Let’s talk about concept creation in the restaurant business. With such a saturated field, where do you begin?
Being that we’re a data driven organization, we start with a financial model, sometimes that means pen to paper (or napkin), other times it’s a super sophisticated financial model based on comps and other data pulled from our other organizations and current operations throughout Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea and Infuse. The second piece (because Infuse is not a concept but a problem solver) is looking for the problem that needs to be solved and coming up with the perfect custom curated solution. Those are the first key pieces in concept creation, however the most important piece of it all—whether it’s a cafe concept, a kiosk, or a 10,000-square-foot bar; is to create authentic concepts that offer a great experience fueled by exceptional service and hospitality.
What are some of the most important things to consider for any upstart restaurant entrepreneur?
The most important thing is … Why am I doing it? My companies (Infuse Hospitality and Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea) are a vehicle for me to create opportunities for others to make a better life for themselves and their families, to encourage entrepreneurial spirit, and to create balance in their lives. Additionally, if we continue to be fiscally responsible, it is also a vehicle for our philanthropic efforts to make the communities in which we operate better by being a part of it. In the end, I am obsessed with the legacy I leave my children, that legacy is the stories others will share with them about their dad. If these pure and honest goals are the northern star it's always easy to go back and reference them as a basis for all decision making. I believe success is a by-product of fulfilling your passion. Be conservative in your assumptions and don't plan on everything being perfect, they never are. Additionally, have a strategy for the worst-case scenario and give yourself some space to adapt and make changes so you are always playing to win, not playing not to lose.
What is the most overlooked element?
Undercapitalization. People should make decisions based on data not emotions, and inexperienced operators. This is a profession where you really need to make mistakes to learn the most important lessons.
In terms of culture and perks, how critical are those core equities to a successful restaurant?
It is the most important thing in ANY industry. Infuse at its core is advising top employers, business owners, etc. on how to attract and attain top talent and consumers, so in doing that, we have to be experts in our own organization, now your own team becomes the most important guests/clients. Creating a culture where people can do what they love and love what they do in a safe space is critical.
From your vantage point, where do you think the restaurant industry is headed right now? What does the restaurant of the future look like?
I think currently everybody seems to be in love with a few things ... one being food halls. The second is more businesses moving toward tech, eliminating humans/human aspects or even opening more ghost restaurants. As the world becomes more tech driven, there’s still a humanistic urge to have experiences and interactions with other humans. What we’re seeing now is temporary. Consumers will revert back to those experiences and human interactions, trends are trends but in reality, people are driven by experiences and memories.
It's important for me as a business owner to try to find ways to keep jobs for humans rather than replacing them with computers. No one will count my things when I’m gone, but the impact I had on this planet and on other people. Tech is critically important, but so is balance.
What is the biggest challenge facing operators?
Costs of real estate, labor costs and available workforce, and commodity pricing. There’s a misconception that restaurants make so much money but margins are so tiny, operators need to factor in the skyrocketing cost of real estate as well as the increase of labor and product costs. You need to have a great financial plan because the cards are stacked against you.
Where is the biggest opportunity?
The opportunity remains the same. Focus on service, hospitality, offering a great product, and never assume you're owed anything. I never assume people are going to come but I only need one to create a raving fan and then they will come back and bring their friends. Build your business one guest at a time.