Egg Shop NYC founder, Sarah Schneider

Sarah Schneider’s initial ambition was always to work in fashion – and she did for fourteen years managing the sales accounts for denim megabrands like Levi’s, AG and True Religion. But as the story so often goes, her career aspirations changed when she finally mustered the the courage to quit her job and turn her dream of owning a restaurant into a reality. It’s not so much that her passion lay in food, but rather on one particular ingredient: the egg.

Of the exceptional character of the humble egg, there is no doubt – they are, after all, the number one enabler of a vast number of our favourite dishes – but the truth remains that they haven’t been given their dues. But since opening the doors to Egg Shop this time last year, Sarah and film maker husband Demetri Makoulis have made it their mission to right that wrong. With no prior experience on the food side, the pair snapped up ex-Smith & Mills chef Nick Korbee and set about working on a menu exclusively dedicated to (you guessed it) amazing egg dishes. There are eight egg sandwiches on the menu ranging from a take on the egg sandwich made with a broken yolk, Shelburne Farms cheddar, black forest bacon, tomato jam, and fresh pickled jalapeno, all served on a Panini roll; right the way through to the more exotic Beast Sandwich, which comes brimming with pulled pork carnitas topped with a sunny-side-up egg.

Whether you’ve tried the food or not, we’re prepared to go out on a limb and say that you’ve definitely heard of Egg Shop because, well, if you’ve been paying attention to your Instagram feed, the restaurant’s façade and signature bold-lettered signage is an exterior you’re well and truly acquainted with. Walk down Elizabeth Street at any given time and come rain or shine you’ll see a herd of tourists (and locals too), lined down the road, camera phones at the ready trying to get the perfect shot.

The restaurant is without doubt one of New York’s most bustling new spots and it has Sarah’s stamp all over it. When we meet, she’s personable – it’s impossible not to instantly be enamoured by her – and, despite the rapid success, there’s no big corporate PR machine operating on the sideline. That’s not her style. When I quiz about the early days trying to get the business off the ground, she’s frank and refreshingly honest. Have there been challenges? No doubt about it, but even as she recalls some of the most stressful moments along the way, she can’t help but laugh and refuses to take it too seriously. “One of my favourite was a Sunday brunch when we first opened. We had a packed house, a 2-hour wait, and all of a sudden the power went out. Music stopped, lights went dark, and the room went silent,” she says. “For about a half a second I felt paralyzed, then all of a sudden one of our cooks started lighting candles and putting them on the tables, the server at the time yelled out, “Well hey, at least its noon and now we can booze!!” Everyone started laughing at the same time, and within a few moments the power was back. It was both heart stopping and eye opening! You have to be ready for anything to happen at the most unexpected times, and all you can do is laugh and roll with the punches.”

Catching up over Bloody Mary’s (it’d be wrong to say no, don’t judge), we spoke about what made her finally make the jump and take a hunch on her idea, how social media has been a game changer for the business and the one piece of advice she never got but wishes she had. We challenge you not to be inspired…

Egg Shop NYC founder, Sarah Schneider

LIFE BEFORE EGG SHOP: I loved working in fashion, specifically the denim market. I worked with many of the bigger denim brands for over fourteen years like Levi’s, AG, Paper Denim, Prps and True Religion. I was in sales so I worked closely with the buyers of specialty stores and department stores. One of my favourite aspects of what I was doing involved trend forecasting; figuring out what was happening in the market and how that played into denim trends for the upcoming season. Based on those trends I would work closely with the designers to help develop different denim washes and fits that were specific to a retailer’s needs. Neiman’s always needed something a little flashier, while Bloomingdales wanted something a bit more classic. It was fascinating understanding the buying patterns of the customers that shopped with different stores. I would create “exclusives” so that the stores were not carrying the same exact assortments as one another. I was lucky enough to cultivate amazing relationships with buyers from some of the biggest retailers around like Barney’s Saks and Bloomingdales. All of them listened to me chat about my Egg Shop idea for years! When I finally told them I was leaving to pursue my dream, everyone was extremely supportive! These relationships have been so valuable since opening the shop. It’s amazing how connected food and fashion can feel.

