Daniel Holzman and Michael
Chernow have been talking about opening a restaurant together since they
band mates at LaGuardia High School, right here in Manhattan. This past
February, they turned their dream into a reality, opening The Meatball
Shop on the Lower
This one-of-a-kind eatery muses on meatballs of all sorts, everything
from lamb to rabbit for “Easter
Balls” in spring. Clearly, they’re not your average red sauce joint
graduated from the French Culinary Institute,
Holzman began working at the early age of 14 under Eric Ripert at Le
and went on to head a slew of acclaimed California restaurants.
But these best friends grew up on feasting on meatballs from a neighborhood pizzeria, so when it came time to
collaborate on a restaurant, they came up with a house of meatballs. Four months in, Chernow and Holzman not only have a wildly successful business, but also new favorite late-night hang out spot.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Senator, although, I would have settled for congress.
How did you two meet and decide to go into business
Mike and I have been best friends since we’re 13 years
old. It was an arranged marriage; our mothers knew each other through a
working relationship. I was a sophomore at Laguardia High school, Michael
was an incoming freshman, and they set us up. I played the flute and
Michael played the Tuba. We’ve been talking about having a restaurant together
ever since I can remember.
Daniel: How did you manage to get a job at Le Bernardin at
age 15 and what did you learned from chef Eric Ripert?
Such a crazy, lucky, funny story. I was working as a
delivery boy at The Candle Café , a vegan restaurant on the Upper East
Side. Actually, Mike worked there as well; I got him a job doing
deliveries on Rollerblades. Either way, whenever I had any spare time I
spent it in the kitchen. I was attracted to the action behind the stoves.
On Sundays, I volunteered my time making salads and learning the hot
line. One Sunday I was in the back working when the Chef burned herself,
and she had to go to the hospital. It was nearing the end of the night, and
rather than close early, they left me behind the stoves alone to finish out the
night. At this time I was madly in love with my best friend and classmate
who lived around the corner. So coincidentally, she stopped in with her
father Jacques to say hello. They found me in the kitchen and he was
shocked to see me working alone at 14. He asked me if I was the Chef, and
of course, I answered yes! As it turned out, he was the Maitre D at Le
Bernardin, and he invited me to interview with Eric. I had no idea what I
was doing, and showed up late for the interview. Eric let me know that
luckily he was taking a haircut and was late himself, signaling that otherwise
I would have been fired before even having a job. I started working
Wednesdays after school. It was an incredible experience; I worked there
for five years. At the time I took it all for granted; I had no idea how
lucky I really was….
Who do you consider your culinary
Eric Ripert, Jean-Louis Palladin, Laurent Manrique.
Those guys really impressed me. The other day Wylie Dufresne came
in for lunch. He was a sous chef at Palladin when it first opened,
Eric Ripert got me a job cooking on the line as one of the opening
cooks. We were talking about that kitchen, I was a real pain in the ass
teenager and he was very kind and patient with me.
What brought you guys out to the West Coast?
My big brother Eli lived in LA. At the time, I was
living in Las Vegas and decided to join him. Mike, Eli and I are really
close. Michael is really more of a brother than a friend. We all
decided to get a place together on Venice Beach. Michael was pursuing his
acting career, and I was planning to be a professional card player.
How do you think New York’s dining scene differs from San
Francisco? Which do you prefer? (Be honest.)
As a patron, I think both cities are incredible food
cities. As a chef, San Francisco has so much to offer as far as the
availability of local produce, and meat is unparalleled. The mild weather
makes working in a hot kitchen a pleasure! As an owner, New York is far
superior—the population density, the dining hours, for example—and there is
simply more money in New York, period.
From Le Bernardin to a Meatball Shop, that’s quite a drastic
change. What was that transition like for you?
I’ve worked in a lot of different kitchens—big to small.
For me, I love the connection we have to the food here at the Meatball
Shop—the simplicity is wonderful. I love to laugh; we have fun every day
and every night here at the Shop because it’s informal and casual.
Sometimes I miss the feeling of being surrounded by such passionate serious
What inspired the two of you to open a meatball shop?
Mike and I were planning to open a more sophisticated place,
actually. We were sitting at Whole Foods one afternoon after months of
searching for locations when it came to us. We were talking concepts for
the millionth time when Mike said “why don’t we just open a restaurant that
only serves meatballs and be done with it.” “Done,” I replied.
What’s your favorite combination on the meatball shop menu?
I don’t pick favorites. The whole point of the shop is
there is no best combo. Each day we come up with new ideas; for example,
last night I had spaghetti with creamed spinach and mushroom gravy and it was
Can you describe the process of coming up with your meatball
Usually someone (a passionate customer, a cook, my mom)
throws out some idea half joking, and we go for it. Sometimes I see the
farm availability list and get excited; the goat balls were a good example of
that. We try to have a ball for every holiday also, Bunny Balls for
Easter (made w/ rabbit), Cinco de Mayo balls (we add tequila to the mixture),
St Patrick’s Day Ball (made w/ corned beef)….
Other than your own, what are some of your favorite places
for meatballs in New York?
So many great meatballs! Locanda Verde, Bar Pitti,
Frankie’s 457, Scarpetta, Hearth.
How have your customers responded to the
salmon meatballs – are they a popular item or are people weary of them?
Well, we took them off the menu…. If that gives you
any indication. Funnily enough, we still get people every day asking for
How do you make your vegetarian versions
as flavorful and hearty as the true meatballs?
I don’t try to make them taste like meat…. Vegetables
are delicious, why not celebrate them!
Why did you choose to open your eatery on the Lower East
Mike always knew this was the place for The Meatball
Shop. There was no question in his mind. We wanted to have a late
night place, and the LES is a great late night neighborhood. It’s where
we hang out.
What are your favorite Italian delis in
New York City?
Italian delis? DiPaolos. I don’t know. I’m not really
a deli guy, although, I can tell you my five favorite Jewish delis….
Any plans for a second
That’s usually the first question people ask! People
come in every day to talk to us about expansion, and it’s really
flattering. Right now, Mike and I are fully concentrated on making The
Meatball Shop we already have as successful as possible. We have our
hands full, and The Meatball Shop is only four months old—still very much a
full time job for both of us. We are here every day and every night
working together. Maybe down the road.
Credit: Will Sterns
The Meatball Shop
84 Stanton St., nr. Allen St.