Book Excerpt – Community, Transparency, and Filling Voids

You’ve probably seen Scott Liebfried on TV by now. A well renowned chef, Leibfried can presently be seen on the hit television show “Hell’s Kitchen” as a sous chef for the FOX Network, and has appeared several times on The Food Network’s series, “Party Starters” and the “Challenge” series. He evaluates and consults with Gordon Ramsay on all of the restaurants on the hit series “Kitchen Nightmares.

Oh, and he also just recently helped open Arch Rock Fish, a highly regarded and very popular restaurant in Santa Barbara, CA. He co-owns Arch Rock with Jeremiah Higgins, who we also interviewed for the book, as well as soccer star Cobi Jones. Scott has been working in the restaurant business since he was a teenager. He has incredibly valuable wisdom and insight in to what it takes to be successful in his business. A few of his thoughts are below…

Don’t Accept Conventional Wisdom – When I was growing up, restaurants and hospitality were just never looked at as a career path that would take you anywhere at all, except to just give you a job. And I never believed that, because I always thought it was fascinating. I was always exposed to a different part of the business that the average person didn’t really know much about. And what I saw was opportunities to meet people. To travel. To try different things. To explore other countries and other cultures. And all from a food point of view. And to me, that was just very, very fascinating, and where I wanted to focus most of my energy.

The Ingredients For Successful Partnerships – Honesty and Hard work. I am a workaholic! And it is difficult to find that quality in co workers and partners. I’ll go days and days without doing anything except working. I don’t think everybody has that quality. And when you find people that do have that quality, and share it, it ends up being a respectful relationship. And at that point, you have to look around and say, “These are the people that I think I would be able to work extremely hard with, and get along with, because they understand that part of it.” And it’s not a one-sided relationship, where one person is responsible for everything. Its two people working for one common goal. And if they both understand that, and they both know that there’s hard work ahead of them, and it’s going to be difficult, then that’s where I think you have to look at each other, and say, “You know, we should really think about working together, because we both have that understanding.”

Planning & Contingency – I think a lot of restaurants fail due to poor planning and a bit of the unknown. Once you start construction you do not know what you will find behind walls. Equipment can be delayed by weeks or months. Permits take time to get issued and inspections can lead to more unknowing. I think people view opening a business easy and glamorous. It’s very hard work, and your commitment needs to be 100% of every minute of every day. A lot of times they’re underfunded going into it, and then half way through they don’t have any money to complete any of their construction, or train any of their staff prior to opening. There’s a lot of little things that come into play. But I think if we were to sum it up in one thought, planning and contingency is very important.

Try To Fill A Void, Not Be Cool – I think if you want to cutting edge, and hip, and cool, you’re walking a very thin line, because that calls for reinvention every few years. Hopefully it’s only every few years. I look at guys like The Palm Steakhouse, and Morton’s, and The McCormick & Schmick’s. Some of the chains have done very well based on having an idea that they’ve stuck with, and by creating something that fills a void in the marketplace. Come up with something that everybody can understand…maybe not the next biggest thing, but just something that’s very good. Something that’s very casual. And something that people can feel comfortable with, at a price point that is perceived as a value, then I think you’re less likely to have to reinvent yourself.

Be Reliable – Look at places like Frank & Musso’s up in L.A. That’s the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. They’re still doing the same thing they were doing when they opened up their doors forty-five, fifty years ago. It’s ridiculous. And people still love it for what it is, because they can rely on it. They can count on it.

Look Hard For The Right Teammates – You have to search, and search, and search, and search. And you have to talk to a lot of people before you find the one or two that were meant to be. There’s this misperception of our business. There’s a lot of entitlement. And a lot of people don’t understand the hard work that goes into it. And the people that truly are passionate about it – you’ll eventually find yourself surrounded by those people. You just have to be patient. You just have to keep looking ahead. Because, eventually, you will find each other.

Be Transparent With Your Staff – I’m very open with the close members of the staff on this project. I tell them how much the debt is. I tell them exactly what we need to do in order to pay the debt off, be very successful, make more money individually, and be a popular restaurant that everybody in town loves. I don’t try to keep anything from them, because I want them to understand exactly what they’re up against, and I want them to work hard for their own success as well. And I think that’s part of the internal motivation for them. I think they really appreciate that honesty and that openness, and that they’re gonna continue to learn.

Be A Part Of Your Community – So our marketing really came down to, “What is the best way to get a footing into a community, and be a part of a community?” And the only answer to that question was to do what the community does. We hosted a block party as part of our pre-opening. It was a smash! Some of the future events that we have planned are based on the community. They’re not wine dinners and they’re not these stuffy things. It’s kids. It’s family. It’s community. It’s just fun stuff.

Partner With A Charity – We thought it would be a nice idea to pair up with a charity in town, because what other way to seem like you’re part of a community, than to be a part of a local charity. The Police Athletic League was the first one that came to my mind, only because I was very familiar with them. My father served as a police officer, and I was very familiar with the organization. So the members of the PAL got very excited, and we said, “Let’s do some promotional stuff. Let’s do some things to bring in some money to you guys.” And they talk great about us. And we’re on the forefront of our minds, and they’re on the forefront of our minds. And it was really one of the smarter things that we did. And they’re all great people.

The Schedulefly Crew