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Rookies Start Their First Restaurants

A passion for food and people draws newcomers Kristin Jackson, Bud Antonelis and Carri Loui into a challenging business

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Photo: Courtesy Chef Mavro

Tips for newbies

There’s a lot more to running a restaurant than just serving up tasty food. For restaurant rookies, here’s some advice from those who have been there, done that and would do it again, but maybe differently:

• Do your homework: Don’t jump into the business overnight. First, talk to other restaurant owners and chefs to find out what needs to be done and how to build a successful business. “It really comes down to personality and how much the person wants to learn before getting into it and how much they’ll learn once they’re doing it,” says Jerry Prendergast, a California-based restaurant consultant.

• Know your strengths: No matter what industry you’ve worked in, there are skills that transfer to restaurant ownership. Kristin Jackson used her public relations skills to brand and market her restaurant, Kiss My Grits. Carri Loui credits her years in sales for helping her interact with both customers and workers at Kaimuki Grill.

  • It’s not just about food: Just because you love to cook – and maybe you’re even good at it – doesn’t mean you can run a successful restaurant. “(My husband) thought cooking at home was fun,” Loui says. “But we found out restaurant cooking and home cooking are completely different.” She eventually hired trained cooks to work in the kitchen, and that made all the difference.

• Don’t do it for the money: The rate of return on restaurants isn’t great, says Prendergast. “People don’t realize a successful restaurant is going to show 15 percent to bottom line,” he says. “That means if it sells $1,000 worth of food, you’ll only make $150. And that’s a successful restaurant. An average restaurant shows 8 to 9 percent. You have a tremendous amount of sales for a very small amount of profit.”

• Hire experts: The best thing George Mavrothalassitis, chef and proprietor of the award-winning Chef Mavro, did when he opened his first restaurant with no prior experience was hire great chefs. Then he learned from them. “I learned the foundation, to have good technique,” he says. “After that, you can do whatever you want.” You can also hire restaurant consultants like Prendergast for help.

• Consider starting small: There are many options to getting into the restaurant industry. You can, like Bud Antonelis, partner with other restaurateurs. Or you can start a food truck or buy a franchise. “It’s a good way of starting in the business,” Mavrothalassitis says.

Chef Mavro preparing a dish.
Photo: Courtesy Chef Mavro

• It’s a tough industry: You’ll work long hours under enormous stress. It’s not an easy business. Take celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. He works every day in one of his more than 20 restaurants, says Prendergast.  “He loves it,” he says. “He will tell you to this day his favorite part of the business is getting on the line and running a station. And that’s what he does.”

• The whole package: Bottom line, you’re doing more that just selling food; you are also selling the experience of eating it, which is crucial to getting people to come back. “It’s food,” Jackson says. “Its essence has the ability to make people really happy. You just have to think about the other half of that.”







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