Where Do Restaurant Recipes Go When They Die?

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DawnT
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2011/06/29 16:15:14 (permalink)

Where Do Restaurant Recipes Go When They Die?

I've always wondered about this over the years of sleuthing. I've managed to bribe employees for hints and recipes, even get former and retired workers to reveal some of the secrets and what they recalled preparing, sometimes for a price. Money talks, so do employees. Many times it's easy, everyone has a story to tell...except owners and former owners. That's where I've had little success trying to cajole or extract anything from them. If anything, I've learned to take most of what they say with a grain of salt or suspect disinformation. If it sounds jaded, it is.
 
It's fully understandable for an owner/operator not to reveal his bread and butter while he's operating a thriving restaurant. Even in the limited experience that I've had working for some restaurants, the signature spicing and sauces were kept proprietary. Spice mixes and some prep were done behind closed doors, after hours, off site or just a limited few made the product or had access to the information. That's good business maintaining your exclusivity to be competitive.
 
What I never could understand was the reticence of former owners to reveal anything even for a price, long after they retired the business, it failed, or was unable to find a buyer. Same with established restaurants with long retired recipes that for one reason or another will never be resurrected. Over the years, how many food columnists or authors hit brick walls trying to get a retired chef or owner to reveal a recipe or even information on long sought recipes that haven't been viable for years, even decades? The restaurant either closed, wasn't sold, or the proprietor moved on to something else. Even in the case of restaurant sales where full disclosure is expected with the new owners, the original owner sometimes holds back on something and the signature dishes fail to meet the expectations of the original.  
 
There have been very few books published over the years that really revealed the actual recipes of long past restaurants. That's one type of book that I'd generally buy, and in most cases disappointed. As I've mentioned before, it's sometimes difficult to translate a recipe due to institutional products that aren't generally available retail for a home kitchen. It still can't hurt to mention what the originals were or even the original quantities and let the reader scale and substitute. Then there's the family secret thing. A restaurant out of business for nearly 40 years, can't reveal the exact recipe b/c it's a family thing? Who's kidding who? In some cases, chefs have tied a recipe to a proprietary product that at some point is discontinued or changed dramatically over the years. That too is understandable especially with all of the mergers and acquisitions during the past years. In other cases, the authors deliberately change the original recipes to be health conscious to today's concept of healthy eating or omit things that would have now been considered taboo such as MSG, butter, or lard. For the most part, many of  these restaurant retrospectives aren't worth the paper they're printed on if you're seeking the same tastes of yesteryear unless you're buying it for the nostalgia.
 
I just question the purpose of this. If a recipe or process has no future financial viability, what's the purpose of denying a future generation access to it even for a price? So many recipes have been committed to history and the past for no reason other then stubbornness or ego on the part of the originator. Even if they never sold the business, twenty or more years later, why not at least try to make a buck off the recipe and recover something from the past loss.
 
Just wondering what some of you folks think about this.
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    Sundancer7
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    Re:Where Do Restaurant Recipes Go When They Die? 2011/06/29 17:03:50 (permalink)
    Quite frankly I do not blame them.  In a way they are a artist if the recipe is good enough.  Artist never give their art away.
     
    There is a restaurant in Knoxville called Louis on Broadway.  They have a very unusual spaghetti sauce.  It is slightly salty and meaty and not over sweet.  They would die before they gave their recipe.  I have asked many times.  I wish they would.
     
    Paul E. Smith
    Knoxville, TN
    #2
    DawnT
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    Re:Where Do Restaurant Recipes Go When They Die? 2011/06/29 17:32:53 (permalink)
    Paul, this is about restaurants past. Artisan's create a legacy for themselves by passing on their art either by commission and sale or by endowment. They don't take it to the grave with them or deny access to it. Not the best metaphor either.  Had Louis's closed down and never was to be sold or revived, would there be any sense for them to sequester the sauce recipe never to be tasted again and lost to history? Wouldn't an attempt to sell it to another restaurant or publish some time later for profit in the future after all attempts to benefit from financial gain and the brand is no longer marketable make sense? Nobody expects an operating restaurant to give away or sell their prized recipe.
    #3
    Sundancer7
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    Re:Where Do Restaurant Recipes Go When They Die? 2011/06/29 17:39:29 (permalink)
    Dawn:  Perhaps you are right but knowing some artist as I do, money does not matter to them.  I am sorta like you as I would appreciate the recipe.  One of my most favorite restaurants in Knoxville called Pero's which was super closed down suddenly.  It was not because of business or money.  The owner got old and did not want to will his restaurant to anyone else???  Who knows how folks think?  He closed the restaurant suddenly and let all his employees go who had been with him for 30-40 years.  He did not look back?  Who knows what folks think???
     
