After appearing on Season 16 of Top Chef, chef Chris Scott says his Brooklyn restaurant Butterfunk Kitchen has been “ridiculously busy every night,” with some guests waiting up to two hours for a table. The restaurant seats about 28 people, but on busy evenings the team serves up to 110 covers.
Even with the increased business, Scott and his business partner and wife Eugenie Woo have been able to maintain the original feel-good, southern juke joint vibe that Butterfunk Kitchen is known for. Here’s how the duo has evolved their flourishing business while staying true to their original mission.
Tell us about your cooking philosophy at Butterfunk Kitchen.
Chris Scott: It’s pretty simple: feed people with love. Imagine every day is Thanksgiving. You wake up in a house filled with love, family and friends. Everyone you love in your entire world is right there. That whole feeling is what my wife and I try to create every day.
Butterfunk Kitchen is definitely a partnership between you both. Tell us about your work dynamic and how you have built Butterfunk together.
Eugenie Woo: Butterfunk was born from the heart a long time ago, and there’s a lot of history behind it. Chris and I are the ones who are here right now but it’s based on so many generations and that’s what we want to try and resonate with. It comes out clearly in the food that Chris makes but also we’ve set up the dining room with family pictures. One of the most memorable things about coming here is that people always say that they feel comfortable. That genuine love you feel from someone you can connect with–this is how we interact with our guests personally. Chris is the creative force and I handle how everything comes together. We work in sync like that to make it all translate to our customers.
What drew you to share your food and Butterfunk Kitchen on a bigger platform like “Top Chef”?
Scott: Our story is unique and just having the opportunity to share it with a bigger crowd is wonderful. It’s more than just coming here and getting a plate of food. It’s about being with the people you love, where food is just kind of the backdrop. Being able to share it with the world is important.
Woo: The fact that what we do is so transparent and so heartfelt— people can recognize and connect with it. And maybe that had something to do with us to be part of the show, knowing that there would be a kind of personal connection with people who watch.
Is there anything you did to prepare your business for this experience?
Woo: To be honest, switching our website over to BentoBox was part of how we prepared for the extra exposure that we were going to get. Before, we had a different website and I had some frustrations with it. We wanted to line things up to present our restaurant in the best way. That was one of the first things we did, operationally, in preparing.
And then, of course, figuring out staffing schedules, pulling together training procedures, that kind of thing. We are still constantly adjusting to this new reality, making changes and trying to keep up in terms of our growth. It’s constant adjustments, constant changes. It’s really put us in a situation where we always have to stay ahead.
What’s been the biggest challenge for your business given its newfound popularity?
Woo: I think the biggest challenge for us has been that, for the past eight years, Chris and I have not been remote operators. We live in the building, we’re here more than full-time, and it takes both of us. We’re here, like, 80 hours a week fully immersed in operations. We’ve always operated small, community restaurants, and now we need to remove ourselves so that we can have a proper owner’s perspective to deal with the bigger picture. Because it’s such a real mom-and-pop establishment, that’s been one of our biggest challenges, in trying to remove ourselves from that full-on operational responsibilities and roles.
As business has more of a public presence, is there a difference in the way you’re approaching social media?
Scott: We did have someone in the past that would take care of that for us but he didn’t really have a pulse on our real vibe — it was generic, without really putting that Butterfunk flavor into it. So I do it now, but, on top of all the other tasks that I have, trying to really keep up with the social media — keep it relevant, keep it exciting — is also quite a chore.
I feel more pressure to come up with more relevant posts of what we’re doing here inside the restaurants. I mean, I can post about me until the cows come home, but in the end, I don’t want it to be about me. It needs to be about the history and the culture and of course, about the food. So, I wish that I had more time to create new dishes, to be able to get someone to photograph them and actually taste them, and understand where its coming from and the history behind it. To be able to convey that to the world. To me, that’s what it’s all about.