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Staying the course

Aug 26, 2016 | Schedulefly Crew
Occasionally I look back at old blog posts of ours and just nod my head. It feels good to have stayed the course and resisted the urge to add more and do more and hire more for fear that we would not keep growing. I honestly believe that most company founders and owners would have loved for their business to stay small and fun and manageable with just a handful of people. The problem (I'd guess) is they lost sight of why they started their business due to investors and partners and more people and overhead forcing them out of their sweet spot and into an entirely different kind of business. Hopefully they still enjoy it, but I'd bet the reason they started the business is lost in a sea of new products and services.

Below is a post from a few years about the original reasons why I wrote Schedulefly. Thought I'd share it again. It's still true.

While in college, I was a waiter at a nice full-service independent restaurant in Wrightsville Beach NC. There were 2 owners - one of which was there every night. During the summer they were both there on the busy nights. At that time, it was one of the best independently owned restaurants in the area and it was run very well. Eventually I became one of the more senior staff (thanks to my extended stay while taking my sweet time getting an undergraduate degree) and made the schedule for the wait staff. Before I was senior enough to call the shots on when I wanted to work and also make the schedule for the others – I (and every other waiter – about 40 of us) would do one of the following every week to find out when we worked:

a) Call the restaurant and bother whomever answered the phone and ask them to run back in the kitchen (where the paper schedule was posted) and check it to see when we worked. This was officially banned by the owners - but sometimes it was still the only option - short of option c below - which was miserable.

b) Call the person who made the schedule once we knew it was done. Of course in the mid 90’s no one had cell phones so calling meant calling them at home. College kids are never at home.

c) Get in our cars and drive to the restaurant to go personally check our schedule. This was most common. Seriously.

And that was just Sunday – the day it was posted. The rest of the week got worse once it started changing.

It was a simple problem our restaurant had back then and when I sat down to write the first lines of code for Schedulefly about 10 years ago – it was those 3 things that I thought about. I thought about what those two owners (and the staff they employed) would need to help with that. That’s it. I did not picture this software being used one day by other businesses with these same challenges and integrating with other products and other companies and becoming giant. I did not think that I would spin off a Schedulefly for retail and Schedulefly for healthcare and Schedulefly for [insert you favorite industry here]. Today, I still don’t.

Because today and in the future, thousands and thousands of great independent restaurants (just like the one where I worked) still have that same simple problem as we had back then. It’s a simple problem that needs a simple solution – and the problem will never go away. Sure, with technology, we could add tons of other stuff in an attempt to solves tons of other problems in hopes of growing bigger and faster and serving more customers – but we would miss the entire point. In fact, the point of it would be lost in a sea of options and features and complication. I know for sure that those two owners who I worked for wouldn’t like it and I wouldn’t blame them.

Wes

Rayme Rossello, member of the Schedulefly community, and the story of Comida

Aug 19, 2016 | Schedulefly Crew
Here's part of our interview with Rayme. You can listen to the whole interview on our Restaurant Owners Uncorked podcast series on iTunes.

How did you get started in the restaurant business?
I started Proto’s Pizza with my partner at the time, Pam Proto. We opened five Proto’s Pizzerias together. We started with one in Longmont, CO in 1999 and opened four along the Front Range and one up in Boise, Idaho, just to try our hand out-of-state. We did that in seven years. And then I sold my half to her in 2007. After I left she opened one more and they’re still going strong.

Opening five locations in seven years sounds like it was a pretty busy time.
It was pretty busy for sure. We were just scared to death for the first little bit. I think each time we opened a new location, I would just wonder how in the heck we were going to get it all done and where was the money going to come from and how to make it all happen.

But Pam is very tenacious and I learned so much from her over the years about putting your right foot forward and showing up and working hard. We hired really great people because obviously you can’t run five restaurants alone, especially with one in an out-of-state area. It was a great opportunity. We worked really well together for that whole time.

What made you decide to branch out?
I love pizza and I love Proto’s and I still eat it about once a week, but I just was sort of antsy to do my own thing.

I put myself through pastry school just before she bought me out, just to learn a part of the restaurant world that I was completely unfamiliar with and also very uncomfortable with. I didn’t want to go through sixty thousand dollars’ worth of chef’s school, but I wanted to learn a little of the back-of-the-house side of things. So I did the pastry thing and that was a great eye-opener for me just in terms of knowing that I never wanted to be a pastry chef. But, I still love making pastries. I just made fresh peach ice cream this morning here at home before I went to work. I love the pastry side of things from a home perspective, but not from a real world restaurant perspective.

After that I actually bought into a small restaurant in Boulder and co-owned that for a year with someone. That restaurant is still there, but it just wasn’t the right fit for me. It was an incredible learning experience on many levels, but it wasn’t my lifelong “oh-this-is-going-to-be-a-great-business-partnership.” It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. After a year I worked on sort of dissolving that partnership and relationship from a business perspective.

