By BILL HARRIS
Special to The Lede
The title of the show is HUSTLE, and that’s exactly what is expected of the young entrepreneurs who appear on it.
“When we look to people who we want to mentor, and be part of their journey, what we want is the drive,” says award-winning chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson, who is one of the executive producers of HUSTLE, alongside Alicia Keys. “Are they hungry enough? Are they driven enough, not only to work, but to work really smart?”
HUSTLE promotes diversity in New York City’s business environment and follows entrepreneur, investor, and host John Henry, who aims to advise other entrepreneurs on how to grow a company, sometimes virtually from scratch. Leading up to the Season 1 finale, airing Saturday, May 11 at 9 p.m. ET on MTV, we spoke with Samuelsson - the mastermind behind many restaurants, including Red Rooster Harlem and the recently opened Marcus in the Four Seasons Hotel in Montréal - about HUSTLE and what the future holds:
Q: How do you decide what you want to be part of, be it restaurants or entertainment projects? The offers must far outweigh what you actually take on:
Marcus Samuelsson: “Yeah, absolutely. First of all, it’s a privilege to have opportunities. I try to take on projects that I’m super passionate about. Sometimes I’m the head of a project, and sometimes I’m part of a team. With HUSTLE, for example, we had been watching all these amazing entrepreneurs in Harlem, they come to me through Red Rooster, they come and knock on our doorstep at our office. We always would say, ‘How can we actually highlight these entrepreneurs who are not getting their credit?’ With this show, we really felt like, John Henry is a local talent, he’s an amazing young guy with a great message, so it made the perfect match.”
Q: Does this process remind you of what it was like when you were starting out?
Marcus Samuelsson: “When we started our company, we needed somebody to come in and help us. So having access to someone like John Henry, who in real time can come in and inspire, and to be able to have Alicia Keys join that, she by herself is obviously an amazing story, it just felt like this was an important story to share. So any time I can be part of storytelling, inspiration, and local community, I’m always excited.”
Q: Are there specific challenges for young entrepreneurs in New York, or can the lessons in HUSTLE apply around the world?
Marcus Samuelsson: “Well, I think there are a couple of specific things in great urban areas, like Toronto, like New York. You’re up against talent, right? There’s enormous competition in these big cities. So if your product can cut through that, it can pretty much cut through anywhere. So that’s one thing. But in big urban areas, you also have access and reach to amazing people, co-working, sharing ideas, getting ideas from abroad. With all of those opportunities, the marketplace has never been more open than it is now.”
Q: Besides drive, what qualities do you look for in the young entrepreneurs asking for help?
Marcus Samuelsson: “One thing we ask is, is their product unique enough? It’s not like anybody needs another product, right? We are overstuffed with choices. So it’s that combination of, is there a point of view here that’s different?”
Q: Could you see HUSTLE going to other cities for possible future seasons?
Marcus Samuelsson: “Absolutely. There are so many emerging cities that we feel would be perfect fits, like HUSTLE Detroit, HUSTLE Miami, HUSTLE Austin, HUSTLE Toronto, why not? Toronto is a super strong city, my cousins live in Scarborough, I know about Toronto, I go there a lot! These urban environments are really perfect, because there is diversity, there are universities, there’s finance, so how are we the connector between these worlds?”
Q: Is there a difference for you these days between being a chef/restaurateur and a “celebrity” chef/restaurateur?
Marcus Samuelsson: “I don’t ever look at it my life like that. I’m a cook, I devoted my life to cooking, and cooking is at the centre of what drives me, and making people happy, inspiring young cooks, doing something that people want to come to. I don’t approach anything differently. I have a work ethic that my parents and grandparents instilled in me. Sometimes I’m in front of the camera, sometimes I’m behind it. But I get up every morning and I’m excited about the opportunities. The day I’m not excited, I should be doing something else.”