’t matter. It shows that somebody is going to make all that. And you just, it gets sad sometimes, you know now, but we’re busy. To find a restaurant person that’s going to complain about being busy. You’re not, we’re not designed to do that, ever. Busy is not something you complain about, that’s something you
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. Especially after COVID.
Michael Muser: But then throw into this mix, somebody in Nashville, there was like a known chef in Nashville, left the business about a month or so ago. And he wrote a goodbye to the industry. Like op-ed in something and it hits social media and trended enough for it to pop on one of my feeds. And I read it and it was devastation, man. Because it was truthful. It was truthful. You know, he described the daily grind of a chef. People think that chefs cook, they do but mostly they clean. Mostly they clean, they fucking clean all day.
Pierre Lambert: Oh my God. Yeah. This is something people don’t see. Like oh my God, they think someone else does it. And then you’re like, No, like you cut something, you clean your knife, you cut another thing. You clean your knife.
Michael Muser: It’s why the pride of so many at the higher level is based on cleanliness. It’s why when you watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi, they did that ultra slow-mo of him washing his hands and wiping every moment. That is the epitome of a Michelin-star chef, right? You are your applause. And if a chef walks over and sees disaster chaos, or a set of unorganized skills going down, you’re going to get lit up because it’s not the standard, right? The standard is to be clean.
Pierre Lambert: Oh, my God, this is, great that you mentioned Jiro Dreams of Sushi because I literally finally watched it last week with Trina, it’s been Alison 2011. I heard it millions of times. I never ever watched it and, we finally got to watch it obviously went to check online if I could book a table, knowing that we can’t go to Japan. But anyway, I was like, oh my God, maybe you want, I want to go to the brother’s restaurant. I don’t, I’m okay with this one, but anyway, regardless. And it just shows you that like dedication, that patience, that like people think they’re inventing. Every day, but like 95%, I feel like being like excellent is being able to repeat gestures the same way and just being consistent and disciplined. It just blew my mind. I was like, oh, my God, this is exactly why I love Japan also because you will find that noodle guy that does udon the same way. And he’s going to be like so into the udon and that everything, the whole experience has to be perfect or you to taste it, you know, like don’t even think about using your left hand or whatever. It’s like, no, this is how you try it. And it totally reminded me of our experience at Ever. And we’re talking with Katrina were like, oh my God, Michael. And we’re like, ah, this is beautiful. But again, these are things that takes so long after being good at cooking. When we were talking before and I was saying, a lot of people think they want to be in that world and experience that very few, actually get into that swimming pool and go I’m down with this, this level of intensity, this level of scrutiny of everything I do in here, I thrive in this. I like this, you and I would know right off the bat, just the base description of that human there aren’t a lot of those.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Michael Muser: There aren’t a lot of those. And today due to COVID, there are fewer than ever before. So you asked me what’s going on now, we’re operating, we’re killing, we’re pushing, fighting, struggling. We need time to create, we need time for R and D, I can’t look at my team and tell them to get to work on new things when they’re buried in mise en place in the stations that didn’t show up that day or are not even there at all. They’re just taking on all this weight. So that’s my, I mean, I’m a negative person, so, you know, we’re happy in a million other ways. You know, we’re working, we’re alive. We’re here, we survived this pandemic thus far.
Pierre Lambert: I don’t think you’re, negative. I would say, you’re more realistic than negative. Meaning like you said, there are both sides. Something that shocked me or impressed me in the kitchen was how silent it was when I was shooting there. A part of me in my head photographer for the YouTube video was like, damn, it’s really silent. You, know, I didn’t even dare speak. And I was like is this going to be boring for the video? Like there’s no, one’s shouting, you know, and it’s just like seamless and like really quiet. And it was like, wow, amazing.
Michael Muser: I think it’s a hysterical concept. You doing one of your videos in an environment where you’re not allowed to actually talk about what you’re doing.
Pierre Lambert: I know it was so weird. I was like, all right, they’re going to, where should I do my end shot in the corridor in that room? But the kitchen that I don’t feel comfortable doing is in the kitchen.
Michael Muser: Twenty-five chefs working in complete silence, and then you turn your camera on. Good morning, everybody!
Pierre Lambert: That’s a disaster. I love shooting. And like, I remember I love the video we created either way, whether or not they could speak, which is great because it pushes me in different directions. You know, also it forces me to think about things differently, which is good creatively. Yeah, man.
