How To Become A Restaurateur

How To Become A Restaurateur

When I was a tiny tot, I spent every waking moment planning for the day when I would learn how to become a restaurateur. I drew up marketing plans and sample menus. I spent my days preparing culinary masterpieces, researching restaurant regulations and comparing various insurance policies.

Umm…NOT.

My tiny tot days were spent, like those of most female tiny tots in the 1960’s, dreaming of becoming a ballerina or a keyboard player (Susan from the Partridge Family was my hero). I was definitely not thinking about how to become a restaurateur!

family become a restaurateur
That’s tiny tot me with my beautiful mama and my brother.

It wasn’t until I became a teenager that I began to dream of opening a shop.

Mind you, my imaginary shop sold handmade hats and handmade toys and, well, handmade everythingEverything except food. Food was never part of the plan.

Fast forward to my college years. As a student, I was hungry all the time and wanted to hit the clubs or go to movies with friends, but after paying for books (the nerve!), I came up a bit short in the money department. Fortunately, the local pizza place was hiring, and thus I began my career in food as an unskilled but enthusiastic waitress. The fact that I enjoyed interacting with customers and was actually really good at remembering orders and chit chatting came as a pleasant surprise. (The free pizza didn’t hurt, either).

As it so often goes, the culinary chain of events led me from waiting tables to working for a caterer to cooking in a vegan café to co owning a vegetarian catering company.

I had deeply and utterly fallen into the World of Food.

Through marriage and children and remarriage and more children, food remained at the center of my life. My kids grew up in the kitchen, learning to chop and stir and bake. (Side note: it’s my opinion that allowing children to experiment in the kitchen-and that includes making a MESS-helps them grow into self-confident, independent people.) Here’s photographic proof!

After returning home from a family trip to France in 2010, we became interested in promoting downtown revitalization in our small southern Mississippi town. I’ve always been an “all in” person, so we promptly bought a rather derelict building and set to work. As is normal in a small town, everyone was a bit nosey and wanted to know what we were going to do with the building. My answer was always the same: “I don’t know, but I’m NOT opening a restaurant!”  Because, let’s face it, the food industry is not the most lucrative one. It’s also not terribly glamorous (unless you’re a Food Network chef), and it’s tons of hard work. I told you I was reluctant to become a restaurateur!

If you’ve ever restored an old building (or paid someone else to restore an old building, as I did), you know that it doesn’t come cheap. So how were we to make money in this beautiful but costly new/old space? Well, let’s see. What did I know how to do? What could I sell? Yep, you guessed it!

  • I knew food.
  • People pay for food.
  • So I (reluctantly) opened a restaurant.

I started with a one-item-per-day lunch only menu, and grew the business slowly and steadily through word of mouth and social media.

We’re 5 years in now and still have a small (but not AS small) lunch-only menu. Social media and word of mouth are still our best advertisements. We also get lots of travelers who make the trek from the interstate to downtown based on our Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews.

Some days I think I’ll scream if I have to make one more trip to the grocery. Most days I do scream when I see the pile of post-lunch dishes to be washed. But every day I’m delighted to greet our regular customers, to meet new friends and travelers and, yes, to share with them my story of how I became a reluctant restaurateur!

What about you? Did you enter your career reluctantly?

 


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