Skip to main content

Susan Feniger Transcript

“The Unstoppable Chef Susan Feniger” Transcript


Helen Rosner: Hi, this is Helen Rosner and you're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe. You're the bombe.

Kerry Diamond: Hey everyone, welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe, the number one female focused food podcast in the universe. I'm your host Kerry Diamond. For today's show, I sat down with the life force known as Susan Feniger. This trailblazing chef, restaurateur and activist has been on quite the journey from Toledo, Ohio to France to LA, to the food network and beyond. She and Mary Sue Milliken, her business partner just opened their latest place Socalo, an all-day California canteen in Santa Monica. Susan is truly one in a million and I can't wait for you to hear our conversation.

Kerry Diamond: First, let's take care of some housekeeping. The latest issue of Cherry Bombe Magazine is out right now. It's our first ever fashion issue and features five different covers with women who bring a sense of style to everything they do. Visit to subscribe or buy an issue. Or you can stop by your favorite magazine shopper bookstore, like Now Serving in Los Angeles.

Kerry Diamond: Also the Cherry Bombe membership has officially launched. For $40 you can be a card carrying member of the Bombesquad. Founding memberships are available right now. Visit to get your card and to see what all the perks are. Thank you to everyone who stopped by our first NYC member meet-up. It was great seeing all of you. And our next meet-up is in Charleston, South Carolina on January 15th.

Kerry Diamond: Now here's my conversation with chef Susan Feniger. How do you have so much energy? Every picture you're smiling, you're doing a new project, you're with a musician, you're with young chefs, you're with a kitchen crew.

Susan Feniger: Yeah. I love what I do. I particularly love when I'm not in meetings, my least favorite thing. I love what I do and I get a ton of energy from the people that I work with, and the young kids I think. I think I'm like as young as them, and it's playful and fun and there's just so many interesting things to learn. I'm sort of, I think feel so lucky because I continue to learn all the time. And you know your passions change over the years of what you're most passionate about and where, what you want to do. And I do think about slowing down a bit.

Susan Feniger: I like the idea of my work day being shorter. Shorter than a 10 or 12 hour day, so I like the idea of that. I'm working on that really hard, although I had told my sister and I was going to go back to therapy about a year ago to try to slow down a bit, figure out how to slow down. About a month ago she said to me like, "I just, I don't think your therapist is very good based on what you're doing right now. So-

Kerry Diamond: What does your... I hate the word empire, but like what does your empire consist of today?

Susan Feniger: So I mean, I hate it. They'll really think it's an empire compared to some of the people that are out there. I mean it's not, but it's just, I think the scope of what we do. And that's something I think we've always done is we've sort of picked to do the things that we love to do. So whether it's teaching or TV or radio or writing, I mean we had-

Kerry Diamond: You doing everything?

Susan Feniger: Yeah. I mean we've got six cookbooks, we had radio show, Good Food on KCRW... the NPR station.

Kerry Diamond: Food radio pioneers?

Susan Feniger: Way back, way back then. Way back then when we did that, we approached Ruth Seymour who ran KCRW in Los Angeles. We approached her, we wanted to do like a five minute political food show. Like on frozen food, and hormone free and antibiotic free. This is how... I don't know, whatever. 25 years ago, 30 years ago. She was like, "No, no, no girls. Not that. You want to do a food show? Okay, you can start this Friday, half hour show, come in." And we were like, "Whoa, whoa. Okay, what are we going to call it?" So it was sort of a, "We want it to be political." She was like, "No, you're not being political about food. Just come in and do food." So radio, TV was two hot tamales, right? But-

Kerry Diamond: Food Network pioneers also, we'll talk about that.

Susan Feniger: Way back. So we have Border Grill in Las Vegas. So Border Grill, we opened in 1984. We opened City in 1981 but Border Grill in Vegas, at Mandalay Bay, is still there. It's amazing. We love it. It's a huge restaurant, but it's been amazing for us. We have Barbecue Mexicana, which is right across from Border Grill at Mandalay Bay. We have Barbecue Mexicana at the baseball stadium in Las Vegas, the Oakland A's, Minor League Team, which is very cool.

Susan Feniger: We have Border Grill in Downtown Los Angeles, two Border Grills out at the Rose Bowl, and a Border Grill at LAX, the airport international terminal. And then we just opened in a Long Beach, Pacha Mamas, which is a proven skewers and ceviches, and then a Border Barbecue. And then we're opening a Socalo in about five days, we think, or 10. Depending on the final inspector which, who knows? In Santa Monica. So, Socalo which is breakfast, lunch and dinner, Mexican. And it's that sort of a spin on Zócalo in Mexico, which are the town squares.