Michael Muser: I thoroughly enjoyed having you in the kitchen and watching you shoot, because I got to just watch somebody else move and watch where you went, what you shot, where your eye went, what you thought was interesting, the moves you made, the shots you came out with that was bountiful, helpful to me. It was amazing. I loved it. I’m so appreciative that you did that.
Pierre Lambert: I love what you’re saying because it’s actually something I realize is we don’t have that in the photography world as much as you have it in the culinary world. For example, a chef will be with another chef and see how he works. And there’ll be in the kitchen with a lot of people seeing different things. But when you’re a photographer, it’s fairly lonely. I would say it’s a lonely thing. And if you get to work with a team, if you get to, yes you will see, but it’s not built by design to be very communal. And I feel like there’s so much to be learned because you’re like, oh, you use it. Like you said, « Oh, I didn’t think you would do this. Or why do you do this? » This is, you know.
Michael Muser: I mean, I’ll give you a perfect example is that you came into the kitchen and immediately started using reflective surfaces. And I was like, how have I not?
Pierre Lambert: It’s so clean.
Michael Muser: How have I not done that? I don’t understand like and then if you go to the Ever Instagram account after you left, I like four shots of me just using, just pulling a stainless steel edge or something into the left-hand side of the frame, and then whatever, just playing with it. So that not only is the chef plating on the right-hand side, but his reflection is there. And it was just, I immediately stole that I was like this guy, awesome shot.
Pierre Lambert: That’s why I make the videos.
Michael Muser: I immediately started shooting it.
Pierre Lambert: This is so fun. I remember Michael, I want to be mindful of your time. You’ll probably have to pack your suitcase for Maui or try to deal with a million things before that might be the latter more.
Michael Muser: I’ll tell you this, when I went to listen to some of your podcasts, I was so proud of you to go long format. And I was so happy to see conversations at an hour 20 and plus, right? This is that I’ve always believed that like, this is that format. Do you want your 15-second dopamine wack? Go to Instagram, right? Like, there’s a house for that. Use those, instant hits, but like podcasts at length is like, it’s always my favorite stuff that always happens at the end, anyway.
Pierre Lambert: But you’re wired like me at the end of the day. Say, how can we even speak in even a 10- minute podcast? Like, okay, you told me who you are and what you supposed to give me the highlight of your life? No, you don’t just like do peaks of mountains. You’ve got to start in the valley.
Michael Muser: Exactly. Exactly. I listened to a, do you ever listen to Visual Revolutionary?
Pierre Lambert: No, I haven’t.
Michael Muser: Oh, it’s super cool.
Pierre Lambert: I’ll write it down. Visual Revolutionary?
Michael Muser: Yeah, Visual Revolutionary. And it is a podcast, the guy’s name escapes he’s based out of Colorado. And he basically has telephone conversations with photographers and creators all over the place and they keep the conversation pretty process-focused. But what I love about it is, and what I love about you and everything that you do is just the life of photographers and how it is just you and this camera and your idea of a career that you’re going to invent. And that’s it. That’s kind of all you really have at that point. I adore the stories of people that do that. I love them. Oh, I have a documentary here for you. I do it really quick?
Pierre Lambert: Go ahead.
Michael Muser: Can I do it really quick?
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Michael Muser: The Individualist, Showtime, Photographer Ricky Powell, New York City in the ’80s, a guy who was embedded in the birth of hip hop and the Beastie Boys and got some epic street photos of Andy Warhol and the like of his time. But why I bring it up to you? Is that what it kind of gave me because the guy himself is hysterical. You’ll just let it, he’s quite the character as you would imagine. But it just reminded me of why so much of what I like about photography, that it just you’re in a room you’re not allowed to be in. It puts you somewhere you were not asked to be, you don’t get this story other than somebody had the genius to pick up a camera and start taking pictures. And because of that, I get to see what it was like to be backstage with the BC boys in 1984 on their first tour or something, right? Like I’m exposed to this piece of American life. That I was too young or not cool enough to be a part of. And I just adore the life of photographers that accomplish that. And I love it when good docs come out and that’s a really good one.
