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?


Chad Cline  Restaurateur,  The Waterfront Bar & Grill,  http://www.waterfrontbarandgrill.com

How did your family come to own the Waterfront?
The Waterfront was opened in 1933. My family didn’t get involved until my great grandpa, Melvin Miller, bought it. I believe he started in bootlegging as a kid, and eventually he made his way into buying and selling bars. He purchased the Waterfront as another thing to flip. It wasn’t really special until my grandma, Nancy Nichols, purchased it and made it that way.

What struggles did your family face owning Waterfront?
When my grandma bought the bar, it was in bad shape. That was late 70s/early 80s. Little Italy was mostly a bunch of warehouses. There were a few restaurants, but the area was in decline.

My Grandma loved it though. She liked the characters and enjoyed getting to know everyone. The Italian fisherman loved coming in and helping cook. The Waterfront became a real community hub and my Grandma’s personality was at the center of it, making sure everyone felt welcomed. She was, and still is, an amazing woman that took a real crappy dive bar in a bad area and transformed into a special neighborhood place.

What was the riskiest business move you ever made?
When the area started to blow up, and Little Italy started to change, my cousin and I made changes that appealed to a younger audience — going for a place where a 21 year old could hang out with an 81 year old.

We wanted to attract new customers by improving the outdated, but grandma didn’t want to make regulars mad with little changes to their home away from home. We were sure that the regulars would still come around. That didn’t always work. Sometimes we would make changes that the regulars would still hate but we tried our best to keep them happy while welcoming new faces.

The first spot I did outside of Waterfront was High Dive. It was a total experiment that taught me a lot. At that time I knew that I wanted to expand, but didn’t really know what I was doing. My cousin Rocky started Eastbound Bar & Grill shortly after, and experienced a very similar learning process. Since, we’ve opened Werewolf, Club Marina and Banzai together.  I also opened Harbor House, and he opened the The Hills. I think they’re all risky.

Every single time we open something we put our entire heart into it. We really try hard to provide something special. When you put that kind of energy into it, failure becomes very scary. The bar business isn’t easy. We’re basically in the business of making everyone happy, and everyone knows what they say about that.

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d do differently?
I would have invested into Eastbound and The Hills with my cousin. Other than that I feel I’ve learned from anything that’s gone wrong.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?
Sometimes I dream about working for someone else. I think the grass is always greener on the other side.

What personality traits must a successful business owner possess?
I’m not sure that there’s a list of traits. I do feel that a person who goes into business for themselves needs to always try and see the positive. I think the main thing is going for it. Be an idiot and jump off the cliff. Make yourself grow wings or die trying. Just make sure you give it everything you got.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?
One word: relieved. I wouldn’t feel anything else.

 


Lucy Postins  CEO and Founder,  The Honest Kitchen,  http://www.thehonestkitchen.com
Live: Bird Rock •  Work: East Village •  How Long: 18 years

What was the moment that propelled you to open your own business?
I first got started with The Honest Kitchen back in 2002. I’d been struggling to resolve the recurring ear infections of my Rhodesian Ridgeback, Mosi, and realized that his food could be the culprit – and that maybe food could also be the cure. I started making Mosi a raw diet from scratch at home and got great results.

His ear infections cleared right out, but it was incredibly messy to prepare. I realized that dehydration was the perfect way to continue providing him with a minimally processed whole food diet without all the mess of bloody meat in the fridge and spinach puree on the counter tops. There was nothing like it on the market so I decided to make my idea into a small business, selling to my first customers online. From there, The Honest Kitchen was born.

What struggles did you face starting The Honest Kitchen?
From a very early point, I decided that the best way to truly differentiate my product from conventional, old fashioned pet food was to make it 100% human food grade. That meant producing it in a human food production facility and using only ingredients fit for human consumption sourced directly from the human food supply chain.

I had a few slightly stressful conversations with both co-packers and suppliers. As soon as I would mention that dogs were going to be the consumers for the product, they didn’t want to know about it!

Once I finally got the supply chain set up and a co-packer to blend my recipe, I had another big setback with the very first test blend. They put it on the blender for so long that all my beautiful ingredients got pulverized beyond recognition. I cried when the sales guy came to my house and proudly opened the 20 pound sack of what they made – it was literally powder!

What was the riskiest business move you ever made?
It’s hard to narrow down one single ‘riskiest move,’ because business inherently is all about having a good appetite for risk. I’m a pretty intuitive person, so I often rely on my gut instinct to navigate through big decisions.  I guess one fairly landmark moment was when I decided to sue the Ohio Department of Agriculture, because they were refusing to issue me a feed license to sell our products in their state. They were insisting I take the words ‘Human Grade’ off the product labels, because they said people in their state would be confused about whether the food was for them or their dog.

It was tempting to simply give up and just tell people they wouldn’t be able to buy The Honest Kitchen in Ohio, but we had customers who were literally driving over state lines to get it. We decided to move forward with the lawsuit. It was pretty nerve-wracking, but ultimately, the judge ruled we had a right to truthful, commercial free speech.

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d do differently?
I don’t think I’d really change anything when it comes to my career. I think every job I’ve had has been of some value. There were multiple waitressing and bar jobs (plus a gig at McDonald’s!) during my four years at agricultural college in the UK. My first ‘proper’ job was at a conventional pet food company when I first moved to the states, in 1998. The lion’s share of my adult career (14 years) has been devoted to The Honest Kitchen, and when I look back I really wouldn’t do any of it differently.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?
That’s an interesting question! Sometimes I think it would be nice to go back to basics and do what someone else said for a change! Ultimately though, I think I’ve been doing my own thing for so long, it would be a tough transition. I’d love to spend more time mentoring others in business, especially in the early startup stages. In many ways I think those really early years are the most beautiful and most pure, when you’re first getting everything off the ground, prior to the challenges of trying to scale.

What personality traits must a successful business owner possess?
For me, I think it’s being slightly stubborn and relentlessly fixed on the mission, vision and values. As you scale, there are always temptations to compromise these fundamentals, but if you’re stubborn, you can stay true to your roots. At The Honest Kitchen, our customers trust and expect us to always do the right thing, and it takes a bit of tenacity to hold true to that. I also think being able to trust your gut and having the deep-seated resilience to navigate through challenges are super important traits. As my husband Charlie and I often say, ‘If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!’

