Lessons at Lunch

New Orleans restaurant SoBou hosts an informal lunch program to help aspiring food professionals learn about the business.
New Orleans restaurant SoBou hosts an informal lunch program to help aspiring food professionals learn about the business. sobou

Millennials consider themselves a generation of foodies, which is why new entrepreneurs seem to be coming on line each month in the hospitality industry, offering fresh ideas and enthusiasm to take advantage of the cultural movement. 

The problem is, starting a new restaurant isn’t easy, and there are a lot of things that could go wrong without careful planning and execution. That’s where the innovative Barpreneurs program, hosted by New Orleans’ esteemed restaurant group, the Commander’s Family of Restaurants, steps in and helps aspiring food professionals learn the ins and outs of the business. 

“Post Katrina, there has been a big entrepreneur movement in New Orleans, with a lot of incubators and organization around to help,” says Ti Martin, owner of Commander’s Palace, Café Adelaide, and SoBou. “We’ve always had a big business lunch with our other restaurants, but SoBou is a little bit further for people to go, and I was looking for ways to make it more appealing for daytime. One day, I had the idea to have this very casual pitch situation and create a place for entrepreneurs to hang out.”

Over the last two years, SoBou has hosted an informal lunch program with professionals who have expertise in restaurant operations—be it someone in social media marketing, graphic design, or even patent law—and these experts would dish out advice and insights to those who want it.

“It kept getting stronger and more popular. Not only were entrepreneurs hanging out, but the people who want to work with them—the attorneys, accountants, and advisers—kept coming in, creating this neat little eco-system,” Martin says. “We realized there was a need for this; people wanted to come and network, and we wanted to make it more formalized. That led to us creating a school lunch series in January.”

The cleverly named Barpreneurs program ran as a school lunch session from January 8 through March 4. Each week, a new teacher would come to the restaurant to serve as the special guest, sharing experiences from his or her area of expertise.

“The teachers talked about a topic that was relatable to our entrepreneurs,” says Samantha Fritz, SoBou’s director of communications. “Each week, attendees pitched a hospitality startup idea, and a panel of experts gave them feedback and advice.”

When the series ended, SoBou and its hospitality experts chose the three best pitches and invited those Barpreneurs to represent the program at a kickoff party for the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week in March.

“We’re going to keep this going throughout the year, in a more informal way, and then each year we will host the school again,” Martin says. “At our core, we want to be a local restaurant that supports locals, and this program gets people to think of SoBou at lunchtime as a great environment for business lunches and entrepreneurs.” 

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