That lead to your food truck, right?
Yes. I was ready to really do something at that point just one hundred percent on my own. I didn’t have a ton of money left in terms of some extra cash in the bank to start a whole new business. I thought about what I could do on a smaller budget with a little bit less commitment perhaps than a restaurant. The food truck thing had just really started coming around. This was 2009. And in 2010 I eventually started it.

Well, it turned out food trucks weren’t legal in Boulder at the time. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know only because there were none. It seemed like such a great idea to me. It didn’t even cross my mind that they wouldn’t be legal. I knew of somebody else that had tried to start one but it ended up not happening and I didn’t know why it had failed.

I put down sixty grand on a truck in East Brunswick, NJ, was having it built out, having it shipped out on a flatbed to get to me here in Boulder. I was going through that process in trying to get city licenses and that’s when I learned they were not legal, after having spent all of that money. I don’t always do things in the right order (laughs). It was going to be really difficult to make it happen. Five-and-a-half years later and it’s more than happening, which took a lot of hard work, especially in that first year-and-a-half.

We were trying to figure out how to not get arrested, and where can we go make money without being tracked down. Where can we go without somebody calling the cops, because I was making them mad for parking somewhere on the street, even if it was a long distance away from the front door of their restaurants? So I didn’t do that very much. I figured out another way to make money and pay the bills and when the opportunity presented itself to open a restaurant – that’s when I thought this may really work. After just a year-and-a-half of running the food truck, I realized that was a hard way to make a living. The hardest, actually.

I read an article where you said that every time you’ve ever second-guessed yourself it’s been done out of fear, but when you jump in with both feet and do something anyway the doors kind of opened for you. How have you learned to embrace fear?
Fear is a natural part of life. It’s easy to look on any number of different blogs where they talk about restaurant openings and closings within the last month, and you see how many, with very good intentions and sometimes great ideas, start and within a year they’re closed. With Proto’s, when we opened our doors at that first location, we had, I think, two thousand dollars in the bank account on the day that we opened. There was no room for error. There was no room at all. We had signed a lease for a long period of time, and then there we were, two of us about to make a living from one pizzeria and two thousand dollars in the bank. I think we were very lucky. Often people have the best intentions and the worst ideas.

I was actually thinking about our concept last night. People open small little sort of street side cafes but they have six tables and a small menu and they think, “I can do this. I can make this work.” That’s a lot like opening a food truck. You’re thinking to yourself that it’s a small commitment. But the bottom line is unless you show up every single day and make it work and make the food delicious and serve it in a way that makes people want to come back, they’re not going to. If you only have six tables, or you just have a food truck, and a two-hour window of time during the day to feed people, if you screw that up, what do you do? With the food truck there were times when we would spend three hours prepping in the morning. We’d go out and it would be a bomb — we’d sell seventy dollars. With me and two other people on the truck, seventy dollars doesn’t even pay for gas, let alone all of the other things.

The fear is real. And you have to manage it and also manage all of the moving parts that make up service in the service industry in regards to restaurants. It’s a lot. And a lot of people don’t know what they’re doing. A lot of times it’s naiveté. They think it looks really fun. But the bottom line is, in the middle of the night when you wake up at two-thirty in the morning, you bolt up out of bed because you think to yourself, Holy crap, it’s payroll taxes, it’s Wednesday tomorrow. And there’s not enough money in the bank account.

Have you changed your management style over the years?
Absolutely. I’ve had experiences with people that are total hotheads and that’s clear to me that that’s no way to manage or lead. Nobody likes it when people blow up at them. Leading by instilling fear in people is a great way to make people not want to stick around. And then the opposite side of that is just being completely dispassionate and not available for people, not listening. Not watching from the extreme end of market trends to just the minutiae of what’s actually happening in the dish pit today. It’s a broad spectrum of stuff to pay attention to and there’s only twenty-four hours in a day and some of those you have to sleep and also have a life.

This has been one of the key things for me. I’m not an hour-counter. I don’t talk to people about how much I work. I don’t calculate that stuff in my head unless it’s been too long since I’ve had a day off. But in general, I feel like a good manager-owner. I have to have time for myself. It’s how I regroup and show up ready to be in charge again, be the boss. Nobody wants a boss that’s just downtrodden and tired and like a martyr. That’s just a bummer to me. I wouldn’t want a boss like that and I don’t want anybody on my management team to be that way.

One of the questions that I ask people when I hire them, especially when they’re going to be in leadership positions, is what do you like to do when you’re not at work? What’s important to you? Do they hike? Do they just go out to the bars all night long? Are they the kind of people that love to go out and eat and enjoy the dining experience? What do they do? Do they like to read? Do they read cookbooks? Are they informed? What makes them tick? Interesting people make for interesting managers. And boring people get bored, I guess (laughs).

You got the truck in 2010, opened one location in 2012 and a second in 2013. That's intense!
It was a lot. The second restaurant, that whole opening was a crazy month’s period of time. I had sold my house in order to get money to go towards the opening of the new restaurant and just timing all of that and getting a loan and the SBA, the bank and all of that stuff. Thank God I have an amazing bookkeeper who works for me pretty much full time and she has really neat handwriting and is a great bean-counter. Those are the little things and sometimes my time is better spent doing other things.

