How I Got Started In The Restaurant Business – It’s Who You Know

Gua bao - a new menu item for summer

- photo by Terry Lo

If you’re still gung-ho about getting into the restaurant business after that taste of everyday kitchen life in the last post then congratulations – You are one sick fuck with a special fetish for punishment. Still reading? Good. It takes a special ilk to be able to weather the storms, see through the stupid, and forge on. The good news is that when you come from a background of less-than-ideal conditions, you learn to be resourceful, you realize you can re-invent your destiny, and most of all, you can be unorthodox about it all.

Don’t get confused here. This is not one of those stories where the main character threw all caution to the wind to do it his way. If anything, I’m one cautious person. I have a lot on the line here. I have children, a stable corporate job, benefits, a yearly bonus, and most of all, the piece of mind to know that no matter what, we’ll be ok. Being 41 has a lot of perks (extra long nose hair NOT being one of them). For an individual wanting to get into a business, you are still in a good position to get into doing something you love. You have experience, you have perspective, and you also have the sensibility of a rationally functioning human being (or at least you’d hope so).

In my case, I also had a little money set aside. Not anything to write home about, but enough to make me re-think my position in life with a new and determined sense of enthusiasm.

So there I was, standing there on the crossroads scared as hell, but hungry for much much more. The success of The Aimless Cook gave me a newfound sense of confidence in knowing that I could achieve whatever I put my mind to. It was also proof that my passion for food could make some remarkable things happen. Could I take my love of food deeper down the rabbit hole and actually open up my own restaurant?

Jo is a very important player in this game. Having a partner that believes in you is the most important part of your foundation. She’s there for moral support, she helps prep in the kitchen, she sells our food fervently, and when the smoke clears, she’s the first one I crack open a beer with to celebrate. A long time ago, she was convinced that I could do whatever I wanted to. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but now I realize how much a belief like that means to a businessperson.

Think about it this way – a business is conceived like a *baby. It is carefully fed, cuddled and treated with such care and love to bring it to the point where it’s starting to stand on its own. That baby needs nourishment, care, support, knowledge, and the resources in place where it can learn and develop as it grows into a strong adult. Where do you think that comes from? That’s right – that baby needs a family. A business owner needs to be like a proud father, always praising that baby, reinforcing the good, being careful to see the bad things and make sure that baby doesn’t pick up any bad habits. But as a father (or mother), you can’t do it all on your own. Often as parents, we have to look to others to deal with the day to day issues that may come up. That’s where our partners come in. Other times, we pick up the phone and call our parents to get some sage advice. In business – same thing. If you can’t get all the answers to the problems from your partner, you ask your mentor.

During the development of The Aimless Cook, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people in the food industry. My vision was to make more than just a cooking show. I wanted to support small local business, highlight and focus on the incredible people behind them, and in turn have some fun and learn even more about food. It was around this time where I met my mentor. I had former partner at the time that was doing a lot of cold calling. We would drop in on businesses, restaurants, networking events, wherever food was to meet people. It was at one of the city farmers market where our fateful meeting began.

We had just gotten a deal to produce an online series for the market. It was a brand new market in the city that was looking for a new and refreshing way (aka cheap) to promote itself via social media and online video. We were stoked to be on board as it was a new frontier for us. As we were introducing ourselves to the vendors, we met this crazy, incredibly warm, and friendly woman that ran a small stall that sold frozen and and ready-to-eat food with some sandwiches and coffee. We ended up talking to her for most of the afternoon. She was so enthusiastic about the market, developing the business community and just being part of something special. Today, we are still good friends and I bug her everyday for business advice.

My mentor has a quality that I think is very necessary when it comes to getting good business advice. She’s honest, blunt, and doesn’t hold back to make things sound more pleasing to your ears. If you have an idea that sucks and will probably drive your business into the ground, forcing you to live in a tent and eat cat food because you’re an idiot, she’ll tell you precisely that. She’s a mother figure through and through. She’ll be there to support you, love you, but be just as quick to slap you in the head if you’re doing something stupid or half-assed.

It was about 2 years I’ve known her, after I met Jo when she asked me one day in her kitchen about a very unique opportunity. She had recently taken over food services for another farmers market out in Millarville. I’d heard of Millarville before, and even attended their famous Christmas Market that they have every November long weekend. Basically, after seeing the show, watching all my Asian recipes before her eyes on the small screen, and being intrigued by it all, she was convinced that I could bring that food to a new audience. So she asked me.

“It’s the Millarville Farmers Market. A 30 year old market that brings in hundreds of people every Saturday from 9 to 2. I’m gonna be selling the burgers, fries and Western food. I need someone that can make really cool Asian food. It’s on the weekend, so you’ll have to find a sitter for the kids.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s the only thing.” It was at this point that I almost said no.  ”I can talk it over with Jo and see what she thinks. It’s a great chance to get into something of our own.”

The minute I told Jo that same evening, she said, “uh, yes!”

“What about the kids?”

“We’ll make it work.”

That was the gist of the conversation. A couple weeks later, we went to the market to spy on the current operation and get an idea of we were getting into.

I’ll continue this story in the next post. The whole idea behind this post up to this point is that you need to surround yourself with the right people. People that believe in your passion as much as you do. People that are willing to follow you on your journey, and help you along the way should any challenges or obstacles present themselves. Get out there and meet people that think like you, share your interests, work in the same industry, and most importantly meet people from all levels of the struggle.

It’s important to be part of a network of like-minded, driven individuals that support each other. Someone that has already had the experience of going through a hardship that you’re about to go through will have some great advice for you, and someone just starting out may be facing a dragon that you’ve just slain. Pay it forward. Be there for your new family and they’ll be there for you.

 

*right, Aman?

One Response to How I Got Started In The Restaurant Business – It’s Who You Know

  1. Gladys Rehm says:

    Good on you two. What a great team you make. So proud of you both. Love Mom.

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