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?
(Slightly) daunted. Amazed. Grateful.


Chuck Patton  Owner/founder,  Bird Rock Coffee Roasters,  http://birdrockcoffee.com/
Live: Bird Rock •  Work: Bird Rock, Linda Vista, and Little Italy •  How Long: San Diego native

What was the moment that propelled you to open your own business?
It started as a hobby and then it turned into a weekend farmers market gig and a delivery service for Pacific Beach and La Jolla. When I realized it would be a long, long time before a community college, tenure-track teaching position would come up, I took the leap full-time into coffee and quit teaching.

What struggles did you face starting Bird Rock Coffee Roasters?
Realizing that coffee is a morning job. Previously, I arranged my teaching schedule so I would not have a class that started before 11am. The coffee business starts at dawn… that was a struggle at first.

What was the riskiest business move you ever made?
Opening across the street from Starbucks 10 years ago. No one thought it could be done, and at the time it had not been done. Starbucks had grown in the 80s and 90s by finding fair local coffee shops and opening across the street. Trying that technique against them was either genius or really stupid.

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d do differently?
I think I would have pulled off the band-aid and expanded to other locations earlier. We waited about 8 years before opening our Little Italy shop. Coffee people now are planning their second shop before paying off the capital investments in their first.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?
No. I am unemployable.

What personality traits must a successful business owner possess?
A drive to succeed and/or intense fear of failure. While I have an Masters Degree, I was really a shitty student. School was never easy for me and at best I am an inconsistent low B student — probably because I never wanted to sacrifice my time to study and do something that was difficult for me. But, when I opened in Bird Rock, something clicked. I realized I needed to sacrifice everything to make it work.

A new business owner must spend every second, today, thinking about how they can be better tomorrow. One must understand that there is no alternative to working hard. And by “hard work,” I mean there are no holidays. Again: there are no holidays. There are no days off. There are no half-days. I have seen so many boutiques and cafes and restaurants come and go in Bird Rock over the last 10 years. Sure, some fail because their product may not fit the needs of the community, but more often than not they fail because the owner wants to take weekends off. Or they only want to work 9 to 5. Or they want to close all day on Christmas Eve. Nope. can’t do it. If you are in retail, your number one priority is accommodating the people who want to spend their hard-earned money on your product. Your number one priority is not taking a day off or closing shop early.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?
Thankful. Proud. Tired.


Alfredo Jaime + Rodolfo Farber  Cofounders,  Jaime Partners,  http://jaimepartners.com


Jaime Partners is a building and construction management company responsible for bringing the visions of some of San Diego’s best architects and interior designers to life. You’ll see their work whenever you visit Bracero Cocina or Kettner Exchange in Little Italy, Herringbone in La Jolla or Puesto at the Headquarters.

What was the moment that propelled you to open your own business?
We wanted to create something that would make our unique vision and values thrive within the construction industry. A main reason we started Jaime Partners is because we wanted to provide more to the clients than just general contractors, such as preconstruction services. This is a unique company since we provide so many services to San Diego’s restaurateurs. These services allow the client to receive all necessary tools in constructing a restaurant or business in a singular place. This includes a vision development step that allows us to understand what the client wants, from there we can put together the team to deliver a project based on the client’s vision.

With over 14 years of experience, we love what we do and thought it would be the right move to make a difference in the community of San Diego.

What struggles did you face starting Jaime Partners?
Making sure all documentation was in place to cover all the liabilities that could possibly add up. We do creative work, so our imagination and drive led to more paperwork and complications when we first got our start. With just the two partners starting together years ago, it was a tough endeavor to provide the best services possible without all the administrative support. Now with a great team behind us, celebrating our value of unity in diversity, all of our projects run smoothly and are done in a timely manner that leave clients happy!

What was the riskiest business move you ever made?
When we first started out and starting growing rapidly, we knew we had to bring people on board to help us expand the company. We needed to make sure they were the best at what they do! It was a risk to hire as many people as we did while growing into different markets – it’s a balancing act. After working with many restaurants that turned into popular thriving establishments in San Diego, it was another risk to expand into other markets and types of projects. By moving through that risk and going for it, we were able to succeed in other markets, which can be viewed on our website.

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d do differently?
We would have loved to start the company earlier than we did. We took the time to plan everything out, but we love what we do and it would have been great to get started sooner!

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?
After creating our own company and steering it in a way that manifested success, it would be difficult to work for someone else. By running our own company it creates positive energy within ourselves, especially having that leadership in San Diego. The ability to drive our own success is absolutely key. It is fun when we meet a client and can work with them one on one to make their dream come to life.

What personality traits must a successful business owner possess?
In our point of view: curiosity, compassion, empathy, attention to detail and focusing on the big picture. Character with emotional resilience is key to launch drive and success. We would always tell eager and potential business owners to learn from the past, to be present and strategize for the future.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?
We would probably have been very impressed, interested and considered ourselves visionaries to see how much dedication and hard work we had put into Jaime Partners to grow the company to where it is today.


Ralph Rubio  Co-Founder,  Rubio's Coastal Grill,  http://www.rubios.com
Live: Encinitas •  Work: Carlsbad •  How Long: 33 years


What was the moment that propelled you to open your own business?
My father was a self-made man who found success as an engineer in the reinforced plastics industry. On nights and weekends, with a family and full-time job nonetheless, my dad moonlighted on a side project where he eventually became an international plastics consultant. My father’s entrepreneurial spirit inspired me to someday find a business of my own to build. I worked in the restaurant industry throughout college, and after experiencing my first fish taco in Baja California, I knew I wanted to have my own restaurant and introduce fish tacos to San Diego.

What struggles did you face starting Rubio’s?
When we first opened the restaurant, we only had one paid employee. The other seven were all Rubio family members, including my mom and dad. We relied heavily on family and worked long, hard hours. We also lacked sales. Business was very slow since most people didn’t know what a fish taco was let alone this new, unheard of restaurant called Rubio’s. But over time through word of mouth we built a successful business. And in year three we opened our second and third restaurants. I’m proud to say we now have more than 4,000 paid employees working at Rubio’s Restaurants.

What was the riskiest business move you ever made?
Honestly, starting Rubio’s in the first place. The failure rate for restaurants was, and still is, very high. Our executive board and management team have always taken a conservative approach to business matters, keeping a healthy cash balance sheet, so we never got in big trouble or did anything I’d call “too risky.”