ON THE HUMBLE EGG SANDWICH THAT STARTED IT ALL: My love for the egg sandwich started in NYC, and if I am honest, it was my go-to hangover cure. I know I am not alone in this and I think anyone who has ever lived in NYC has gone to a deli and grabbed a bacon, egg and cheese at some point. While the egg sandwich started as my hangover cure, it quickly became a breakfast staple for me at home too. It was inexpensive, there was a variety of ways to build and compose the sandwich, and depending on what you wanted, it could be very healthy. It was also really important for me to know that my eggs were organic and I was buying locally sourced food when possible.  The more it became a part of my breakfast routine, the more I started noticing that most restaurants in NYC didn’t offer egg sandwiches for brunch, let alone eggs for dinner. That sparked something inside me. I couldn’t believe that this very humble and versatile sandwich option was not getting any attention. Sure a few places had maybe one option for brunch, but that was it. When you looked at a brunch menu you saw omelettes and Benedicts, but the egg sandwich was not getting any love. And as much as I appreciate and love a good BEC from the deli, I really wanted to know where my food was coming from and that I was eating organic.

ON THE EUREKA MOMENT: I started talking about egg sandwiches to anyone who would listen. Many people thought it was a silly idea (I believe they had yet to discover their fave egg sandwich!), but loads of people were very supportive. The more I spoke to people, the more I realized the egg sandwich was sort of a cult classic. People who had appreciation for the egg sandwich were obsessed, and they were very particular about what went into their sandwich. Different ingredients play such a huge roll in the execution. The bread, the cheese, the way you like your eggs cooked, it went on and on and on. I soon became confident that there was a market for this lovely beautiful sandwich. Nobody was owning it, and I wanted to!

ON MEETING HER HUSBAND AND BUSINESS PARTNER DEMETRI MAKOULIS: D and I met on the street outside of El Sombrero in the LES drinking margaritas to go. It was 9 and a half years ago, and we were babies! We met briefly that spring, and later that summer ended up spending a weekend in the Hamptons with some friends. We spent every moment together over the weekend and never looked back. I fell in love for the first time. He was the funniest, loveliest, most supportive person I had ever met. I can honestly say that Egg Shop wouldn’t exist without him. I had the idea and the concept down and he made my dream a reality. He worked tirelessly on the business plan and raising money, and doing all of the things I am terrible at. We both know what we are good at, where our strengths are, and we make each other stronger. When I am overwhelmed about certain things, he often isn’t, and vice versa.

ON THEIR DYNAMIC: It’s amazing to collaborate and work with the person you love, but we have also different roles. I am at the restaurant every day and he is more behind the scenes. I think it would be challenging working side-by-side every day in the restaurant. We are different people, with different ideas, and different management styles. I love owning a business together, but I also love our space. Coming home and being able to speak with him about everything, getting a different perspective and advice is amazing. We are both working towards the same goal and both coming at it with our own unique perspectives, so I believe it makes us better and, as a result, our business better, as well.

I started talking about egg sandwiches to anyone who would listen. Many people thought it was a silly idea (I believe they had yet to discover their fave egg sandwich!), but loads of people were very supportive. The more I spoke to people, the more I realized the egg sandwich was sort of a cult classic…I soon became confident that there was a market for this lovely beautiful sandwich. Nobody was owning it, and I wanted to!

ON CHOOSING ELIZABETH STREET: I’ve been living on Ludlow and Canal for over ten years. When I worked in fashion, my offices were in Soho and I would walk through Chinatown and Nolita every day. When thinking about Egg Shop, Nolita was always my ideal location, but I didn’t think I would be able to afford it. It had the perfect mix of downtown creative, a local neighbourhood feel, as well as established businesses in Soho. When I first saw the space on Elizabeth Street, I walked in, gasped and instantly knew that it was Egg Shop. It had everything I was looking for and being just south of Kenmare Street made the rent (at that time) affordable. I also liked the unpolished vibe of the street – it felt a bit old New York to me, like you almost had to ‘discover’ Egg Shop.  It was also cosy, which I always wanted. I also loved the light; it was all windows and brightness – absolutely perfect! It was my first restaurant endeavour and I didn’t want to get in over my head in terms of size.

