A brand new docuseries on Food Network shows the trials and tribulations that running a restaurant can have on your relationships.
“Me or the Menu” follows four couples who are putting their relationship to the test by working in the restaurant industry. The show explores why approximately 60 percent of restaurants fail and nearly 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.
Each couple is at a different point in their restaurant career, with some being very new to the industry while others have years of experience. Regardless of the amount of time spent in the field, “Me or the Menu” doesn’t shy away from the struggles that come along with the business side as well as the personal side of things.
One couple highlighted in the show is Randi Lee and Jeanette Zinno, owners of Brooklyn’s Leland Eating and Drinking House. Lee has been a part of the restaurant industry from the time he was young, working his way through many kitchens while he was in art school in Chicago.
“You kind of fall into these careers and the restaurant industry is very consuming. I fell in love with it,” said Lee. “It’s very similar to art, it’s culinary arts. The fact that we could create an art piece every night and continue to work towards a masterpiece, was always something I continued to look at in the industry.”
Zinno, on the other hand, was not super familiar with the restaurant industry, but as a freelance travel writer, she is no stranger to working for yourself.
“I was kind of the one that pushed Randi to open his own restaurant when I met him many years ago,” said Zinno. “That was his dream, to open a bar and restaurant. That was just the right timing in general, it was a time in our lives and careers, so I told him, ‘This is your time, you should do it now.'”
The pair made plans to open Leland in February 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns struck New York City. The couple wanted to make it feel like guests who dined at Leland were walking into Lee and Zinno’s home.
“We named it that wanted people to feel like they were coming into our home. It’s all-natural handmade cooking and Mediterranean food. Everything is local, the cooking a bit lighter but still delicious. We just have always made everything in-house,” said Zinno. “With me being a travel writer, I always tried to incorporate things from travels around the world. It was really fun for me because I have no restaurant background, I get to care about the vibe. Food was more of Randi’s department, I was caring more about how it feels when you walk in.”
Naturally, like many restaurants in New York City Leland Eating and Drinking House had to close down. A lot of the building still needed to be completed, and with their main builder stranded in Canada, a lot of the work fell onto Lee and Zinno to put the restaurant together.
“We had to roll up sleeves and do it ourselves,” said Lee. “It was a blessing in disguise, we got to make everything feel very handmade.”
“Me or the Menu” shows a lot of the struggles that Lee and Zinno have had along the way. Some of the issues that came up right away surrounding the pandemic proved to be an issue for Leland Eating and Drinking House.
“We opened officially on Dec. 10, 2020. It took almost a year to build and fine-tune. We then three days after opening had to close indoor dining. That was definitely a pivot,” said Lee. “We’re always fine-tuning service, but the restaurant business was changed forever. We’re constantly having to shift with new laws and regulations. The pivot part is really hard to pinpoint if you don’t have your guide.”
Staffing also proved to be an issue since the restaurant has opened, with Zinno filling in where she can to help keep the restaurant afloat while trying to find people who fit in with the culture at Leland.
“Staffing was so hard, not only finding people but finding the right people. We were trying to find people we would want to hang out with and enjoy their company. Having people into your home, we want people to like each other,” said Zinno.
Both Lee and Zinno agree that being an entrepreneur had its own struggles, often making them feel like there were not enough hours in the day to get the job done, and that success doesn’t come overnight.
“The challenges of being an entrepreneur are that you never have a day off. I’m getting ready to blend wine and powerwash sidewalks today. With how much time and effort it takes to produce one plate of food for you, it feels like there’s not enough hours in the day,” said Lee.
“As an entrepreneur, you’re always working, you have no time for anything,” said Zinno. “I feel like one thing I realized when you open a restaurant, people think you’re a baller. You have this amazing spot that you open, but there’s so much overhead, it does take awhile to be profitable. You don’t just open a restaurant and be instantly successful because you opened.”
With wedding plans on the backburner, Lee and Zinno’s relationship is put to the test during the course of “Me or the Menu.” Zinno is ready to take a step back after putting thousands of her own money into the restaurant and filling in different roles to help keep Leland going, but will Lee be able to handle running the show on his own?
Though the fate of their relationship remains to be seen (you’ll have to tune in to find out!), Lee and Zinno hope that those who tune in will see what kind of work they’ve put in to make Leland Eating and Drinking House the best place it can be.
“Our team is very excited that everyone is able to see Leland Eating and Drinking House from afar. We’re starting to see people from different walks of life here,” said Lee. “But you can tune in and see what we do here — the sourcing, the making of the food, the types of service we have. We’re building, things are always evolving here, and having a platform like a TV show like this is really exciting.”
“I hope people come to see Leland and support us, they will see what it is to really care about our restaurant and have that experience,” said Zinno.
Leland Eating and Drinking House is located at 755 Dean Street in Brooklyn. “Me or the Menu” premieres on Food Network & discovery+ on Thursday, June 30 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.