Thriving cities depend on the adventurous among us, who alter the urban landscape when they forge their own successful paths.

Each month, we ask an influential San Diegan: What was it like for you in the beginning?

Arturo Kassel

Owner,  Whisknladle + Prepkitchen,
Live: Currently I live in La Jolla
Work: All over now. I rack up quite a few miles these days making the rounds from La Jolla to Little Italy to Del Mar.
How Long: I was born in Mexico City but moved here when I was 3 yrs old back in 1983. My parents were faced with a choice. El Paso, Texas or San Diego, CA. Boy, am I lucky.

Currently carry the title of King, Tyrant & CEO of Whisknladle Hospitality. My partners and I own and operate 4 restaurants with future plans for more.
What was the defining moment that propelled you to start Whisknladle, and later, to expand? 
Whisknladle was a collaboration between then Executive Chef and now Partner Ryan Johnston. We partnered out of necessity because he needed a kitchen and after acquiring Fresh Restaurant, I needed a Chef. In fact, Ryan and I first met 10 days before we first opened what we called Fresh-er, which was a temporary and transitional solution to taking on the existing restaurant without closing, remodeling and truly re-branding. The defining moment for what would become Whisknladle was my very first meeting with Ryan in which we both shared what we would be doing if we had the means to do so. Even though Ryan and I had just met, we shared similar core values and objectives.

What struggles did you face starting out?
Quite a few really. The first was breaking out of the pigeon-hole that was created for us by taking on an established restaurant and a market which was to some degree, stagnant at the time. Change is really hard for some people, especially those who had come to love Fresh restaurant and were very vocal about their opinions. Ryan and I drove that restaurant (Fresh-er) into the ground by experimenting with many different menu styles, concepts, price-points… We felt like Goldie Locks until we found the “Just Right.” Which for us was Whisknladle. The biggest struggle is an on-going one and that is the confidence and the resolve to stick to your guns, see things through and not second guess yourself. In a fickle business and tumultuous market like this one, it’s very easy to fall into that trap. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten (thank you R.G.) was as follows: “It’s not always about making the right decision, it’s about making the decision right.” Chew on that…

What was the riskiest move you ever made?
Allowing myself to become tone deaf. By that I mean tuning out market trends and instead building a restaurant and a company revolving strictly around your tastes, trusting what you like to eat and drink and how you like to eat and drink it. It felt like a leap of faith at the time but now it’s one of our guiding principles. Looking back on it, we felt like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come.”

If you could change the past, is there anything involving your career that you would do differently?
I don’t care much for rear view mirrors and I feel very fortunate that we’ve had the little success that we’ve had. That being said, I would certainly have benefitted from having worked for other restauranteurs for a longer period of time. I’m a firm believer that making mistakes is in many ways, the most effective way to learn and we’ve made a lot of them but we’re learning from them and evolving. I just wish I had made more of these necessary mistakes on somebody else’s dollar.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job,” working for someone else? 
I’ve never been a great employee; too outspoken, too stubborn, too hyperactive and to be blunt, not a great manager. I’ve adapted to ownership in part out of necessity and because my strengths are better suited for this capacity.

What personality traits must a restauranteur possess?
I can only speak for myself and my team, but the core values we strive to live by and the qualities we hire for are (CHIPS) Common Sense, Hospitality, Initiative, Passion and Self-Discipline. My colleagues would probably say that I’m compulsively impulsive, impatient, hyper active and meticulous.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what 3 words describe how you might have felt? 
I’ll give you 5: Careful what you wish for.