Pierre Lambert: Oh, I’m writing that one down. I remember you’re the one who recommended, Vivian Maier’s documentary also. I was like, « Oh my goodness, it’s so good and plus that Chicago story. » So I was like, « Oh, such a unique character. » And her story is even weirder than like, the photos are great. But the story again, it’s exactly why your restaurant like works and why you guys are in that space. It’s the experience, you know, it’s not you’re not experiencing her photo. You’re experiencing the whole story of that person. And that changes completely the dynamic you have with the arts in a way. I have friends who believe strongly like a bad photo is a bad photo. If you don’t get anything out of it by looking at it and if you need a supporting story for it, but now, and I kind of agree with that as harsh as it may sound like if I don’t get anything, it’s a photo that’s bad for me, not for you. If you get something that’s amazing, it’s very personal. But if I get something out of that photo, and now you give me an experience of this story that just blows the photo out of proportion, that makes it even more interesting. Or give me context on something I’m like, yes, that’s just what you want. You know, it’s just so good, it feels nice. So I’m going to check out The Individualist. If anyone’s watched it, let us know on Twitter, Instagram, I don’t know wherever you want.
Michael Muser: He’s quite the character. So I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody was like, yeah, that was a bit much, but I also think it’s a really good snippet into just life in the ’80s, in New York with all of the bad and the crazy that was there. There was life and electricity and it was on the sidewalk and in the parks and it was just to be inside, was not okay. And, oh man, just to think of taking pictures back then, it’s pretty cool.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah, everything looks cool. Do you think every single thing is cool 50 years later also?
Michael Muser: Yeah, probably. There’s a couple of like Instagram accounts that do these like amazing color footage of like old cities, you know? And they just they’re like these like 15 seconds snips and yeah, for sure. The clothes, the hats, the buttons, the vest, the shoes, the leather, like there was just so much more leather goods back then. I love taking pictures of old leather stuff.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. That’s one thing I feel like, at least in France, we started going back to, especially when I went back for Christmas, whether it’s a food and beverage, I noticed especially in that and the food scene, but also arts, goods, everything there’s been a Renaissance of wanting to go for craftmanship, you know, where people feel like, okay, cool. Industrialization is fun, but I want to go back to the craft of those like small boosts that were handmade or whatever, you know, like those objects that were made by hand, and that are unique and the person who makes it that some craft that’s being passed on. And I feel like that’s why food is so interesting to meals. So, beyond the photography aspect, it’s just like you cannot do anything without that craft, and you need to find it. So it’s really cool. The last kind of like question, if You’re okay with that?
Michael Muser: All the way, buddy.
Pierre Lambert: Okay. So how do you manage to have kids or one kid now? Maybe you can give a schedule a little bit to people, so they understand how long you guys work, because my neighbor, just quick background is going to in France, my neighbor’s parents, like my neighbors basically are both fishermen. How do you call that, in there? They sell fish, they have a fish shop to sell fish, their fishery on the end, they go to, which is the big warehouse of the fishermen meet and everything comes to find a best just like in Jiro Dreams of Sushi to find the best, best, best thing, and to sell it super expensive. And their son, my age, or a slightly younger, went into the service industry and started, he used to wait table at Georgia sank, which is the best restaurant in the best hotel in the world, not in the world, but in Paris, it’s like the most expensive well almost all the fancy people go there. And I always saw it and he’s like a person of extremes, you know, but I always saw it. It’s so tight and he would come at 2:00 AM at night and leave super early and his parents, the same routine. And how do you manage those kids? Like life gets crazy?
Michael Muser: Yeah, there’s the epic issue just sits in every mom or dad or whoever, somebody’s got to go out and do something and make some money so that we can all have this roof and do things. So whether it’s, you know, my wife and I both work, she takes super early mornings and she works for lettuce, entertain you. So restaurant group and she takes super early mornings. I do drop off, she does pickups. I get my kid for the morning for like an hour and a half rice Krispies, a puzzle or two, serious connection as much as possible. And then drop off at like 8:15, 8:30 at daycare in W O R K until like midnight and then go home and do it again and do that five days a week. Hard. And then Sundays, you try and turn it off as best you can. And Mondays are bottling about with work, you know, Monday is not an off day, but it is what it is. How do you, I mean, I don’t know, I’m not managing it, Pierre. I’m just doing it. I don’t know what else to do, you know, it’s that classic. Like you have a kid and you’ll figure it out. Well, you know, I’ve seen some people have kids and not figure it out too, by the way. But our version of figuring it out is, to live at a poverty level right now so that we can pay for daycare because that is psychotically expensive.
Pierre Lambert: It’s crazy. Yeah. Don’t me started.
