When E!'s Playing With Fire premieres on Sunday, March 17, viewers will get a taste of the high stakes business involved with being a chef or restaurateur in the Big Apple. The Koch Brothers, identical twins with larger-than-life personalities, allowed the cameras to film the opening of one of their latest high-profile establishments, Toy, and follow their lives as they attempt to build their budding empire. If their restaurants are half as entertaining as this interview (which definitely veered on the fun side of crazy), it's easy to see how they've achieved success by the age of 30.
OK!: What made you want to do a reality show at this point in your career?
Derek Koch: The show found us and we were very excited about the possibilities of doing something together with E! We find it very attractive to the demographic we appeal to in New York City, which is the ultra-elite. We feel E! has that similar cache. It’s the same client. We felt it would be a good opportunity to tell how we got from Ohio at the age of 20 to New York City and built up a business at the age of 30.
Daniel Koch: We’ve been approached in the past a lot. Derek and I went to film school and we learned a lot about that. With that comes a reality check, which is paying the bills. We worked from the bottom up. We learned everything in the restaurant business and then at the age of 25 we opened our first place and since then formed Dual Groupe with Michael (Wainstein). Five years later, here we are. However, in the meantime,we’ve been approached by every network to do this and that but five years later I’m like, if it’s not E! I’m not doing it with anyone. So it was perfect. We couldn’t be more excited about it. We understand the lengths you have to go to shoot and make something come to life.
Derek: For us this is the fun part. Timing was everything. We had a lot going on, we had a lot to pitch. Daniel and I love pitching and throwing out new, innovative ideas at our team.
OK!: How did you go from Ohio to New York?
Derek: We went from a small town of about 5000 people to a small school in college and we just found every place we went to we became a big fish in a small pond. Everybody knew our business so we were like, let’s go somewhere where it’s big. Let’s go somewhere where we don’t know everybody and maybe we won’t see the same person twice every week. We ended up in Brooklyn in 2002 at the age of 20. Our parents weren’t too happy about us leaving college but I told them we were going to go pursue our lives and figure out who we were. We had no clue.
Daniel: I knew who the hell I was. You were the one running from your girlfriend. As soon as that happened I was like, “Okay, I can grab him now. Let’s move to New York.”
Derek: We tried modeling with the novelty of being a twin. We did some Cosmo stuff. We did some runway shows in Bryant Park. We never made any money. I think we got a check for $1.57. And we hung it on the wall. We were told no by everybody. We gave it a couple of years but we realized sooner than later, at 22, that we needed to find jobs. We went out to bus tales and swallow our pride to pay our bills and school loans.
Daniel: We did the dishes, we served tables, we took orders, we gave orders, we poured wine, we learned about wine, we learned about food. And then finally we opened our own place and for five years we’ve been grinding. What we learned along the way was the art of hospitality and delivering it in the most entertaining fashion possible.
As brothers, is working together tricky?
Derek: At the end of the day we balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I run the business day-to-day together with Michael and Daniel runs the business from night to morning.
Daniel: In our world in New York there’s a lot of backstabbers and people you can’t trust so the closest thing we have is loyalty and that supercedes any form of relationship you can have in this business. When we share bank accounts and we see this and that there’s trust. There’s a lot of loyalty here. There’s just as much love as there is hate. But the hate is out of love and therefore it works.
There’s never been a point where you’ve thought, “I can’t work with him anymore?”
Derek: A lot of people can wake up and just throw in the towel. That has crossed our minds millions of times. We just don’t have that in us. We know what it takes to win. We know how to do it whether it’s waiting tables or bartending or becoming a business or trying to become something that you never imagined. There’s no quitting when you’re accountable to your brother. I can’t see him fail and he can’t see me fail.
What are you most looking forward to seeing on the show?
Derek: I’m excited about how we sort of overcome adversity in every single episode.
What are you not looking forward to seeing on screen?
Daniel: I’m naked in a lot of the episodes but I know how to sell and sex sells. It’s not that I’m not looking forward to it, I just don’t want people to think of me less. It just comes with TV and the reality of being the person everyone turns to to be the bad boy and to be the guy who is willing to risk his reputation for being a businessman to take this business that we have to greater lengths. I do treat the E! show that we’re doing as a big business. I’m not looking forward to people taking it the wrong way. I don’t want to be looked at as a playboy. But someone has to be the playboy here. Someone has to hold that flag. And I’m happy to do it. I’m taking one for the team.
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