In 2003, at the age of 29, I left my high-tech job and bought a highly acclaimed restaurant with an old college friend. I learned four key lessons from that failure. Now, looking back at a tough time in my personal and professional life, I evolved in ways I never would have if I had taken the safe route.
In July of 2003, about three months after opening the restaurant, we were not going make payroll. We had burned through our operating cash quickly, and there was no back-up plan. Although we were making customers happy, there just weren’t enough of them. Lucky for us, July turned out to be our best month and we steadily grew from there. We never made enough to pay ourselves a decent salary but we could pay the bills, barely. Despite the financial challenges, we tried very hard to stay true to our philosophies: fine food and great service in an intimate atmosphere. But we never fully evolved to be exactly what our customers needed us to be.
I bragged to people that we had over 20 marriage proposals. We didn’t intend it, but we became the place couples would go to get engaged, for married couples to go for their anniversary or to spend the rare evening alone. We positioned ourselves as a place to embark upon a culinary journey, when we should have positioned ourselves the place to go for a special night out.
I don’t advocate for changing philosophy casually, fancy French one day and tacos the next, but you have to remember that you’re not in business to do what you want, you’re in business to give customers what they want. Be flexible, don’t get stuck in your own vision, see yourself through your customer’s eyes.