Michael Muser: I know. I know. And you don’t know what to do, right? ‘Cause like some of it seems way above our pay grade, but that childcare act thing. I was like, that sounds like a good idea because I’m working my ass off and it’s hard to pay this bill, this childcare bill, but what am I going to do? Raise this child 24— no, I have to go to work, man. And so that’s my version of managing it right now. The next big jump for us is when daycare is no longer an option, which is coming around the corner, pick a school. Oh my God. You know, I don’t know where all your listeners live, but in Chicago, it’s like schools one through ten and ten is awesome. And try not to consider a five.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah, if you want a metal detector and If you want the crime rate reports for you to school.
Michael Muser: And big surprise. If you’re going to rent something or buy something near the nines and the tens, those apartments, condos, and houses are usually too expensive for you to consider. So it’s like you want to get in one. That’s the next big thing that I will air quote, manage with my wife in raising this kid. I would say two; that a lot of it kind of solves itself. Like I desperately miss my child every second. I’m not with her. I even like it, I get scared to even talk about motorcycles. Cause I even haven’t ridden very much in the past two seasons, in Chicago, it’s only warm for a little while. So we consider our motorcycle riding seasons, right? I mean, I’ve got some pretty wicked gear, but there’s a lot of snow on the ground. So, you know that a kid has a way of reprioritizing how you choose to spend your time. And that’s why they’re the scariest things on the planet because I love riding motorcycles. It is my all-time, number one, like me out in the middle of nowhere on a motorcycle, it’s over, it’s done. I’m not going to get any happier until my child showed up. And she just knocks everything around and she’s not doing it. The worst part about it is you do it. You do it right? As awful as it sounds, you don’t go shoot, you stop taking as many pictures because your daughter’s that amazing. Or you find ways to make it all work the way it did. And, she’s fitting. she’s going to find her way because she’s your kid.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. It’s man, you’re touching such a good point. It does shuffle things around and priorities and it’s crazy. And I think honestly, I think that’s why a lot of people are afraid to have kids? Because part of us is afraid to know, we don’t want to give up what we built already or like the lifestyle we have. And we’re like, no, no, I don’t want to deal with anything. You know, I just want to do me and that’s fine. But also you trading that off for an amazing experience in a way, but I was telling my wife the other day, I’m like zero to maybe 12 or 10, 12. I feel like might be the most important time if you’re able to, like slow down on anything. Because when I think about it I’m like, okay, fine. In 10 years, I’m not going to be that old anyway. You know, but that, I feel like, those 07, 0 10 is so it’s like I’m going to go on the trip for two weeks and I’m part of me is scared. I’m like, « Oh my God is, this is a little scary, I don’t know how the relationship is going to change or whatever, » and I’m like, I wish everyone would come with me. I don’t think that trip is appropriate for that. I want to make it possible for others. But so you’re like, ah, how do you know, like, there’s no good balance. You’ve tried your best.
Michael Muser: Exactly. It’s so fun. That’s why I hesitated at the beginning of your, like, how do you manage it? I’m like, oh my in my head I’m like manage? I don’t—
Pierre Lambert: Survive.
Michael Muser: I’m just fighting for any sense of survival at this point. I will say this right, one of my best friends and one of my podcast partners, my buddy, Pat, we have actors, friends, and standup comedy, friends, and stuff like that. And that’s an artistic pursuit of epic renown and for sure, talk about there are certain things in life you can not have. If that is your thing, if you’re going to be successful at that, you got to literally set goals and everything else to the wayside dies. Now, as you get into your Forties and your Fifties, I mean, I’m 47 now to still know some of those people who have resisted the epic gravitational pull of starting a family or making a baby, and they’re still going after those goals. My buddy, Pat, we’ve looked at those people. We thought that was cool. And that’s awesome. And being a great photographer is awesome. And being a famous actor would be great and all of those things, but you would be denying yourself. The greatest friendship and relationship life has to offer is the greatest friends you’ll ever have. The greatest relationship you will ever have. There’s no question about it. It can’t compare with any— I love my wife. Trust me. I love my wife. I love my mom and my dad and I bleed for anyone of them. But me and my daughter get out at this, no way, dude. There’s nothing. So the bike is great and the job is great. And the restaurant’s awesome. And right now, perfect example, we sit at a Two Michelin star restaurant, which by every stretch, Pierre is something most restaurants will never see, but it ain’t three. And so every day is not a management, but a struggle to do what I got to do and spend the time that I got to spend in my business to uphold those standards and get it to where I want it to be. And I know my daughter gets out of daycare at 4:15 and I really want to go home. I really want to go home, but I can’t because you know, my buddy, Chris is in the dining room tonight and I got to shake a hand and say hi, and you know, do things. So I stay at work at the end of the day and miss my kid exponentially.
