We know a lot of writers and intellectual-types who would punch their mother to be featured in The New Yorker. The crew behind Joseph Leonard and the sister restaurants Perla, Fedora and Jeffrey’s Grocery achieved that very feat not for writing an esoteric memoir or staging metaphysical one-act plays. To put it bluntly: they were fat and decided to do something about it.
Earlier this year, on the day after the Super Bowl, 18 staff members from the restaurants — including chefs, managers and servers — each chipped in $100 to see who could lose the highest percentage of their own body fat. It’s been a few months since The New Yorker profile (sorry, no link; it’s only available to New Yorker subscribers), so we wanted to see whether the gang was keeping the weight off despite their proximity to so much good food. For those unfamiliar with Joseph Leonard and its sister restaurants, they are all located in a nook of the West Village that owner Gabe Stulman now dubs “Little Wisconsin.” His restaurants specialize in Midwest comfort food crossed with modern haute cuisine. The kitchens of these establishments are probably not an ideal location to stage a battle of the bulge.
Creator (and eventual runner-up) of the Fat-Off Adam Benedetto, the General Manager of Joseph Leonard, updates us here on how the participants are faring. (The biggest loser was Eric Milley, Head Chef at Jeffrey’s Grocery, who went from 214 to 182 pounds.) Benedetto walks us through what’s it like to lose weight surrounded by French fries and getting absolutely no sleep thanks to those grueling restaurant hours.
I imagine it’s tough to lose weight while working at a restaurant.
It’s almost impossible. It’s not just what you’re eating, it’s the hours in which you work. To have an hour to set aside each day to exercise is really difficult. The erratic schedule, with restaurant management. And sleep deprivation. You wind up eating after 10 at night. You’re going to end up getting fat. Plus we drink all the time.
Dare I ask if light beer was ever consumed?
I would never drink light beer.
But I assume most people participating didn’t drink as much?
A lot of us weren’t drinking any beer. We weren’t drinking and our girlfriends loved us. Our mothers spoke more fondly of us. We all had stable relationships, nobody was heartbroken for awhile.
Was the motivation the money?
I wanted to bike race. Some people were going for the money. They were starving themselves outright. I was working out all the time to convert my body into a fit, racing machine.
You ride a bike to work, right?
I have a commuter bike.
I imagine that helps you to maintain your weight.
I’ve always done that. It’s about a 20-minute bike ride. An active lifestyle makes life a lot better. Here we serve deep fried foie gras, we have some pretty rich foods. And we eat it like everyday. It’s healthier than McDonald’s but it’s very rich.
Did you find that the culture of the restaurant changed after the Fat Off?
With the Fat Off, more and more people were interested in being healthy and eating right. Now there’s another bet going on between the owner and one of the chefs at Fedora. It’s still about health and fitness. I think that’s the right way to approach fitness in the workplace. Instead of making it some cosmetic thing, it’s something you can follow through on.
A culture of fitness. That’s pretty rare for a restaurant.
I definitely am trying to impart that culture. I don’t want to miss out on drinking constantly. That’s what restaurant people do. You’re always watching people relax. You’re working and wishing you could be sitting back and eating and drinking. But now it’s like… just to give another people another idea. The Fat Off provided the foundation of that. There are people that have lost serious weight. Our head chef (James McDuffee) has lost another 15 pounds after the Fat Off. I hope we can keep this going on when we’re not working.
You guys have days you’re not working?
For us it’s Jewish holidays, so it’s like great. It’s like let’s plan a bike ride rather than having a barbecue and getting drunk.
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