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d do differently?
Not really. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but that makes it interesting, right? If I’d known how big Rubio’s would eventually grow, it would have been helpful to have outside management, executive experience or an MBA to better prepare me to lead a business like this, but I was having too much fun being a “beach-bum,” so I guess it wasn’t in the cards.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?
Good question. I’m 60 and I’m still committed to Rubio’s for the foreseeable future, so I’m going to say the answer is no. I might start another restaurant concept or two with my son Ryan, who is getting his MBA at USC at the moment. Or maybe I’ll just retire to the beach, kind of like I did in college!

What personality traits must a successful business owner possess?
Self-belief, humility, a great work-ethic, good critical-thinking and problem-solving skills (there will be problems), strong communicator of ideas and vision, and a sense of humor, just to name a few.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?
WOW! Amazing! Really??!


Tim Mays  Owner, Co-Founder,  The Casbah,  http://www.casbahmusic.com/
How Long: 27 years

What was the moment that propelled you to open your own business?
A couple different moments actually. I was always a huge music fan as a kid, listening to records, watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan back in the 60’s while growing up in Barstow. Started attending concerts in about 1972 — first show I ever saw was Sly and the Family Stone at The Forum in Los Angeles. Moved to San Diego in 1973 to go to SDSU, and started going to see shows at Montezuma Hall, Backdoor, Sports Arena etc. Saw all the classic old rock bands — Stones, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Wings, Aerosmith, Bowie, etc. — and then started to get into punk rock in about 1979 or so, started going to shows in Los Angeles at places like Hong Kong Cafe, Madame Wong’s, Club 88, Whisky, Starwood, etc.

A friend and I decided to put on a show in Los Angeles in 1980 with Weirdos, Plugz, Suburban Lawns, and Penetrators. It did extremely well and I got asked to become a partner in the Skeleton Club, San Diego’s first punk rock club, which was located at the corner of 2nd & Market, downtown.

That lasted a few months before it got shut down by the SDPD. Then I just started booking shows at various venues around town — Spirit Club, North Park Lion’s Club, Adams Ave Theatre, Carpenter’s Hall, Zebra Club, Wabash Hall, etc. Was all a hobby at that time — I had a regular job and had no idea that it would turn into anything viable. I was just a music fan and wanted to see  bands play in San Diego that weren’t coming here. So that’s how I started in the music business, as a fan, doing it for the love of music.

Flash forward a few years to about 1985 or so, and skinheads and violence in the local punk rock scene started to become an issue and a drain, mentally and physically. I was spending a lot of time with Peter English, who was also a semi-punk rock promoter, and Bob Bennett (RIP), who owned San Diego’s first vintage clothing store, RazzmaTazz on 5th Ave in Hillcrest. We started throwing parties for our friends. One day, Peter and I were walking around late night in San Francisco trying to find an after hours party and we started talking about opening a bar. We talked about it into the wee hours, and when we returned to San Diego we got together with Bob and decided to see if this bar called The Pink Panther, located on Morena Boulevard, was for sale.

We had all driven past it on the freeway for years, and it had a really cool neon sign out front. We sent a friend in undercover acting like a business broker and she asked the owner if he was interested in selling. He had just lost his wife to his head bartender, and was tired of the bar, so he agreed to sell it to us for $30K. We pooled our resources, came up with a $3K downpayment, and opened a few days before Christmas in 1986. We had taken our love of nightlife and throwing parties and, within a year, it was like being at a big party every night at the Pink Panther. It was the only bar at that time owned by young people for young people. Jukebox, beer and wine, pool tables. A really crazy scene….

What struggles did you face starting the Casbah?
At the time we opened the first Casbah location in 1989, we had the Pink Panther and it was doing well. But I had stopped doing concerts in 1986. Our original idea at the Casbah was to do local roots, R&B, rockabilly, acoustic acts. We had an espresso machine and the windows were open to the outside. The only other viable venue in town at that time was Spirit Club, but nobody liked playing there so I started getting calls from bands asking to play. Then in 1990, the local music scene started to take off so we became the epicenter of that whole thing. The struggles we faced initially were in convincing our Pink Panther fan base that the Casbah wasn’t going to cannibalize that business, getting them to accept the “new” bar. This all became moot when, later in 1990, we lost our lease at the Panther and had to close it.

What was the riskiest business move you ever made?
I’m pretty conservative when it comes to business, careful mostly in making decisions or changes. Promoting concerts is a form of gambling though, and I’ve taken some risks over the years with big shows outside the Casbah that have resulted in a couple major losses — we’re talking $40K in one swoop back in 2006 or so. So the biggest risks I take are in booking large shows at large venues — the upside is never close to what the potential downside can be. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often.

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d do differently?
I’m pretty happy with my career, considering I never thought of it as a career when I was starting out. I have a degree in Telecom and Film from SDSU that I never put to use because, back when I graduated from college, you pretty much had to relocate to LA to get a job in that field. I did learn a lot in the TCF program about working with people, plus various production issues that have helped me immensely in what I do now.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?
There are times when I wish I had a 9-5 job so that I could just go home after work and not have to deal/worry about anything from work. Not get a call at 2am about a problem, or have to deal with the other issues that are constant in any business that you may own. But those times are few and far between, and I couldn’t see myself working a normal job. I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had to since my last job in retail — at The Broadway in Horton Plaza — which ended in 1987.

What personality traits must a successful business owner possess?
Intelligence, confidence, diplomacy, vision, good taste, passion, appreciation, humility, honesty, responsibility, respect for others,  motivation to get up every day and do what you do no matter what issues you are facing.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?
Wake me up! (I must be dreaming).

 

Photo by Stacy Keck


Su-Mei Yu  Owner,  Saffron,  http://saffronsandiego.com
Work: Mission Hills •  How Long: 30 Years

October 19th, Mission Hills Thai restaurant Saffron celebrates 30 years in business. Owner Su-Mei Yu started Saffron Thai Grilled Chicken in 1985, then went on to open Saffron Noodles & Sate next door. Su-Mei is the author of several cookbooks and the star of Savor San Diego, now in its third season at KPBS.

