Nowadays it seems like everyone I know has a different dietary restriction; gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, etc. Of course I want everyone to be happy, but all of these restrictions sure make planning group dinners a bit more complicated. However, at AWOL Eatery in Williamsburg, no restriction is a challenge. A.W.O.L stands for All Walks of Life, which is the true inspiration behind the place. Chef duo John Powali and Daniel Zuanetto collaborate in the kitchen and are creating new dishes daily to accommodate anyone who walks in. “You don’t open a restaurant to say no to people,” Powali explained. I had the chance to talk with Chef John about why AWOL is focusing on the customer and changing the dining experience as we know it. Read on to learn how he got started in the food industry and more.

Tell me about yourself, your background in the restaurant industry?

Chef John: When I was 16 and needed a job, I started working at a local pizza place in West Palm. I worked there for two years learning how to make pizza and then went off to college where I majored in Hospitality Management. Afterwards, I worked in various restaurants and soon got the opportunity to work at 32 East, which is where I learned how to be creative and use flavors. After 3 years there, I up and moved to Connecticut and worked at two of Michael Jordan’s restaurants, where I learned how to maximize value, while keepings things affordable. During this time, my friend, who is a professional poker player, asked me to travel the country with him as his personal chef. It was a lot of fun and I got a lot of great experience out of it. In the middle of our journey, my friend Daniel called and asked if I’d be interested in opening a restaurant. Without a concept or a plan, I said yes and headed back to the east coast to figure it out.

What’s it like working side by side with a friend? What are the challenges there? And the rewards?

Chef John: Not only do we work together, we live together too! We just get up everyday and have fun. When we wake up I’ll ask, “So, what are we making today?” We do what we want to do, and people are loving it. People are enjoying the creativity. Of course we’re two different people with two different cooking styles. But we bounce back our ideas until we come up with something and develop the idea together. One idea we’ve had is to do a “Battle of the Chefs” where Daniel and I go at it.

Were you always set on opening in Brooklyn?

Chef John: Where we are is a good place to start. But I do think our location is the reason we’re not as busy as we could be, we’re not in Manhattan. Our location right now just doesn’t have much else going on here, not much night life either. I think we’re just a year or two early for this neighborhood. But we do have loyal customers already. We have regulars who come in 5 days a week, it’s pretty amazing.

Why do you feel strongly about accommodating guests?

Chef John: We want everyone, no matter your dietary restriction or preference, to be able to eat here and have a great meal. We can accommodate anyone. We’re in the middle of Williamsburg, where everyone is gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, you name it. And it’s good to know that they can all come here as a group and everyone will be happy.

What has been the biggest challenge so far? And reward?

Chef John: Finding hungry enough people! We’ll serve a multi-course meal and by course three they’re full! But really, we don’t see many challenges right now. As far as rewards go, the best part about this job is that it’s not corporate. We’re our own bosses and we get to make the final decisions.

What’s been the most complicated dietary restriction?

Chef John: We don’t find any restriction too complicated to work with. But we were surprised to hear that some people won’t eat cilantro- apparently it’s a genetic disorder? We have lots of cilantro on the menu, but of course we’ll accommodate anyone with any need.

Where do you find inspiration for your cooking?

Chef John: I get all of my inspiration from Danny, he is the mad scientist of our duo. He just pulls ideas out of thin air, it’s remarkable.

Anything new or coming at AWOL you’d like our viewers to know about?

Chef John: Everyday is a new day here. Our menu is constantly rotating and changing, it makes it a very exciting atmosphere. We have decent prices for great value. We can’t wait to see you here!

Currently, AWOL serves wine and beer as they await approval of a liquor license.

AWOL is open daily for dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and is open for weekend brunchevery Saturday and Sunday beginning at 11:30 a.m.

AWOL – Website
336 Graham Avenue, Brooklyn ,NY

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About The Author

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Healthy Eater

Southern girl at heart, minus the fried food. Fresh on the NY food scene, hungry for a healthy way to live in this food capital.