Spike Mendelsohn, the tall-hat-wearing, red-bearded contestant onTop Chef Season Four
andTop Chef All-Stars
, happens to own two fast-casual restaurants in D.C., We the Pizza and Good Stuff Eatery. Both restaurants buck the "fast food as junk food" concept and offer healthy farm-to-table cuisine in a casual setting. He must be doing something right, because these eateries have become the darling of the Capitol Hill set -- even the first lady is a regular.
We sat down to speak with Mendelsohn about burgers, Top Chef, and his plans for world domination.
Clean Plate Charlie: How did being on Top Chef help you in the restaurant business?
Spike Mendelsohn: It made me come into my business sense. Before that, I was just kind of a cook in the kitchen. Top Chef propelled me into becoming this restaurant entrepreneur. My mother was a restaurateur; my grandfather was too. The show gave me the confidence to be able to take this in a different direction. It made me believe that I can open a fast casual restaurant, which is great for the generational shift we're in with food right now. It didn't make me a better cook, but it made me a better businessman.
What was your Top Chef strategy?
A lot of people concentrated on winning the $100,000 [first prize], but I concentrated on the long-term plan that I could create some media for myself and marketing for the restaurant.
Did it make you an overnight celebrity?
It superlaunched me into the big league with all these cats. It's a lot of hard work. It's certainly not a one-man show. You have to have a really good team behind you.
At the South Beach Food and Wine Festival's Burger Bash, you had a burger entered, but it was you who really stood out.
I do something different each year. This year, I was the Hamburgler. I had to be the villain and steal the title back from these guys. I didn't win, but I'm sure it was down to a few chips. But apart from that, I always like having fun and entertaining people. Every chef is going to make a burger and talk to people. I like to take it to the next level by doing something really silly and having fun with it.
Tell us about your restaurant in D.C.
My restaurant, Good Stuff Eatery, is a farm-to-table hamburger joint. I resource all of my ingredients locally. It's fresh food every day. It's a classic American eatery with comfort food -- burgers, fries, shakes.
Do any famous politicians come in?
All the famous politicians come in. I'm not into that world, so I don't recognize who they are, but my customers do. Of course, Michelle Obama comes in all the time. She's always there. John Kerry came in once. They're all always there.
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Do you welcome both Democrats and Republicans in your restaurant?
Absolutely. I'm Switzerland.