Two weeks after opening the first Comida location I moved into a new house. The day I moved in was the day the 100 year flood came to Boulder. It was INSANE! I grew up wanting to be an actress and wanting to be in the theater and there was always that thing – the show must go on – and that’s the same thing that happens in my industry now. You still open your doors. You still show up and make food and serve it.

Are you going to keep expanding?
Yeah! Just yesterday I brought home a Sprinter cargo van. I’m growing the indoor catering piece to my business, which is really exciting. And I’m also about a week away, maybe not even that much, from signing a lease on a new location in Aurora in a building called The Stanley Marketplace. That’s another incredible opportunity. It’ll be the third Comida Cantina. I’m proud of the brand, I’m proud of the food. It’s all made from scratch. It’s not brain surgery. It just takes showing up and doing. And so I’m excited to do it again. I think it’ll be great.

Just showing up and doing…
I think a lot of people might look at it as sort of plodding. “Ugh! I’ve got to get up again and do the same thing over again.” But I am one hundred percent a morning person. I don’t know how people do it without being a morning person, although my restaurants don’t stay open until midnight or one o’clock, so maybe that’s part of it.

I’m excited every day that I wake up and there are new challenges. And sometimes they hit you in the face like a ton of bricks. Three weeks ago one of my very dearest, sweetest employees – she was just everything, longest tenure at Comida — very unexpectedly let me know that she needed to move on. She needed to take a job that was closer to where she lives, closer to her husband and family. It was a really hard decision for her, and it completely blindsided me. There are moments like that where you think, Holy you-know-what — how do I do this without her? What do I do? What’s the next day going to be like? Who will fill her position? But I know myself well enough to know that freaking out helps nothing. So, if I’m going to freak out I do it by myself in my car – which I did.

Then, after a good night’s sleep and a bunch of just writing stuff down, different ideas, I woke up in the morning with a clear head and some ideas and had a good conversation with her, and I was okay. Within hours this amazing person who I’ve worked in a different sense – she’s done all my graphics stuff for the last fifteen years (even since Proto’s) — stepped up and said, “I’m really interested in talking to you about that position.” I couldn’t be luckier to have her.

If it were easy then everybody would do it. That’s one of my favorite things to say because it’s true. It’s just not easy. But there was the solution. I think so many people sit and spin in the problem and they show up and they talk about the problem. I had a really great boss at one point (my favorite boss, ever, really the only boss I ever had*) who said, “Rayme, if you show up to work consistently and you’re thinking to yourself, I can’t stand that person, why are they doing that? The only person you have to blame is yourself. You’re Rayme Rossello: In charge. This is your world, your reality.”

Parting thoughts?
You can either make it great or it can just suck and you can plod through it every day and that’s not how I want to live or run restaurants.

* Rayme’s boss was Dave Query of Big Red F Restaurant Group in Boulder, CO. Dave is featured in the first Restaurant Owners Uncorked book.

Schedulefly's ribbon-cutting ceremony

Aug 12, 2016 | Schedulefly Crew
Sometime in the spring of 2007 my boss walked into my office and took a seat. He, being a real straight to the point guy, asked me “What is your plan with Schedulefly?”. I responded with “Man, I don’t know. I don’t have one”. He then asked what it would take to get it ready and was I interested in doing something with it with his help. I thought about it for several seconds (while absorbing the fact that this sharp business leader that graduated from Harvard and UCLA was interested in making Schedulefly a real business) and then said "sure!". It was the shortest and most productive meeting I had had in years.

Back then we were both working for a business called First Research that had recently been acquired. Tyler was my boss there and had decided to move on once our business was sold. I didn’t blame him. The writing was on the wall. I was just thrilled that what he wanted to do next was take the software I had written - which was running on a Dell PC at my house and being used by 2 or 3 restaurants - and make it a business. I had written the software a few years prior to this and I had shown him the software some months earlier and explained why I created it and how a few places were enjoying using it. At that time I had no idea he would take a seat in my office soon after and do what he did. Sometimes I look back at how things lined up for us and for our business then and in the next several years - and I get the chills. Timing was literally everything.

Later, Wil would join us. Wil was also an incredibly sharp guy from First Research. I recall that day Wil joined us and the email I got from Tyler that simple said in the subject line “WIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”. Nothing in the body of the email. If you knew Tyler - you’d smile at that. Tyler doesn’t get excited much - at least publicly. It was a big day and it was clear that Tyler felt his joining us was extremely important. He was right. Then a few years later we brought on Charles and then Hank - both of whom were also at First Research and are badass technicians and they hit the ground running. Again - I really believe the timing of this all lining up like it did is a once in a lifetime event. It was meant to be and never once felt forced or that we were settling for something that was not just perfect.

