No Experience Needed: Cafeina Thrives in Miami

Bill Kearney

Ivette Naranjo opened her restaurant relying only on her experience as a diner, but is enjoying success.

Owner: Ivette Naranjo
Location: Miami, Florida
Annual Sales: $1,250,000
Segment: Resto-lounge

Most people would say it couldn’t be done but Ivette Naranjo proved them wrong when she opened Cafeina in Miami 18 months ago with no restaurant experience, and is now operating a successful business.

In fact, business is so good that Naranjo expects to see sales almost double this year—from $750,000 in 2010 to $1,250,000.

Cafeina is described as a resto-lounge and art gallery located in the heart of Miami's Wynwood Arts District, which boasts some80 galleries and three museums.

In 2009 Naranjo realized that she was operating a flooring company out of a warehouse in an arts area, but that she only needed a fraction of her space. So she split her warehouse in two, and decided to open a tapas restaurant/lounge and art gallery in half of the space.

Contrary to what many would do, Naranjo plunged into her business by relying only on her experience as a diner. “I don’t have a consultant. It’s trial and error,” she says.

“I’m still learning and it’s all from experience,” she adds. “I analyze what’s going on in the area and going out to eat is my Number One pastime. My research was mostly at [restaurant] locations in the area and from traveling and going to different restaurants.”

Naranjo did not come up with the tapas menu alone, however. She hired a chef who devised a menu that continues to change according to the seasons. The menu includes crab cakes ($13), tuna taco ($13), Kobe beef sliders ($11) and stuffed dates with ground Kobe beef, Parmesan and Mozzarella cheeses, wrapped in bacon ($12).

But Naranjo continues to pay a lot of attention to her menu, analyzing what’s selling and what’s not on a regular basis and tweaking as she goes along. She admits that numbers are her thing. “I started looking at the numbers and the prices in the area restaurants and I based my menu off that.”

To help her open, Naranjo hired a manager who developed schedules, hired employees, established accounts with providers and ordered supplies.

Despite her limited experience, Cafeina opened on January 14, 2010, and Naranjo says, “Running it has been a day by day experience and each day I learn a little more.” In fact, she says she’s glad she didn’t know much at the beginning “because I probably wouldn’t have opened Cafeina.”

The hardest part has been the employees, Naranjo says. “It’s not easy to find people that understand how hard it is to drive people into an establishment and how easy it is to drive them out. I feel we have established a great team but it will always be a challenge in this business.”

But she’s doing something right.

“I think people come back for the service, the ambiance. From managing my other company that I’ve had for 25 years I’m pretty good with the employees.

“A lot is about communication and trying to get my ideas—how I’d like to be treated in a restaurant—communicated. I am a team member not an owner that ‘tells everyone what to do.’ Instead ‘I ask them to do.’ They know that they can approach me, as I treat them as I would like to be treated.”

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