Few restaurateurs have had a bigger impact on New York city dining in the past decade than Gabriel Stulman, founder of Happy Cooking Hospitality. What’s most remarkable about Stulman, however, is that his success has always come on a distinctly human scale.

In the first installment of First We Feast Profiles, we take an in-depth look into his burgeoning restaurant empire, which includes perpetually packed downtown hot spots like Montmartre, Perla, and Fedora.

After cutting his teeth as a bartender in Madison, WI and suffering the humiliation of checking coats for people he used to go to school with at a nightclub in NYC, Stulman had his first hit as a restaurateur at Little Owl—a cozy West Village joint in the age of megawatt openings like Del Posto and Morimoto.

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From there, he put a year into crafting the “ideal version of a perfect neighborhood restaurant” at Joseph Leonard. Just as he opened his second place, Jeffrey’s Grocery, across the street, a fire almost destroyed Joseph Leonard. Stulman’s decision to double-down on the restaurant—and to continue paying his employees 75% of their salaries to wait for him to reopen—solidified the philosophy that would come to anchor “Little Wisco”: Treat your staff like family, and they’ll treat diners like dinner-party guests rather than just another cover.

Since then, Stulman has been opening new spots in and around the West Village at a steady clip, maintaining an emphasis on small, unique spaces filled with deeply personal touches, like names that invoke his grandparents and photos of his favorite hip-hop artists.

In a city where the vast majority of restaurants fail, Stulman has thrived by staying true to his roots and formulating a distinctive philosophy on what good hospitality really means in NYC. Watch the video above to see how he made it happen.