Why people are leaving corporate America to own restaurants

A lot of the restaurant owners I have interviewed or am planning to interview for Restaurant Owners Uncorked used to be successful in corporate America, but left to start their own restaurants.

Twenty years ago, I bet people didn’t make that move very often. Corporate jobs were considered much less risky than owning a restaurant then, but I’m not sure that’s the case today. And I doubt it will be in the future.

That graph I displayed is Nassim Taleb’s “Turkey Graph.” The X axis shows the number of days a Thanksgiving turkey is alive, and the Y axis displays the turkey’s confidence that he will live another day. Notice that with each day he lives, he is more confident that he’ll live another day, which is of course based on yet another day in his history of seeing evidence that his farmer will feed him and take good care of him. Of course, on the day when he’s the most confident as he’s ever been that he’ll live another day, his confidence is proven to be unwarranted. That’s the day before Thanksgiving.

I show this graph because I believe corporate America, a place that use to be relatively safe, has become fraught with risk. People who work their tails off for many years, who give their companies everything they’ve got, who have very long tenures with their companies, can lose their jobs in an instant. Like the turkey, things can change overnight for them. And the hard and sadly ironic truth of this is that these are people who’ve passed on the risk of entrepreneurship for what they believed was a safer road, and yet they’ve unknowingly risked it all.

Clearly I’m not unveiling anything new here, and I think that’s why people are starting to realize that there is often less risk in entrepreneurship than in corporate America. And I believe restaurants are a great example of the type of business that used to be deemed very risky, but given the alternative these days, maybe not so much. So that’s why I’m not too surprised that folks like Chris Sommers, Matt Frey, Tad Peelen, and some of the owners we’ll be filming soon, left corporate jobs (in which they had done very well and were having significant success) to start restaurants.

Restaurants are not easy. On the contrary, the more owners I interview, the more convinced I am that anybody who is successful has figured out a very tricky, complex formula. It’s a dynamic, unique business of all kinds of moving parts, and it’s not easy by any means. But the people who’ve made the leap have learned that they are able to take on much more control of their own destinies than they had when they worked for large companies that fed them really well every day for years, but that may have altered their lives dramatically in an instant.

I hope this is the beginning of a big trend of people leaving corporate America to become entrepreneurs, and especially to start restaurants. There would be nothing cooler than for tons of smart, hard working, well-intentioned people take control of their destinies and put their imagination and creativity and passion into something that both lessens their own long term risk, and enhances their community. Owning a successful restaurant would do both.


P.s. This post is labeled “Restaurants are awesome” because I am starting a new series featuring my thoughts and observations based on what I’ve learned from working on the Restaurant Owners Uncorked book and video series.  

* Taleb is one of my favorite authors and is one of the few people who understood well before the financial crisis that large banks were ticking time bombs, and he outlined why in his book The Black Swan – before the crisis happened.