Susan Feniger: We are opening in the summer on Barbecue Mexicana. Another one in LAX, which we're excited about. And we hope to be opening in the Raider Stadium in Vegas, a couple of concepts, but... And catering and we've got two trucks, two taco trucks, Border Grilled taco trucks and catering and... But they're all, some are bigger, some are small. Yeah. And we have a lot of employees, I mean we have less than we used to have. I don't know, we probably have 400, maybe 450, something like that.

Kerry Diamond: You weren't a lot. It's incredible what you and Mary Sue have built. I mean, it's just, we really Marvel at it. And also Vegas, like you're one of the only women with a major place on the strip in Vegas?

Susan Feniger: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: Marina Garcia, Jeanna and you two.

Susan Feniger: Yeah. Elizabeth Blau who lives there, who I love. I mean, yeah. I mean, we've been there. We opened Border Grill at Mandalay Bay 21 years ago, I think. Yeah, there are not a lot of women chefs or restaurateurs in Vegas, it's interesting.

Kerry Diamond: We're dying to come and meet everybody there.

Susan Feniger: Yeah. It's an amazing market. It really is. It's very interesting. It was very European chef-driven for many... and still is, but it's shifting. But certainly it's still not a lot of women. Elizabeth Blau is sort of working hard to pull together a group of people to help Las Vegas shift because it's something like 50% of all the graduates from culinary schools are women, but in the country, only 7% are executive chefs and owners. So, and in Vegas less. So.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. Those, I think that's changing though.

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: I mean, just from what we see in the people who reach out to us, it's incredible the variety of projects that women have in the food space today.

Susan Feniger: Yeah, for sure.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Susan Feniger: Probably many years smart not to be chefs have restaurants.

Kerry Diamond: All right, so you were born in Ohio, right? Where in Ohio?

Susan Feniger: Toledo.

Kerry Diamond: Toledo?

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: And was it, I know no one used the word foodie back then, but were you a foodie family?

Susan Feniger: No. Although my mom was a great cook. She really was great cook, but I mean, they definitely weren't foodies. But I don't think then, that's a long time ago, I don't think there were foodies. I mean, she was really a good cook.

Kerry Diamond: What does your mom make?

Susan Feniger: A Jewish Midwest families. So brisket, she would do icebox cakes with lady fingers, and even one time she packed up six of them frozen and sent them to us at city cafe back in 1982. Hysterical. So like icebox cakes, like mocha and chocolate and strawberry and vanilla with lady fingers. She would do these little cheese dreams with Velveeta cheese and white bread-

Kerry Diamond: A cheese dream?

Susan Feniger: They were fabulous.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. Walk us through what a cheese dream-

Susan Feniger: I don't even remember exactly. I mean, I was a kid doing it with a... Took white bread, cut the crust off, and then coated them with margarine, and then made a stack of this white bread. And then she did something in a double boiler with Velveeta cheese and like paprika, whatever.

Kerry Diamond: I just Googled cheese dream and then it comes up.

Susan Feniger: Velveeta?

Kerry Diamond: Other recipes. Yeah.

Susan Feniger: Does mine come up?

Kerry Diamond: Let's see.

Susan Feniger: No one could and no one ever remembered how to, because the recipes, I have a little recipe card file with little like things from my grandmother and my mother and from when I was in culinary, which is very cool. And over the years, like frozen fruit mold that my mom made, with sour cream and canned pineapple and cherries, Roche cherries and that, and-

Kerry Diamond: And you still have that?

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Wow. Have you photographed it? That's amazing.

Susan Feniger: I haven't, but I should.

Kerry Diamond: You should.

Susan Feniger: I should I know. It was great. Like the Velveeta thing and then you'd roll up this white bread that was all buttered margarine on the outside and freeze them. And when friends would... Because friends would come over like Sunday afternoon, my parents, people would pop in and that you take them out and you put them in a really hot oven and then under the broiler and they get crispy golden, like a grilled cheese sandwich but rolled up in a roll. They're fabulous. They're fabulous.

Kerry Diamond: Next time I see Velveeta I'm going to snap it up and do that. So when and where did you decide you wanted to be a chef?

Susan Feniger: I started in a Hyde Park college, so I was studying philosophy in that, and then I dropped out of college and moved in with my boyfriend and then lived in a teepee, soda teepee in Vermont. And then after it got so cold and living in the teepee, decided I was working for a cabinet maker, decided I should go back to college. So moved out to California, met this amazing economics professor, changed my major to economics and all along, because I'd been living with my boyfriend, my parents were very supportive, so I started working in the kitchen.

