Naomi Pomeroy Interview, Part 1: on Celebrity, Sharing the Spotlight and Getting the Press
One might be challenged to think of a time in recent history when Naomi Pomeroy hasn’t been popping up across all forms of media highlighting her team’s work at Portland’s Beast. She’s a familiar face in the national press, garnering...
One might be challenged to think of a time in recent history when Naomi Pomeroy hasn’t been popping up across all forms of media highlighting her team’s work at Portland’s Beast. She’s a familiar face in the national press, garnering multiple culinary award nominations, competing on Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters, all the while leading her crew through nightly service (whenever possible) at Beast. Did we mention that she’s also a single mom to a really great kid?
The woman is a dynamo, and that is no hyperbole, my friends.
How does she do it all? Does she sleep? Does she have a PR team and an army of handlers? We had lots of questions that Naomi met with thought-provoking responses. Bearing that in mind, we didn’t want you to stuff yourself all at one sitting, so we’ve opted to present it in two courses instead of one.
PART 1 of 2: Reality TV throws down the gauntlet, sharing the spotlight with staff, and keeping Beast a darling of the press.
Was participating in Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters your idea or did they reach out to you? What was on your mind as you headed into those projects?
They contacted me. Both times I asked, “How long do I have to get back to you?” I had no idea what direction it would take me – it sounded like fun, but hard.
For that first time, I wondered whether it was the direction I wanted to go. Would it define me? It’s good media attention, but what if I lose? I was worried that I’d have to compromise. Our food is not made in one hour, so I had to consider how I’d showcase what we do at Beast.
Another thing I had to put into consideration was how much is the rest of my staff represented. I have a hard time about it being just about me. All the credit has to be shared – my business is about teamwork every day.
I also thought about people who had done this – cooks who’ve become celebrities. I call myself a cook, not a chef, so should I even go on to Iron Chef America? One of my servers is big fan – she said, “you have to do it!” If anyone asks why I did it (smiles), it’s because Lisa told me I had to.
You regularly share the spotlight with your staff, referencing them in interviews and pulling them into press photos – Mika Paredes in particular.
I am glad that you noticed that – it’s never enough. People want to make it about me, and I get that (the press want it) to be about a person. I don’t think I would have done it without her. I try really hard in every interview, with as many pictures as possible, to make sure (Mika is) in it. She’s always working 12-hour days like I do, so she should get the same credit. We opened Beast together and I tease her that if she leaves, I’ll close the restaurant.
We don’t co-chef – I think there has to be a leader, but I do lead by consensus.
If I have an idea, everyone in the restaurant tastes it and gives their response. We have only 4 people in the kitchen and there are 50 people being served, so it’s best to get as much feedback as possible.
We have come to accept that (the back of the house) makes less than front of the house. Our payment is in the form of self-expression: freedom to be super creative every night. Even if that was never noticed, I at least want them to get some props. They work really hard.
You seem to get solid press from diverse sources on regular basis. I’ve always assumed that you have a PR person.
I never pay for advertising. I don’t have a PR person. There are lots of great restaurants (in Portland) relative to the size of our population. That was part of the television consideration… I need as many people as possible to know about this restaurant. It’s important for us to stay in national media so when people travel to Portland that they’ve heard of and come to Beast. At any given point, more than half our guests aren’t from Portland. I don’t want them to forget about us.
If you make it past your 3rd year (of running a restaurant), you’re in a better place. We just had our 4th anniversary and part of that has to do with the national media we’ve received. I am actually a very private person, so it’s a big sacrifice for me. I decided I have to sacrifice my own desire for privacy and I consider it my job to go out and bring those people in.
So you’re a strategist who doesn’t rest on her laurels. Have you plans for expansion?
I like to take opportunities when they knock, not necessarily go out and try to search for them because I feel like it’s more organic that way. I don’t have expansion plans, but I’m not restricted. I have a book proposal in its infancy, but there’s no timeline for it, no expectations.
I am building something that has more depth than just a restaurant. (Some chefs) have a rotating team of seconds – many different sous, people rotating through staff – while mine have stayed the same; it truly is a family. The only reason I can be (away from the restaurant) is because I have this incredible support system. The service is going to be the same and the kitchen’s going to be under control whether I am there or not. (My staff) are the ones who offer me the freedom to even consider doing anything outside (Beast).
I see peers opening two, three, four places and I am impressed with their pioneering spirit, but I feel nervous for them keeping a handle on quality, spreading themselves too thin. I learned from overexpansion on the first round (and) I just don’t want to do that. I have a family, I am a single mom, I find it important that my time with my work family at Beast is spent well and allows me to have time with my actual family. Portland provides an incredible quality of life, so I just don’t want to be that busy.
Coming soon – Part 2: The boss that doesn’t have to boss, dog-eared cookbooks, and the girl who has to share her mom with Beast.