October 17, 2019

Alumni spotlight: Arnold Byun (Tisch Center)

Arnold Byun graduated in 2018 with a BS Hotel and Tourism Management degree. His passion for the culinary world has led him to pursue internships and employment in some of NYC’s top restaurants. He shares his journey with us here.    

When did you become interested in restaurant management? Can you tell us about your professional journey?

My journey began when I was 13, washing dishes for my father's restaurant in Seoul, South Korea. As he was both a workaholic and a single father, I found myself often at his workplace after school. One day, I offered to be of help and he put me to work as a dishwasher. From there, I took on various other positions, including those of a cashier and as a line cook. When it came time to consider college, I had solidified my passion for restaurants.

My first job in the city was with STARR Restaurants for Morimoto as a host and reservationist. I interned at companies such as Ian Schrager’s Morgans Hotel Group, chef Daniel Boulud's Dinex Group, and The Ritz-Carlton in Central Park. My career-defining moment came when deciding to work for chef David Bouley for his eponymous restaurant. Fortuitously, I was at the right place at the right time at Bouley as a manager was transitioning out of his role. At 20 years old, I became the youngest manager at Bouley. Soon enough, I found myself juggling between being a full-time student and a full-time restaurant manager. As challenging as this was, this experience in managing a Michelin-starred restaurant would open many more doors to come.

My last semester at NYU, I was coordinating an event for the Restaurateur Club at NYU. Eleven Madison Park, a 3-Michelin starred restaurant, was the restaurant I chose to feature and collaborate with. I knew right then and there that I wanted to work there. Soon after, I joined the team and moved up the ranks. Within a few months, I worked my way up from a food runner and a busser to a dining-room server and kitchen expeditor. To this day, working at Eleven Madison Park is one of the best experiences I've ever had. I am now Maitre D’ at Atomix, an upscale Korean restaurant.

What experience and skills do you think are necessary to be able to succeed in restaurant industry? 

In addition to being warm and hospitable, you need to understand and exercise empathy. Empathy is extremely important in a restaurant setting as not everyone’s expectations will be the same coming in and the best experience for a guest is one that is specifically catered and personalized for that guest. Being dynamic with situations, thinking on your feet, knowing how to read guests; all the while exuding a cool and calm demeanor. Sometimes during service, certain things do not pan out the way you’d like -- and that’s okay. As you put in the hours, you learn to adapt and become better at addressing different sets of challenges and conflicts as they arise during the heat of service.

Can you share advice for undergraduate students looking to get into the industry? 

As young professionals today, instant gratification is everywhere. We want things, we want things fast and these things are readily available. This impatience seems to trickle into the professional lives for many of my peers, including myself. However, the more removed I become from college, I realize the importance in being present and relishing the time while in school. Take advantage of being at NYU. Work for as many companies and have as many diverse opportunities as you can. Capitalize this opportunity of being around the brightest minds to build out your network. Leverage the NYU brand to meet thought leaders that you look up to. There are many resources available at NYU; it’s up to you to decide how you’d like to allocate and dedicate your time.

How has your NYU experience shaped and impacted your career? 

NYU has been a tremendous gift that keeps on giving. Many of the opportunities I’ve had in the hospitality industry are because of NYU alumni, the career fairs, and the positive brand recognition that’s associated with the program. NYU has played a tremendous part of helping me to get to where I am today.    

How do you spend your days outside of work? 

I produce a podcast entitled With Warm Welcome, where I welcome the makers behind the most beloved restaurants in NYC. This season hones in on 9 Asian-American restaurateurs and chef-owners in NYC that are continuing their family legacy through culinary storytelling and restaurant entrepreneurship. We know many of these restaurants, but how many of us know the people behind them? The podcast is an effort to showcase and highlight these amazing people and to give them a platform to share their creations and their coming-of-age story.    

What are your future plans and where do you see your career moving from this point? 

I hope to continue my restaurant journey and to champion this crazy industry that I've fallen in love with. There's endless restaurants to visit, to try, and endless stories of restaurateurs to be told. I'll leave the doors open for now; but needless to say, you'll probably find me involved in restaurants.    

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