Advice & Whiskey with Michael Cho

Restaurateur Michael Cho moved to 417-land in 2002 to help open and run the Argentina Steakhouse. From there, he went on to director roles at Hickory Hills Country Club and Millwood Golf & Racquet Club before opening Craft Sushi in 2018.

By Lucie Amberg

Jan 2023

Micheal Cho
Photo by Leah StiefermannMichael Cho shares advice from his experiences in the world of hospitality. Purchase Photo

On What He Loves About the Hospitality Business

“I’ve always said at lineup with my staff: Basically we’re putting on a live play every night—you’ve got to look at it like that. The parallels are very similar. There’s a lot of preparation. You’ve got to cast it. You’ve got to practice. You’ve got to learn your lines, like learning the menu. And every night, it’s supposed to be the same [experience], but there are a lot of variables, and you’ve got to work around that.”

On Hiring People Who Have “The Heart for Hospitality”

“You can tell a lot in a 5-minute interview—how they answer things, their energy. I’m a big believer in that. I’m no mystic or hippie by any means, but I believe energy is a palpable thing. You can walk in a place and immediately get a vibe. So you look for people that give you good energy, and you can teach the rest.” 

On Motivating Team Members

“With servers, I do simple things to make sure they were part of the process. I would have three wines. [I’d say]: ‘We’re going to feature one of these three this week, guys. So which one is it going to be?’ I’d have everyone taste it, teach them a little about it—use that as an educational opportunity—then give them an opportunity to vote. [I’d say]: ‘You guys all like A? I’m going with A.’ When people feel like their input is unnecessary and unwanted, that’s the beginning of the end.” 

“Even in fine dining, where there are some people who are career servers, the majority are eventually going to make a living doing something else. So I’d always say, ‘Even though this is temporary, I want people who have the attitude that whatever it is they’re tasked with right now, they want to be doing it the best they can.’ And when it comes to learning about food or wine, I’d tell them, ‘These are life skills. You know what kind of hero you are, if you get your first job and you guys go out to dinner—you’re there with your boss, maybe your boss’s boss, and you’re the guy who can recommend the wine and navigate the wine menu? Dude! These are life skills!’”

On His Wife, Jenny Cho, Partner in Craft Sushi

“She embodies everything that I would hope a hospitality professional/manager/owner would be. And I’m lucky to have a partner like that who leads by example.” 

On His Father, Who Chose to Move From South Korea and Build a New Life for His Family in New Jersey

“I look at generations of families like paper clips. We all go back to something, and if we go back far enough, all our paper clips come together. But he’s always going to be that red paper clip that had the balls to come halfway around the planet and start over. Through pure gumption and determination and intelligence and all the gifts that he had, he was able to make a life for us, and he had a very successful business. I have an incredible amount of respect, that’s only grown over time, for what my family did.”

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