Nathan Mergen, Capitol ChopHouse
IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Nathan Mergen, general manager, Capitol ChopHouse.
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What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?
The challenging and rewarding aspects to this position are the people. Madison is dealing with a labor shortage right now, so finding people who are interested in the work can be a challenge. However, my relationship with the staff and our guests is what makes the job interesting. I cannot tell you how many great friendships — lifelong friendships — I have developed over my career with both guests and staff. There are too many to count.
Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?
I look up to William “Billy” Gallagher, who was executive chef while I worked at Becco in Manhattan. Hospitality is a less-than-perfect industry and in many cases integrity is something that is overlooked in the business. Billy has integrity and is the guy who preached that you must do right by the guest and own up to your shortcomings. If you made a mistake, Billy was the first person to come after you. He was as rewarding as he was tough. But at the end of many nights we would have a glass of wine and talk about the business. I was always flattered when he was working on a new dish and he would ask my opinion. Billy valued my opinion and that mattered to me.
What has been the high point of your career so far?
Opening the first Eataly in Manhattan is one of the craziest things I have ever done. I think the anticipation surrounding the opening was the most exciting because we didn’t know what was going to happen. I was the general manager for the space, and everyone was incredibly excited for me. I even had my picture with Joe Bastianich and the Eataly ownership team in The Wall Street Journal. During the opening, I was also able to work alongside Chefs Mario Batali and Dave Pasternak, so it was a time of learning and a test of discipline for sure.
Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Don’t wait for anything. Put yourself out there and do it, whatever “it” may be. Inaction is a waste of time for you and those around you. Chase the adventure and know you will not win all the time. Don’t let fear get in your way but use it as an essential tool to learn your potential.