What was the moment that propelled you to open your own business?
I had a bit of a mid-life crisis. I turned 40 and a nonprofit foundation I started had completed its mission, so I was at a loose end. There was a space on India Street available, and the property belonged to my companion. It was a combination of madness and epiphany that struck me to think I could actually start a restaurant — a business I knew nothing about the time.

What struggles did you face starting Saffron?
Introducing Thai cooking to San Diegans who had no clue what it was. Hot spicy foods were unfamiliar to most San Diegans back then. Eating rice was another challenge. People wanted bread!

What was the riskiest business move you ever made?
Opening the sit-down restaurant selling noodles and other Thai dishes next to my original small take-out chicken restaurant.

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d do differently?
Saffron has been a blessing in my life. It opens the doors to so many experiences in my life. I am extremely humbled and grateful.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?
I don’t know what normal is, since every experience is both normal and abnormal. It is a matter of your personal interpretation.

What personality traits must a successful business owner possess?
Ability to connect with people with care, weather criticisms and trust your intuitions and be not afraid of making “mistakes” because they too are lessons, gifts to be learned.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?
Blessings, Daring, “Good Tongue” Gift.


Jodi Cilley  Founder,  Film Consortium San Diego,  http://www.filmconsortiumsd.com
Live: Golden Hill •  Work: All over the city  •  How Long: 15 years

Film Consortium stimulates local film and television production, and produces the San Diego Film Awards, the Fall Film Festival, Dive-In Theater and various other screening and film networking events.

What was the moment that propelled you to open your own business? 

I saw my film students leaving school with a very expensive and skill-specific education, only to end up in low paying jobs that didn’t utilize their newly built skill sets. I thought, “How in the heck are there not film-related jobs here in San Diego?” Finding the answer to that question took me a few months and a few dozen meetings, and I found there was an unmet need in San Diego I felt I could do something about.

What struggles did you face starting Film Consortium?

The main struggle I faced was dealing with people who thought things would be better if I just gave up on building a local film community and instead went up to LA to bring big productions down here. Also, there are a lot of folks with the old school mentality favoring competition instead of collaboration, and that took a while to overcome. We are all better if we help lift each other up – that is the core belief of this entire concept.

What was the riskiest business move you ever made?

That’s a tough one.  The entire thing has been pretty low risk as this has really been built on scotch tape and a few nickels rubbed together. We’ve had events that haven’t been successful, or “brilliant” ideas that turned out to be not so smart, but there’s very little downside to this. At the end of the day the community that has been built is priceless and permanent. We all get to keep that forever, regardless of the success of Film Consortium as a business.

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d do differently?

I wouldn’t really change anything. I’ve always been the one to follow my intuition and instincts, and everything along the way has brought me closer to where I need to be. Of course there were times where I could have done better, or got distracted for a while, but for the most part I’ve been building towards this for most of my adult life. Each job, each relationship, each educational endeavor brought me a little closer to finding the thing I needed to put all of my energy into. And then, voila! Along came the opportunity that I couldn’t miss, and the moment where I decided to act.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?

I actually talk about this all the time. I still teach video/editing at a few schools and pick up various contract work while the business builds, but I could never go back to a normal 9-5 job. Even if my business were to fail tomorrow, I’d start another one where I apply everything I learned in that process. 

What personality traits must a successful business owner possess?

Perseverance. The road is tough and not for the weak of spirit. You have to get up every day and keep that rock rolling up that hill regardless of how tired and discouraged you may become. Also, belief in your vision. Along the way there will be naysayers, doubters, haters etc. A lot of them. You have to be able to keep their influence to a minimum and trust yourself and your vision. This is your dream and vision, not theirs. It’s okay that they don’t see what you see or agree with what you do. But if you start questioning yourself and your vision, you are done.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?

Overjoyed, Overwhelmed and Inspired. I’ve met so many wonderful people, with such great talent, who now surround me. The richness they have brought to my life is seriously beautiful and makes San Diego the most amazing home to me.


Sam Chammas  Bar and Cafe Owner ,  Live Wire, Whistle Stop Bar, Station Tavern, Krakatoa ,  http://www.livewirebar.com/ http://whistlestopbar.com/ http://stationtavern.com/ http://krakatoacafe.com/
Live: Mt. Helix •  Work: South Park, North Park, Golden Hill  •  How Long: 48 years, native North Park kid

What was the moment that propelled you to open your own business? 

Without a doubt, it was 1992. On a roadtrip  from San Diego, to Austin, Texas, for then new South by Southwest Music Fest. I was 25, just me and a 1973 VW Bus, aka “the green machine.” First stop was Tucson, Arizona. Walking around downtown Tucson I saw cool businesses owned by people in their 20’s; coffee houses, vintage clothing shops, the Hotel Congress. Previously I thought you had to be old to open a business – after working for someone else for 20 years. But here young people were doing it, making cool things happen, and doing it their way. Saw more of the same in Austin, Texas. I came back to San Diego pumped with the confidence to open up a business. I reunited with college friend, Joe Austin who I met at KCR, SDSU’s radio station. Joe knew the bar business, I had the location and the result was Live Wire. Celebrated 22 years in October.

What struggles did you face when opening Live Wire?

Getting approvals from the city, police and health department was a challenge. It still is a challenge, and it should be. But it was much harder to be taken seriously then, in the early 90’s, because there wasn’t a history of successful young business owners, especially in bars and restaurants, like there is now.

What was the riskiest business move you ever made?

It was a big risk to get Live Wire ready to open even though the chances of getting a liquor license were slim. We waited six months for the approval process.  I stopped going out because friends were always asking when it would open. It was a sad time. Thankfully our license was approved and the rest is history. Special shout out goes to then district council member Chris Kehoe. She believed in us and that gave us the confidence to see it through.

Other biggest risk was Station Tavern. That was such an enormous project -constructing a building and restaurant from the ground up. We ran out of funds, stopped construction, recession had begun. It was scary. My wife Peggy, sister Jeana, and architect/friend Lloyd Russell helped get that one to the finish line. But the risk was worth it. It has become one of those rare and special places that almost pleases everyone. 5 years now!

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d do differently?

Maybe I should have watched my back more. You never know when bad people are waiting to take from good people. But I don’t want to live my life like that. I believe good people far outnumber the bad. Surround yourself with good people and your life will be ok.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?

