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Q&A with Shore Gregory of Row 34 and Island Creek Oyster Bar

The Boston based restaurateur’s thoughts on OpenTable, overcoming failure, and more

Fresh out of college, Shore Gregory was shucking oysters and running operations at Island Creek Oyster, which supplies oysters to more than 400 chefs and restaurants nationally, including Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Per Se. Now, he’s not only the Founder and Owner of Row 34 Boston, Row 34 Portsmouth, and Island Creek Oyster Bar, but was also named one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 under 30 in food and wine of 2014. We got the chance to catch up with Shore and get his take on OpenTable, overcoming failure, and more…

a young man sitting at a table

Photo of Shore Gregory

Warm Up Questions

What’s your coffee order?

We use Stumptown here at Row 34 and I hold out as long as I can to get here and have a Stumptown cappuccino in the morning.

What’s the last thing that you bought online?

I am obsessed with this cookbook called, “Tartine.” He’s a baker from outside of San Francisco and now he has a bakery in San Francisco. He makes bread in sort of an old school, natural leavening method. I just bought a ton of accessories in attempt to make that bread.

What apps are on the first screen of your phone?

Wunderlist* (a task organizer), Instagram, Uber, Waze (I spend a lot of time in my car so Waze is a must), Headspace, and Spotify.

*Wunderlist has been discontinued. This link lists 11 alternatives. 

dining room interior
Interior of Row34 Boston

What are the values you look for when hiring and how do you identify them?

I think we try and do a good job of stating upfront what we’re looking for or more specifically, what each restaurant is like and why. When it is a specific role, I think you have a good sense of who will be a good fit and who won’t be a good fit. But, sometimes some of the most successful people are the biggest surprises.

In terms of hiring, being open minded and willing to hire people who might take a different approach than you may lead to some of the most dynamic environments. So, I don’t think there is necessarily a specific checklist that a person needs to satisfy.

Sometimes, in any business, you naturally end up hiring the same culture as yourself and no new ideas are cultivated because of that - what are your thoughts on that?

There is so much data that supports inherent nepotism in hiring people you get along with and identify with. But also how detrimental that can be to a business. The person that you may not connect with in the sense of “oh I want to hangout with this person” might actually be the exact person that your organization needs at that time. We try to be really mindful of that.

One of the best parts about the restaurant industry is the diversity of people, the diversity of backgrounds, and the diversity of experiences.

Tell us about a time you failed.

Great question. Great question. Failure is part of life. If you’re in business, you’re going to have failures. In terms of language, I like “setbacks” rather than “failures.” There are setbacks we face and overcome everyday.

In the early days of Island Creek, we had a member on our team that just wasn’t the right cultural fit. It took us too long to identify that and it weighed us down and eroded something that we had worked so hard to create. So, I think the failure was letting that person stay too long and not having the courage to step up and make a change due to being a little unsure of myself. The culture of the workplace is something that really has to be looked at and cared for.  

The culture of the workplace is something that really has to be looked at and cared for.

When it comes to technology, what is one thing - not including BentoBox - that has had an impact on your business that may have been unexpected?

It’s so funny the amount of technology that is flooding into restaurants right now - you sometimes don’t know what tools to adapt and what tools to stay away from. We have adapted a good policy around it: always start with the guest. You have to make decisions about technology from the guest’s standpoint. Is it going to somehow help either the guest’s experience or cost or our relationship with the guest? Then you work back from there.

There’s a new app in the marketplace called ClothBound, which is a hiring tool. That has been a really successful tool for us in terms of recruiting people into the restaurants. We also just started using a new reservation and table management system called Reserve. Row 34 is the first restaurant that we are using it with and switching from OpenTable.

What would you say is the value of the OpenTable network?

We don’t really know. We feel like this technology [Reserve] in particular will help us better take care of our guests and I think if there is any sort of lag coming off of OpenTable, through better communication and better accessibility we can solve for that. But, we’ll see. It’s exciting.

The decision around OpenTable is two-fold, one is technology driven and the second piece is financial. OpenTable charges you per guest and Reserve has a flat monthly fee. OpenTable is a great platform and a great tool for restaurants and we continue to have a great relationship with them. But at the same time, we are willing to try new things like BentoBox because we think these companies have great solutions.

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