Restaurant Brain Trust Panel: Recipe for Success

On March 7, 2017, Restaurant Brain Trust hosted their inaugural educational and networking series geared for restaurateurs and their staff.  Their mission is to help local restaurateurs realize their growth plans by equipping them with the educational content and professional contacts that will be integral to their success.  The event, Recipe for Success, featured a lively panel discussion featuring notable DC-area restaurateurs that have successfully navigated the bumpy road to their first and subsequent grand openings.  The panelists offered candid insights about the challenges, delays and surprises that tested their mettle.

On the panel were Peter D’Amelio, President & CEO, Matchbox Food Group; Amy Brandwein, Chef/Owner, Centrolina Mercato E Osteria; and Jack Sosnowski, President & CEO, Noble Chef Hospitality.  Joining the panel were Michael Sternberg, President & CEO, Sternberg Hospitality; and Bethany Kazaba, Co-Founder and Managing Principal of Neighborhood Retail Group as event moderator.

From left: Peter D’Amelio, Amy Brandwein, Jack Sosnowski, Michael Sternberg, and Bethany Kazaba

The panel covered everything from the biggest obstacles to overcome when opening a restaurant, to how to stay sane when opening up more than one.

As a first-time chef/operator, Brandwein explained that one of the biggest obstacles she faced when opening Centrolina was raising the money and finding investors. Even with a business background, she revealed the trials and tribulations of working with contractors, trusting her gut as a strong independent woman, and learning how to negotiate and say no in order to stay on budget.

For D’Amelio, he learned how to face the rumors of a failing restaurant group by running it like a public company.  He realized when he was too aggressive with openings, and learned to bring in consultants in order to understand what guests want.  In order to grow a restaurant successfully, you have to stick to a plan, he says.

Sosnowski overcame the “people challenge” by realizing he must surround himself with the right team.  Without the right team, failure is inevitable.

All three panelists agreed that the most important things to remember as an owner/operator of a restaurant are:

  1. Authenticity is important.  Keep the passion of your dream alive and stick to your original vision.
  2. Stay in control and be present.  Quality control must be overseen by those in charge – be in the kitchen and hold people accountable.
  3. Have one person as your HONEST mentor – someone that will tell you no and give you real advice.

The restaurant business is one of the riskiest, time-consuming industries in the world.  And as D’Amelio said, “Restaurateurs deal with the most volatile things in the world: People and Food.” So to create a recipe for success you must be prepared to work hard, and stick to your promises.  Be as prepared as possible before opening, so that there are minimal questions and you can actually open on time.  Connect with your audience by reading all of those millions of comments on social media and take the time to do something about them. Most importantly, focus on quality.

Matchbox also hosted a happy-hour following the panel highlighting some of their specialties: mini burgers, pizza, and arancini – delish!

It was fascinating hearing the panelists’ lessons learned, rewards realized, and ways to create my own personal recipe for success. I look forward to attending more of the Restaurant Brain Trust events in the future.

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