As far back as I can remember I’ve had a passion for food and for gatherings. I grew up in Boston making pepperoni sauce with my father every Sunday. In 1984, I very distinctly remember cooking steak tips, rice pilaf and salad with tomato roses for a high-school crush. By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to be a chef. I’ve spent every year since working toward the recent culmination of it all.
Since 2011, I’ve opened six restaurants throughout the Reno and Lake Tahoe area (Campo Reno, Burger Me Reno, chez louie, Campo Mammoth, Heritage and Reno Provisions). My most recent project, Reno Provisions, has become the absolute cornerstone of my businesses, as it acts as the supply chain for all of my other restaurants.
Reno Provisions opened in December 2014 and is our most multi-faceted property to-date. Upstairs, guests can dine in on daily specials, or purchase fresh packaged take-home ingredients. Our butchery takes place downstairs along with pastry, pasta and bread production. We make everything from the buns for Burger Me to the pasta for Campo. Taking control of my restaurants’ supply chain through the opening of Provisions has been as rewarding as it has been challenging. In a sense, opening Provisions allowed us to completely start over. But through it all, we’ve managed to scale quickly. Below are some tips for entrepreneurs in the service industry looking to do the same:
Open-book management is key
I believe a solid, self-starting team is the key to any business starting out in the services industry, and I believe you establish this through open-book management practices. I give my managers a significant amount of say in what we do. They each have a strong sense of personal ownership over the properties they manage, which sets our service apart and, ultimately, helps us develop trust with the community. Our employees understand how each business is doing as a whole, what our strengths are and, more importantly, what our weaknesses are.
Mission over means
Each of my restaurants is focused on the farm-to-table mindset. We have relationships with local farmers, and we believe in feeding our community local, fresh foods. That being said, I remind myself everyday that this is simply what we do. It is the channel through which we execute our mission statement and deliver a solid product. I believe buying local is the only option for us, not one that makes us special. I caution against letting a novel idea define who you are, regardless of the space you’re in. If it’s something everyone should be doing (in my case, buying local), be proud that you’re the one doing it, but treat it as a necessity.
Have a clear vision
I opened Campo Reno in November of 2011 and, ever since, knew I wanted to vertically integrate. This vision, however, meant turning down a number of projects along the way in the name of getting to our end game. Ultimately, we had to keep our eye on the prize that was Reno Provisions.
I caution every entrepreneur to understand that vertical integration takes time. Understand that you will be busy and uncomfortable and feel as if you’re figuring out everything for the first time (which is where I am at currently with Reno Provisions). But, if you plan well, watch your numbers closely (they never lie), build the right team and stick with your vision, it can be one of the most rewarding business experiences you’ll ever have.
Mark Estee is a chef and restaurateur who owns or operates eight restaurants in Northern Nevada and Northern California. He was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award in 2013 and his restaurant, Campo Reno, was named one America’s Best New Restaurants by Esquire Magazine in 2012. Learn more.
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