How did you start out in the food business?
My family’s from Ohio and food was a really big central part of our daily lives. You meet up around food; you cook food and bring it to other people. Food continued to be a really big part of our family life so I fell in love with food and feeding others at a very early age...
How did you get into the Foodservice industry?
I was born in Dorchester, MA one of nine siblings; I spent lots of time in the family kitchen with my mother Alma. At the age of 11 or 12, I fell in love with food over a simple Eggplant Parmesan sandwich at a friends’ house. My cooking was influenced by the Sunday suppers at home with family and friends. I always loved cooking and began working as a caterer while I was in school. From there, I worked my way up at various restaurants, cooking in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C...
Your family has been in the restaurant business since 1890. Tell me a little about your growth and how the firm grew from beyond Manhattan and into the catering business, for example?
The company was founded by Maxwell Lessing in 1890 and is operated to this day by 15 family members representing three generations of Lessing’s. Our highly diversified company feeds more than 40,000 guests a day at over 100 corporate, educational, country club, and manufacturing plant locations throughout the Northeast. Maxwell Lessing was an innovator. He responded to the explosion of the urban worker population in the 1890’s by opening the first convenient lunch counter. By the late 1920’s, Lessing’s was serving meals to New York’s workforce in as many as 20 locations in the financial district and the New York Stock Exchange.
What attracted you both to the restaurant industry?
BB: We love cooking and making people happy. Restaurants were always such a huge part of our childhood, and we had our favorite in every place we used to travel to.
EB: Rocky Aoki of Benihana was a huge inspiration.
So how did you end up at the Institute of Culinary Education? What impact did that have on your career?
I didn't do well in school, I'm very dyslexic. My high school counselor looked at my grades and said: “Well, son, we think you should just go get a job. We don't think any colleges are going to take you.” I thought, well, if I learn how to cook, I'll be able to eat. The one thing I didn't want to be was hungry! So I decided to go to a cooking school and I ended up getting addicted to it.
Martha Stewart is an American businesswoman, writer, and television personality. As founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, she has gained success through a variety of business ventures. TFS visited with the icon at the recent Tri-State Foodservice Show in New Jersey.