Pierre Lambert: I wonder, part of me wonders is like, is there a way to integrate more that with old kids? How do we integrate them more into it? And I don’t know if I don’t think it’s possible for everyone. Absolutely not. You know, there are some jobs you just can’t, you know, but I always ask myself that question: Is there something that I can do, you know? My dad traveled a lot. Could he have taken a family more on those business trips? Maybe it wouldn’t have been ideal, but maybe it was possible. I know he did it with my mom a few times. What if you brought the kids, you know, would it be stupid? And then you listened to, I think it was who was it? I can’t remember the entrepreneur’s name. He was like, yeah, I bring my daughter. I think it was even Richard Branson. He’s like, Yep I brought my kid and it wasn’t perfect. But they were sitting with me at the table with investors. The fuck it.
Michael Muser: Feel like now I’m so conservative when it comes to this, but look at me. My father was a professional baseball player, my whole life, as I grew up, we were on the road. Those guys there, their season is nine months long. And so my whole childhood was in El Paso, Vancouver. You know, just all these random places, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and whatnot. We were a traveling band the whole time. I don’t know why I don’t see it more liberally in that sense. On HBO, they did that documentary called the 100 Foot Wave of that one guy who was searching that a hundred-foot wave off of the coast of Portugal. He’s got his wife and his kids, man. They don’t go anywhere without each other. I mean, these people were traveling everywhere. They had like two or three kids I watched in awe. I’m like, fuck your wave, dude. You’re traveling with three children.
Pierre Lambert: I know. They’re ready to give up their things for yours. I’m joking in a way and not, you know, but, so let me challenge you on that. How would it work if you were to bring it to work like even does it work?
Michael Muser: Yeah. She runs around, I did the most awful thing. And when she was growing up, I always told her, I’m like, this is your restaurant. This is yours. This is your house. So now she walks in, she’s now four going on four and a half. And she walks around and is hysterical. She’ll spend time in the restaurant for sure. There are ways, but mostly brother, it’s a restaurant, man. It’s a machine. Is people moving and stuff. There’s just nowhere for her over here.
Pierre Lambert: And that’s for that long, it could work for an hour or two. Yeah, but 14 hours.
Michael Muser: Exactly. Yeah. And the one good thing about having this little ecosystem, we call a restaurant and you know, is that we’ve got each other. So when my general manager’s kid has some, closed call COVID at her daycare, so they shut down three rooms as a result and you know, like 45 alarms go off on her end. She just looks over me and we got it. You know? it’s the only way I see anything like this working in today’s the situation with these with COVID and all that stuff is everybody’s got to have everybody’s back all the time. Do you think we’re going to go to war with Russia?
Pierre Lambert: No, I didn’t think because I don’t watch news media, so I don’t even know what happened.
Michael Muser: Really?
Pierre Lambert: I don’t look at anything unless someone tells me or it shows up in my weird feed somehow it doesn’t do me anything. Doesn’t do me any good. Because they’re just bad news media and it doesn’t add anything to my life. At the end of the day, it’s minus 23 outside and I’m going to go shoot. Then my daughter’s here and we have to find a way to physically exhaust her. So she sleeps at night without her freezing outside, you know, it’s and I still want to be creative. And finding, so I’m like, okay, good. Whatever happens in China right now, I can’t, I don’t, even France, same the climate in France, it was very anxiety and yeah, it’s just super like heavy, much heavier than here. And I was like, oh, damn, this is tough, you know, and you see the media as or something a little more. I would see them a little more because my family was like, I know why no one ever watches because I think everything’s shit after one week.
Michael Muser: For sure. Life is better when you do not watch any of any, anything, the less you’re on it. I found Twitter to be a far more welcoming photography posting platform, as of late than anything else.
Pierre Lambert: Yes. Yeah. It picked up specifically because of the NFT community and really grew on the photographers. and also it just looks a little nicer if you can post without thinking about your grade or like what people see, I don’t know. It’s just light-hearted.
Michael Muser: Totally agree with you. I find it much more pleasurable and what I also like is, that I don’t think Instagram does this at all. Maybe you could educate me on it, but when someone will post something like they post like a sunset or whatever, and they’ll just go toss up your sunset shots, everybody, and everyone starts throwing up sunset shots. I think that’s so much fun and it’s like a little game.
