Wolfgang Puck Talks The Importance Of Curiosity On 'Just B'


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Bethenny Frankel might have become famous from being on Real Housewives of New Jersey, but since her launch of the Skinny Girl brand, she’s been killing it in business. On her podcast, Just B, she sits down with all kinds of successful entrepreneurs to hear how they got started, how they made it, their business philosophies, and how they dealt with tough decisions like whether or not to sell the trademark, bring in a partner, or diversify their product line. On this episode, she talks with celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck about his journey from cooking with his mother in rural Austria on a wood-burning stove, to helming one of the finest restaurants in the country, to creating an international trademark.

Wolfgang might have grown up poor, but thanks to his mother’s cooking, he didn’t notice it that much; “the food was still very good.” But his stepfather was often very abusive, both mentally and physically. By the time he was 14, Wolfgang was ready to leave the house forever. He got a job peeling potatoes at a hotel restaurant, but one day they ran out of mashed potatoes and he was fired. For a moment, he contemplated suicide, going down to the river and considering throwing himself in it – that’s how much he loathed the idea of returning to his stepfather’s house a failure. Instead, he simply went back for his shift the next day. It took a week or so before the chef who had fired him discovered him still in the kitchen, and tried to throw Wolfgang out. “I had my hands on the bags of potatoes saying, ‘I won’t go!’” he remembers. So they sent him to another hotel to work with the chef there, a mother of teenage sons, “who was a bit more understanding.” 

His passion for food and for cooking led him to learn under some of the finest chefs in Europe before he traveled to California and opened his restaurant, Spago. It quickly became a huge success, constantly entertaining celebrities, and Wolfgang could barely keep up. So when some Japanese investors approached him about opening a Spago in Tokyo, he said no; he couldn’t handle one restaurant, let alone a second one across the world. But a few months later, they told him “they would open a Spago with or without me,” perhaps providing “your first lesson in intellectual property,” Bethenny says. Wolfgang tells her how he managed to hold onto the majority share of his own name and brand, even with over 20 fine-dining establishments and over 50 casual dining establishments worldwide; why his restaurant stood out from the rest; and the importance of curiosity. Hear their entire fascinating conversation on this episode of Just B.

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