The customer is always right. Heard that before? Samir Dhurandhar, chef-partner at Nick & Sam’s in Dallas, takes it to the extreme.
“Never say no,” he instructs his servers.
He means it. In the new book Raising the Steaks: My Journey to Creating the Best Steakhouse in the World — Nick & Sam’s, Dhurandhar shares his “golden rules” of running a restaurant. “Never say no” means when New York Yankees players come to town, Dhurandhar keeps the kitchen open late. Dinner might start around midnight, and Dhurandhar is happy to feed his favorite team. “Never say no” means hiring limo drivers to transport A-listers in town for the Super Bowl during an infamous severe ice storm in 2011.
Dhurandhar enjoys telling stories about famous visitors like Dirk Nowitzki, Mariah Carey, Troy Aikman, Justin Bieber and Julia Child. But he says the 24-year-old Dallas restaurant has survived the Great Recession and the coronavirus pandemic because it is obsessive about making guests feel like royalty, even if they’re not. Let’s say somebody at the table wants a burger and a soda, even though Nick & Sam’s is more of a steak and cabernet place.
“We grind some meat in the back and send the valet down to 7-Eleven to buy a Dr Pepper,” Dhurandhar says. He’s done it.
“If we say no, they’re going to find a place that says yes. And then they’re not coming back.”
The staff includes server-to-the-stars Benny Bajrami and 10 kitchen workers who have been at the restaurant since opening day in 1999.
With prices like $295 for a chateaubriand and $125 for a long-bone cowboy steak, Dhurandhar believes they can’t make mistakes. “We will do 1,000 covers on a Saturday night,” he says, using restaurant lingo to describe the number of customers served in an evening. “Maybe two steaks will come back.” That’s thanks to lead broiler Luis Martin, who has been at the restaurant since the start.
The restaurant had nearly $29 million in gross sales in 2022, according to management, making it one of the highest-grossing restaurants in Dallas.
In Dhurandhar’s new book and in this edited Q and A with his wife, Lori, he explains why he left India to pursue a cooking career that would eventually lead him to run one of Dallas’ toniest dining rooms.
Nick & Sam’s has been open in Dallas since 1999, but you’re writing a book now. Why?
Samir Dhurandhar: We have a lot of people come in from all over the country to dine with us, and [restaurant owner Phil] Romano said, “Why don’t you write a book?” People know about us everywhere, and it just gives other people, in different states, an opportunity to pick this book up.
Where did you find the time?
SD: I really didn’t. It was more Monday conversations with my ghost writer [Steve McLinden], spending all afternoon on the phone with him.
How long did it take?
SD: Close to two years.
A lot of famous people have eaten at Nick & Sam’s. Can you name a few?
SD: In 24 years now, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go in this restaurant. The first celebrity I ever met here was Julia Child. ... [Also] George Clooney, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte. I’m a big Yankees fan.
We respect the fact that they come here. We try not to bother them. Very rarely do I ask for a picture. In my recollection, there’s only been one person I asked, because I grew up watching him in India. The Six Million Dollar Man [actor Lee Majors] walked in one day. And when I grew up, I thought he was the coolest guy ever. He was married to Farrah Fawcett.
I said, “I have to get a picture.” That was pretty cool.
Nick & Sam’s has always been a restaurant with a show. Whose idea was that and why?
SD: I like to give guests things they’ve never seen before. For example, the cotton candy: The first cotton candy comes out at 6 o’clock, 6:15 in the evening, and it’s a showstopper. Everyone stops eating, everyone looks at it. The sparklers just add a little more to the whole celebration.
Now, we take a bowl of dry ice and we leave it at the table and pour hot water on it. The whole smoke effect at the whole table, with the sparklers and everything? Listen, we’re here to make memories.
Nick & Sam’s stayed open during North Texas’ first Super Bowl in 2011, during a severe ice storm. What was the significance of that Super Bowl in Nick & Sam’s history?
SD: We always stay open for our guests.
Super Bowl was just a blessing, to bring so many people in here. It became a place to be.
Lori, who’s the most interesting celebrity you’ve met at Nick & Sam’s?
Lori Dhurandhar [Samir’s wife]: It goes back from Super Bowl. During the day, I was watching the news. … They said so many restaurants are booked, people are posing as celebrities to try to get into restaurants! This news story was already in the back of my head. I was helping out up front [at Nick & Sam’s] and the maître d had stepped away for a while. ... This man comes up who looks just like will.i.am. He’s got the beret. And I’m thinking to myself, this guy’s posing as will.i.am.
I told him just to wait!
[Editor’s note: Dhurandhar confirms that it was will.i.am and that he was the San Francisco 49ers’ guest.
In another Super Bowl story, Christina Aguilera and her husband rented out the private room for more than $10,000. Aguilera flubbed the national anthem and didn’t show up for her reservation. “But they paid for everything,” Dhurandhar says.]
What are some of your restaurant rules?
SD: Don’t take advantage of the guest. That’s one. So when someone asks, “What wines by the glass do you have?” Start from the bottom. Start from the $12 glass and work your way up. Don’t start from the top. … We don’t want to push a $35 glass of wine.
[And] always let your manager know what’s going on at the table, good or bad.
You want to open a Nick & Sam’s in New York City, you write in the book. Will you?
SD: I know I can do another Nick & Sam’s with my eyes closed. People need to see it. People compare us to the best. And why not?
One day, hopefully the right situation comes along.
Chef Samir Dhurandhar will sign books from 6-7 p.m. June 7, 2023, at Interabang, 5600 W. Lovers Lane, Dallas.
Dhurandhar’s book Raising the Steaks: My Journey to Creating the Best Steakhouse in the World — Nick & Sam’s, $26, will be released on June 13, 2023.