Nick Kokonas: Outstanding innovator

Nick Kokonas would like you to understand something: He is Grant Achatz's business partner, the other guy behind Alinea and Next, "but I am not his patron. The idea that there's one guy who's an artist and the other who is rich and retired and pulling strings -- that's far from the truth." Indeed, Kokonas is 44, far from retired, and, for better or worse (depending whether you landed tickets to Next), he has set out to change the way high-end restaurants put fannies in seats. Some restaurateurs treat their restaurant as an extension of their living room. Kokonas, a former derivatives trader from Northbrook, sees it as "a creative outlet," he said. And it doesn't get more creative than selling tickets to restaurants, pricing those tickets according to the day and time of the meal -- and using the software you developed specifically for that purpose. Which is how Kokonas and Achatz filled every single seat at Next, every single night, since the restaurant opened last spring. Some diners hate the pretense of tickets. Some love the convenience. But Kokonas is already looking toward expansion: Two established restaurants, one in Chicago, one in New York -- neither of which he'll name -- are expected to drop their reservation policies and adopt Kokonas' ticketing service in the next couple of months. "And I have already identified another 20 industries that could switch to demand-based pricing,” he said. "A lot of really good ideas always seem obvious in hindsight." -- Christopher Borrelli
Photo by Bill Hogan
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