So Tyler and I continued to talk in my office that day about what was currently going on with the software and what kinds of things we needed to do in order to get going. Real basic, yet important, things like where would we host it? How would we get restaurants to hear about it? How would we setup new free trials? What would we charge for it if they liked it? How would we accept payment? What lawyer should help us get started? Real basic stuff that mattered right then. We quickly found a place to host it - a small hosting company in Raleigh - and it cost us $400 per month. Since the pricing he and I had settled on for joining Schedulefly averaged about $40 per month - we agreed our first objective was for he and I to go find 10 restaurants to pay us $40 per month. That would pay for the hosting. That was the goal even though he and I are not salesman and truly can’t stand selling - we knew we had to do this. As bad as we were at it - we muscled through it and made it happen…mainly with email marketing and a few dreaded in person visits to restaurants. Since then - we’ve never had sales goals or quotas of any kind other than being excited when we reached 1,000 and 5,000. Can we get 10,000? Who the heck knows - I honestly didn’t know if we could get 10 back then. But we did.

I know I’ve blogged about all of this in the past - and it’s because I think about it often. I think about the past and how it lined up and how lucky the 5 of us are and how rewarding this has been. A friend of ours and the guy who started the company where the 5 of us met has written a book on startup entrepreneurs and the challenges they face. It’s got some great success stories in it and it also tells the detailed story about Tyler and things he did (or didn’t do) early on at Schedulefly. It's a great story. The book is called The Hockey Stick Principles. Check it out!

Here we all are - about 3-4 years ago. The first and last time we have all been in the same room since starting our company.


Wes

Jess Killeen, a member of the Schedulefly community, shares the story of Grassburger

Aug 4, 2016 | Schedulefly Crew
Jess Killeen and her husband Ed own Grassburger, with locations in Durango, CO, and Albuquerque, NM. What started as a transition to grass fed beef for their family of five led to an idea for restaurant. When the couple sat down to write their business plan, neither of them had restaurant experience. Four years later, they now have two successful locations. This is an inspiring story about a family that didn't let lack of experience stop them from creating something special in the two communities they serve.



All of our Restaurant Owners Uncorked podcast episodes are available here on iTunes.

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You Should...

Jul 19, 2016 | Schedulefly Crew
When somebody says "You should," followed by advice about your business, be wary. Following that advice could be harmful.

In our first few years at Schedulefly we tried lots of things in an attempt to get the business off the ground. PR. Sales. Trade shows. Email marketing. Social media, Etc. All of these things are very conventional. They've worked elsewhere, so they should work for us, right? But none of these things felt right for our business so we didn't have our hearts in them. Frankly we just didn't want to build a business like everybody else did. We wanted to build it our way.

We stopped doing all of those things and started doing things like telling the stories of some of our customers on our blog - how they got into the restaurant business, what they loved about it, what lessons they'd learned, and so on. Those stories led to our book, which led to our video series, which led to our podcast, which is leading to our second book. All of this content is focused on the people we serve, not on us, and it's been a wonderful way to pour our energy into something we believe in and to provide something meaningful to the industry we serve. But six years ago when we started down this path, nobody would have ever told us "You should scrap all efforts at sales, PR, social media, trade shows, etc. and focus all of your energy on producing content that has nothing to do with you and is solely focused on your customers' stories."

On the contrary, a good friend of ours, let's call him Robby, was convinced we needed to advertise. He's had a lot of success in business and we all know him and like him and respect him, and he just couldn't get over why we didn't invest into a traditional advertising campaign. "You should really consider this, Wil. I know it's not what y'all are excited about, but I really think it could work." And if Robby ran this business, that's what he'd do. I'm sure he'd learn how to make it work, but only because he would be live in it and he'd put his heart into it and he'd have a laser focus on it and he'd tinker with it and make the necessary changes with it and it would be a big part of what the business is all about. And it would be a very, very different business than what we've built.

There's nothing wrong with people telling you what they think you should do. Even though I am writing a post warning people to be wary of anything that follows "You should," I still find myself occasionally uttering those very words. "You know what? You should..." It's a very natural thing to do, especially if you've had success in a domain, from business to fitness to child rearing to you name it. We take our experiences and apply them to the next person's situation, and assume if they would just follow the same path we did, they'd have the same success.

But this really comes down to having the confidence to build something you love and you are proud of by doing it your way. If we were currently running a very successful PR campaign at Schedulefly, or an email marketing campaign that produced amazing results, or we were having success with any other traditional practice, we wouldn't be as proud of the business. We wouldn't wake up every day and believe to our core in what we are doing. That's not how I want to start my day. How about you?

We add about 1,000 net customers per year while running this business exactly the way we want to, the way we are proud of. And we are perfectly happy with that. If we were adding 2,000 new customers because we were doing things other people said we "should" do, we'd be growing twice as fast (yeah!), but be half as happy (boo!).

If you want to build a business you love, one you could be a part of every day for the rest of your days, do it your way. Lots of people will quickly tell you what you should do, but if those things aren't in line with what you want to do, politely thank them for the advice and ignore it. The only thing you should do is do it your way.

Wil

If you like this post, you might also like Blaze Your Own Path. You might also like our book, which is full of stories about restaurant owners who did things their own way.