No I could not. And I have a funny story to prove it. My first career was making medical tubing for a company called Medtronic. Good people with a great product: heart catheters, something that improves lives. But after opening Live Wire, bar life was the better fit. A few years later I needed to raise more money to open Whistle Stop. A pay stub from a normal job would make it easier getting a business loan. So I started working for another tubing company. In just 8 days I left a water valve on and flooded the extrusion lab not once, but TWICE.  Water flowing down the halls, into the lobby, a mess. Thankfully I was let go, and they said they were doing it for my own safety. Lesson: don’t do something only for the money.

What personality traits must a successful restauranteur possess?

Wow, so many ways to define successful. I guess I’ve evolved into a sort of elder statesman because young folks with ideas for their first businesses have been looking me up. Personally I love encouraging them. This current, post-recession wave of young businesses is exciting. I feel like it’s their time.

Some of the things I say and believe are: don’t put money number one. Doing something cool and good is number one. Do that and usually the money will follow (that’s one I learned from Joe Austin on day one). An original idea combined with passion is a good start for success. I  have a test I call “the dozen.” If you have an idea for a product or type of business, and you can think of a dozen people that would dig it as much as you, then its worth going for. I’ve used that for every place I have ever opened.

Here is what I tell to every person that wants to open a bar or restaurant: have you ever thrown a party? Most say yes. Then I ask them to think of everything they did for the party- find a location, invite people, provide drinks, music, lighting, food, clean up. Then I say, “Do that that again, and again, and again, and again.” That is what having a bar or restaurant is like. That’s usually when they say, “Oh, now I get it.”

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?

 “That looks cool!”


Ken Irvine  Principal at Irvine Hospitality Group, Owner and Executive Chef at Bleu Boheme ,  http://www.irvinehospitality.com/ http://www.bleuboheme.com/
Live: Coronado  •  Work: Kensington  •  How Long: 38 years

What was the moment that propelled you to open Bleu Boheme?

I was inspired because it’s a great neighborhood location within an awesome community.

What struggles did you face when starting your own business? 

Not too much really; you need to understand what the community that you serve needs and wants. I have owned restaurants since I was 29, and have learned that you tend to get out of a project what you put into it. You cannot be successful as an absentee owner…

What was the riskiest business move you ever made? 

I have never been a big risk taker…

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d have done differently? 

No.

Could you ever go back to working a ‘normal’ job for someone else?

I wouldn’t know what a “normal” job is!

 What personality traits must a successful restaurateur possess?

A great sense of humor, sincerity, passion, integrity and the love of throwing a party every night!

 In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where you work is today, what 3 words describe how you might have felt? 

Blessed, fortunate and humbled.


Matt Hoyt  Co-owner of Starlite/ Director, producer, writer at Wormwood Films/ Voice over actor ,  http://www.starlitesandiego.com/ http://www.wormwoodfilms.com/blog/
Live: Golden Hill  •  Work: Mission Hills, South Park  •  How Long: Most of my life

What was the moment that propelled you to open Starlite? 

There’s never really a moment. It’s really a giant snowball that started as a little icy nugget and then rolled downhill and ended up bigger than anyone could’ve imagined. I approached my friend, and now business partner Tim Mays, about acquiring an old bar and building on India Street. It was 2005 and we both knew San Diego was thirsty for a cocktail and dinner spot that could echo the quality and feel of places you’d find in San Francisco, Portland, Chicago and New York. San Diego only had a handful of businesses that were really trying to raise the bar and we knew we could build on that. That’s basically where we started. Next thing you know, we’re borrowing money, gathering other owners/investors and putting together a core team and staff. I’ve always been drawn to collaborative creative endeavors. I have a filmmaking background, so I was used to working with a variety of different people with varied input and perspectives. I also paid for film school working in commercial real estate and I still do, but that’s a whole other interview!

What struggles did you face when starting your own business? 

All of them. People say the restaurant business is one of the most difficult industries you could go into – and they’re right for a reason. There’s so much risk and sacrifice with your time, money, and resources. The biggest struggle for me personally was being the point man for the build-out and design of the space. I was at the building 6-7 days a week on average for 8 months and then, before I can catch my breath, I’m the point man on a brand new bar and restaurant, hiring staff, directing traffic, and expediting our collective goals for the business. We opened in 2007 and the commercial real estate market was starting to look a bit anemic and I felt like it was a good time to challenge myself. I had worked in restaurants since I was 16 and I’ve always had some sort of restaurant job during my higher education as well – so I was comfortable with the idea of drinks, atmosphere, food, and service. But when you do a project like Starlite you don’t get time to assess if you’re actually ready before you open to the public. That was the scariest moment. And Starlite was a big project. One of the biggest and most collaborative things I’ve done.

What was the riskiest business move you made? 

Opening a restaurant named Starlite on a dark stretch of India Street that people can’t find at night! But we’ve been open for 7 years so I guess that risk paid off.

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you would do differently?

Yes. I’d take better stock of mistakes that were made and see them more as opportunities to focus our collective goals and my own personal goals. I know that may sound cheesy, but there’s some very basic truth to that. I’m trying to get better at it. I’d also take more time out for myself. I’ve been answering my cell phone almost everyday for 7 years. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, but it comes at a cost personally.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?

Yes. I think about it all the time. I love collaborative projects. I started bands, then turned filmmaker, micro-developer, and now restauranteur. All those things require being part of a team that hurled themselves toward some crazy goal. But I’d welcome the opportunity to work within some specified parameters and pick-up a steady paycheck…but I don’t know if I could do it for a long period of time. Not everyone wants to be in charge or responsible all the time, and I suppose I’m built for it, and that’s how I ended up here.

What personality traits must a successful restauranteur possess? 

Be a good listener. Listen to your community and what it’s looking for. Listen to your guests and customers. And listen to your staff and team. Oh, and also listen to the railroad tracks for the next train racing toward you trying to derail your efforts. And be ethical in everything you do.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where you work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt? 

Excitement – Fear – Gratitude (but not necessarily in that order)


Terryl Gavre  Restauranteur ,  Cafe 222, BANKERS HILL BAR + RESTAURANT, ACME Southern Kitchen, Bake Sale Bakery ,  http://www.cafe222.com http://www.bankershillsd.com http://acmekitchensd.com
Live: Bankers Hill •  Work: Marina District, Bankers Hill and East Village  •  How Long: Since 1990

What was the moment that propelled you to open Cafe 222 and later to expand?

