Tag Archives: Innovation

What Is Entrepreneurship And How Does It Relate To Restaurants?

10 Dec

This past Wednesday night I got the chance to reengage with my entrepreneurial roots at an intimate gathering of about 30 graduates of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where we all came together to both congratulate and hear more of (the man I’m proud to say was) my professor Buck Goldstein’s new book, Engines of Innovation.  That was a run-on sentence, I think.

Now I’m not sure if it was because they were all UNC grads or if it was just a coincidence, but the people around me were all so brilliant, but more importantly, they were passionate about entrepreneurship.  You see, Buck’s new book (which he co-authored with the Chancellor of our university, Holden Thorp) seeks to shift the paradigm that entrepreneurship is a ‘dirty word’ and in fact unite entrepreneurs with academics at our nation’s top research universities with the hope of solving the world’s most difficult problems.  A special thanks to Doug Hamilton and Brian Fenty (two UNC grads, do you see a theme here?) for hosting the wonderful event!

Buck put it so eloquently when he described what entrepreneurship actually is.  The coming together of innovation and execution, Buck said, is what breeds entrepreneurship.  One without the other is useless.  And then Buck told a quick story.  A few weeks earlier at a similar event in North Carolina, Dean Smith (legendary UNC basketball coach, one of the greatest of all time) showed up uninvited and was sitting in the first row as Buck was giving his speech.  When he was explaining his thesis about innovation and execution, he likened it to Smith’s career, where he could have been as innovative as he was, but without executing on a daily basis, nobody would remember his name (and some names like Michael Jordan, James Worth, Sam Perkins, Bob McAdoo, and Vince Carter probably wouldn’t have meant so much as they do to us today).  Coach thanked Buck with the finger point that Michael Jordan made famous, acknowledging whoever gave him the assist (but actually was a Dean Smith trademark).

So we know now what entrepreneurship is.  How then, does it have anything to do with restaurants?

Let’s tackle innovation first.  I remember it clear as day, one of the most important lessons I ever learned about the restaurant industry.  Jenn, Will, and I were sitting as interns at the back table, adjacent to the upstairs bar, at Shanghai’s new Kagen Teppanyaki.  Alan was sitting on the other side of the table, and I remember vividly how the polished hibachi grill was so similar in color to his wristwatch that was clanking against it as he spoke.  “The restaurant industry is war.”  Three years later and I now know exactly what he meant that day.  In an industry that evolves daily, you must constantly innovate to stay ahead of your competitors.  When a potential guest walks down the street, she has hundreds of restaurants to choose from.  Why will she choose yours?  You have to innovate on so many different levels, which is why so many restaurants fail to succeed in the long run.  From a culinary, hospitality, service, decor, management, and advertising standpoint, you can have teams of people working to make your concept innovative, but if they fall behind for even one second, the restaurant next door just surpassed you.

And execution?  That is plain to see – without executing operationally on a day to day (and even minute to minute) basis, your restaurant will go down quickly and in flames.  Kitchen doesn’t produce, the guests leave.  The guests leave, the employees don’t make money.  The employees don’t make money, they leave.  Then the owner is left sitting there trying to eat the rest of the inventory before it goes rotten!  That can happen within a matter of weeks, literally, and that is why execution and operations are imperative for success.

Now, you have a team that is innovative and constantly staying on top of the game.  They’re always aware of what the competition is doing and always one step ahead on every level.  But the restaurant doesn’t execute their findings.  The restaurant goes down.  That is why entrepreneurship is the coming together of the two concepts.  It is only when innovative minds are paired with those who can execute that success will be near.

Finally, I’ll bring it a little closer to home and talk about the relationship between Anthony and myself.  While we both have the ability to be innovators and executors (we’re not talking head chopping here, folks), I would say that Anthony is much more of the doer while I am much more of the thinker.  I have always found it magical that I could name some ingredients and Anthony could put together a top-10 meal that I have ever tasted.  He’s like a bulldog in the kitchen – he puts his head down and produces exquisite products.  On the other hand, I’m more of a big-picture person.  While I believe Anthony sees the details and then builds upon them, I see the innovative finished product and then work my way down to the details.  The first time I saw the building that Anthony and I are targeting for The Vaulted Door, I immediately imagined a Saturday night dinner service taking place there.  From there, I worked my way down and built a plan to get to that point – layout, design, branding, competitive analysis, marketing plan, and eventually the financial that fit with and reflected the given plan.  It all started for me, though, with a vision of the finished product.

Based on what Buck believes to be the definition of entrepreneurship, I think Anthony and I are on the right track – the innovator and the executor coming together to form Long Island’s favorite restaurant.  I like the way that sounds.


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