Choosing to do less

Jul 6, 2016 | Schedulefly Crew
Recently a restaurant owner who uses another software solution emailed us asking several questions about our software’s capability. I guess he was unhappy and shopping for a more suitable solution. He was looking for things we don’t do - so the response was easy. We answered no to each and thanked him for stopping by. With software being so incredibly easy to create and offer as a service now - I understand we could do so much more...

There are many reasons why we don’t do all the things we “could” do with software and with our business, yet I do understand that what we believe in unique and not for everyone. We do less on purpose and I think it’s important to explain this in order to help the right restaurants understand the kind of company we are and what we believe in. We are not corporate minded fellas and will never hire any to work with us. We do not have dozens of employees and are not looking to grow internally with funding and sales people and such. We are not offering technology to control people and processes so tightly that it takes a manager with a key to override the technology or gobs of options and settings to set and manage. We actually lean to the side of people still having to make decisions - versus technology that does it all for them. We are 5 guys with a simple solution to a simple problem that will never go away and never change - so there is no plan to change our solution.

Here’s a good summary of why we don’t do more and how we operate - to get a better glimpse inside our simple company.

We have accumulated over 6,000 customers and - with patience - could reach 20,000+ and still be a relatively unheard of company serving a tiny % of our market that is also served by dozens of other companies like ours. The 5 of us work very well together - and know each other well and we are all great at specific things. For that reason, we rarely need to talk and no one manages any one else. I speak to Tyler a few times per year. Wil and I leave voice notes to each other now and again but I haven’t seen him in person in over 3 years. Charles and Hank live in the same town as me yet I see them rarely. Usually for a round of golf or hot wings or a cold beer on Charles’ back porch. So we don’t have team meetings. We don't work in an office. We don’t travel and on and on. This keeps everything extremely simple and low cost and free from many many things that don’t really matter.

Instead, we work only when important works needs doing and after 9 years it’s still fun and rewarding work because it matters to people. Staying simple and not overdoing it (personally and in business) really matters to people. It matters to our customers and to our families. You can hear it in their voices and see it in their faces. They often thank us for not overdoing it and resisting the opportunity to do more. For this reason - we never dread work that needs to be done - because it always matters to someone. Busy work or work that doesn’t matter - that’s dreadful. So we don’t have it. All 5 of us spend more time with our families than anyone I know...and our company still grows. Every morning I see my kids and every evening we play and I give them baths and read with them. By saying no and by passing on the countless opportunities that we could pursue and instead focusing as hard as we can on those who believe we matter to now, we are relentlessly protecting a life and a company that I honestly had never dreamed could exist.

And lastly, I’ve personally written enough software to know that most of what I (we) could create will likely never matter to anyone and would just add more complexity and additional costs that come with owning and maintaining something that didn't really matter. It’s like noise on the internet. Every day there is more noise for us to have to filter through and software we have to learn to use and questions we have to ask ourselves. Do I really need this? So we are not going to add more noise - just to try and make more money - just because we could. And just because technology "can" help, doesn’t always mean it should.

For me, Schedulefly is a once is a lifetime opportunity and company for many more reasons than the software we've written. It's one to tell my grandkids about. A company like no other I’ve ever known.

Wes

Scott Youkilis, a member of the Schedulefly community, talks about the restaurant business...

Jun 28, 2016 | Schedulefly Crew
Scott owns Hog & Rocks, a highly successful restaurant in San Francisco. He's also opening Loma Brewing Company in Los Gatos, CA in just a few weeks. He took time to speak with us about his nearly 20 years in the business, and discussed everything from culinary school, to raising money for a restaurant, to business partners, to finding and keeping good talent, to staying focused on the things you can control. Scott is great at communicating his thoughts about the business. Enjoy...



All of our Restaurant Owners Uncorked podcast episodes are available here on iTunes.

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Great advice from Meherwan Irani, a member of the Schedulefly community

Jun 20, 2016 | Schedulefly Crew
Meherwan Irani and his wife, Molly, started Chai Pani in Asheville, N.C. in 2009. Today there are two Chai Pani locations and three other concepts under his watch. Meherwan tells his inspiring, refreshing, unconventional story on our Restaurant Owners Uncorked podcast series, and here are a few of his comments…

On the types of people he hires
"What I’m looking for is empathy. Do they actually understand how their actions make other people feel?  Does this person have emotional intelligence?  Can they communicate well and understand how emotionally-driven people are at the end of the day, and that how you motivate them is by connecting at that level? 

For me, work ethic is not about how many hours somebody puts in or how hard they work.  Work ethic to me is this inclination to always do something as well as it possibly could be done.  Nothing less than that is acceptable.  There are people all around us wired that way.  So, we look for that combination and then I really, actually let them run with it.  I go, “Hey, I would do no better or no worse than them in their shoes with the same decisions.”  I have trusted myself to figure it out and make the right decisions, so I’ve got to trust them, too.  As long as I have my culture carriers in there, in the midst of them, I know, generally speaking, our culture will be intact.  But I want to let these people make their own decisions.  That’s how Chai Pani Decatur runs — it’s a completely autonomous business, and my job is just to inspire and not worry too much about micromanaging their decisions."