I have always worked in restaurants… always. I did stints in retail and in window design, but always worked nights in restaurants.  I loved the vibe, loved the people and loved the crazy hard work.

When I lived in Seattle right out of high school, I started a little business called “The Surrogate Wife,” (yes, a bit sexist) where I cooked, baked and grocery shopped for many of the single professional athletes in town. The business captured a lot of media attention (I think because of the sexist name) and eventually I sold my story to a production company in Los Angeles, where it was turned into one of those so-cheesy-it’s-good Lifetime TV movies.  I was paid for the story, hired as the technical consultant and made my “acting debut” playing a dumb blonde (a ballplayer’s girlfriend).  I took the money I made from the movie, sold the business and moved to San Diego.

I immediately started looking for a spot to open a little restaurant of my own. I met one of the partners of a new SRO that was being built and he invited me to come look at the space in “a new area of downtown,” called the Marina District.  I set up a meeting with the all of the building owners, created mock lunch menus, sponge painted “Cafe 222” on a white apron, cooked lunch and gave a little presentation. Cafe 222 opened about six months later. They took a risk on me… I had no restaurant cooking experience and no previous restaurant ownership. I only had years and years of working in the industry and a big dream.

What struggles did you face when starting your own business? 

In the beginning, I was undercapitalized. I spent every nickel on the build-out. I remember closing at 2:30 p.m. after lunch and taking out whatever money was in the drawer, riding my bike up to the produce market (which used to be where Petco Park is) for enough supplies to make it through dinner. None of the commercial vendors would give me credit because I had never had a credit card and had no personal net worth at the time.

The one thing I will always remember is that I earned my money one waffle at a time. It keeps me from being hasty or extravagant in my decision making.

What was the riskiest business move you ever made? 

Every time I open a new place I feel like I am taking a big risk. I lose sleep, I lose weight, I forget to pick my kids up at school…  I become a wreck. “Do I really need another place?” Every restaurant is so different. I don’t care how many years any of us have been doing this, it’s like starting over every single time.

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you would do differently? 

I wish I would have “let go” a little earlier and let the good and qualified people I hired do their jobs. I would have had a lot more fun when I was younger.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else? 

I doubt it… a person gets a little bossy after being in charge for all these years.

What personality traits must a successful restauranteur possess? 

Thick skin and a sense of humor. You must have the ability to let criticism roll off your back. Especially these days with Yelp, where everyone has free reign to have at ya. Also, to understand that you will never make everyone happy. If you did make everyone happy, you would have a very watered-down version of what your original vision was.

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?

Wow…she’s still around.


Adam "Ace" Moyer  Founder and CEO ,  Knockaround Sunglasses,  http://knockaround.com/
Live: Mission Hills •  Work: Sherman Heights •  How Long: Just over a year

What was the defining moment that propelled you to start Knockaround? 

I was 23, and had just moved to San Diego for the Visual Art grad program at UCSD.  Having grown up on the East Coast, Southern California came off as tropical and exotic.  It was the middle of summer, classes hadn’t started yet, I was sitting on the beach and had just lost my $100 Ray-Bans… at that moment I decided to start Knockaround— a company that made cheap sunglasses and cared about design.  A few weeks later I drove down to the Civic Center Plaza Building and submitted my business application.

What struggles did you face when starting your own business? 

The biggest struggle I faced when starting Knockaround was just not knowing what the hell was going on.  I didn’t know how successful businesses worked.  I didn’t know the difference between a LLC and a C-corp.  I didn’t know what a P&L statement was.  I didn’t know how to build a website.  I had an art degree and had never taken a business class in my life.  When you’re young, you’re usually naive and clueless.  But you figure things out.  Now I have two art degrees— still haven’t taken a business class in my life— and I have a pretty good idea of what the hell is going on.

What was the riskiest business move you made? 

The biggest risk I took was hiring friends.  Knockaround’s first employee was one of my all-time best friends, Regan Russell.  At that moment, the business was growing fast, and I needed someone sharp- someone I could count on.  I’ve heard that you should never hire your friends, but now I know that’s not true.  It’s a risk that paid off big-time.  Who can you trust more than your best buddy?  Hiring Regan is one of the best decisions I ever made.

If you could change the past, is there anything involving your career that you would do differently?

I’d take more time off. Once you have a few smart and capable employees, it’s pretty egomaniacal to think that you need to be around in order for things to run smoothly.  There’s very rarely something that needs my attention that can’t be handled quickly over the phone or on a laptop.  So, I should’ve taken about 10 more trips to Palm Springs.  I love Palm Springs.  There’s something about the desert heat and the abundant sunshine… great Knockaround weather.  But now it’s getting harder to do with small kids.  Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Could you ever go back to a ‘normal job’ working for someone else? 

Never.  There’s no turning back.  But that doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to work with other people.  I love brainstorming with people, coming up with good ideas, and executing cool projects.  But having a direct “report-to-me” boss?  No dice.

What personality traits must a successful business owner possess?

I gave the keynote speech at my old high school’s graduation this past summer, and here’s what I told the graduating seniors:  “Be pretty good at everything.”  And that’s what makes a good entrepreneur.  You need to have social skills, understand art and design, know how to crunch numbers, know how to write an intense and convincing email… and on and on.  I’m not the best at any one of those things.  But I’m pretty good at all of them.  A good business owner can keep all the balls rolling forward at once.  Some say “Jack of all trades, master of none.”  Bullshit.  In high school I wasn’t voted “Most likely to succeed”.  I was voted “Best dressed” and “Class flirt”.  So, go figure.

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?

“You own-a Ferrari?!?!”  (The 23-year-old me was not as mature as I am know.  And technically that should be 4 words).


Jeff Motch  Co-owner ,  Blind Lady Ale House and Tiger!Tiger! ,  http://blindlady.blogspot.com/ http://tigertigertavern.blogspot.com/
Live: SDSU College Area  •  Work: Normal Heights/North Park  •  How Long: Since '86

What was the defining moment that led you to open Blind Lady Ale House and later to expand? Sitting in Live Wire after an indoor soccer game talking to my future partner, Lee Chase, about life and beer. We both had quit really good jobs (Lee quit as Master Brewer at Stone and I quit as Creative Director at Acerbis Italia) and wanted to simplify life. Opening a business didn’t really simplify anything, but it makes it way the f*** better. The expansion of opening Tiger!Tiger! was totally by accident. We weren’t looking to open another place–especially one so close to BLAH–but when we heard about the opportunity we were sucked in by that amazing wood oven and the idea of being on The Boulevard down the street from our favorite bar.

