Restaurant Unstoppable with Eric Cacciatore

Houstonian, Justin Yu, is a graduate of Houston University and the Culinary Insitute of America, Hyde Park. Yu returned to Houston upon graduation before heading to the West Coast and Europe to stage and further refine his skills.

Yu's first restaurant, Oxheart, opened in 2012 and was named one of America's Top 10 Best New Restaurants by Bon Appetit. It was his work at Oxheart that earned him the 2016 James Beard Award for Best Chef, Southwest.

In 2016 Oxheart closed to make way for Theodore Rex, which achieved similar acclaim. Today Justin Yu is the Chef/Owner/Partner Theodore Rex Restaurant, Better Luck TomorrowPublic Services Wine and Whisky, and Squable.

Show notes…

Favorite success quote or mantra:

"Head down, eyes up, always be humble."

In this episode with Justin Yu, we discuss:

  • Being humble during the come up.
  • How if you show people how bad you want it, you'll get it.
  • Having a vision, and existing intentionally to achieve it. Start acting like an owner and learning what an owner needs to know.
  • How to get the most out of your culinary degree.
  • What it takes to cook at a high-level restaurant.
  • Creating a culture of accountability to achieve excellence.
  • When you catch a team member doing something wrong, giving them the opportunity to self-correct by asking, "Where do you think you are?"
  • How to make someone feel like they're a part of the team.
  • The reality of chasing Michelin Stars.
  • Using pop-ups to get your start.
  • Not working for money early in your career, but working for other assets like knowledge, experience, and relationships.
  • Think of your personal brand and the story you're writing when you're making life decisions.
  • The meaning of humility.
  • Staying lean and scrappy during the early days.
  • Starting small and scaling into your ultimate vision.
  • The impact of partnering with other small business in your community.
  • Being mindful not to work your staff to death.
  • leaning to delegate the small details so you can focus on the big details.
  • The importance of sharing the stories behind your restaurant.
  • How to share the story behind a dish.
  • Why Yu chose to close his restaurant a year after winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest.
  • Surrounding yourself with great people then getting out of the way for them to do their job.
  • Finding partners with the same values and goals who don't directly compete with your personal strengths.
  • How to healthily disagree with your partners.
  • Making sure you take care of yourself and create a culture of taking care of yourself.

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Knowledge bombs

  1. Which "it factor" habit, trait, or characteristic you believe most contributes to your success?
    • Sense of calm.
  2. What is your biggest weakness?
    •  Sense of calm.
  3. What's one question you ask or thing you look for during an interview?
    • "What food do you love?"
  4. What's a current challenge? How are you dealing with it?
    • Staffing.
  5. Share one code of conduct or behavior you teach your team.
    • "Don't trust anybody. Especially, the Chef"
  6. What is one uncommon standard of service you teach your staff?
    •  Take ownership of everything.
  7. What's one book we must read to become a better person or restaurant owner?
  8. What's the one thing you feel restaurateurs don't know well enough or do often enough?
    • Offer Healthcare
  9. What's one piece of technology you've adopted within your four walls restaurant and how has it influence operations?
  10. If you got the news that you'd be leaving this world tomorrow and all memories of you, your work, and your restaurants would be lost with your departure with the exception of 3 pieces of wisdom you could leave behind for the good of humanity, what would they be?
    1. always have a sense of human
    2. Treat your employees like your family.
    3. Don't treat your employees EXACTLY like your treat your family

Contact info:



Thanks for listening!

Thanks so much for joining today! Have some feedback you’d like to share? Leave a note in the comment section below!

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Huge thanks to Justin Yu for joining me for another awesome episode. Until next time!


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Direct download: 634_Justin_Yu_mixdown.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT