#112: Meatballs, A Killer Morning Routine & The Relationship Business – Entrepreneur, Restaurateur, Athlete Michael Chernow (Sandlot Jax & GORUCK Games 2023 Series)

Thursday July 27, 2023

Do what you say you’re going to do. It’s a simple concept that’s too often lost when the times get tough and we’re under pressure. To close out day two of the 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games entrepreneur, restaurateur and athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff for a post-apocalyptic rain storm conversation about building businesses, forging relationships and committing to success. 

Michael is the founder of Seamores and Kreatures of Habit, and the co-founder of The Meatball Shop. As a New York City native he candidly shares how he entered the restaurant industry to escape a difficult childhood home life; a decision that began a career of hospitality service, but also led to severe drug and alcohol addiction. 

Faced with a decision point about his life at just 23, Michael explains how we overcome adversity by focusing on our choices, setting a killer morning routine, and building meaningful relationships with people who push us to succeed.  

An exceptional entrepreneur distinguishes themselves by consistently taking decisive action and by doing what they say they’re going to do; and for Michael that plan includes making the CrossFit Games by 45!

Learn more about Michael Chernow on the web or follow him on social media. Read the full episode transcription here and learn more on The Jedburgh Podcast Website. Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. Watch the full video version on YouTube.

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Meatballs, A Killer Morning Routine & The Relationship Business – Entrepreneur, Restaurateur, Athlete Michael Chernow (Sandlot Jax & GORUCK Games 2023 Series)

Michael, welcome to The Jedburgh Podcast.

Thanks for having me.

This is day two Sandlot JAX, but it’s a redux of the whole day because Jessie’s here. He flew in mid-day, came straight to the event, had her activation on the obstacle course, which was awesome, then went in and gave an amazing Fit Talk about resiliency. I appreciate you coming back. I said it to you when he showed up, “A man of his word. Someone who does what they say they’re going to do.” That means a lot to me because, in Special Operations, there’s a song, the Ballad of the Green Berets. We all live by the song, the Ballad of the Green Berets. Even now years after I’ve been out, if the Ballad of the Green Berets comes on, I get a tear in my eye.Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

When you dawn your Green Beret at selection after the Special Forces qualification course, they don’t tell you that they’re going to play it. You may do and without fail, there’s not a dry eye. Here are all these guys, “I have done my Green Beret. I’m a badass warrior,” and they’re all crying. There is a line in that that says, “Men who do what they say they’re going to do.” I appreciate that very much. I appreciate your coming.

I appreciate you.

I got my co-host back.

We’re here. We made it.

We did eight successful episodes down at Wodapalooza together and somehow she’s agreed to join me again. I appreciate that.

We made it back. So much fun.

It’s interesting, the, “Do what you say you’re going to do.” I opened a business in 2015 and I had come off of selling a company and I launched a new business. I was in the restaurant world. I worked in restaurants my whole life. I started this company called Seamore’s. It’s a restaurant, sustainable seafood business. I wanted to do it without partners because I had a tough experience with a former partner. I was like, I got to see if I got what it takes to do it alone where I could hire great people around me.

I’ve always had a bunch of mentors in my life. Not always, but I have made it my mission to have people around me that I’m chasing. I always like to chase. I feel like chasing is something that we should all have. There was a guy named Jay Wainwright who, early on when I opened up my first business, was there for me. He was older than me. He was always like, “Ask me anything.” He was one of the first guys I told about Seamores. I was going to do a second restaurant concept.

Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

Anyway, he showed up at the opening of the restaurant. The next day, he wrote me an email and he was running a company called Le Pain Quotidien which has got 1,500 restaurants. It’s a huge company. He was running that business and he built it from 250 restaurants to 1,200. He wrote me an email and he said, “You did what you said you were going to do. I want to leave Le Pain Quotidien and join you and grow Seamores with you.” That was the first time that I had felt like I was a person who does what he says he’s going to do. It was glaringly made clear to me.

I ended up telling Jay I couldn’t take him on as a partner because I knew that he would have to be my boss and I didn’t want that, but he ended up coming on as my partner a year later. We grew Seamores together for a while, but he taught me about that. I feel like that is so important because if I don’t say it out, I can think whatever I want. I don’t have to necessarily act on my thoughts, but if I say something out loud, I’m going to fucking do it. That’s the commitment that I have. If I say it out loud, I’m going to do it. I said I’m going to compete in the CrossFit games at 45, I’m going to do it.

Are you really?

I’m going to do it, 100%.

Do you have to think hard before you say something out loud to make sure you don’t commit to something that’s a key part of it?

I do. I play around with it for a while. The CrossFit games thing was tough. I also said I was going to be a pro bodybuilder and I did. I decided to start doing CrossFit about eight months ago and I immediately was like, “Where have I been? What in the hell is wrong with me?” I did all these other things, and then I walked into CrossFit and I was like, “I’ve been training alone for all these years?” I PRed every lift with a group of people standing behind me being, “Go, dude.” I’m like, “This is crazy.”

I was like, “That’s it. I’m not going to try to compete.” That’s a lie. I spoke to Ben Bergeron and he was like, “You should not even think about competing until you’re at the bottom of your next age group class. You’re going to get smoked in everything you do. Be the young of the old guys.” I was like, “That sounds like a good plan.” That’s the goal.

I would say that having now been to Wodapalooza and seeing what we have seen firsthand, there are some impressive folks.

It is intense.

We had the opportunity because we interviewed Don Faul, and Jessie was great. I had so many good questions about the process. “How do you become an instructor? What’s the training like?” He then offered to send us to the level one training course, so we did that.

We got our certificates.

I flew out to San Diego and Jessie came down from LA, and we did the course.

You’re going to laugh at this. After my Fit Talk, I walked back into the green room and there was a guy sitting on the couch. He was wearing a CrossFit shirt. I’m an idiot. I didn’t do enough research before I came here. I’m talking to this guy and I was like, “That was awesome.” He looked a little stressed out. He was sitting in front of his computer.

I was like, “Just go out there and crush it. You do CrossFit?” He’s like, “Yeah, I love CrossFit.” I was like, “Me too. I started doing CrossFit a few months ago. It was the best thing ever.” He’s like, “Yeah.” We were just there stuck talking about life. I walk out, I turn around, and I look at the poster. It was Don Faul, the CEO. I was like, “I was talking to this dude about how awesome CrossFit is.” He must’ve felt good about that, but he was so humble and kind. The fact that he wasn’t like, “Yeah, I’m the CEO.”

9.5 out of 10 people would have said to you, “I’m the CEO.” Just to make himself feel good.Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

By the way, that guy is awesome. I listened to his talk and he is awesome.

We’ve got him.

We’re working out.

You should bring that up because that is so funny.

We will now, then we’re going to do a follow-up, we’re going to talk about the course what we did, and then we have to put him back in the ice bath.

If you want to.

They’re right over there. That was the challenge we had for him at the end too. We convinced him to hop in the ice bath with us. I’m thinking we got to go 2 for 2 on this.

I love those things.

Let’s talk about you for a little bit because we talk about Renaissance men. We talk about people who’ve done so many different things. You’ve done a lot in many different industries. Entrepreneurism, starting businesses as an athlete, as a trainer, as a restaurateur. This is a tough business and you’re building and running restaurants in New York. Being in New York myself, you see so many things come and go and there are so many trends. To be sustainable as you have over the years is tremendously an incredible feat that you’ve had. Talk about food, the industry, and what drew you to that in the first place.

It goes way back for me. My first job was in a restaurant when I was twelve years old. I had a pretty rough and tumble childhood at home. It was a rough relationship with my dad. I was looking to get out of the house in any possible way, shape, or form. I had been sleeping at all my friend’s houses. I’d always wanted to sleep over at my friend’s house. I wanted out of the house. It was a small apartment that we lived in Manhattan, my mother, my sister, my dad, and I. I was able to get a job in a restaurant when I was young.

Can you still do that, work at twelve?Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games


I got the job right before I went into high school. This is the summer going into high school. I fell in love with being out of my house at night, which was awesome. It wasn’t like being out of the house and in trouble because I did a lot of that too. It was a being out of the house and working. Being in an environment where I felt I was the youngest, but also, I quickly learned that my passion for people was very strong. My passion for connecting with people is ultimately something that I’ve always had. I’m driven to connect with, engage with, and create environments for people to thrive in. Being in a restaurant made that possible in every sense of opportunity.

I worked as a delivery boy first. Ultimately, they gave me a job as a prep cook and I spent time in the kitchen. About a year after that, they threw me out on the floor and I was a busboy. It was a place for me to feel freedom. I felt freedom in the world of restaurants. Ultimately, I ended up working in every position I could work in in the restaurant world, all through high school.

I did a year of college. I realized that I was not in my right mind at that time in my life, so I dropped out of college and continued working in restaurants. When I was 23 years old, I made a big decision to change my life. I knew I needed to get sober. Recovery is now a big part of my life, but then it was a do-or-die question. I was definitely headed down a dark path and I had overdosed and made the call.

On what?

On heroin. Even saying that now is crazy for me, those words coming out of my mouth. It’s powerful to have a story where that was my life. I was smoking crack, using heroin, and drinking everything and anything. I had chalked it up as over. That was it.

At 23. Hasn’t even started.

Some people will say, “You’re young.” I was on a death march. I didn’t care. I got lucky. It’s easy to live that lifestyle though. I want to make this clear. In the world of restaurants, it’s an epidemic. Alcohol and drug abuse are rampant in the world of restaurants. It’s rampant everywhere right now. There is a real drug problem in our country, which I’m trying to drive awareness of through my business. Creatures a habit, but I needed to make a decision.

[bctt tweet=”There is a real drug problem in our country.” username=”talentwargroup”]

I made a decision. I got sober. These guys introduced fitness and nutrition into my life. That’s when I took food and beverage seriously. I went to culinary school and I said, “I’m going to dive into this food and beverage thing. Not only the hospitality thing.” I had the hospitality. I had the people thing. That’s what kept me alive because I did have this ability to connect with people. They didn’t just draw a line through my name.

Everything changed. When I graduated culinary school, I knew that I wanted to open up a business and I began drawing the business plan for that. It took me about a year. I ultimately grabbed my best friend from childhood who was working with me in the candle café. I was 12 and he was 13. They were having minors on the payroll there, but it was awesome. We opened up a restaurant called The Meatball Shop. I was 28 in 2010 and Daniel was 29 or 30.

With so much experience already.Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

The crazy thing is that I had been working in restaurants at that point, fifteen years. I read a great book before we opened up the restaurant. We both read it together. It’s called The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. It talks about the idea that you could be an awesome plumber, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be an awesome business owner that opens up a plumbing company. Someone that we looked up to said, “You guys got to read this book and you got to do it to the T.” We were like, “We’re going to do it.” We learned a lot about what it meant to be business partners very quickly.

It’s hard because when we opened up The Meatball Shop, it was insane. It was totally nuts. We had no idea what was coming down the pipe. There were 250 people on line day one, and that line did not stop. We were cooking meatballs on Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Chelsea Handler, Good Morning America, and the Today Show. Within eight months of being in business, we had done all this show. The press was crazy and it was totally insane.

What made it so successful?

I want to precursor that question. I do believe that human beings love stories. We love telling stories or some of us love telling stories, but all of us love hearing a great story. We’re gluttons for storytelling. For thousands of years, humans have been sitting around the fire telling stories. Daniel and I’s story is a good one. We’re childhood best friends. We grew up in New York City.

Our mothers introduced us because they were both secretaries. My mother was a dentist. His mother was a psychopharmacologist. His mother went to the dentist where my mother was a secretary. My mother went to the psychopharmacologist where she was a secretary at. They introduced us, and then we started working in restaurants together as young kids.

When we were sixteen, we were like, “We’re going to open up a restaurant together.” We got this place in Lower East Side. We didn’t hire contractors. We took over an old restaurant. We put paper up on the walls. We brought in our own tools, ripped the place down, built it back up in two and a half months, and opened up the doors.

Did you have experience doing that thing? How did you learn to build?

Daniel, my partner, at The Meatball Shop, his father was in construction. Daniel grew up, but he also didn’t know what the hell he was doing, but he pretended like he did. He was telling me what to do. I was like, “Whatever.” Sledgehammer and shit. I remember the guy that we bought the restaurant from, it’s ridiculous, but he had all of the tables cemented into the ground. The guy poured the cement over the tables so the tables were removed.

It had to have been at least ten days, and it was thick steel tables. It was quarter to half-inch thick steel square stock tables. I was on the floor of this restaurant for days with a grinder because it was 17 or 18 days. It was crazy. Somebody suggested that we get a publicist. I had no idea what a publicist was at that point. We were introduced to this guy, Phil Boltz.

Phil happened to have walked into the restaurant while I was on my hands and knees sanding the floor. Daniel was in the back peeling the three-inch thick grease that had been splashed up on the wall from the Chinese restaurant. It was a Chinese restaurant that we had taken over and, on the wall, there was a three-inch thick layer of oil that went the whole length of the place. He was scraping that off. I’m sanding the floor.

Phil walked in and he goes, “Can I talk to the owners?” I’m covered in sawdust. I’m like, “You’re looking at him.” We sat down and he was like, “This is it. You guys are opening up a meatball place?” We were like, “That’s what we’re doing.” He’s like, “Just meatballs?” We were like, “Also, sides.” That was it. He got our story. He understood what we were doing. We’re both New York City guys. We both worked in restaurants in New York City our whole lives. It was a real authentic thing. We weren’t opening up an Italian restaurant. We were opening up a New York City meatball place that had never been done before and people love meatballs.Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

What drew him in that day? Did he just walk by and be like, “These guys look fascinating?”

No. We were introduced to him and he said, “I’ll swing by on Thursday between 4:00 and 8:00.” We were like, “Okay, great.” He showed up. It was perfect timing because he did get a glimpse of what we were doing, which was literally walking in blindly headfirst. Not knowing what the hell we were doing, but knew that there was a lot of passion there because we had both worked in some great restaurants. We both had spent our whole entire lives as technicians. He said, “I think you guys got a real shot.” There’s no shot that we would’ve had what we had without him. That’s for sure.

He got you on all the shows where you were able to tell your story, which is an awesome story.

Also, the fact that when I was going through all that stuff, Daniel was my one friend who did stick by my side. Even though it was like I kept him at arm’s length because I was not hanging out with guys as good as him at that time, he always checked in on me. It’s a good story.

That means so much when you’re at a low place knowing that there’s at least one person who’s with you and who’s going to be there for you.

We got to surround ourselves with good people. We’re talking about The Meatball Shop, which was probably not the healthiest options on the menu. I say that because I told you before we started and when we were talking earlier that I wanted to have a conversation around wellness and nutrition. That’s something that as you’ve built these restaurants, they each have their own style and stuff, but nutrition’s been a big part of your life and what you do. It’s a huge part of Jessie’s life. Every time I’m around her, I’m like, “Don’t eat that. She’s going to judge me.”

I won’t.

I know she won’t, but then I watch what she’s eating. I’m like, “That’s disgusting. I would never eat that.”

There’s a lot of green.

There’s no flavor in it. You’d be surprised though. Healthy food is flavored. You can do it.

Spices can be very healthy.

Spices change the game.Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

I probably need some tips on that because you’re right, I don’t put flavor in my food because I have no idea how. It’s all coconut oil and garlic powder.

Garlic powder can go a long way.

It does. That is my only seasoning on everything.

There’s a bunch of companies that do a good job on the seasoning front, like Noble Made.

I don’t know about this.

They’re great. The New Primal has some great ones. Noble Made makes some great spices, all different kinds of spices.

They’re gluten and dairy-free.

I also use healthy sauce, too. I’ll use True Made Foods. They make amazing sauces. All plants and they sweeten with carrots and beets, that’s the only sugar that is in the products. They’re awesome sauces. You’d love it.

I’m so excited.

Just like the way The Meatball Shop came to be. I was working at this Italian restaurant for years and there was a dish on the menu called the Rigatoni Ragu.

That sounds amazing. Carve up. I’m all down.

Big bowl of rigatoni pasta with meatballs and sausage, the best tomato sauce you’ve ever had in your life, and a shit ton of Parmesan cheese.

It’s a bold statement, by the way. I’m 100% Italian. I could challenge my grandmother.

I was at war with every Italian grandmother in opening The Meatball Shop, trust me. Anyway, once I decided to make a big change in my life, nutrition became massive for me. I started to pay attention to everything I put into my body because, for so many years, I didn’t pay any attention to what I put into my body. Anyway, late at night for a family meal, 1 or 2 days a week, I would order the Rigatoni Ragu, sans the rigatoni, sans the cheese. I would have a bowl of meatballs and sausage with a side of broccoli and a side of spinach.

That sounds good. I love that.

That’s The Meatball Shop right there. I was doing that for years because I had worked at this restaurant for eight and a half years before I opened up The Meatball Shop. Daniel came back to New York and we were trying to figure out what restaurant to do. One day, we were walking north on 2nd Avenue and I was like, “Let’s open up a meatball joint. We can make meatballs out of chicken, pork, beef, lamb, anything, fish, and vegetables. We can make a meatball out of anything. We love sides. Let’s make a bunch of fucking sides. Let’s do meatballs and sides.” You can get your meatballs on a sandwich, pasta, broccoli, risotto, polenta, white beans, spinach, all of that.

You can get your meatballs on anything, or you can do a bowl of meatballs with one of our sauces or bear, and then a bunch of sides, which is the way I do it. We then ultimately made something called Everything But the Kitchen Sink, which is a bunch of different veggie sides, meatballs, and sauce. Ultimately, it is the healthiest version of a meatball restaurant. There are not that many meatball restaurants, but you can make it totally healthy or you can go there and walk out looking like that trailer if you wanted to. You can have the beef balls with Parmesan cream sauce over mashed potatoes and a side of polenta, and roll out of there a goddamn meatball if you want to. You can also have gluten-free chicken meatballs with pesto sauce, a side of broccoli, a side of spinach, and a beet salad.

I’m so excited to hear that. I don’t know if you saw how much I lit up. I can get what I’m excited about. Something super healthy, go with friends, and they can get whatever range of health.

The coolest thing about it is that you can customize the whole entire experience. You get to choose what meat you want, what sauce you want, and what sides you want. The whole bit.

What if I’m super annoying and say, “Can I have only one tablespoon of sauce?” You wouldn’t be mad at me.

They’ll give you a little ramekin of sauce. They won’t put the sauce on the balls for you.

That makes more sense.

Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

You put the sauce on the balls. That was the idea. It came out of this place of me being the pain in the ass customer that will go to a restaurant and be like, “I don’t want that. Can I get that separate from that?” I said, “I’m going to make it a choose-your-own adventure.” The menus are laminated and you check off what you want.

I love it so much.

I’m embarrassed that I’ve been in New York for 5 or 6 years and haven’t been there.

That’s a shame.

I haven’t been there.

Now that I know, we’re going to fill you full of meatballs. I’m going to beat you there. We’re going to have a follow-up.

Is there bread in the meatballs? Is that normal?

In the chicken balls, no. In the chicken balls, there’s almond flour. The chicken balls are gluten-free. All the other meatballs do have bread.

I’m all right with chicken.

The chicken balls are really good.

I don’t think I’ve had a chicken meatball before.

It is a blend of dark and white, but they’re very good balls. My go-to is the chicken meatballs with pesto sauce. That’s been my go-to for years. The veggie balls are also very good. I love the veggie balls. All the meatballs are very good. Chicken and veggies are my jams for years. They’re lentil-based. There are fourteen all real ingredients in them, there’s no Tempe thing.

Let’s talk about choices. In my research of you, I’ve taken some of the concepts that you’ve talked about and I feel like I can do my best to distill them down into 3 or 4 different topics that I want to get into. I have this concept and I teach these leadership programs on what I call the five components of a performance mindset. It’s my experiences in Special Operations and I’ve broken them down into Character, Preparation, Choice, Action, and Communication. Choice to me is a very important part of the discussion.

We were talking about WHOOP earlier and I was fortunate to sit down with Kristen Holmes, the VP of Performance Science at WHOOP. She talks about performance as a choice. There’s a second piece of that that I’ve added which is, your choices also affect your performance. This is where I want to bring in what you talked about. You said that every day starts with an opportunity to make a decision. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, whether it’s food or anything in our life. Can you talk about that concept and why every day when you wake up, you’re faced with a choice to make?

I like to paint the picture of if you’re building a structure or a building, and it’s 2023 April, you have the choice to dig a big hole, pour concrete in, put your underpinning in, put down rebar, make it awesome firm.

Your restaurant table.

Don’t do that, anyone. Anyone tuning in, if you open up a restaurant, do not pour the tables into the concrete. You have this opportunity to pour a sound foundation and structure so that you can build your building and it’s going to stand the test of time. You’re not going to worry when it rains about mud and erosion. You are going to build a structure that lasts, or you can start building on the dirt. You can do that for sure. It’s probably going to take less time in the beginning, cost less money, and you can do it. Your structure is going to sink over time. Potentially, in a bad storm, it’s going to fall over and you’re going to have to dig the hole and pour the foundation.

Every single morning that you wake up, you have to make a decision. Are you going to dig a hole and pour the foundation, so then you can ultimately build that awesome foundation and structure for your day to sit upon? Are you going to go and build on the mud because we all got mud? I like to start my day every single day by pouring a rock-solid foundation. For me, it’s not a drawn-out routine because I’ve been doing it for so long. I do believe that having a morning routine is the best way to set yourself up for success.Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

What does success mean to me? How I feel. It’s not about how much money I make because I’m not in a business where I can make $1 billion in a day. I can’t, but I could feel one way or the other. No guarantees, but I could set myself up with the time that I can control and the choices that I make in that time, which is typically from 4:45 in the morning until 6:15 when my wife and kids get up.

It’s over after that.

Complete control is gone. It’s lost. By the way, it’s fine by me because I have made the sacrifice in my life to give myself a strong hour and a half in the morning to totally indulge in self-love and self-care things that make me a better husband and dad. Those are the two most important things. I want to show up as a good dad and a good husband. Ultimately, as a business partner, a business owner, an employer, a friend, and a son. Those choices that I make from 4:45 to 6:15 in the morning are my life. I believe that. I only get one day guaranteed. Who the hell knows what happens tomorrow? If I can do everything I can and those choices that I make early in the morning, I run a good chance of feeling well throughout the day.

What are some examples of those types of choices? What’s an example of, “Here’s me building a house on mud versus a way that I can pour a foundation?”

It starts from the second I open my eyes. You can open your eyes and smile, which is what I do every morning. I smile for 15 to 30 seconds, like a shit-eating grin, probably while in bed, looking up at the ceiling, going right into gratitude. It feels awkward every time I do it, doesn’t feel great. At the fifteen-second-ish mark, it feels amazing and I feel optimistic. I’m like, “You are such a crazy son of a bitch. You are going to win,” or not do that, or be like, “Can I sleep another 5 to 10 minutes?

That’s how I get up at 4:30 or 4:45 in the morning. That is the phrase.

I will preface by saying that I am an extreme human. There is no doubt. I was extreme in a bad way for years. Now, I’m extreme in a good way, which is much better, but I like to have that time in the morning. The first thing I do every single morning is smile because I know that most humans, including myself, wake up with anxiety. Whether we know it or not, the thought of, “It’s time to start working or doing things.” Anxiety immediately, “I don’t want to do it.” Let me beat that down. Let me push that down and not allow that to drag me through my day. I don’t want that to be the first emotion. I’m going to take control. I’m going to tell my anxiety and fear to leave me alone and I’m going to own it.

That’s what I do, and then I bounce out of bed with intention. I walk downstairs because my wife is not waking up at 4:45 in the morning. I pound 22 ounces of water right away. I know that I probably slept somewhere between 7 and 8 hours. I took a piss in the middle of the night because I drank water probably way too close to bed. Even though I don’t feel dehydrated, I probably am. My body’s working all night long, recovering, and all those things. If I walked around here for eight hours, I’d be thirsty if I didn’t have anything to drink. First thing, let’s cover that too. Let’s fix that problem because dehydration also makes us tired, lethargic, and not stoked to want to talk to people.

[bctt tweet=”Dehydration makes us tired, lethargic, and not want to talk to people.” username=”talentwargroup”]

It feels like you’re hungry sometimes. If I’m thirsty, I think I’m hungry.

I use an electrolyte. It tastes delicious. I pound it. I then walk into the bathroom. I brush my teeth. I floss my teeth. I wash my face. I was competing in bodybuilding for years, so I would typically step on the scale first thing in the morning. Thank God I don’t do that anymore because that was not fun. If I’m competing for something where I have to be at a certain weight, I will do that. I then have a prayer practice and I pray every morning. I have a prayer practice that I’ve been saying for many years. I pray for 3 to 5 minutes. I do 50 pushups every morning. I know this sounds long, but it does go by pretty quickly.

I sit and I do breath work in front of a red light panel. I go into a sauna that I have. I meditate and I read. I go into the cold plunge. I got a few more things that I do that are small. I walk into my kitchen and my wife and kids are typically either just getting up or will get up any second. It’s like I have zero interest in myself. I’m all focused on them, and that’s how I start my day. That’s 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Do you have any variation in, if you have a day where you have the whole day off versus a day where you get to be extra early?Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

Yes. I give myself flexibility. What I walked you guys through is typical if I’m home Monday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday, I do what the hell I want. If I want to wake up early, I wake up early.

Do you still do the same length routine?

No. Sometimes, if I choose to sleep in a little bit, which I tend to do whenever the hell I want. On a Saturday or Sunday, I’ll sleep until 6:00. I always try to get up a little bit earlier than the kids and the wife so I can get my prayers done and my pushups. I’ve got non-negotiable things that I do when I’m traveling. I don’t do any of the red-light saunas or cold plunges. Meditation, rarely when I’m traveling, it’s not part of it. If I can get to it, I do. Typically, for me, it’s brushing my teeth, flossing my teeth, washing my face, prayers, and pushups. That’s like, “I got some stuff to do.”

No matter what, these things are happening.

No matter what, non-negotiable. Of course, movement. No matter where I am on the planet, I am training unless it’s an off day, which I tend to take 1 or 2 days a week. Other than that, movement is always part of my day, no matter what.

Let me give you the second one. Work hard or not work hard? It’s the next choice that you have.

Work hard. I like to work hard, but I will say that there’s a difference between working hard and working smart. I used to think working hard was 16 hours a day early in my career. I do not work 16 hours a day anymore unless it’s necessary. I work 7 to 8 hours a day. It’s fucking hard though to get a ton of work done. I surrounded myself with a lot of smart people that took a lot of work to hire, find, cultivate, and build. I used to be weird about it too. I’m like, “I’m only working from 10:00 to 5:00?”

[bctt tweet=”There is a difference between working hard and working smart.” username=”talentwargroup”]

I get that feeling. “Is that okay? Am I still me?

Should I say that out loud? I’m like, “You earned that. You should be proud of that.” It’s not that you earned it because you spent so many years working eighteen hours a day, but you learn the hard way. Now you realize that it’s actually much better to ask for help than to try to do it all by yourself.

The third one I have here for you is, you get out what you put in. Talk about that concept. Why is that so important?

I’ll use the example of CrossFit. I started doing CrossFit several months ago. There are so many levels to the sport. Most people that do CrossFit go to a CrossFit gym, show up at 8:00 in the morning, and do some strength piece and a Metcon. The Metcon could be 7 minutes or it could be 20 minutes, rarely is it longer than 20. You cool down and that’s it. You’re going to be in great shape if you do that. If you eat well and you do that, you will be in great shape. They’re designed for quick, fast, good fitness.

However, if you want to do CrossFit for real, it’s a five-piece workout. There’s a strength piece. There’s a skill piece. There’s a Metcon. There’s an AMRAP. There’s an accessory thing. I didn’t know that until I started training with some elite CrossFit athletes. I’d show up and I’d be like, “What are we doing? They’d be like, “We’re doing this and that.” I was like, “Today?”

The idea is if there’s an EMOM, which means Every Minute On the Minute, 7 toes to bars and 15 chests to bars, you can do 2 toes to bars and 2 chests to bars, and not give it everything you’ve got, try to get it all done and be okay. If you put it all out there, you are going to feel and get more out of the workout than if you didn’t. That’s where I learned that in CrossFit specifically, you can go at your own pace and you’d probably still be okay, but if you want to excel in the sport, you can put every ounce of energy into it and get good.

I feel like you get out what you put in is obvious. You can go to school and fall asleep at your desk and not get shit out of it. You can pay attention, do the work, and get a ton out of it. You can get a job, do the bare minimum, and probably get fired in the first wave of layoffs, or be the first person to show up, offer help before being asked for help, and excel. The one thing I’ll say being a business owner for the last fifteen years is you can tell the people that want to get as much out of it as possible immediately as an owner, as a manager, or as any leader. It’s not the ones that want all the attention for showing up early and making everybody know that they’ve shown up early.

Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

“I was here. I already had two coffees.”

It’s the ones that really are doing the work. I like to call them the silent assassins. The ones that ask the right questions. They’re somehow some way always there at the right time. They don’t require an enormous amount of attention.

The last one of these is the concept that you can do anything you put your mind to. I’ll quantify that in a couple of different ways. I had the opportunity to sit down with Nick Lavery who wrote Objective Secure, the first above-the-knee amputee to return to duty to a Special Forces team. He talks about this mindset about, “Do whatever it takes.”

Also, Jessie. Jessie gave her Fit Talk on resiliency and coming back from injury. The very first thing that she said when she got up was, “I’m excellent at recovering from injuries.” All of these points here are summed up so well by her. I want to ask you to expand on this because as you’ve gone through your training, you’ve had to apply this concept and put it in your mind that, “I’m going to get back.” There’s no question that it’s going to happen. The other three points we talked about have to be put attached.

My question for you, as you were talking, relates to that because my instinct initially was you give 110% all the time, and then I got injured all the time. How do you find that balance of putting it all out there and getting the most out of the experience that you possibly can? Where do you know the line of, “The most productive thing for me or for the whole business in general is to pace myself a little bit more?” Do you have endless endurance and you just do everything?

Something that I have learned to embrace in business and in sport is, “Pain is part of the picture.” Not only pain in the journey of finishing the race, finishing the fight in the ring, or whatever it is. Pain is always part of it and setbacks too. I’m not sitting here saying that you should go until you get injured, but there’s so much learning in the recovery process.

[bctt tweet=”Pain and setbacks are always part of the journey of finishing the race.” username=”talentwargroup”]

If you don’t push hard, chances are you’re not going to get injured, and then you’re not going to experience the beauty of the pain that comes with recovering from an injury. You learn so much in the failures. I wouldn’t call injury a failure. However, it is an opportunity to be like, “This sucks. I don’t want to be doing this. I don’t want to be out, but I also want to get better at being out.”

I’ve had to teach myself that, because I’ve suffered a lot of injuries in sport and in business. I’m like, “This hurts bad.” I believe though that I’ve made it my mission to learn to love the hard and the hurt. If I can learn to actually love the hard and the hurt, which is part of the story, part of the journey, and part of the whole entire thing. If you’re trying to be elite, in the top of your game, and you want to win, which all humans want. It’s not all about winning, but all humans want to win. It feels good to win. That’s why I’ve set up all those little things in the morning because they’re all little wins for me every single day.Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

If you want to be elite, you’re going to get hurt. You could be smart about it and you could surround yourself with great people to be like, “Chill.” In business, I’ve surrounded myself with people that are so much smarter than me to be like, “Churn out. You’re doing 60 in a 20, and there’s a big speed bump. Fucking slow down.”

Just because I’ve put in a lot of hard work, I’ve been injured a lot, and I’ve had a lot of failure, I’ve earned the seat to be like, “You’re right. We’re hitting that fucking speed bump. We’re not slowing down. We’re going to pedal to the metal on this thing and we’re all going for the ride. I’m going to take the full accountability for the damage. As long as your seat belt’s buckled, you’re good. Trust me, I’m not going to kill anybody.”

That is it. There’s only one thing we got to do well. That’s to get back up. Most people don’t get back up. I do believe that the commitment to the mindset of “get back up” is what separates the good from the great because most people will stay down. The only time failure actually comes to fruition in my experience is when you’re throwing the towel. They could be like, “8, 9,” and you’re like, “No.”

You’re back in the fight. What are they going to do? You’re on your feet. They’re looking at you in the eye and you’re like, “I’m ready.” Even though you’re beat down, you just got knocked out. You somehow made it back up. That’s it. Probably get shit for saying that. I will. I get you for saying it, but I do believe that it’s part of it.

