Long Live the Chef: Jimmy Bradley Talks 15 Years in the Restaurant Business
Jimmy Bradley's been doing business in the New York City restaurant industry for decades, but if it's worn him out in the slightest, it doesn't show -- he moves quickly and bouncily, loading up a pot of tea with sugar, offering drinks and food, rearranging table settings, and then answering interview questions with speed and intensity.
Red Cat Restaurants
By his account, he should have gone into the wine business -- his mother's family owned vineyards in Italy and California, and then his cousin converted that company into an import and export shop when the family sold its American land to the Gallos. But Bradley didn't want to do wine. He started making pizzas when he was 14 years old -- after he forged his working papers so he could get a job -- and then worked in the front of the house to pay his way through college. He was fired for shaving his head, but he convinced his manager to move him to the kitchen instead of letting him go. He cut his teeth shucking clams and oysters and making coleslaw and ravioli, working his way into a position on the line. "That was it," he says. He never left the kitchen.
Intent on finding his own style, Bradley moved around a lot, refusing to adhere to one chef's style. After a scholarship to culinary school fell through, he left a restaurant in Philadelphia to cook in Vail, Colorado, which led to his first head chef job on Martha's Vineyard, a seasonal stint that allowed him to travel in the off-season. A few years later, he went out to Telluride to open a restaurant, only to return to the East Coast -- with a $10,000 severance fee in his pocket -- when the deal fell through.
He came to New York then, and though he didn't plan on staying, he never left. After a couple of executive chef gigs, he started a consulting business and spent some time running chef-driven events for Food & Wine across the country. He also opened a couple of outlets of It's a Wrap, a quick-service restaurant that was meant to be a chain.
In 1999, Bradley gave up his consulting business when he debuted The Red Cat (227 Tenth Avenue, 212-242-1122), which quickly became a Chelsea staple. A couple of years later, he started putting together the plans for The Harrison (355 Greenwich Street, 212-274-9310) in Tribeca. Build-out finished, he hired his team, and then delayed the opening because the kitchen wasn't quite ready to go. And then 9/11 happened, nine blocks south of his new restaurant. He pressed on, and the restaurant became the first to open in the neighborhood after the tragedy.
Bradley's empire grew with Mermaid Inn and Pace in the next couple of years, but when he dissolved his business partnership with Danny Abrams, he let those restaurants go and kept The Red Cat and The Harrison.
In this interview, he recounts those days right after 9/11 and divulges his secret to staying relevant.