ON THE INFLUENCE OF SOUTHERN CALI ROOTS: I was born in Phoenix, AZ, but moved to Coronado, CA in the summer of 7th grade. Growing up in California definitely shaped who I am and the food I love today. I love all seafood, sushi, and Mexican of course! I have always had this ying and yang with food – when I eat, I want the option to be healthy or completely indulgent. I used to ditch school with my friends and we would go searching for the best fish tacos or burritos we could find. In my opinion New York still hasn’t nailed the Cali Mexican food scene! Hey, who knows, maybe my next restaurant will be Burrito Shop!

Egg Shop NYC 1 Egg Shop NYC 1NAILING THE MENU: It was honestly my favourite part of the process in the early days. I had a very specific vision, in that I wanted the menu to offer the best variety of egg sandwiches anyone had ever seen, offering super healthy options, as well as indulgent options. Our partner and executive chef, Nick Korbee, totally got it, and set out to create this beautiful balance.  The first sandwich we started with was the classic, what is now the Egg Shop BEC (Bacon, Egg and Cheese). We knew we had to nail this. There were the obvious components, trying every bread and cheese available to us, which was just heavenly, but Nick also had the idea of adding a tomato jam, and while we all LOVED it, we were slightly nervous that it was a risk. How would people respond? Would they know what tomato jam was? Would they be mad we were messing with a staple? But in the end, we knew that we had set out to make Egg Shop different and a lot of times we would likely defy customers’ expectations. I can’t tell you how long we went back and forth on this, but we took the risk and I think it paid off.  Looking back it seems crazy, but at the time it felt like this was going to define Egg Shop. We took that level of time and care with everything you see on the menu. It was creative, collaborative and an ever-evolving process.

WHY YOU’LL FIND ‘GOOD’ AND ‘NAUGHTY’ DISHES ON THE MENU: When you go out to eat, not everyone wants the same things. I wanted this to be a place you could come with your friends or partner and both be equally stoked on what the menu had to offer. I think this probably came from my experiences eating out with Demetri. I was always wanting healthy and he was always happy to indulge. As we started to talk through healthy sandwich options, we came up with the idea for the “cruiser” bowl. It had all the makings of a sandwich, but without the bread. It was healthy and the perfect option for a busy New Yorker, who needed to eat on the go.

ON DEMETRI DOING THE COOKING WHEN THEY GET HOME: We cook at home, but I am not a good cook! It’s actually sort of embarrassing. I love cooking fish, I also make mean turkey meatballs! Demetri is much better at following a recipe then I am. He will get inspired and try something a bit more difficult. The only problem is that for some reason, regardless of the recipe, he ends up being in the kitchen for hours! If he starts cooking at 7, we are eating at 11, its hilarious I still don’t know what he’s doing in there. His specialty is slow cooking, literally in a crock-pot, which actually is actually fitting, now that I think about it.

This job never ends. There is always something happening at the restaurant, whether the ice machine has conked out, or staff doesn’t show up and I am jumping behind the bar to barista. When we first opened, I honestly didn’t know if I could get through it, but it’s a testament to our partnership that everyone did their part to figure out how we were being challenged and how to overcome it.

THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA ON PUTTING EGG SHOP ON THE MAP: Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how important and influential Instagram was going to be for us.  My sister who worked for us as the evening manager in the shop had been freelancing, doing social media for other companies, so she took over our social media accounts. It’s a job in itself. She is 11 years younger than me and way more in tune with the social media world than I am! The craziest part of Instagram has been its reach. We were open for about 4 months when we were getting tourists from all of over the world come through our doors. I didn’t understand how all of these people had already heard of our tiny little shop on Elizabeth St. in NoLita. It was the most amazing and humbling feeling and still is.

ON WHEN SHE STARTED NOTICING A REAL IMPACT: I was shocked at how quickly we were getting followers. I didn’t have a reference point, but I knew this was pretty insane.  I work in the shop every day, so I meet a ton of people, and I realized quickly that many of the people coming into the shop were from LA, Australia, Norway, Israel, etc.  It was literally a melting pot of tourists and locals. That was happening all because of Instagram. I also believe our branding and design have been a powerful tool. So many people come and take pictures outside of our shop, and it’s because they love the typography and design elements, which makes me so happy. I worked really hard to get our branding right. My two best friends own a company called LMNOP Creative, and they did all of Egg Shop’s branding. They both know Demetri and I so well, that they were really able to capture our personalities and our vision for the shop. I think our branding has been a valuable component of our success, as well as Instagram success.