On his research into why restaurants fail while writing his business plan for Chai Pani
For awhile I was really worried about this sort of myth or urban legend that 70% - 90% (depending on who you ask) of restaurants go out of business in their first five years.  I was really curious to find out if this is real or is this just an urban legend.  I did the research.  The University of Florida had a hospitality management program where they’d done a study on restaurant closings.  They listed five reasons why a typical restaurant would close.  They had the stats on restaurant failure rates.  I think what they said was that a third of the restaurants close in their first year - the ones that don’t close in the first year usually make it to their fifth year.  That’s when the second third closes, for completely different reasons than the first year.
 
But, their point was that there are all the usual suspects for why a lot of restaurants goes out of business – lack of capital, bad food, bad market conditions, location.  But all of those are completely eclipsed by the single, most overriding factor – and that was lack of a defined concept that is easy to articulate.  If somebody asked you what kind of restaurant it was, the key was in being able to answer that question as simply and quickly as you can.  And the study went on to say that’s why even mom-and-pop Mexican restaurants in strip malls and Chinese restaurants and Italian restaurants all tend to last, even the ones that aren’t that good.  One thing they have going in their favor is when somebody says what kind of food it is – you can just say “Chinese” and that’s it.  But when you have a restaurant going, “Well, we do a fusion of Mediterranean-Tapas-style but with a little bit of Asian ingredients and . . .”  Yeah, you lost me.  That was their point.  So that was a key factor in  my business plan - I  wanted to make sure my concept made sense."

On what has helped him succeed over the last seven years
"I read something that some business guy – could have been Warren Buffet or could have been Steve Jobs, or someone like that – basically said there are certain commonalities to successful businesses that are started from scratch.  The three most important things that they have in common are, number one, somebody with a very clear vision and a sense of purpose.  Number two, people that were willing to completely buy into that vision.  Almost like tribal loyalty buy-in.  And three, limited resources.  In fact, scarcity of resources.  The first two make sense.  But the third one really struck the deepest.  

I did have this real clear sense of what I wanted to do.  And when I explained it to people I knew they bought into the vision — or maybe they were buying into me.  In either case, they believed in something.  But the critical factor was that our limited resources made us really think outside the box and forced us to do things differently because we didn’t have the money to do it the way we were supposed to.  For example, opening with two hundred and fifty dollars in the cash register and not even having enough money for payroll and using social media instead of putting ads in the local paper.  We couldn’t afford to advertise at all.  Period.  Zero.  None.  Yet at the same time, anytime a charity approached us for any kind of benefit or to give food or to give gift cards or to come cook, we’d jump all over it.  So now, six years later with four restaurants and a fifth on the way, we still do that.  We don’t advertise but we give tens of thousands of dollars a year of food or time or effort for charities.  

So, those three ingredients combined created an environment that might have seemed extraordinary to you, but to us that was just the way we did things. That’s how we’re able to do it today."

More from Meherwan in our second Restaurant Owners Uncorked book, coming in the next few months. You can also enjoy hearing his co-owner at Buxton Hall Barbecue, Elliott Moss, share his passion for his work in our film, The Pitmaster.

Wil 

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The inspiring story of Van Nolintha, a member of the Schedulefly community

Jun 14, 2016 | Schedulefly Crew
Van Nolintha is in Raleigh, N.C. and owns Bida Manda with his sister, Vanvisa. The term “bida manda” is the Sanskrit ceremonial term for father and mother, so the restaurant was named to honor their parents, who instilled a love of food in Van and Vanvisa and taught them that food can bring people together. Opened in 2012, Bida Manda is bringing tons of people together every day, and has become one of the most loved and celebrated restaurants in the state. I’ve visited Bida Manda personally, and I can attest to the incredible quality of the food, service, and atmosphere. It’s am amazing restaurant with an amazing story, Enjoy…

Tell me a little about your background.
We opened the restaurant on September 1, 2012. It was just my sister, Vanvisa, and I. We never really intended to open a restaurant. I went to NC State and did design and chemistry. I had a graduate degree in international peace and conflict studies from Trinity in Dublin. I never thought that we would be in the food industry. But it’s amazing the journey your life takes.

So, after Trinity I came back to Raleigh and I was really just looking for jobs in international peace and conflict studies, in community building in general. And it was right around recession time, so I applied to about three hundred jobs in what was probably the hardest, the most difficult year of my life. I got zero job offers. None. So Visa and I took a summer off that year and went to Laos and spent that summer with Mom and Dad. We just really reconnected with our roots.

When Vanvisa and I came to the U.S., I was twelve and she was nine — the rest of our family was still living in Laos. We left home at such a young age, so it was easy to assume that Laos was a long distant past. But what we realized now that we were older was that we are a direct part of that Laotian community. And looking back, food has always been so centered to my life. When Vanvisa and I arrived, we lived with an American family and the only way to make sure that her memories of home, of Laos, of mom and dad, were preserved as a small nine-year-old child was for me to cook for her. We couldn’t just go to a Laotian restaurant - we couldn’t just go to a Laotian temple. There’s no Laotian community center anywhere. So, knowing all of that I knew I had to do something to make sure that she remembered home, and food was the most direct and most meaningful tool I had. Growing up with Mom and Dad, I always cooked. I think as a culture in general, cooking is almost a sacred, spiritual experience. It was such a privilege and honor to be able to share that experience with my sister.