Susan Feniger: I had worked in a kitchen for a year when I was in high school and just fell in love with it, but there weren't a lot of kitchens in the little town in Vermont. So, but I started working in the kitchen when I was in college and the guy that ran the kitchen there as I was studying economics, said, "I don't even know why are you here? Why don't you go to culinary school?" And I convinced my economics professor to let me do my last year and a half at the CIA in Hyde Park.

Susan Feniger: So I transferred to the CIA and did my... graduated from college and in California at the CIA and never looked back and worked... the whole time while I was at the culinary, I worked... went to class in the morning, I worked at a great little restaurant called The Heralds in Brewster, New York. And then worked in-

Kerry Diamond: Well, tell me what it was like at the CIA.

Susan Feniger: So this was in Hyde Park, right? And it was, I think there were two girls in the class, and out of a hundred maybe or 80 or something, there were not very many women then. And it a fantastic time. I mean, I think it helped me to really get a basis. Obviously not, I think people that go to culinary school, sometimes you come out and think you have a ton more experience and knowledge than you do.

Susan Feniger: For me, I think maybe because I had had a few years of college, I'm not sure, but I think I was old enough to realize this just opens your eyes to a bunch of stuff. So I ended up at, when I was there, I'd go to school in the morning. You go six or seven hours in the morning by one or two you're done. I worked for like six months in a fish market in Poughkeepsie where I filleted fish for like the next five hours. So that, and then I ended up working for a year at in Brewster in a French restaurant there.

Susan Feniger: So I started to get, and I think, a solid understanding of what I didn't know. And then I worked, the next from there I left there and then moved to... because I was still with my partner, then my boyfriend, and moved to Kansas City. Worked for an amazing Swiss chef there at a restaurant La Bonne Auberge which was incredible, and he was very hard worker. So I would go in like at seven in the morning for free and work until... with him because he was doing all the pastries, he built his wine room and... So I'd go with him until like I clocked in at two and then worked the night shift. And worked there for probably a year and a half or two, then from there I moved to Chicago and then got a job at Le Perroquet in Chicago.

Kerry Diamond: And that's where you met Mary Sue?

Susan Feniger: That's where I met Mary Sue.

Kerry Diamond: I was reading an article from the Chicago Tribune, and it's kind of crazy. I think it was from like 1985 or something like that. And the owner actually said to the paper, when Mary Sue came for the interview, I told her she was too attractive a woman to work in the kitchen.

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: And she should get herself a job as a hot check girl.

Susan Feniger: Yeah. And then she persisted. She kept sending him letters and I think he finally hired because he thought she was going to sue him or something.

Kerry Diamond: But just shocking like 30 years ago-

Susan Feniger: That was in 78, 78 or nine.

Kerry Diamond: Or could you imagine a restaurateur going on record with a major national newspaper, saying something like that today?

Susan Feniger: Yeah. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Just scroll it on twitter-

Susan Feniger: Yeah, yeah. For sure.

Kerry Diamond: For 30 seconds.

Susan Feniger: Yeah. Yeah, it's true. Yeah. I mean it was amazing, but that was an unbelievable restaurant, that was so ahead of its time. Like incredible. He was really on the top of his game. Beginning of Duval cuisine. So we were doing like whole baby lambs, like boning them, stuffing them, using every single part. We were doing lamb kidneys, we were doing tripe, we were making amazing potages, which wasn't that ahead of its time, but... We'd save the butter wrappers so that we could use that instead of parchment paper for pastry cream. We use like the standard-

Kerry Diamond: Oh, that's a great idea.

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Huh?

Susan Feniger: I mean because you clarify like 25 pounds of butter a day and then you'd have all these rappers and he was just so, he was very-

Kerry Diamond: I never thought about reusing my... I go through a lot of butter, I never thought about reusing my butter, right?

Susan Feniger: Yeah. We just saved them on the walk and then reuse them.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. So sustainable. So ahead of your time.

Susan Feniger: He was very sustain... and like all the broccoli stems, cauliflower stems, we saved all those and they were made into a moose every day for a scallop dish that we used. So he never threw away anything. He skimmed the chicken fat. We had to skim that off the stack, clarify that, and we used that for sautéing other the poultry. It was really, it was a very interesting kitchen. And then I left Chicago after I worked there for about a year. Mary Sue and I were the only two women in that kitchen.

Kerry Diamond: So did you two bond?

