Husband and wife culinary powerhouses Jeff Tonidandel and Jamie Brown are known for operating some of the hottest restaurants in Charlotte. Their portfolio includes date-night favorite Crepe Cellar Kitchen & Pub; oysters and a pint spot Growlers Pourhouse; fried chicken and cocktails spot Haberdish and dough heaven Reigning Doughnuts.
In late March, the pair announced their fifth restaurant, a concept called Supperland, which is scheduled to open in early 2020. Supperland — their first location outside NoDa — will be inside a former church in Plaza Midwood.
One of the pitfalls of social media is that we tend to see only the end results of hard work and perseverance. But it’s the lessons learned along the way that truly resonate with others.
As their first restaurant, Crepe Cellar, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, Tonidandel and Brown gave us the top five lessons they’ve learned as business owners.
Lesson #1: Do something you’re passionate about — don’t just do it for the money.
If you’re thinking of starting a business, take a moment to really think about the type of business you want to start and the reasons why you want to start the business. If the reasons are solely based on the amount of money you think you will make, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Also, ask yourself if you will you kick your own butt if you don’t go for it. Regret is the hardest pill to swallow.
Lesson #2: Take risks, but be smart about it.
Risk is necessary with entrepreneurship. Wisdom with risk is also necessary.
“When we first started with Crepe Cellar 10 years ago, I held a steady job so our little family had a regular income and insurance,” Brown said. “It wasn’t until we signed the lease for Haberdish that I gave my notice and came over to work on our family business.”
With entrepreneurship, you still need to be smart about taking risks.
Lesson #3: Be strategic.
First off, take the time to write a business plan. Even if it is just a bulleted list, a business plan will make you think about everything from operations and finance to marketing, your brand, your target customer, growth plans and exit strategies.
“Small businesses have to be good at marketing,” Brown said. “This saves a lot of money, and it lets you have control over your message.”
Spend time working on your brand. If you get that right, the amount of marketing (time and money) drops tremendously. Allow that brand to come to life in every touch point with the customer. Use your “four walls” to bring the brand to life. Then people want to come back to feel the uniqueness of your brand.
Lesson #4: Know that your work is never done.
Continuous improvement is key. Just because something worked well one year, doesn’t mean it will work well the next. Keep evolving, and keep it fresh.
“Crepe Cellar opened as an 11-table restaurant,” Tonidandel said. “We started by using almost entirely used equipment, tables, chairs, etc. Over the years, we’ve been able to renovate and buy the small space next to us to expand to 18 tables. We update our menu seasonally, and we stay on top of food trends. And beyond food trends, we also have to stay on top of social media trends and being able to adapt to them.”
Both Tonidandel and Brown agree that small businesses have the advantage of being nimble.
“Use that to your advantage,” Brown said. “You can make change or implement things that a larger competitor cannot. All of these new chain restaurants coming to Charlotte have a lot harder time innovating and changing, whereas our local restaurants, breweries and bars can move faster.”
“I’m a big fan of Charlotte having more local spots,” Brown continued. “It allows for more uniqueness to answer questions such as, “What is Charlotte?” and “How are we different from other cities?”
Lesson #5: You can’t do it all alone. Invest, empower and enable your team.
“Invest in your people,” Tonidandel said. “The head chef at Crepe Cellar has been with us for 10 years, and Colleen Hughes has been with us for about eight years, creating stellar cocktails. We have a solid list of people who’ve been with us 5-10 years, which is awesome in the restaurant business.”
“Empower your staff,” Brown said. “Having a hands-off management style that delegates and empowers is difficult when it is your own business, but there are a lot of benefits. Don’t look over their shoulders; instead show them that you trust them. Let your staff try to fix problems on their own. That takes away the notion that only you can do things and make decisions.
“When you empower your staff to be a part of the decision-making process and show them you trust them, it frees up your time to look for other opportunities for your team and for your business.“
“Lean into what people do well,” Tonidandel said. “If someone loves baking or making pastries, for example, give them opportunities to make desserts. If someone expresses an interest in cocktails, as Colleen did years ago, then create an opportunity for them. Training, tasks, books, seminars etc., find a way to support them. It requires listening to staff and understanding what they’d like to do, and if you have a need for that skill or talent, you pull them in.”
Tonidandel and Brown refer to this as “job crafting,” where individuals are given tasks that fit their strong suits. Some people love numbers, while others love customer service or being creative.
“We have 96 people on our block in NoDa working at all the restaurants,” Brown said. “All of them are better at what they do than I am, so why would I ever try to micromanage them?”