mike kostyo

I know food.

Homemade Hamburger Buns

I love any business makeover show. Hotel Impossible, Tabatha Takes Over, Restaurant Impossible, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (and the lesser American equivalent), Bar Rescue. Except for the screaming and yelling; that I could do without. Particularly Restaurant Impossible's Robert and Bar Rescue's Jon, who both shout-talk almost everything they say and then act surprised when the restaurant owner doesn't take an immediate liking to them.

Hotel Impossible's Anthony Melchiori is by far the best host, not just because he knows his shit, but because he seems to genuinely care about each and every hotel owner. And you would be surprised at how interesting it is to learn about standard occupancy rates or how often a hotel should be deep cleaned (although many owners seem to be finding out for the first time that rooms should be cleaned at all).

I have watched hours of these shows and there are more than a couple problems that pop up in almost every epsisode. What might those be, Mike? Glad you asked. Here are eleven:

1. Calculate your costs.

Seriously. If you want to run a business, someone somewhere needs to be crunching some sort of number. If you run a restaurant, you need to know if that chicken costs more to make than your are charging. If you have a bar, you need to know if your bartenders are heavy-pouring your profits away. This isn't a charity.

2. Cook real food.

I don't care what you say, if all you are doing is opening up cans or plastic bags and heating the food in the microwave, you deserve to go out of business. You have more in common with airline meals than a real restaurant.

It takes more time and talent, sure. That's why we are paying you to do it. We can all stay home and make EasyMac. This is where a hard truth comes in: your chef may not be up to the task. The shows gloss over this and like to pretend the chefs went from reheating to cooking from scratch in two days, but it's not going to happen.

3. Clean everything. Regularly.

Powerwash those plastic plants. And then throw them away.

Layers of dust, crap on the floor, torn carpets, nasty dishes, food stuck in corners, hair on brushes, hotel rooms with stained sheets, and on and on and on and on. Be embarrassed! Strangers are coming in and judging you every single day -- that's what a customer does!

It's easy to get complacent. It's easy to lose money.

4. How is the service?

It's probably bad. It might be good (in which case, see number 5), but it's probaby bad. Businesses just don't often find themselves on these makeover shows if the staff is friendly, hard-working and helpful. Usually they seem annoyed by every single customer that comes in the door. Your staff needs to smile and be knowledgeable. It's called customer service, and it's how you keep those customers coming back. Put that on your Facebook wall.

5. Are you the problem?

Come on, be honest. You might be the problem, right? You bought the bar because you wanted a place to hang out with your friends, not because you want to run a business? Or you rule everything and everyone with an iron fist and don't let managers be managers? You think you are right and everyone else is wrong? Even if that last one is true, it's going to be hard making a go at it when that "everyone else" is supposed to be your customer base.

6. Check the market.

This is something none of the shows ever say, but sometimes you need to be realistic about whether your town with a population of 30 can sustain a boutique hostel. If your local economy collapsed, a fancy steakhouse isn't long for this world. These shows will have you believe that nailing 50 plates to the wall and putting fusion eggrolls on your menu will save the farm, but it's just not always the case, and it's better to realize that than keep digging yourself into a financial hole.

7. Do you work with your family or friends?

Then stop! Or, at the very least, realize that it can cause a lot of problems. Businesses are stressful. There is (hopefully) money involved. They take long hours and hard decisions and sometimes you gotta fire people. When it's your grandma or your nephew, things go downhill fast. It would be nice if you were a close, happy family slinging hash together while the grandchildren adorably take orders, but it's more likely that you are screaming at your Dad because he thinks he knows what marinara sauce is supposed to taste like while your uncle shows up two hours late. You aren't going to get anywhere near fixing the business issues if you have a lot of family drama getting in the way.

8. Know your industry and focus.

There's some quote about doing one thing well vs. ten things sorta OK. I think that's how it goes. Whatever it is, you need to know your stuff and focus as a business. There are some businesses that only sell cupcakes, or car washes, or walking a dog, and they are successful because they do that one thing well (or sell drugs on the side). Bar patrons just want a well-poured beer and a tasty burger, hotel guests just want a clean bed for the night, salon patrons want to look like Reese Witherspoon. At least get that right before you add tax preparation services. 

9. Ask questions.

"How are we doing?" "How was the service?" "Are you happy?" Really listen. Don't get mad. LEARN. Yeah there are a lot of dummies on Yelp who think they are hilarious, but if you have 100 one-star reviews, maybe check the soup for cockroaches.

10. Work hard.

For two days and then your business is saved! It's a miracle! No, running a business is almost so soul-consuming that it's a wonder anyone does it. But you are going to have to put in some crazy hours, some physical labor, make some hard decisions, learn new skills, adapt, and evolve. Remember when I said to clean everything regularly? I mean, every night. I know! And during the day. Pretty much all the time. That's running a business.

11. Have fun.

Aww, isn't that nice. How it was all like, "Work hard," but then ended on having fun? That's nice.

Anyways, speaking of making a good burger (I talked about that in number 8. Did you forget already? Great. You forgot already. Just put the business up for sale), let's make a good burger!

Making homemade hamburger (or cheeseburger, the recipe is the same) buns is one of those things that seems really impressive and tastes outrageously delicious but it's really easy. It may be just the thing your bar needs to get you back in the black. See? Business lingo. I know it all now.

There are only a few ingredients, everything is kneaded in the stand mixer (although you can use your arm mixers if you want), and the dough is smooth and fun to work with. If you are having a cookout and you want to impress your friends and neighbors to the point where they are kind of annoyed with you because come on, who makes their own hamburger buns, make them in the morning and let them do a long proof in the refrigerator during the day.

Anyways. I hope I saved your failing business and you enjoy these ridiculously delicious hamburger buns.

NOTE: You may need more or less water depending on the humidity and size of your egg. If the day is very humid, pull it back a bit. You can always add more, a tablespoon at a time.

Homemade Hamburger Buns

Adapted from King Arthur Flour  |  Makes 8 Large Buns


In the small bowl, stir the 200 grams of warm water and 30 grams of sugar together. Sprinkle the envelope of instant yeast over the top. Let the yeast mixture sit for 5 to 10 minutes.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, stir together the 418 grams of flour and 2 teaspoons of salt. Add the yeast/water/sugar mixture, 30 grams melted butter, and egg. Knead until the dough is smooth and soft.

Transfer to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Prepare a sheet pan with a silicone liner/parchment paper.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Divide into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Place the dough onto the prepared sheet pan with space for them to rise and flatten each one. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until large and puffed, about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Brush the tops of each bun with 20 grams (half) of the melted butter. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds, if using. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the tops are rich and golden.

Remove from the oven and brush with the remaining melted butter. Cool and slice.


+ about 200g warm water, 110 to 115 degrees F (see note above)

+ 30 grams granulated sugar

+ 1 envelope instant yeast

+ 418 grams unbleached all-purpose flour

+ 2 teaspoons kosher salt

+ 30 grams melted, unsalted butter

+ 1 large egg

+ 40 grams melted unsalted butter, divided

+ sesame seeds to top (optional)