What struggles did you face starting your own business? There are four partners (Lee Chase, Jen Chase, Clea Hantman and myself), but none of us had any real restaurant or bar experience other than eating and drinking. So, everything about starting a brewpub was a struggle. Hiring good people–that’s the hardest part of running a business. Oh, and Yelp. Yelp was a huge pain in our asses. 1-star reviews because we’re too far from their house or because we make you stand in a line or because we don’t sell slices or because we aren’t NY style pizza.

What was the riskiest  move you ever made? Signing a 20 year lease during a horrible economy. While businesses were closing their doors all over the place we signed for 10 years with two 5-year options with personal guarantees. That was nuts. There was a lot of talking ourselves in and out of it and lots of crying, but there was also lots of excitement about doing something awesome and something positive in our community.

If you could change the past, is there anything involving in your career that you would do differently? Nope. I feel like every job I’ve ever had has helped me get to this point. I’m actually pretty damn happy with the way it’s all worked out so far. Ask me again in a couple years.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else? For about a day and then I’d get fired. I’d be a horrible employee.

What personality traits must a successful restauranteur possess? Passion. That sounds totally lame, but it’s true. Don’t start something because you think it’s a good idea and will make money. Do it because you want to do it every day of your life and if it makes money that’s a total bonus.

If you could look back to the beginning of your career, what three words of advice would you now give yourself? Pay attention jackass. Lots of people think they know it all by the time they’re 25, but I feel like I learn something every day. I just wish I was more open to that when I was younger because I was one of those punk-ass-know-it-alls who probably drove my employers crazy.


Mark Quint, Quint Contemporary Art
Mark Quint  Gallery Owner,  Quint Contemporary Art,  http://quintgallery.com/
Live: I live in La Jolla in the same house that I grew up. I moved back into that house 6 years ago. •  Work: La Jolla •  How Long: I've worked in La Jolla on and off for 31 years.

What was the defining moment that propelled you to start your own gallery?
I was 27, had started a family, and was doing a series of terrible dead end jobs. I was trying to be an artist but came to the realization that I did not have the willingness nor the ability to live the solitary, obsessive life that I felt the type of art I wanted to do required. I opened a closet-sized gallery, sold everything out of my first show, and thought, “This is easy.” I did not sell anything else for 3 months, and was a day or two from going out of business when someone walked through the doors and bought a painting. I have been hooked ever since.

What struggles did you face when starting your own business?
The normal day to day struggles of finding clients, dealing with unscrupulous art dealers, placating egotistical artists, haggling with cheap collectors, the expenses of rent, shipping and insurance. The biggest struggle though was doing it on my own. I now have 5 people working with me. I look back and think, “How did I do that?”

What was the riskiest move you ever made?
Nothing seems that risky in my business. Sure you can get burned and lose money but in the long run it’s not brain surgery, and you are probably not going to really hurt yourself or someone else that much by selling or buying a piece of art. Financially, the riskiest move I ever made might have been moving into my new, much larger gallery space.

If you could change the past, is there anything involving your career that you would do differently?
I would have realized earlier on that no matter how much people act like they “know” art and they are the big authorities, it is a very subjective endeavor and my thoughts on the subject are as valid as the next person. I would have worked on my modesty concerning taking a few more chances, making myself more visible, and speaking up a bit more.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job,” working for someone else?
No. I got into this business because of the freedom to do what I want and that is what has kept me going. The art world is a little like the Wild West; besides the normal constraints of civilized business practices, we are able to make our own rules, define art any which way we want, move objects around the world pretty freely without a lot of tariffs or taxes, and not be tied down by many regulations.

What personality traits must a someone possess in order to do what you do and be successful?
Tenacity. Having a relatively hard shell when it comes to people being critical about your taste. A willingness to gamble. Liking and really enjoying people. Not being scared to fail. A love in discovering new things even though your first instinct is to stick with old pleasures.

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?
OH MY GAWD.

Peter Alexander: Perception of Desire opens at Quint Contemporary Art Saturday, April 20th (6-8pm) and runs until June 1st.

Photo by Tim Hardy.


Don Hollis  Owner, creative director, brand guru and supporter of the arts at Hollis Brand Culture,  Co-owner of Subtext Gallery,  http://www.hollisbc.com/
Live: I just recently relocated from Bankers Hill to North Park, near Morley Field. •  Work: Little Italy •  How Long: 5 years

Projects:
If you have dined or stayed in San Diego, you have likely experienced Don’s work firsthand. As a catalyst in the ‘90s with high profile, much-loved environments for Chive Cuisine Moderne and D’lush Beverage Joint, HollisBC’s clients are among San Diego’s best defined places. These include Tower23 Hotel, Georges at the Cove, JRDN, The Hard Rock Hotel, W San Diego, The Sofia Hotel, Vagabond, Currant Restaurant, R-Gang Eatery, Blanca, East Village Tavern & Bowl, Bencotto and many more. 

On the flip side, UCSD Scripps Forum, Challenged Athletes Foundation, United Way, Monarch School and the Museum of Photographic Arts round out some impactful community projects.

What was the defining moment that propelled you to start Subtext?

I had an opportunity to bring something different to my then downtown warehouse design studio. Our friends Missy and Josh from RE:UP had just lost their lease on 9th and Market, and my friend and now gallery partner, Dylan Jones and I had been chatting about a common desire for more exposure to art, design and culture that inspired us here in San Diego. It didn’t get off the ground right away, but the result of that dialogue became Subtext, with our first location in Public’s Dutra Brown building, across from the now bustling Craft & Commerce, and near our good friend Gary Benzel of Igloo fame. When I relocated to Little Italy, the stars aligned and we had found the perfect place and space.

What struggles did you face when starting your own businesses?
The design studio is a self-financed venture. Lots of sweat equity and growing pains during the early ‘90s recession made it a tough time. I was busy right from the start, and one project led to two more, and so on. I focused on working hard and making every project count. Producing high quality work has been my focus from the beginning, but often that requires extra creativity and perseverance. (insert new recession > repeat).

