For Reformed Bankers, The Restaurant Life Beckons
Bloomberg Businessweek|September 23, 2019
Trading finance for fine dining is a natural swap
Lananh Nguyen and Kate Krader

On his first official day at work, hedge fund trader Sean Feeney faced a huge order backlog and a mob of disgruntled clients. His solution: hand out Champagne.

He’d already finished for the day at Anchorage Capital Group LLC. He was now working the January 2016 inaugural dinner shift at Lilia, the Italian restaurant he’d started with chef Missy Robbins in Brooklyn, N.Y. As the credit trader became increasingly overwhelmed, he grabbed glasses of bubbly for eager diners. Robbins asked for a word, pulled him aside, then told him off. Giving out Champagne was fine; doing it without a tray was not.

“The trading floor and the restaurant floor are as high intensity environments as you can get,” says Feeney, who previously worked at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. “You have to make split-second decisions on every position of a restaurant the same way you’re making decisions as a trader. You’re taking information in and reading people.”

Feeney left his trading job early this year and now works full time running Lilia and sister restaurant Misi. He doesn’t miss his former life. “In finance, I was always reflecting on negative things: I didn’t get the big bonus, I didn’t get promoted as fast as I wanted,” he says. Still, at Grove house, the restaurant company he started with Robbins, Feeney has kept his finance habits. He writes meticulous notes in green ink, which denotes a rising market on trading screens. His penchant for Excel spreadsheets lets the restaurants track precise data on the turnaround time for tables—too big of a window, and you lose money on empty seats; too tight a new seating, and you’re handing out pricey Champagne to angry diners who you’ve made wait. Likewise, Feeney tracks profitable menu items and measures the cost of ingredients, down to the gram. “I wanted to have real-time P&L,” he says, adding that this attention to detail has given his restaurants a profitability margin that’s higher than the 10% to 15% average.

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