Susan Feniger: We did.

Kerry Diamond: And it suddenly or did it take a little time for you two to become friends?

Susan Feniger: Well, I mean we were the only two women in the kitchen and the chef, actually not the owner, the chef to me was a complete (beep). He was so mean to me. And eventually, many, many years later, I think we realized that he was very jealous because I had come out and he hadn't. And so we think that's why he was such a jerk. But every afternoon in the afternoon and we'd go like, and our break at like three go, I'd just be in the bathroom like cry and mostly just would be like, "Just hang in there. It's a great kitchen. Just stick it out." So I did, I did. And-

Kerry Diamond: So you just said because you came out and he didn't?

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Meaning?

Susan Feniger: I was out, I had left my husband and I was with women and he was gay and hadn't come out, and he was married with kids, and-

Kerry Diamond: Was that hard for you to come out?

Susan Feniger: No, I didn't even think about it. Literally did not think about it.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Susan Feniger: I mean of course, my partner who's my wife now of 24 years, is like was someone who knew she was a lesbian from the time... I mean she didn't know it, but when she was like six. When she was 12 she told her mom and her mom said, "Don't worry, you'll grow out of it." I never even thought about it. And when I came out, or when I met a woman that, I was still with my husband at that time, I was like... I didn't even think about it, it was very easy for me. I mean I know it's not for many people, but for me it was very easy.

Kerry Diamond: So then you moved to LA?

Susan Feniger: Then I moved to LA and I had like three restaurants I wanted to work at. It was either Le Montage, Ma Maison or Le Lingerie.

Kerry Diamond: Happened in time in LA?

Susan Feniger: Yeah, it was very hot time there. And I got a job at Ma Maison. Wolfgang Puck was the chef then and that was a crazy time in LA. Crazy, crazy.

Kerry Diamond: Have you written a memoir?

Susan Feniger: No.

Kerry Diamond: Are you working on one?

Susan Feniger: No.

Kerry Diamond: Should. You should.

Susan Feniger: I know.

Kerry Diamond: You've had quite the life.

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: And we're only up to like, what? The 80s?

Susan Feniger: Yeah, that was a crazy, crazy time in LA. Really fun. That restaurant it was all indoor, outdoor carpet. That restaurant was just a piece of junk. But everybody, and I came from the Midwest and the tickets that came back. I mean it was Jane Fonda, Paul Newman, Orson Wells, and I'm from the Midwest. I was like, "Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God." I could never believe the valet, because the parking lot was right off the kitchen.

Susan Feniger: So the valet guys would come and tell me like, "Okay, that's Jane Fonda's car." That it was just very, very... I'm still very starstruck. So I loved, it was a very fun time. And-

Kerry Diamond: What was Wolfgang like? As a boss?

Susan Feniger: Fabulous. He was crazy and fun. Very different than the chef. And I remember I called Mary Sue and said, "You can't believe it. I don't have to wear a chef's hat here. It's just very fun." It was just-

Kerry Diamond: The weather?

Susan Feniger: Very different kitchen.

Kerry Diamond: The weather versus Chicago. My gosh.

Susan Feniger: Yeah, that's true. But I'm still a Midwest girl. I still love the call.

Kerry Diamond: You love the winter?

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So what was the vibe in LA back then? Because I mean, it was just such a hot scene, and so many people who we now know and love were coming up on the scene, then Jonathan Waxman, you, Nancy Silverton.

Susan Feniger: Yeah. Michael McCarthy.

Kerry Diamond: Did you all feel like hot (beep)?

Susan Feniger: No. Not really. I mean we were, I think LA had never been thought much of as a restaurant town. And so there was a comradery that was just incredible. So we all did events together Piero Selvaggio, Wolf, Ken Frank, Nancy... Well Nancy was younger, so she wasn't quite there yet. Obviously, soon. We all did events together. So we did every single event with the same group of chefs. So people were supportive. So whenever you needed anything you could call... I mean when I opened... So after Ma Maison, I went to the South of France and worked for a year at L’Oasis, which is a three star restaurant there for Haute.

Susan Feniger: And when I came back I opened City Cafe with the women who owned LAI Works. So there was a very strong, they were very immersed in the art world, and design glasses, and so you were very connected. We were very connected into the art world because of them. And we had this little tiny nine table restaurant. When I was in the South of France, Mary Sue ended up in Paris at almost identical times. So I was at L'Oasis. We literally arrived in Paris two weeks apart from each other.

Kerry Diamond: And you two did not plan that?