It is part of it for sure. The challenge for me has been learning when do I go pedal to the metal and accept that if I overreach and make this grab on this obstacle, I’m probably going to tear my supraspinatus, but this is the one that’s going to change my life, so I’m doing it anyway. Versus, I’m in my living room at 8:00 PM and I want to do 43 pull-ups instead of 42 pull-ups. I’m going to go extra hard and pull my supraspinatus doing one extra rep in my living room. Knowing this is not the time, this is where we tone it down.

That’s the work hard, work smart vibe. That’s where that comes in. For me, I worked out with a guy who should be in the games. He is an unbelievable athlete and I’m trying to keep up with him. I threw my back out doing deadlifts. I took Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. I took all week off, and didn’t do anything outside of some strength.

Good work on that discipline.

It was hard for me, but I did that and I went in there with him. The workout we did was hard, but it was okay for me. The workout was all midline. It was all toes to bars. We did Murph without the run, and I just started feeling my back go. It was right on my upper glute on the left side. I looked at him and, in my mind, I was like, “No fucking way you’re finishing this shit.” I was like, “Tomorrow’s another day.” Imagine, you do a GHD, you finish that last set of 25, and you’re out for another week. Come on. Honestly, there would be days where I would say, “I’m doing it.” Now, I didn’t, so I’m getting better. I’m growing.

It’s in that moment taking a second to think about, “Is this extra rep going to change my life for the better? Am I going to have more benefits by skipping this one and feeling okay tomorrow so I can do another workout?

That is the dilemma for hard-charging humans.Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

I found for me it was so much easier to assume that the voice saying to stop was always wrong and always push through it. I know for a lot of people, it’s more trusting the careful voice that says, “You should stop. This hurts. You’re tired.” The hard part is finding that place in between where you don’t default to always stop or always go. You have to think. Once you’re thinking, for me, then I might have a lazy voice saying, “This is uncomfortable. You should stop now.” I have to think hard, “Is that a lazy voice, or is that a muscle about to strain?” Thinking is hard, but that’s the working smarter part.

There are so many different ways you can look at that conversation with yourself. If it’s Saturday and you’re hanging out with friends, you didn’t make it to the gym. You wanted to go to the gym, but you were like, “I’m going to hang out with my friends. I’ll go to the gym later on.” You then start feeling a little tired Saturday afternoon and you’re having that conversation, “Am I going to go? No, I’m not going to go.” That’s when you need to turn the volume up and be like, “I’m going to go.” That’s where I would say you need to not listen to the voice.

Another thing that was life-changing for me in that genre was, I was coming home from work years ago. I was physically home, but I wasn’t emotionally home from work. I walked into my house and I still was working on my phone. I walked right into the kitchen and I passed everybody because I was deep in reading an email. My son was like, “Dad.” I was frustrated. I still had that intense work energy. I looked at him and I was like, “Do me a favor, please. Don’t you see that I’m doing something?”

I caught myself. For a second, I saw myself looking at my phone and telling my son to leave me alone. I had a nervous breakdown that that had just happened. From that day on, my phone has been in airplane mode the second I walk into the house. That’s another time when you can say, “Is this freaking email going to be worth making my eight-year-old son who wants nothing more in life than my attention? He doesn’t care about the phone, the cars, the house, the money, the restaurants, the business. Is it okay if I just shut off the emails for my awesome and amazing child? Yes.

Those are the hardest moments. We have those at my house too. I fall into the same thing. You get scolded by everybody. With a daughter, she’s the first one to be like, “Dad, he’s talking to you and you’re not paying attention to him.”

By the way though, I’m telling you the truth, from that day, I have never had my phone on from 6:00 until 8:30 at night. I will not do it. That scared me so much because I had such a tough relationship with my dad. It was all because he gave zero fucks and no attention. The attention that he did give was a lot worse than me telling my son to leave me alone while I’m finishing an email. It was terrible attention, so it was horrible. I caught myself prioritizing probably an irrelevant email. If I never responded to it ever, it wouldn’t matter. I’m taking the time over my son.

One more thing to ask you about relationships and the importance of relationships because relationships build trust. We live in a world now where we’ve become so transactional. I’ll take even this show as an example. The first year, everything was Zoom. Part of that was a bit of COVID. I was like, “You need to start a podcast? You do it remotely.” You then realize you do a couple of in-person. You’re like, “We’re building relationships.” You get to know somebody. You get to hang out with them. You learn more about their life. You have a deeper conversation. Now, we do everything in person because it’s changed the whole game. It changed the whole way that we interact.

When you think about building companies, being an entrepreneur, and having a restaurant, hospitality isn’t about looking at somebody on the other side of a screen. It’s about creating a moment when somebody comes into your restaurant that has an emotional effect on them that then creates that trust between you and them. Same thing for building teams.

That’s why we talk about character. You’ve talked a lot about different components of character because what does the character do? What does working out together do? It builds trust. It builds bonds. Talk about the importance of building trust and relationships in your businesses. As you look at your teams and you assess the people that you bring in, how are you evaluating that?Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

You struck a chord for me because for years and years, I’ve always said, the business of business is relationships and the foundation of relationships is trust. It’s that simple. You can try to run your business on a spreadsheet and think that that’s going to generate growth and an awesome trajectory because it says it on paper with numbers that all add up to a number that you think looks good. The truth of the matter is that people got to like you.