Pierre Lambert: Yes.
Michael Muser: I’ll be like, let me find one. I got one.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah, no absolutely. That’s true, you can build a better community. That’s what I always said. Even YouTube has a better sense of community than Instagram. Instagram just feels more robotish. Twitter feels like you’re having a conversation and YouTube feels like you are having people watching and people commenting, which is nice. Where can people find you on Instagram and Twitter, by the way?
Michael Muser: My Instagram handle is @photo_muze, P H O T O M U Z E.
Pierre Lambert: Do you have an underscore in between?
Michael Muser: I think so. Yeah. I’m supposed to know that I’m bad, man. I’m the worse.
Pierre Lambert: Let’s, check super quick guys.
Michael Muser: I think, there’s an underscore.
Pierre Lambert: Okay, underscore, @photo_muze, right?
Michael Muser: Yeah,
Pierre Lambert: Okay. All right, everyone.
Michael Muser: But I can’t imagine my Instagram, they always say it should have a theme or some idea behind it to give people a reason to, and it’s like, you and I have had this conversation before where it’s like, look, I shoot what’s in front of me and it’s either work or my kid. So my Instagram account is useless to most people but, you know, random food shots and then my gorgeous daughter.
Pierre Lambert: Well, I love following you because sometimes I will see the photos you take with your kid or whatever. I’m like, « Oh, I’m not utilizing like what I’m doing with other people. Like as much with my family and it’s not anything bad. It’s just like, I could pick it up 10% more, you know, and get those good shots with a nice lens versus just my phone’s great, but nothing replaces a 935 14, you know, once a while. So every time I see yours, like, yes, remember that.
Michael Muser: I always say though, it’s like every once in a while you look at your camera and it just feels like, like to pick it up would be like to pick up Thor’s hammer. You’re just like, that thing looks like a million pounds right now. Everything about shooting everything about thinking about shooting, everything about thinking about composition.
Pierre Lambert: And then I’ll add everything about thinking about the video that you’re going to make about thinking about.
Michael Muser: Oh, this is why I admire you, dude. This is why I have so much admiration for you guys for the stuff that you produce and for the consistency and the quality and the intensity of it. I am a massive fan because I see it as it’s a sport. Like this is not easy. These people produce these things, what you do this takes time. It takes effort. It takes work. It takes so much focus and it’s all self-motivated, there’s no one around you telling you to do this shit. You do it.
Pierre Lambert: No, it’s pretty lonely sometimes. That’s the one thing I missed. I missed that you guys have with the team, you know? It’s like you have the team it’s running and there are those times where you can be creative. You have that space, you can like create new dishes, but you can also use the dishes you made, but if I’m posting videos, I couldn’t go shoot the same street seven days a week and pose the same thing. You know, like people are going to be like, what the fuck? no, it has to be, I don’t know, a new store or whatever. And I’m like, ah, damn. Yeah. But it’s okay. It’s working, it’s working. It’s a sport like you said, it’s like repetitions in the way. Michael, okay. You have to prepare for a Maui. People can find you on Twitter and Instagram at @photo_muze. If they’re in Chicago, where do you suggest them to eat?
Michael Muser: Well, you can definitely, go to, we reserve our reservations off a system called Talk. So it’s, something on there. Every restaurant on Talk is how you go to make reservations at the restaurant, definitely do that. And if you’re listening and you’re interested do it in advance and book it way out so that you’ve got it, they just take a deposit, and then you’re all set. And, if you’re hungry for a cheeseburger, come on over to Reve Burger outside of that. If you asked me like, that’s one of the worst questions any restaurant person gets right now is where should I eat? Because you don’t know, like, you’re so confused even as a restaurant person. You’re like, I don’t know which one of my friends is working tonight.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. And you’re like, I’m no food critic.
Michael Muser: I, yeah, I, yeah.
Pierre Lambert: I’m working five days a week.
Michael Muser: Yeah. I keep all those people in my life for a reason. All my food critics, friends got tapped them for knowledge because I’m so in my own box all the time.
Pierre Lambert: That’s amazing. Michael, thank you so, so much for being here. Thank you for sharing your story and all the knowledge and I hope maybe we’ll do another round in the future.
Michael Muser: I love it. Absolutely. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Pierre Lambert: Thank you, Michael. Bye.
Michael Muser: Bye.