Susan Feniger: It wasn't planned at all. I happened to call her, or she called me when I was in LA and she was still in Chicago. I said, "I've got a job at L'Oasis, I'm going to the South of France." And she said, "Well, I'm leaving for Paris like in a week." And it was very strange. So we ended up each working there for about a year. And then when the season ended in the South, I came to Paris, spent like a month in Paris working at a huge catering company and she had slipped. She worked for a two star restaurant for a woman in Paris called restaurant D'eau Lampe, I think. And she had slipped and broke a bone in her back. So she was sort of out of there. And we both ended up at this catering company.

Susan Feniger: There was a huge catering company called Potel et Chabot. And we worked there for about a month, and of course at nighttime we'd be done, and then we'd go back to her apartment where it was like the size of this studio. And so she had taken the mattress off her bed and put it on the floor. I slept there, she slept on the box spring. So, anyways we decided-

Kerry Diamond: That's friendship.

Susan Feniger: Drunk one night, I think that we'd open a restaurant together, and I moved out to LA and these friends of mine from LAI Works, we're trying to do this little cafe. I worked mornings at a Ma Maison and again, I came back to Ma Maison. Wolf had just opened Spago and then I worked nights getting this cafe going with a hot plate, and-

Kerry Diamond: Well, you had no stove?

Susan Feniger: No stove, no stove. I had two, a hot plate and two hibachi grills in the parking lot outback for a year.

Kerry Diamond: And you made some money that way, with limited equipment?

Susan Feniger: Until health department came and said, "You can't cook on the parking lot ground for customers." So I was like, "Really?" Anyways, then Mary Sue moved out from Chicago and there was a 1981 City Cafe-

Kerry Diamond: Amazing.

Susan Feniger: And it was tiny, tiny, but very cool.

Kerry Diamond: We'll be right back with Susan Feniger, after this quick break.

Jess Zeidman: Hello, this is producer Jess Zeidman. You know we have a podcast, but did you know we also have a magazine? We do. We just released our 14th issue. It's all about the intersection of food and fashion. We have five incredible cover girls including chef activist, Angela Dimayuga.

Jess Zeidman: And guess what? You might even see a story or two written by a certain Radio Cherry Bombe producer about cabbage and clogs. Subscribe now. For more information about all things, Cherry Bombe Magazine, visit

Kerry Diamond: You've had such an amazing career and you're an amazing business woman obviously. What advice do you have for folks who are starting out and building their businesses? I mean, I know that's a broad question, but I'm sure there are things when you look back, you wish that it just hadn't been so painful in terms of lessons learned, mistakes made.

Susan Feniger: Yeah, I know. I feel like I don't learn from my mistakes, but whatever. I think doing what you're passionate about is the most important thing. I mean, obviously you got to make a living. So that's obviously first and foremost. But I really think passion is a big part of when people make decisions to do something that just is going to make them money or that they feel like they should do. I mean, sometimes, I'm assuming, I'm sure you can be successful at it, but for me it's about being able to love what I do. And in the restaurant business, I mean, I love the kitchen part of it more than anything. I mean, I like the interaction with customers too. Certainly I do that.

Susan Feniger: But I love the energy in the kitchen. And I think as a leader you need to set the example. So if you're a jerk, it usually translates down. If you're respectful from dishwasher on up to the top. That's how I think people feel loyal and committed to you. I mean, I think when you're working for people the most important thing is that you are respectful and you leave with a way that's respectful, because you never know who eventually... You never know who's going to be your boss. So when you're a boss and you're treating people, you just don't know. So-

Kerry Diamond: 100%. I always say that to the team. Like you never know who you're going to wind up working with again, really don't.

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: How involved are you today in the business side of your business? The contracts? The negotiations?

Susan Feniger: Very involved-

Kerry Diamond: The accounting?

Susan Feniger: More involved than I want to be. I would say if when we... I mean Mary Sue and I are still very hands on in the business, for sure. Probably Mary Sue drives that part of it more than me. And part of that is just as we were growing in the business, she had kids, two young kids. So she ended up being more in the restaurants in the day and then going home at night. And I would be more in the restaurants day and night.

Susan Feniger: But I think she probably leads that a bit more. But we're both, whenever we're doing any contracts, any anything, we're both still very immersed in it. I don't think that's something that either one of us really want to be doing that much, but we are.

Kerry Diamond: But you're doing some really complicated projects with sports stadiums-

Susan Feniger: We have an amazing lawyer. We have a lawyer who's been our lawyer for probably 25 years, 30 years. I went to college with her and ran into her like 10 years later. Wendy Glen, she's been our lawyer for many, many years and she acts as a lawyer as well as someone who's very immersed in helping us with business decisions. So we count on her quite a bit. We really do.