Looking back now, it kind of makes sense that we are in this industry. But at the time of career choices, that was not the most obvious one.

Did I hear you correctly … you applied to 300 jobs and got no offers?

Yes. Even with all of those degrees and experiences, I got zero offers. It was everything from applying to the U.N., to applying to small MGOs working on educational empowerment in Guatemala. I got so desperate, I remember applying to work at CVS to be an assistant clerk. I think my resume can be perceived as a very distracted person. But, it has definitely led into a wonderful journey.

Considering you now have one of the best restaurants in Raleigh, it’s quite an amazing journey!

I try to be sensitive to what it means to have a “best restaurant.” I think we are definitely learning a lot. And I think the most fascinating thing for us is that what we do at Bida Manda really is just an extension of who we are. Our menu is nothing more than the dishes we remember eating growing up, the kind of dishes that I cooked for my sister to make sure that she remembers home. It’s not a creative process. It’s just a genuine offering from our family to our community here. It has been a very empowering journey to see that what we do is meaningful to the community and the community celebrates our narrative and authenticity to our food.

Let’s start from the beginning. How did you begin the process of opening your restaurant?

The first stop when we came back to Raleigh was I went to Barnes & Noble and I bought a phenomenal book that’s called Opening a Restaurant for Dummies (laughs). It really was that fundamental. We did not know anything. We did not know how we were going to look for space. We didn’t know how we were going to look for funding. How are we going to find a chef? What is the legal complexity of it? We didn’t know anything. So, we really started from scratch. I remember coming back and just kind of being shocked about the kind of resources in the community that were lacking at the time. How do you open a restaurant?

We were fortunate at that time to have the kind relationships in Raleigh that really allowed that to be a positive journey. I remember emailing Ashley Christensen and saying, “I would love to learn from you. Can you please mentor us?” I remember reaching out to Chris Powers at Busy Bee and Trophy Brewing. I remember emailing Angela Salamanca, the owner of Centro and Gallo Pelón Mezcaleria. She’s from Colombia and one of my closest friends now. I said, “This is my hopes and dreams and passion and heartbeat. I would love to learn as much as I could from you.” And surprisingly, all of these successful, meaningful leaders in the food community said, “Yes!” And it all started with saying, “I love what you do and would love for you to be a part of this journey. Please train us. Teach us all you know.”

Those are very well-respected, successful restaurant people in Raleigh. It says a lot that they offered to help.

The response was “We are so excited that you’re passionate about Laotian food and your family narrative and your love of people. Let’s make sure this happens.” And I think that positive seed, that supportive tone, really changed how we approached the process. Instead of it being a business journey, it really was about relationship building.

From not knowing anything about the industry, we were granted so many relationships with people who know. I think the humility of saying “I don’t know” and “I would love to know more” really opened a lot of opportunities and positive relationships in our lives. And that is something that we will forever treasure. That’s how it all how it all began.

I was also fortunate to have a very supportive and loving group of friends. A lot of things from the construction of the space to a lot of the legal help to graphic design were donated and volunteered by our friends. We always use the visual image of our sticks on the wall that were completely hand-tied by our friends. We had about fifty of our friends working on that. We didn’t have much funding so I gave all of them a Miller Light and we really just built the space together.

I think our guests can see a lot of the passionate hands that were involved in the making of the space, that are still important and meaningful to us today. Bida Manda is nothing but a reflection of what a tremendous, positive, loving community we have in Raleigh.

The hospitality at Bida Manda is phenomenal. What are you doing to provide that kind of atmosphere consistently?

I think the consistency is difficult and especially providing an intimate, meaningful, personal experience each and every time. That’s very difficult in any restaurant. At Bida Manda we serve more than three thousand meals a week — how do we create that kind of consistency? It’s an ongoing challenge. But our goal wasn’t to be wealthy — our goal wasn’t to create the best restaurant in Raleigh. Our goal was to make sure that we share our narrative, food and culture with our community the best that we know how.

I think it’s that authenticity to what you love and allowing that to be the beginning of every decision-making process. Then it will always be something that’s organic and true. I think “hospitality” is an interesting word because for us it really is us hosting and welcoming people into our home. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. Food is such a basic life offering. When we overcomplicate that experience, that’s when it gets tricky. For us it really is about how we continue sharing our story and welcoming our guests to our home, and caring for them like we were caring for our friends. That is our basic principle at the restaurant. We try to care for our friends and family and community.

It’s your story and your narrative and it’s very personal to you and Vanvisa. How do you share it through your staff?

