Patty Myers wanted a business she could leave to her children, so after a 36-year career as a nurse practitioner, she turned to foodservice. Pizza-cone concept Kono To-Go lured her with its uniquely designed product. In the year leading up to the opening of her first store, Myers bounced back and forth between her impending store in San Diego and her home in Northern California. She also maintained her day job as a nurse practitioner while preparing her fledgling operation and her new team. Myers plans to open a total of 10 stores before handing the business over to her children. Already her daughter-in-law, Sunyoung, is involved in the Kono operations.
Myers shares how her career in nursing has translated to running a restaurant concept, how she plans to leave the business to her children, and what others should consider before making a similar career change.
1. Consider the risks
I’ve been in nursing for 36 years, and for the last 25 I’ve been a nurse practitioner. I’m a person who has always been helping people or doing things for people. My husband and I wanted to leave a family business to our kids. What I decided to do was retire a little early and then start up a Kono here, which is the first on the West Coast.
Hopefully I’ll open nine more in the next 10 years, and then in 15 years or so, totally leave it to our kids. It’s not that they don’t have careers—they do—but we wanted to do it together as a family business.
I had never thought of doing anything that involved selling to people. I just never liked doing it; I didn’t like selling Girl Scout Cookies. When we were thinking about businesses, one of the things we did was go out to New Jersey to taste the Kono product. We liked it so much that I thought I would give up my $200,000-a-year job and retire early.
I had enough retirement and pension to live off of, but I really wanted to start this up. It is a quality product, and I would not have done it for any other pizza business or McDonald’s or something like that, but this is so unique.
We even went to Rome to try the pizza cones there. I wanted to be positive that it was a really great product—and it is.
2. Seek support
Even before we had our training with the Kono people, I had our employees come in for three hours of training. I told them that we were going to be working as a team, and we would be honest and truthful with each other. I stress teamwork more than anything, but also being happy with customers, happy when you come in—no downers.
I took them to lunch afterward and it really made them gel. My biggest thing now has been trying to get them more focused on the customer and making the customer happy. Charm school stuff is what I call it. They’re working great together.
From nursing, I learned people-management skills, like how to talk to people. It’s very different when people are sick, but you do pick up on other behaviors, body language, and stuff like that.
As a nurse practitioner, I also had my own medical assistant, and we worked as a team. I’m used to teamwork. That was my biggest thing with employees. I didn’t want them to just come in and clock out. I wanted them to be engaged in the whole operation.
I’m already seeing people from this group who are truly rising to the top quickly. I’ve asked one of them to be my person in charge of days and another in charge of evenings. I haven’t said the word manager, because we just opened. But I have a feeling that those people will eventually be managers when I spread out to other sites, and they realize this.
Everybody is pulling to make this Kono succeed, and that’s a big thing, too. They aren’t just in it for a job. A couple of them want careers as managers and maybe even further up.
3. Continue learning
I didn’t realize that I truly have to keep my phone beside me 24/7. We need even more people than I thought we would. I find I’m spending a lot of time here, and I’m learning from my employees because a lot of them have worked for restaurants in the past. They’re giving me a lot of good information, simple stuff like using a small sanitation bucket with just the sanitizer and one towel so we can wipe things down as we go along instead of using soap and water. It’s little things like that.
One of my employees actually figured out how to make paper wrappers around the pizza cones look really nice. It’s great. I’m learning a lot of little things that I never knew. We are a little short staffed, so it’s very amazing employees are saying, “I’ll work seven days if you need me.” They’re serious about it. They know they have to get this to succeed in order to grow.
All I can say to someone else is jump in. For the last year we’ve been kind of planning this, building the kiosk, trying to get all the equipment and stuff, but I was still working as a nurse practitioner. I kind of wish now that I hadn’t. I wish I had been doing even more and had started down here right from day one with the plans instead of being far away.
Our house is in Northern California, and my husband still lives and works up there and then comes down to San Diego to visit, but we really wanted to get this going.
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