Kerry Diamond: Is she your full time lawyer?

Susan Feniger: She is our... No. Yes. I mean, she probably would say she is full time, but no.

Kerry Diamond: But not on staff?

Susan Feniger: She's not on staff and she's also trying... She sort of left her big firm and now she works on her own. So she's kept a few clients that she still works with.

Kerry Diamond: So we always ask women on the show how they make a living and how they actually get paid. And what are the revenue streams that are actually working today?

Susan Feniger: Border Grill, Las Vegas has been great for us. And I have to say we've been very hands on with that restaurant and have an amazing relationship now with it's MGM but the executives, the people who run Mandalay Bay, high up have been fabulous. So they're just our landlord. So when we went into that deal, which is different than many of the chefs, most of the chefs that have gone that are celebrity chefs, we basically, they're our landlord. So that's been very interesting for us because we went out and raised the money back then to open up there because we were naive and was like, "We just want to own our restaurants. We don't want to..."

Susan Feniger: So eventually, we had partners in all of our different restaurants, all different LLCs, and we eventually, over the years bought out all of our partners. So we own all of our restaurants now.

Kerry Diamond: That's remarkable.

Susan Feniger: So that's been over the years. Now that we've closed restaurants too. And the restaurants where we didn't have partners are the restaurants where Mary Sue and I lost our money. And so to me it's a very good lesson. It was something that we had sort of, always live by, which is get partners. Don't be selfish, because partners are great for many reasons. One, they come to your restaurants. I mean they're limited partners, they're silent partners, they're not hands-on partners. But they also take the risk, part of the... they take the risk. And so that was something that I think was a very important thing for Mary Sue and I getting started.

Kerry Diamond: We hear so much today how hard it is for women still to raise money. Was that not your experience?

Susan Feniger: Yes. I mean it was... everyone we knew, go through every at that time Rolodex and get everyone you knew and friends and family and-

Kerry Diamond: How do you deal with the rejection?

Susan Feniger: It just keeps calling the next one, and next one, and the next one.

Kerry Diamond: Also partnerships. So you and Mary Sue have had a remarkable partnership for a very long time. You-

Susan Feniger: 38 years or however many that is from 81 to now, 38 years or nine or whatever.

Kerry Diamond: I mean I'm sure, I know for a fact that you have seen so many industry partnerships just flame out spectacularly.

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: What has been your secret?

Susan Feniger: Therapy. I mean, not together. Although when I opened Street, which was my, a restaurant I did separate from Mary Sue. We did go for a short period of time just to try to figure out, how do you deal with it? Because we've been partners for so long.

Kerry Diamond: Some business partners do go to therapy.

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Susan Feniger: I think we've each been in our own individual therapy over the years. And so I think what it taught me, and I'm assuming her too, is that, you have to be responsible for your own stuff, when you can't control what the other person does or doesn't do. And I think we're very different. We have different strengths, for sure. So as collaborators that really works, sometimes it's challenging and certainly over the years we disagree on so many things, for sure. Like, I want to pay more, she thinks we should pay less. So we've come between. I want to do six courses, she wants to do four, we end up at five.

Susan Feniger: So I think we have learned over the years how you give and take the things that are really important to her, you bend down and it's same thing with her. I think we just have learned how to negotiate that, and it's just it's worked really well. We definitely, we compliment each other with our strengths and weaknesses. There's no question about it. And I think we've seen when we've done stuff separately, we each take on the other's quality. Let's say way back, way back when she did an event without me, she was so worried she hadn't ordered enough. She ordered way too much. And I think I've done it where when I do it I think, "Oh my God, I've ordered way too much, I better order less." And then it's too short. So I think we do compliment each other and in that way.

Susan Feniger: And we're both from the Midwest, which I think we're both really hard working. And I think when things are good, it's never... you don't have to deal with it. When things are bad or you're losing your restaurant, I think it's when we become the strongest together or most on the same page when things are tough, we both are willing to sort of figure out how do we get through this? And where do we need to cut back? And how do we do it? So I think the tough times are when it's hardest to be alone in a business. But being together in a business means everybody has to give and take. And it's just like any relationship.

Kerry Diamond: Who are some women you admire on the LA food scene today?

