Tom Schaudel hasn’t had so few restaurants to run in decades. Since Westbury’s Kingfish Oyster Bar closed in March, the once-ubiquitous chef is down to A Mano in Mattituck and A Lure in Southold. He is also a partner in Plated Simply private dining and catering.
COVID-19 was the culprit in the shuttering of Kingfish. Even after the state eased regulations to allow 50% capacity, he elected to stay closed. "Fifty percent?" he said, exasperated, "I can’t make money at 100 percent!" Five decades in the business have given Schaudel the self-knowledge to declare, "I made a decision that wasn’t ego-driven."
Meanwhile, the pandemic has actually helped business at his two East End restaurants. "Both places had record summers," he said, adding that the exodus of city dwellers to the North Fork meant that the fall has been good, too. "A Mano always stays open all year. We usually close A Lure after Halloween. This year we’re going to try to go at least through the end of December."
Over the course of his career, Schaudel has founded many of Long Island's most illustrious eateries, including Jewel in Melville, Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport, CoolFish in Syosset, Tease in Roslyn, 107 Forest Avenue in Locust Valley and Panama Hatties in Dix Hills back in 1983, plus many more that he consulted on. You’d think that, at age 67, he’d take this opportunity to slow down.
You’d be wrong. As his restaurant presence has shrunk, he’s moved into the country club world. In January he was appointed executive chef at Mill River Club in Oyster Bay where, he said, "it’s way easier and way less stress."
When you run a country club dining room, he explained, "you don’t have to worry about paying the bills, making payroll, or wonder if it’s going to rain on Saturday night. Everything besides cooking and running the kitchen is handled by other people. I probably should have done this 10 years ago."
Schaudel has always been vocal about the challenges of running a restaurant. He collected some of his favorite war stories in his 2008 book "Playing With Fire: Whining & Dining on the Gold Coast." (Like the one about the couple at CoolFish that ordered a few rounds of drinks before the man disappeared. "Then," Schaudel writes, "about a half-hour later he returns, (get this) with an entire takeout dinner for two from an Italian restaurant … So now the two of them are eating an Italian take out meal in my restaurant, with my silverware, on my table, using my napkins, and the man says to the waiter, 'Can we please get some water here?'")
In this era of endlessly customizable meals and special diets, he firmly believes that diners "are more fearful of gluten than coronavirus."
While Schaudel noted that he’s "on the back nine" of his career, he still loves the work. "I’m in good shape, I never get hurt, I can still stand up for fourteen hours a day. I’ll probably die on the line."