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Martha-Stewart-RLC Joanna Fantozzi
Martha Stewart joined Anne Fink, president of global foodservice for PepsiCo to discuss her career.

What Martha Stewart learned from opening her first restaurant at 80

Martha Stewart was the keynote speaker at the Restaurant Leadership Conference and talked about her career—from her early days as a caterer to her first restaurant opening in Las Vegas

Martha Stewart’s entire career as a businesswoman, media mogul, and champion of homemakers has always revolved around the foodservice world but never directly embraced it. In fact, as the keynote speaker for the 2024 Restaurant Leadership Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., she spoke about her career beginning as a stockbroker who invested early on in McDonald’s. Then she went on to become a caterer, began writing cookbooks (she just published her 100th book), starred in countless television shows, and started her own print media empire. But until 2022, when The Bedford in the Paris Las Vegas Hotel opened, she had never owned her own restaurant.

“Here I am at 80 years old, and why I didn’t do a restaurant sooner, I will never know,” Stewart said. “I kept saying, ‘Well, I really like to enjoy going out to restaurants, but I’m not sure about owning one.”

Opened in Aug. 2022, The Bedford is modeled after her real home, with “the same furniture, the same accessories,” and illuminated windows that offer video “views” of her garden and farm that change with the seasons.

“Restaurants are one of the hardest businesses on earth,” Stewart said, prompting cheers from the appreciative crowd, though she did have a couple of pieces of advice from her own experience as a first-time restaurant owner. The first was to always believe in the value of your product.

“When we were planning the menu, we wanted to charge for a breadbasket and they said, ‘you can’t do that, the bread is free!’” Stewart said. “But when they saw what went into the breadbasket, they rethought it, and now they’re charging $19 for it!”

The breadbasket itself is meant to turn heads and is topped with tall crispy bread rounds embedded with vegetables, as well as focaccia, and rolls. Her other piece of advice for restaurant operators was to not be afraid to embrace the old-fashioned way of doing things, even if it seems like everyone else is chasing down trends.

“People like deliciousness and sometimes tradition,” Stewart said. “They like the familiar and not too much of the unfamiliar. I was just at a restaurant that was very beautiful, but the food was so unfamiliar that it was kind of shocking… it's a fine balance between what you choose to serve, what you choose to promote, and how you serve it and show it.”

But that does not necessarily mean that restaurant operators should be stuck in their ways or rooted in the past. It was unfamiliar and somewhat shocking to her fans when Stewart began partnering with Snoop Dogg, but the atypical collaboration has really worked.

“Just working with a rapper was unusual for a woman like me a serious cook, but the give and take was so surprising that it was charming and funny,” Stewart said. “It was fabulous, demographically. My demographics broadened and so did his.”

She is also embracing new technology and hinted that there could be an AI collaboration with her brand sometime in the future, with “little Marthas” that home cooks, homemakers, and others could ask for advice. “I take advantage of whatever comes along,” Stewart said, adding that she has been involved on Twitter and Instagram since day one.

Before leaving, she reminded the restaurant operators in the audience to “keep farmers happy;” as a farmer herself, Stewart knows how crucial they are to the lifeblood of the restaurant industry.

Contact Joanna at [email protected]m

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