Susan Feniger: Suzanne Goin I think is amazing, and Carolyn Stein, I love their food, I love their energy. They're great restaurateurs. I mean, of course, all the people that are all pals, like Nancy, when we opened City restaurant, Nancy and Mark Open, Campaign Neely, I don't maybe, I don't know, seven or eight, I can't remember exactly, it's seven or eight years later just down the street.

Susan Feniger: So we were like neighbors constantly. And then when I opened the street and Melissa, they were like literally like four doors away. Suzanne Track is there. And I mean there's kind of Curtis, I can't remember anything. Like I said, I'm old.

Kerry Diamond: Do you go out to eat a lot?

Susan Feniger: Probably not that much. I mean I do go out. I end up going in our neighborhood, because for many, many years I worked until 10 or 11 at night. And when Liz and I first started dating, she lived in Santa Monica and near Border Grill, Santa Monica. And I would meet her like at 10 o'clock or 10:30 at Izzy's Deli, which is open 24 hours a day. So even now if I get done, let's say I get done at even early, like at eight or 8:30 Liz doesn't want to come cross town to downtown. Now that I'm opening again in Santa Monica it'll be easier.

Susan Feniger: So I worked many, many nights forever. So at that point... And LA is an early night town. I mean by 10 o'clock everything is closed unless you're going to a club or somewhere in Hollywood. So I mean, I go out, but I tend to sort of end up I try to go to some of the new places so I can sort of see what's going on. But I'm still in the restaurants a lot at nighttime. So-

Kerry Diamond: Have you stood on line at squirrel?

Susan Feniger: You now I haven't. I mean, one of the great things about being a chef is, you know-

Kerry Diamond: Or you've been, you just sneak in.

Susan Feniger: I mean, that is one of the great things about being a chef. One of the benefits for sure.

Kerry Diamond: That's so funny. Yeah. She's amazing.

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: What they're doing at Squirrel and our friends at Kismet and-

Susan Feniger: Yeah. Kismet, of course, same thing, Sarah and Sarah.

Kerry Diamond: It's such a great scene.

Susan Feniger: I love them both. I think they're amazing chefs. Incredible. Yeah. Like that. I mean, there's many, many more I'm sure that I know that I haven't mentioned, but Sarah and Sarah are pals of ours and I love Kismet and I love everything that they're doing.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. It's hard to keep up with all the projects in LA right now.

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: There are so many incredible things going on.

Susan Feniger: Yeah. And there's the comradery, maybe it's everywhere, but LA chefs, there's a comradery that's really special and wonderful. I mean I just don't feel a competitive thing there, and never have.

Kerry Diamond: That's really nice.

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So if folks want to come visit you at your new place, will you be there in the kitchen?

Susan Feniger: I will be. I think with Socalo opening, certainly for the first few months, I'm sure we'll both be there quite a bit. And then I sort of go between, I try to go, I mean you go wherever you're most needed, but like in Long Beach, I've been there for the last month quite a bit. It's just you walk up order and I've sort of been there and dealing... With that making, burn and brisket wraps and, yeah.

Kerry Diamond: I want to wear those right now.

Susan Feniger: We got so good.

Kerry Diamond: Oh my gosh.

Susan Feniger: Yeah. This dinner we're doing tonight, it's not burn end, but the brisk, it's really delicious.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. Well we're going to stop there. We're going to do a little speed round. We could still talk about your cookbook career. Your trailblazing food network career. I mean, so many things you've done.

Susan Feniger: Let me just tell you about this thing that's like, the thing I'm most excited about right now, is I'm on the board of the Los Angeles LGBT center, which is the largest gay and lesbian center in the world. And we have eight or nine campuses in Los Angeles, and over like 700 employees. And we just opened our new campus, which has a 100 beds for homeless youth, and 199 apartments for low income seniors. And we just launched, in June, the culinary kitchen. So it's a professional kitchen where you go through homeless youth and seniors. So it's intergenerational, a 12 week program of where you and we chef ware donated all the uniforms and you go through this 12 week program where it gives people an opportunity to have family like restaurants do, to learn a skill, to go out there.

Susan Feniger: And of course we have a great job placement program, go into restaurants where create for many kids who have no family now the restaurant family that happens, plus a way to make a living. And it's been an amazing thing. And in addition to that, this kitchen part of their, like their first four weeks and their next four weeks is producing food for youth that are coming in and seniors coming in everyday. We're producing over 500 meals a day for the... rather than getting them through project angel food for seniors that are coming in and sit down now and have an amazing buffet where they're eating off of China and they're eating like stuffed pork loin and things that they're learning every day. And so it's just something I'm very very excited about. And if you come out to Vegas, you should come to LA and do this tour of our culinary center-

Kerry Diamond: Absolutely. What's your role there?

