Launching a quick-serve concept is no walk in the park, and entrepreneurs just starting out in the restaurant field must have realistic expectations, says a top fast-casual executive.
Jeffrey Zurofsky, partner and founder, along with celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, of New York City–based sandwich chain 'wichcraft, said during a recent International Culinary Center entrepreneurship webinar that while “being your own boss” is appealing to many, becoming an entrepreneur is not suitable for everyone. He says it requires a high level of personal commitment, a great concept idea, leadership, organization, and passion.
“You get a lot of the autonomy that you're looking for by starting your own thing and getting out from working for someone else,” he said during the webinar. “[However], you do lose some of your freedoms, because now you're responsible for the business, responsible for employees, responsible to your investors, responsible to your customers.”
During the startup process, Zurofsky says, an entrepreneur must be persistent and personable. No matter how strong the concept is, he says, it will only go as far as the entrepreneur is willing to take it. Zurofsky spent months developing his concept and business plan before speaking with investors. Even with a design in hand, he found it was difficult to convince financial backers to take a risk on 'wichcraft.
Zurofsky says counseling and advice from industry veterans helped get his concept rolling. They offered him a fresh perspective, ways to improve upon his idea, and risk-taking strategies. “I recommend that everyone be open to that counsel; don't be defensive about it, don't dismiss it,” he says.
Zurofsky also suggests launching a business with a partner because a partnership brings more opportunities, ideas, and enthusiasm to the table. A partnership also helps divide up some of the responsibilities, which helps with time management, he says.
“Great entrepreneurs know how to manage their energy and balance their energy, and also know how to create more energy,” Zurofsky says. “If you're upbeat and you have a lot of energy and you're not stressed out and busy all of the time, you've got more time for your employees.”
The real work begins once the first unit opens, Zurofsky says. With ‘wichcraft, he and his team had to run the restaurant, understand it, and make it successful before raising additional capital. “After two or three months of working in the store, we were out raising capital to expand the business and to grow it into the business plan we had written,” he says.
Moving through all of this work can be tough, Zurofsky says, which is why restaurant entrepreneurs must have “a real passion, a real core, an iron core to get you through [the obstacles].”
“Entrepreneurship is really about grinding it out everyday,” Zurofsky says. “You sleep less, you obsess more, you wear many hats, you wake up everyday thinking nothing's perfect and everything needs to be fixed, you believe in the best and prepare for the worst, you risk everything.”
By Marlee Murphy