    Paul E. Smith
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    ann peeples
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    Re:Where Do Restaurant Recipes Go When They Die? 2011/06/29 18:29:53 (permalink)
    Interesting subject. I have a cashew chicken salad recipe that I just dont part with.I have sold it commercially when I ran a deli, I was even offered money from one of our salad suppliers for the recipe..I guess my thought is it is something I get great pleasure out of making  for people, and it was Mom's recipe. Silly, maybe, but it is what it is. And I am of the mind that people, mostly, just cant recreate something we do well.I have shared my enchilada recipe, for instance, and everyone that has eaten other's claim mine are just simply better. Maybe its the love I put in to it.
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    mar52
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    Re:Where Do Restaurant Recipes Go When They Die? 2011/06/29 19:11:58 (permalink)
    I would pay good money for a few recipes:
     
    Stern's BBQ Sauce from Culver City, CA
     
    The hamburger salsa from Woody's Smorgasburger in Los Angeles
     
    The Mabo Ramen recipe from Yokohama Ramen in Los Angeles
     
    The Tan Tan Mein from the Szechuan Palace of Pico Boulevard.
     
    I could open up a multi-cultural smash hit with those recipes.  Guess that's the reason.
    #6
    MiamiDon
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    Re:Where Do Restaurant Recipes Go When They Die? 2011/06/29 20:02:01 (permalink)
    Dawn,
     
    I have been enamored of a couple of recipes around town.  One was "Veal Dante" at Joe Pepe's Italian Gardens in Miami Springs.  I actually got a note from the owner that told me that he had sold it to a restaurant in Coral Gables.
     
    Another was "Voodoo Shrimp" from a seafood restaurant which took over the Bodegga "Boddega"? at 98th street and South Dixie Highway.  No luck with that one.  :(
    #7
    Foodbme
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    Re:Where Do Restaurant Recipes Go When They Die? 2011/06/30 03:20:40 (permalink)
    Dawn T,
    You just don't get it. It's a highly personal emotional thing. Reason and logic do not prevail. Their recipes are part of their being. It's like giving up part of themselves.
    I owned a smoked meat business back in the 80's. I have a KILLER Smoked Sausage recipe that came with the business when I bought it from a gentleman who perfected it over 25 years. I promised him that it goes to the grave with me, including the type of wood I used to smoke it.
    It took my FIL 30 years to coax a Venison Sausage recipe out of a farmer neighbor who gave it to him just before he died. The Farmer made the Smoked Sausage every Christmas season for friends and relatives. My FIL gave it to me before he passed away. It's in a safe deposit box. I've never made it but it remains secure. I'll have to make provisions for it's safe keeping pretty soon before they put me in the box.
    Crazy Huh?? But that's the way it is. Pretty soon Harrison Ford, or Tom Hanks will be looking for it!
    Can you say KFC & Coke?
    post edited by Foodbme - 2011/06/30 03:30:28
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    CajunKing
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    Re:Where Do Restaurant Recipes Go When They Die? 2011/07/01 02:50:52 (permalink)
    Sundancer7

    Quite frankly I do not blame them.  In a way they are a artist if the recipe is good enough.  Artist never give their art away.

    There is a restaurant in Knoxville called Louis on Broadway.  They have a very unusual spaghetti sauce.  It is slightly salty and meaty and not over sweet.  They would die before they gave their recipe.  I have asked many times.  I wish they would.

    Paul E. Smith
    Knoxville, TN

     
     
    Paul
     
    I agree with you on their sauce.  I would love to have their recipe for it too.
    TN is my new stomping grounds (dad moved from FL to TN) We want to explore the civil war battlefields all over TN.
     
     
    #9
    Foodbme
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    Re:Where Do Restaurant Recipes Go When They Die? 2011/07/01 03:51:29 (permalink)
    CajunKing
    Sundancer7
    Quite frankly I do not blame them.  In a way they are a artist if the recipe is good enough.  Artist never give their art away.
    There is a restaurant in Knoxville called Louis on Broadway.  They have a very unusual spaghetti sauce.  It is slightly salty and meaty and not over sweet.  They would die before they gave their recipe.  I have asked many times.  I wish they would.
    Paul E. Smith
    Knoxville, TN

    Paul
    I agree with you on their sauce.  I would love to have their recipe for it too.
    TN is my new stomping grounds (dad moved from FL to TN) We want to explore the civil war battlefields all over TN.

    CK,
    I think you'll find that as far as Tennesseeans are concerned, the battles are not over!
    #10
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