I think sourcing the right team is probably the most important ingredient in what we do. How do we create a team that’s cohesive and creative and fires all together to yield this experience? We spend a lot of time on the front-end of the selection process. We put a lot of attention and resources into that beginning phase of training and recruiting. It is so important to us that it doesn’t matter if that person does not even have service industry experience. What we are looking for is always someone who’s capable of caring — someone who is genuinely passionate about life. And that doesn’t have to be food. We have a lot of artists. We have a lot of “makers” in the world. We have a Yoga instructor. We have a lot of students who are waiting to go to medical school. We have last year law school students. We are looking for people who are passionate in what they do, and in turn, they bring that aliveness to what we do and it adds a level of complexity and meaning to what they do.

“Intention” is the big word in our training process. And intention is actually really hard to train someone that doesn’t already carry that sense of pride in what they do. How do we make polishing glasses as meaningful of an experience as talking to a guest as a table? What we have learned is that when we find someone that takes a lot of pride and meaning in what they do and love what they do, that translates directly to our guests’ experience. We have such a phenomenal team and community at the restaurant that I’m so grateful for.

I think a lot of our success comes directly from that team. Developing and co-creating that team is very important to us. A good example is we take our annual staff retreat once or twice a year. We take three or four days off from the restaurant, and we spend some time somewhere else. The first year we went to Asheville in the N.C. mountain, and last year we went to Wilmington on the N.C. coast. It’s just really allowing our team to go through a shared experience, setting intentions and goals, and showing them how to work for each other’s development. We are just a community of passionate people who are just absolutely in love with what we do, and wanting to care for our guests.

Do do you close the restaurant for a few days when you do this?

Yes, we do. It’s always a few of the best days of the year, especially for back of house and front of house to coexist in one home. We usually rent a big home and just cook together. Last year we had Tim leading a Yoga class. And we have massages. We share common readings and reflection times. I do my cooking class. It really is about being present and intentional together. When you have that seed, it’s really easy to develop at work. This restaurant is an extremely aggressive and intense environment. So for us to go into a shift feeling that you are with your team and you are with your family, I think it helps with the operation.

We'll be filming an inspiring video featuring Van later this year, and you can listen to his entire interview on our Restaurant Owners Uncorked podcast.

Wil

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Great advice from Sean Scott, a member of the Schedulefly community

Jun 8, 2016 | Schedulefly Crew
Sean Scott owns Subculture Coffee, with locations in West Palm Beach and Delray Beach in Florida. When Sean and I spoke for our podcast we talked about about everything from the trust and relationships formed between coffee buyers and the farmers they source their beans from, to the risks of bad weather harming coffee bean crops, to the trial and error of the craft of roasting great coffee, to issues that are relevant whether you are starting a coffee shop or any type of restaurant. Here's a great example...

What are some of the things you learned when starting that you hadn’t thought of before you got started?

I think a lot of people, me included, underestimate just the liquid cash you should have accessible when you start. You think, “Alright, so I have the build-out paid for” and you tend to spend everything before you open. You think, “Well, we’ll make money once we’re open.” I think that’s a bad move. If I had to do it all over again, I’d have more money in the bank just because you’re going to have to do a lot of promo. You’re going to waste a lot of products. You aren’t going to make as much money as you thought you were, because things might happen slower, things break, etc. Usually opening is delayed a lot longer than you thought. There’s way more permits that you have to pay for than you had anticipated. There’s way more licenses that are a hundred-and-fifty bucks here, a few-hundred-fifty bucks there. A lot of people just focus on paying for the build-out, but they don’t really pad their account. I understand because a lot of people don’t have access to the capital to cover all that. But I think it’s really important. That can make or break it, especially in the first year.

How much capital should you have?

I would say six months is good for us. I would also advise that if your personal finances are a mess, you probably shouldn’t go into business. A really good litmus test is when I’m talking to people who are considering this, I ask “How are your personal finances?” Not the specifics, but if you have a hard time managing your personal finances, and if you can’t figure out ways how to save money then business might not be the place for you. You have to be able to do that. We price out per cup of coffee, lids, cups, coffee, milk, sugar - I know exactly where everything’s going. The same thing applies in your personal life. If you don’t know where everything’s going, then there are going to be a lot of holes in your boat - maybe losing a lot of money. I was always very conscious about accessing my own checking account when I was twelve and had to start buying my own clothes and all that stuff at a very young age. Accounting has always been something that I’ve had a focus on and been aware of. It’s almost natural. But I found that for a lot of people – like my wife – it wasn’t like that at all.

We moved in with my brother before we opened the first coffee shop and we just shared rent with him. We had one car instead of two cars. We minimized our lifestyle before we opened the shop. Don’t expect to maintain your same lifestyle. Minimize it on purpose so that you require the least amount of money when you’re starting up. Then, expand it as you can afford to as you grow. I almost put more emphasis on your personal life before you open than I do on your vision of the business, because there’s a definite correlation to how you run both and the ability that you’ll have to navigate rough waters and make it through and survive.

No matter how diligently you plan, and how conservative you think you are, it will still take longer and cost more...

Absolutely. For sure. I think that’s without a doubt. In my six years of doing this there’s never been a time where I’m like, “Oh, that was faster.”

Sean shared plenty of additional great advice during his interview, so give it a listen if you enjoyed this piece. You can subscribe to our podcast series on iTunes for free.

Wil

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