[bctt tweet=”Business is relationships, and the foundation of relationships is trust.” username=”talentwargroup”]

For them to keep on wanting to come back for more, and I’m not only talking about restaurants, I’m talking about in general. People have to like you. That could be a product. That could be a service. That could be a restaurant. That could be a relationship, intimate, or friendship. They got to like you. In my opinion, the business of business is relationships, so I’ve spent my life developing the skills of connecting, engaging, meeting people, and remembering their names. I learned a lot of that stuff in the world of hospitality, but relationship development should be at the top of every business person’s list.

Here’s a Harvard study. It’s one of the longest-lasting human studies, if not, the longest human study ever. It started in 1938 out of Harvard. They took 350 Harvard male sophomores and 350 same-age males from the streets of South Boston. There were 700 men involved in the study and they surveyed them. They asked them all these questions about their life, what stresses them out, and what makes them happy. This study is still going on to this day.

It’s been passed down from generation to generation. Some of the original guys are still alive. What they’ve essentially learned from this process was that there’s only one thing that can consistently draw to happiness in life based on this study. That is not the quantity, but the quality of your personal relationships. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve made. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve done in business. It doesn’t matter how much family you have.

The opposite of that, loneliness, is worse than cigarettes and fried food for all cords, mortality. If relationships are good for human happiness, they’re also probably really good for business happiness. I’m not a book-smart guy. I didn’t go to Harvard. I’m not one of these guys that’s going to recite Nietzsche. I like to listen to books. I force myself to read ten pages a day because I don’t enjoy doing it, but put me in Skid Row or at the White House and I promise you I’m walking away with friends. That’s a skillset that everybody should think about.

That’s a huge skillset. Do you have any recommendations for a practice or an exercise that someone could do to get started developing that skill?

I have two. One is to try to meet people in real life as often as possible. You can go to an event. If you’re there alone, I would highly recommend trying this alone. Go to an event alone, don’t walk in, pull out your cell phone, stand in the corner, and pretend like you’ve got shit to do. Don’t do that. That is the go-to. You walk in, you look around, you feel like, “I don’t know anyone. I’m uncomfortable.” There it is. I figured out my night. Go talk to ten people and count them.Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

It doesn’t mean that you have to make friends with everybody, but it’s a great way to sharpen the knife. Another thing that I’ll say, which is probably a little bit more practical for people because a lot of people are stuck in social media, is social media is a real thing. I’m not one of these people that says, “It’s the devil.” I’m one of these people that say, “Use it. Don’t consume it.” I don’t scroll through social media anymore. I’m a culprit of it. I have done it.

However, I’ve made a decision where I use social media for what it was built on. I do it for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. It’s part of my business. I have to be on social media and I DM anyone who I feel like DM-ing. I have a list of people that I follow, and then I go into their followers and I scroll down. I say, “My name is Mike Chernow. I’m trying to connect with some awesome people out here. I’m using social media for what it’s built for. I think you’re dope and I’d love to connect. I’m just reaching out.”

I do that. I have developed some awesome relationships that way. I’m socializing with people on social media and connecting with people on social media, not disconnecting and fucking hating myself. Comparing myself to every single person that I see that looks better than me, which a lot of us do, even though we don’t think we’re doing it.

That’s one of your ways of surrounding yourself with people that you can chase, learn, and grow from.

I’ve connected with some of the top CrossFit athletes, all of them. I’ve DMed them all and I’m like, “I’m new at CrossFit. I’m a business owner. I’ve created this cool new company. I think you’re awesome. Can we connect?” They all get back to me. I’m like, “This is great. I’m hanging out with these people now. It’s awesome.” I would say yes, that’s a great way to do it if you’re on social media and it’s hard for you to get to an event or whatever. Those two ways I would say, walk into a bar or any event and try to talk to ten people. Don’t pull out your cell phone. It should be a cell phone-free night for you alone. See what happens. Try to communicate and do it.

We’ve closed down Sandlot JAX for the second night in a row. It’s pitch black out here. I’ll put pride in this. I’m telling Jason McCarthy this. He left early. I’ll tell him, “If it were my event, I’d save it to the last person.”

We’re shutting it down. He’s working smart. He’s got to crew.

Michael, as we close out, the Jedburghs in World War II had to do three things to be successful every day. You call them habits or foundations. They had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate. If these were their core tasks and they were proficient at them, then they could focus their attention on more complex challenges that came their way, namely defeating the German Army. You’ve talked a lot about your habits and your routine, but I’m going to ask you to sum it up in three things that you do every day to set the conditions for your success. You talked about your routine, but let’s put it on a macro scale.Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games

These things at the end of the day are everything from my experience in life. Love, be loved, and move your ass. That’s it. Love people. Love yourself. Be able to receive love back from people because that’s also hard. When someone says you’re awesome, be like, “Thank you.” Not, “No, please, come on.” Be like, “Thank you. I appreciate that.” Love, be loved, and move. Movement’s medicine. Movement saved my life. I personally believe that movement is the answer to so many things. I know that mental health is a real thing. People struggle with mental health. I have family that has it. However, if you have mental health issues and go for a run or a walk, you will feel better with mental health issues than not.

Endorphins are powerful.

Entrepreneur, Restauranteur, Athlete Michael Chernow joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK GamesI love those three. Those are going to the top of the list. It’s simple too. We covered a lot. I love what you’re talking about trust and relationships. I sincerely mean what I said at the start of this thing. I do appreciate you coming back here, being a person in your word because that builds trust. I hope and I know that I feel we built a relationship here. You’re only down the street from me. We’re going to have some meatballs.

It might be some pulled pork and brisket at my house on a green egg on a Saturday afternoon.

I love that too.

Sweet. Thank you, guys, for having me. This was so much fun.

Thank you for coming and staying.


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