Mic and Molley Heynekamp started Socorro Springs Restaurant & Brewery in 1999. After three and a half years of planning, they took their original $1,000,000 business plan down to $100,000. And they wound up starting with only $70,000. Ten years later they opened Eddyline Restaurant & Brewery. Both restaurants have been very successful, and Mic and Molley plan to open a third next May.
How could you not be inspired by a couple that started with 7% of what they initially thought it would take to get started, and made it work…extremely well? They run lean and highly profitable restaurants, and Mic had some fantastic wisdom to share, including…
Most Startup Books Are Wrong. When you look at all of the startup books, they say “Make sure you are well funded, and make sure you don’t skimp on equipment, and make sure you only use the best of the best.” And they are wrong. Because what that means is that you are that much closer to failure, because if you have a bad month or so, that’s it. You have so much money at risk. Whereas if you can do it really lean, you are way better off.
You Can Dominate In Small Towns. I think small towns are good, because you can go in there and there is the whole environment of … well there’s often a bunch of people in there half-assing it. And you can go in to a town like that and come out with a product that is high quality and is professionally run, and really clean up. That’s what happened when we went into Socorro. Being in a small town made it much easier to dominate our market. If we had gone into Albuquerque and Denver, we would have to compete with national chains who have their whole system down to a science. By choosing little towns, we went against all of the conventional wisdom. You are supposed to need a much larger population than the towns we entered had. And everyone told us, “You can’t do it there. It’s too small, it’s too small, it’s too small.” But by going into a little town like Buena Vista, you can get people excited easier. And it’s easy to get to know the locals real quickly. And you can rapidly change your product, if necessary, to make them happy. If you have a population of 2,500 locals, you can change to their tastes. If you have 100,000 locals, you can’t be as flexible. Now, I recognize there are weaknesses to that strategy. If you are going to focus on small towns, you better do a great job with all of the locals or you’re done. But I think it’s easy to accomplish that, without having mass corporate chains competing with you that can compete at below cost.
Hire In A Blink. You have to trust your instincts. When I was reading the book Blink, it reminded me exactly of how we choose our employees. When someone walks in that door, right then you’re like, “This person is perfect.” And other people might sound great, or they email you their resume, and you get all excited about them and they walk through the door and you’re like, “Uh-uh. This isn’t gonna work.”
Owners Wear Lots of Hats. Our job is to make sure that all of the details are getting covered, and we still have a plan for growth, and we still have a plan for improving things at both locations right now. And it’s our job to make sure the smallest of the small details are getting done, and the largest of the large things are happening.
Create a Pearl for Your Customers. The same guy who gave us so much advice – Tom Hennessey – he had this awesome article that he wrote about a restaurant being like an oyster. You know an oyster sits at the bottom of the ocean, and the tide comes in and the tide goes out, and brings some nutrients. And if the water is just right…not too murky, not too clear…it’s got enough agitation. If everything is just right, it produces a pearl. And that’s just like a restaurant. From the time a customer sees your restaurant and pulls of the street, and is on your parking lot, it’s essentially that oyster. And if everything goes right, at the end you will have created the pearl. You’ll have a happy customer.
It Doesn’t Matter If Your Burger Is Good. Unless… You’ll hear stuff like, “My burger is the best burger and the price is awesome.” Well yeah. But everything else sucks. And they ask why that matters. Well, when you sit down in a chair that rocks back and forth and the table wobbles and the table cloth is sticky and the silverware is mismatched and you go to use the ketchup and it’s all gooey and the music is blaring you are just rubbing your customers wrong.