Susan Feniger: I probably was the one that pushed our board and pushed that we make this part of our funding to do it, and now I go there, stop in whenever they're cooking and tastings, and we have two people who are ran, we're part of LA kitchen and then now run the kitchen here. And so I'm just there for inspiration and, but if they ever need anything. And then we are one of, of course, one of the restaurants that take interns when they're doing their internship. I try to go as much as I can, because it's really, it is the heart and soul of the new campus. And I think no one really knew, but it is because food is, and so it's, and it's an amazing, I mean, I love it. It's really just very exciting and very cool. Is that the new Anita Mae Rosenstein Campus? And it's just mind boggling.

Kerry Diamond: We would love to come see it and get a tour and write about it.

Susan Feniger: And the board, I love being on the board. It's just fantastic.

Kerry Diamond: I can't imagine there's anything left that you want to do career wise, but is there anything you feel like you haven't done yet that's still on your dream list or your bucket list?

Susan Feniger: Well, if I could do anything to help in fundraising to get rid of this current president, I would do that. That is for sure. People sometimes say, "Why don't you go into politics?" Like that probably would have loved to have done that way back. But there's only so much you can do.

Kerry Diamond: Look at Bernie. Look at Elizabeth Warren.

Susan Feniger: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: I'm like, "How the heck do they have the energy?"

Susan Feniger: I know. Unbelievable. I want to be them.

Kerry Diamond: Wow. Well, we all want to be you. So whatever you have a hope to hell, you bottle it one of these days. You're incredible. So let's do a quick speed round.

Susan Feniger: Okay.

Kerry Diamond: Favorite kitchen utensil?

Susan Feniger: A great Japanese French knife chef knife.

Kerry Diamond: Song that makes you smile?

Susan Feniger: Well it shouldn't, but it does. Why by Annie Lennox.

Kerry Diamond: A treasured cookbook? It doesn't have to be your favorite, but just one in your collection you use a lot and love.

Susan Feniger: I can't say that it's when I use it a lot in love, but I still have my mom's version of the Settlement Cookbook just for fun as a treasure.

Kerry Diamond: Oldest food in your fridge?

Susan Feniger: A bottle of truffle oil.

Kerry Diamond: Does that keep a long time?

Susan Feniger: No. I just can't stand to throw it away.

Kerry Diamond: A food you would never eat?

Susan Feniger: I'm not wild about seer gins anymore, after an experience at Le Perroquet.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, okay. We won't ask about that. Dream vacation destination?

Susan Feniger: I have to say right now it's Hollywood Beach in Oxnard.

Kerry Diamond: Why that?

Susan Feniger: Nobody's on it. And you can let your dogs off free and we have two golden doodles and they love it. I always say it's for them.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, what are their names?

Susan Feniger: Punch and Fanny.

Kerry Diamond: Cute. What are they named for?

Susan Feniger: Oh this is 96 year old mother and all of their friends, her friends at the home where she lives named Fanny, perfect Jewish name. Punch is because he's a rescue boy and we wanted to give him... he's so scared, so we wanted to give him some power, so he called him punch.

Kerry Diamond: Aw, that's sweet. Okay. And the last question, and this is funny because you are a food celebrity, but if you had to be trapped on a desert Island with one food celebrity, who would it be and why? And you can't say Mary Sue.

Susan Feniger: One food celebrity? I thought it was just going to be one celebrity.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, well you know what? Since you are a food celebrity, we'll grant you that. You can pick a celebrity you'd want to be trapped on a desert Island with.

Susan Feniger: Obama, for sure.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. Good answer. That's it for today's show. Thank you to Susan Feniger for stopping by. If you find yourself in Santa Monica, go check out Socalo, the latest restaurant from Susan and Mary Sue Milliken. We'd love for you to subscribe to Radio Cherry Bombe wherever you get your podcasts. And we'd also love if you could rate and review the show. Let us know who you'd love to hear on Radio Cherry Bombe in 2020.

Kerry Diamond: Radio Cherry Bombe is edited, engineered, and produced by Jess Zeidman. Our theme song is all fired up by the Band Chalala. Thanks for listening everybody, you are the bomb.

When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.

Lauren Dean: Hi, I'm Lauren Dean and I'm an executive producer of many food shows and a cookbook author. Do you want to know who I think is the bomb? That would be Pamela Cannon, executive editor at Ballantine Books. Pam has edited countless cookbooks, including Rachel Ray's latest memoir. She's an enormous supporter of women in food.