Behind The Sene: Season 1 Episode 5
First Nobu. Then Momofuku. After that, with the offer of a few barrels of wine, Cory Lane decided to start Frith Wine. Now with years and years of restaurant experience under his belt, Cory is hoping to advance an industry traditionally lagging behind in technology with a new venture: WaltzIn, an app where users can book reservations for large private events with restaurants.
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At his core, Cory is a restaurant guy. Throughout his career, he's seen it all: from working back of house in the chaotic seafood kitchens of Destin to the front of house for powerhouse restaurant empires Nobu and Momofuku. Leveraging his training and experience, he started Frith Wine and moved into the supply side of the restaurant industry. We sat down with Cory to hear about the wacky path that eventually led him to enter the tech space with WaltzIn.
What’s your name and what do you do?
My name is Cory Lane and I'm in the restaurant business. I've always been a restaurant guy. I've spent most of my adult life and a little bit before that working in restaurants of all different types. There was a big focus in beverage and wine throughout the majority of my career. I focus mostly on front of the house, service, and operations. I've been in a partner in a handful restaurants and I've helped open a handful of restaurants over the years.
How did you get started in restaurant work?
I didn't have a ton of options growing up. I was an awful student and hated school. One of my first jobs was working at these massive 400 seat restaurants that sling fish, fried shrimp, and all the seafood. That was nuts. It was absolutely crazy, and I loved it. It's an insane adrenaline rush, and I was hooked. During this time I was completely failing out school and graduated with like a 1.1 GPA.
How did you start working with Nobu?
I moved to New York and I applied to five different restaurants, and all of them rejected me. The last one was the one that accepted me: Nobu. I was living in this awful apartment that got robbed twice and I spent a lot of time at the laundromat washing my service clothes. During those moments, I would read this dictionary of Japanese food words to learn the service. I ended up rising through the ranks pretty quickly and really got into the wine program there. I spent five years with those guys and helped open up new restaurants with them. It was this magical, wonderful experience.
How did you start working with Dave Chang at Momofuku?
At Nobu is where I met Dave. They came in for lunch and we got to be friends. I ended up going to work with them shortly thereafter. I was queued up for Vegas for Nobu, but Dave called me up for coffee one day so I took that job. It was an incredible five years and I helped open up all the New York restaurants. It was an amazing rollercoaster of highs and lows and hustle and it was life changing.
After Momofuku, how did you get started on your wine project, Frith Wines?
The wine project started in 2011. I got a bunch of barrels of Grenache from a friend. That gave me the opportunity to build this wine label. Through the help of some friends and research, I came across this word called "Frith" which literally translated to peace, freedom, and security. We started off with a 120 cases and then the next year we did double that and added more blends. It just kinda kept going and we started to sell in New York and San Francisco.
What projects did you have since then?
For the last seven years, I was with a group called the Cannibal. My partner and I owned four restaurants together in New York and Los Angeles, and I was the operating partner. At the beginning of this last year, we decided to separate and consolidate some of the restaurants. I was a little lost and a little tired after that. Closing a business is never a fun thing.
I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to it right away. My wife who is much smarter than I am told me to take a break. I took time off, got married this past May, and traveled to Mexico for a bit. Once I got back, I spent some time figuring out what I wanted to do. You don't realize how much stuff you neglect when you work 70, 80, 90, 100 hours per week.
What are you working on now?
I had this friend that developed this incredible product called WaltzIn. The app helps users book large private vents and parties at restaurants. It's one area of the restaurant business that tech hasn't solved yet. The guest experience for booking a private dining room or anything that requires an advanced notice and a pre-set menu was really painful, and we're trying to fix that.
How do you pick out your wardrobe?
I need to be somewhat calculated and smart about how I choose my clothes for the day. Where am I going to be in three hours and in five hours and what do I need to be wearing to fit that? Since I drive everywhere in LA, I can take it all with me. The idea is not to change pants throughout the day. Everything else around can be two jackets and three shirts.
There's a lot of reasons why I love being in LA. Weather is the easy answer. The weather is a little more changing and a little less forgiving than east coasters realize. One thing I love is all the momentum moving towards LA. You see this kind of migration west for people of a certain age range. This east coast hustle is what I love but LA is more of my speed.
Tell us about how you in hindsight looking over your career, how did you carve your own path?
Where I'm at now is a culmination of lack of a plan combined with boxing myself into not having certain options. If you're not a great student and you don't focus in high school then you don't get into college and that starts to take away certain opportunities. As long as you have work ethic, and drive, and hustle, and aren't afraid of working hard, and as long as you find something that you love then you'll be alright. You'll find the path. If you have a little obsession, that probably helps as well.