One of the greatest assets a restaurant owner has are the intangibles acquired throughout a career. Naturally the kitchen equipment, the coolers and walk-ins, the tables and chairs, silverware, trinkets and treasures that compliment the artwork and style of the dining room are important factors when taking inventory in a restaurant. But when a restaurant is sold, those stay, but the intangibles last forever.
The restaurant business is unlike any other. It’s a club where people that struggle or succeed daily, bond together to share glory, swap miseries, and give support and advice.
And, when friendships are made- they seem to last.
Eleven years ago this week. My wife and I had just moved from Minnesota to Carmel to open a restaurant in a horrendous second floor location in the back of a shopping center that didn´t have nearly as much foot traffic as the landlord claimed it had. The rent was good, we thought, the surroundings stunning, and the view from the patio, breathtaking. We couldn´t sign the lease fast enough.
Barely unpacked, with thousands of dollars of construction costs ahead of us, not much more than lint in our pocket, (under capitalization rarely prohibits restaurant expansion), a promise of funding from a partner, and three restaurants in Minnesota struggling through the frigidity of the season, we began searching for staff. One applicant put Bill Lee´s name on his resume as a reference. At the time Bill was managing the famous Sardine Factory in Monterey, California. We called Bill, told him our we needed to check out a resume and he immediately invited us over to the Sardine Factory to meet with him.
He graciously showed us the inner workings of the Sardine Factory, answered our questions about the applicant, and added a bit of information about the restaurant scene in Carmel. We opened anyway.
Last week at the San Francisco Fancy Food Show my cell phone rang, my wife asked "Who do you think I am standing with?" and the answer, of course, was Bill Lee. We hadn´t seen each other for two years, usually meeting at the food or restaurant show. We gave each other the restaurant owner´s hug, swapped stories for a few minutes and caught up on all the openings, closings, should -haves, would-haves, and could-haves that culinary adventurers experience.
Today, Bill and his lovely wife Teresa, (behind every culinary adventurer there is a compass that points to success-if you don´t have one, find one, quickly.) own two successful restaurants in Carmel, Bahama Billy´s and Bixby Bistro. Both places are packed and serve some of the best food, in the best atmosphere, at a reasonable price on the Monterey Peninsula, because Bill has a magic touch. He develops and opens successful places. He is one of the top ten restaurant owner´s I know. He has the ability to design, open, staff, and operate restaurants that always appear to be running on all cylinders.
That is a talent few owners possess today unless backed by big corporations. His secret is that he and Teresa live their restaurants. And that is the key to every owner´s success. If you are not watching you will eventually find out what you missed. And, to watch you have to be there.
I look forward to food and restaurant shows to meet friends and see faces of restaurant owner´s that I haven´t seen in a while. It´s a great way to catch-up on the regional industry. Remember, the owners of neighboring restaurants are your friends. If they are busier than you are, figure out what´s wrong with your place, not what´s right with theirs. And make friends with those neighbors. They are one of your greatest assets.
After my first meeting with Bill he gave both my wife and I a silver knife and fork pin. I have that pin on a hunting vest, that I use for hunting new locations. It has been pinned to that vest for a decade. Every time I wear that vest I think of Bill, vision the Sardine Factory, and smile about the advice he offered. I have yet to ever sign a lease while wearing that pin. Thanks, Bill.
Fore more information on Bill Lee go to www.bahamabilly.com.