What was the riskiest move you ever made?
My move to San Diego came without a safety net. I was an art director at a very creative Philadelphia agency, came here for vacation, went back and packed up for the West Coast, never looking back. I was reminded quickly of how important relationships were when I landed here, only knowing one or two people, with no job, during a recession. It was a sink or swim moment for me.

If you could change the past, is there anything involving your career that you would do differently?
Financing and strategic partnerships make the world an easier place to navigate and help cultivate the business you want. I would do it all again without question, but it would be way more fun without the start up phase. If I rode the time machine way back, I would have attended college on the West Coast and studied under some of my design heroes like Syd Mead, Deborah Sussman and Doyald Young. 

Could you ever go back to a “normal job,” working for someone else? 
Normal is boring and life is too short. A partnership with complimentary, but like-minded souls would be an exciting evolution. I have a lot of projects and spin off ventures on paper. It would be great to kick some of these off. I would work with someone else, but not for someone else. I know great salesmen that promote average work really well and that disappoints me because I work hard to kick ass for my clients. I’ve built such a strong portfolio that a proper marketing and account team would likely be rocket fuel for us.What personality traits must someone possess in order to do what you do?

Call me Tenacious D. Tenacity, persistence, optimism, perseverance, and a steadfast commitment to excellence are all essential to create differentiation and not blend into the mediocre masses.

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?

The feeling is exactly the same today as then. Do great work (the rest will all fall into place).

hollisbc.com
subtextgallery.com


Paul Basile  Designer/Sculptor/Fabricator,  Basile Studio,  http://www.basilestudio.com/
Live: East Village •  Work: East Village •  How Long: 18 years

Projects: Underbelly, Craft & Commerce Expansion, Car 2 Go San Diego and Washington D.C., Delux Dog, Prana, Core Power Yoga (all West Coast locations)
What was the defining moment that propelled you to start your own business?
I was sitting with a friend in a café about 20 years ago on some barstools made out of rebar and thought the idea of the reuse of such a simple material was interesting. At the time, I was helping my brother’s construction company’s concrete division and thought, here is a ton (literally) of dropped material we typically threw away. So I began making all kinds of furniture and objects with the leftover rebar, and sold it mostly in resale stores. After a while, my objects were selling enough where I thought “what the hell, cut out the middleman and open a store.” So, I opened Basile Gallery in 1994 and offered a refuge for local artists to display their work along with my furniture and objects. After a few requests to custom build some pieces the projects kept getting larger and larger. After a while, the furniture gig took a back seat and I was just designing and building custom architectural details, furniture for fun.

What struggles did you face starting out?
In my early career, there was hardly an art community and even less of an art buying community. So for all artists it was difficult to get work and even more difficult getting paid enough to live. Now, as a designer and builder, the main issue has and will always be expansion. The amount of effort to have three to four businesses running simultaneously is difficult to finance and very difficult to manage. I have a hard time sitting still so the struggle always exists. It’s never easy.

What was the riskiest move you ever made?
I sold everything I had to start my business and had no fall back position, but the most risky is an everyday occurrence really. We are always taking risks with the projects we design and somehow figure out how to build. It’s a fun risk once you get down to it.

If you could change the past, is there anything involving your career that you would do differently?

Nothing, really. Everything that has put me in this position, no matter how difficult, was for a reason and I respect it.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job,” working for someone else?

I have been on my own too long, I can’t even imagine it.

What personality traits must an entrepreneur possess?
The ability to make quick, logical decisions. An open mind and consideration of all avenues, not leaving anything on the table. Approachable to all. I guess, be likeable (not sure if I fit this one). Stay in tune with what’s happening in your field, adjust and always redefine. Go with your gut feeling on the big decisions.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?
• Refined – Not over designed.
• Exhaustive – I have always believed you should think through every possibility until you have exhausted the idea. The tediousness of the action makes you certain.
• Crafted – All details, from design, to build, to installation, to function, to aesthetics satisfy the need for having it exist.


Arturo Kassel  Owner,  Whisknladle + Prepkitchen,  http://whisknladle.com/
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.

Projects: 
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.

Nathan Lee Colkitt  Architect,  Colkitt & Co,  http://nathanleecolkitt.com/
Live: Little Italy •  Work: Little Italy •  How Long: 2006

Projects: Puma Outlets, Puma SoHo, Sushilicious, Dlush, 900 F Street, Candela’s, Challenged Athletes Foundation

What was the defining moment that propelled you to start your own architecture firm?
My life is a string of fortuitous chance encounters. My friends have been the greatest help, defining me as an architect and referring clients. As long as I can remember I’ve been designing for “clients.” I’ve always loved trying to understand what’s inside people’s heads. My best friend helped me start, and the first day we picked up the business cards, with ink on our fingerprints because they were still wet, the very first person we handed them to hired us on the spot.

What struggles did you face when starting your own business?
There is an old saying “architecture is a great profession and a lousy business.” It’s true. We always struggled with the balancing act of running a creative practice as a business. I stopped trying to design buildings and started designing experiences. Now we focus solely on innovations to impact the client’s life. Life and business then got a whole lot more exciting.

What was the riskiest move you ever made?
I try to listen to my heart and follow my instinct. I don’t like to gamble. I like having all the facts and I really am risk averse, and as an architect, I think that’s a good thing. That being said, the riskiest move I made was trying to get into manufacturing. That didn’t go well. It just reinforced what I already believe: Focus on your strengths, not your weakness. I am way better at listening to a client’s needs and bringing that to fruition than manufacturing steel.

If you could change the past, is there anything involving your career that you would do differently?
Ask for help and listen more to the people around me.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job,” working for someone else?
This is not “normal”? We all work for someone else, and a job, or the gift of purpose, is the highest form of charity. We all exist at the bequest and benevolence of someone else. I truly believe this, and this is why I love working with clients. They are the reason for my existence, they are patrons. I love listening and trying to truly understand and bring their goals to fruition with the best possible outcome and the greatest good, given our constraints.

What personality traits must someone possess in order to do what you do and be successful?
Empathy. It’s the single most important trait in design and the second most important trait in professional life. The first is timing.

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?
Thank you, Mom.