Jon Myerow owns Tria (wine, cheese, and beer cafe with two locations) and Biba Wine Bar (new concept, one location so far…) in Philadelphia. He isn’t a rich guy who’s having fun with his restaurants on the side. He’s a guy who took on equity and debt to start his first Tria location in 2004, and he’s worked very hard every year since to build popular, profitable restaurants. Like all of the owners we have interviewed, Jon shares great advice for any aspiring restaurant owner, and much of this advice is transferable to any business owner.
You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Get Started – I’m not…to be frank, a lot of restaurant owners are wealthy people who are doing it for fun. I’m not in that category. This is my livelihood. And I don’t come from money. So our restaurants have been roughly half debt, half equity.
You Need a Plan for You – You know, you don’t do a business plan for the outside world. You do it for yourself. As an owner, you don’t really have a boss, or somebody to report to. But if you have a business plan to report to, it does give you the discipline you need.
Want a Partner? Call a Lawyer – Make sure your lawyers have a plan when things go sour. If you have partners, there should be – if things are not able to be reconciled – there should be an exit strategy set in place before you need it.
Choose the Right Investors – I tell every potential investment that there is a reasonable chance that they’re going to lose their entire investment. So if that would affect their life or their lifestyle, then it’s not the investment for them.
Are You Really Ready for This? – I worked without a salary for two years. I had influential business people tell me my idea was stupid, and that nobody would go. Banks laughed at me. You know, it’s a very lonely road.
Stay True – So you have to believe in what you’re doing. And you have to stay true to it. You know, the Phillies have been doing really well every year, and part of our concept is that we don’t have TVs. It’s a place to go and talk to your friends. We don’t have karaoke, no TVs, nothing. This is pretty basic. And the last three years during the (baseball) playoffs…man, I wish I had a big TV. Because during the playoffs, a Phillies game starts, and the place empties out. But you can’t sell yourself. You have to keep true to your concept. Or else, no one’s going to know what you stand for.
Don’t Be Easy to Copy – Restaurants have a notoriously low barrier to entry. Anyone can open up a restaurant. So what we’ve tried to do, is have a ver focused concept, with an emphasis on service and on educating our guests, which makes it harder to copy.
Growth with Soul – You get it to where you want to grow bigger, but have a company that has some soul to it. You know, where it’s not like “McWinebar.” And that’s what we’re trying to do.
Want Customers? Compete for Staff – To me the biggest competition is not for customers. It’s for staff. If you compete in the labor market and get the best staff, the customers will follow.
Sex Appeal – So we have a room that makes people feel…sexier. And just warmer. And that adds value to the experience. And it will make people want to come back.
Education As a Strategy – Education has always been a part of the concept. We built a classroom in an office building, which has 24 seats. We’ve been doing classes for four years now, with a lot of world famous wine makers and brewers coming in to teach. The school doesn’t really make money, but it’s an important part of our identity. The participants wind up becoming our biggest advocates, and walk around singing our praises.
You Don’t Need an Advertising Agency – We don’t do any traditional advertising. None. We only do internal marketing. We have an email list of 18,000 people. We send emails usually once a week. And we do certain in-house promotions. For example, every Sunday we feature a wine, beer, and cheese at pretty much close to half price. And we try to focus on stuff that people wouldn’t naturally gravitate to. We sort of encourage them to try new things with a low financial risk. Because if you want to get people out of chardonnay and pale ale and cheddar, you have to bribe them a little bit. So now Sundays are one of our busiest days of the week, when originally it was one of our slowest days of the week. We don’t make as much of a profit on it, but we’re educating our customers to new things, and they’re going to be a better consumer. There’s so many externally based promotions available now, on the internet and so forth. But I just think it’s more fun to do it ourselves, and to control it, and to keep it tasteful.
Learning Something New from Our Customers Every Day,
The Schedulefly Crew