MOVING INTO THE FOOD WORLD AFTER YEARS IN FASHION: Demetri and I were definitely venturing into the unknown, but we only took the plunge when we knew we had the right partners to actually give the idea a fighting chance at finding success. So with the help of a good friend of ours, Florian Schutz, who is a veteran in hospitality (and whom I’d been blah blah blah-ing about Egg Shop to forever), Demetri set out to write an Egg Shop business plan. We wanted to understand financially what it would take and if it was even a viable option. That friend is now our partner.  While this was happening, I was introduced to Nick Korbee, who is now our partner and chef.  Meeting Nick was really the catalyst to making Egg Shop a reality. After tasting his first iteration of egg sandwiches, we knew he just totally understood what we were trying to do.  I was super scared, but I really believed in what we were doing so dove straight in.

Egg Shop NYC

THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES: There have been so many, but I think it has been learning how to manage stress and multi-task. This job never ends. There is always something happening at the restaurant, whether the ice machine has conked out, or staff doesn’t show up and I am jumping behind the bar to barista. When we first opened, I honestly didn’t know if I could get through it, but it’s a testament to our partnership that everyone did their part to figure out how we were being challenged and how to overcome it.  One of the most difficult things in the early days was the lack of time I had too. I have turned a corner and now have time to take a Pilates class, or go to the gym. It’s so important to have time for yourself. Managing the stress wouldn’t be possible without a moment alone to think, breathe, and be grateful.

FALLING INTO ENTREPRENEURSHIP: It definitely happened organically. Owning my own business was not necessarily something I was aspiring towards. I was really happy working in fashion and I feel truly blessed to have worked with and met such amazing people, but life is full of surprises and you never know what the next adventure is going to be. I think I have embraced being the boss lady, it’s certainly challenging at times, but I am always up for a good challenge!

ADVICE FOR APSIRING BUSINESS OWNERS: Always follow your instinct. If you have an idea that you can’t stop thinking about, that is all-consuming, then it deserves to be investigated more closely.  I also think you need to know what you’re good at and what you’re not, and find ways to bolster your weaknesses.  Finally, the one thing you need to be 100 per cent certain of before taking the leap, is whether you are willing to make serious sacrifices. Your lifestyle might change, your financial security might change, but if you are willing to take the risk, then I say go for it!

Egg Shop NYC founder, Sarah Schneider

DROWNING OUT THE NOISE: It’s very easy to get insecure when you are about to embark on a new career path, especially when you know nothing about the industry. While I firmly believe you need to be open to advice and insight from other people’s experiences, you can’t let it overwhelm you. Your gut is your best friend and guide, but you also need to inform yourself and feel comfortable checking it sometimes. It’s taken me a long time to learn to trust myself, but the older I get, the more confident I become, and I feel like my instinct is often my most valuable tool. When Demetri and I were in early stages of Egg Shop discussions, he kept insisting that I should be reading books on how to operate and manage a restaurant before I quit my job.  I appreciated that he wanted me to be prepared for what I was getting into, but I really learn best by diving into things, and learning on the job.  I don’t think I would have pulled the trigger if I had understood all that went into owning your own restaurant. I would have been too scared to take on all of that responsibility that I think I would have backed out.  So, I am just going to say it, sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

BEING A WOMAN IN HOSPITALITY: I think I have been lucky to be surrounded by very supportive men in my life. Have I witnessed men being sexist and out of line? Sure, but I really haven’t personally experienced it. Most men I have worked with have been beyond supportive and encouraging.  That said, they also know that I would not for one second tolerate being treated differently. I am a strong, opinionated woman, and am not intimidated by men. I have always had very close guy friends in my life, and I appreciate their opinions and different perspectives on work and life. My dad and my husband are my biggest cheerleaders, and that’s something I cherish more than words can say.

Sarah was shot at Egg Shop New York in April 2016. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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