Opening our Restaurant…lessons in business partnership

A few weeks ago we opened our new restaurant, Anfora.  A labor-of-love collaboration with two of my dearest friends, Mariano and Andres Hidalgo, we worked like crazy to innovate, create, and hope in this economic crisis.  But equally importantly, we set out to make this venture our home, a kind of family of joint visions towards making a small business with big ideas.

What does a coach have to do with restaurants?  Everything.  Nowadays we dedicate ourselves to many different things and my own include food, wine, excellent service, and a warm but elegant space that can be a second home to our clients.  But it was also part of my mission of taking on other business projects to stay current, versatile, and to keep pushing my own boundaries.  Just like our program TWYO (The World is Your Own) of international workshops that continue with fellow partner Alejandro Tejedor, Anfora is the new addition.  After all, how can I hope to coach and consult others on business, if I’m not actively pursuing it myself?

Launching Anfora delayed this post, and as I now return to my usual schedule, I thought long and hard on what to write you.  I had many ideas (to come in future articles), but none of them seemed appropriate for this particular moment.  After all, the restaurant has been the main thing on our minds for the last while and the experience of making it real, an effort of great magnitude.  So it occurred to me that it was really the only thing to tell you…a story as personal as it is professional and one that taught, or at least reminded us, of many important “keys” to partnering up in business.

The Beginning

My Anfora partners have the great credit of doing most of the initial work over the last year.  They designed and built the space, constructed the main concepts and details, and initiated the original idea.  But they were looking for a partner to complete the project and help convert it into a true business, with all that this means.

I had known about it for some time but had not had the opportunity to see it with my own eyes.  When the circumstance arose to evaluate the initiative for another dear friend considering the project, I was impressed by the amount of thought, vision, and work that my two partners had already achieved.  And it suddenly hit me: this was meant for me.

This sometimes happens in life.  With homes, jobs, relationships, and other ventures…the feeling that the opportunity chooses you.  I did my due diligence, consulted various professionals, discussed the endless details with my partners, and then dove in.

Key #1: only partner up with people who are willing to be open, honest, transparent, patient, respectful and appreciative of your participation, and who don’t pressure you against what makes you feel comfortable.  Then, do the same for them.  As a great friend and our legal consultant advised: if you don’t trust your business partners, don’t go into business together.  End of story.  And you will know what that feels like, just like you don’t need anyone explaining to you what it feels like to be in love.  You just know.

Key #2: if you trust each other you should have no problems clearly laying out the important details to ensure the business functions as you intend it to.  After all, there should be nothing to hide and having this structure only makes it easier to continue healthy operation, especially when the craziness of everyday work begins.

Trench Work

So we began. The month of February was a blur, yet a happy and exciting one.  Anyone who has ever tackled the restaurant industry will know that the number of details – known and unexpected – is innumerable and overwhelming.

Key #3: work with people who are not exactly like you but whose talents complement your own and each other’s, yet whose vision is compatible.  Mario and Andres are excellent negotiators.  I keep us true to our bottom line objectives.  Mario knows wines, Andres manages technology, I understand cooking and the kitchen, but we all know what is great food, great service, great ambiance.  We all love good design but from their previous experience they know the materials and methods of how to create it.  We all know good business practices but from my previous experience, I know what it means to organize and carry them out.  And the list goes on…

We visited more stores, vendors, and debated the pros and cons of every detail.  We didn’t always agree, but we always had the same objectives in mind.

Key #4: open, honest, respectful communication is fundamental, as well as the willingness to apologize and admit error.  We all took turns being passionate about an idea, thinking out loud about options, experimenting with combinations, playing Devil’s Advocate, and getting frustrated and overwhelmed.  But in those latter moments, there was always one if not two of us to simplify, summarize, bring it back to what was most important, and talk the other(s) off the ledge.  It was truly a team effort.

Launching Anfora

The week before the inauguration was professionally, one of the most intense periods of my career thus far.  That includes my time on Wall Street.  A restaurant is such a physical space, with such clear and apparent details, that there is no room for “winging it”.  It will either get off the ground, or it won’t.  And the unexpected challenges that came about, no matter how much we organized and prepared, were many.

With all of our best efforts in play, the last days were brutal. Sometimes we were as smooth as butter.  Other times we collided.  But we never lost respect or the willingness to come back to the table and find the best solutions.  Key #5: stress and exhaustion create craziness but can also reveal whom you really partnered up with.  If you can stay focused that you are on the same team, you are already halfway to your solution. 

I was at the Politecnic University of Valencia giving a four-hour class that ended a half an hour before our opening night.  When I arrived to the restaurant, I was amazed.  Despite all the mayhem just 24 hours before, we really looked like a restaurant ready to open.  And with style!

Key #6: no matter how much you might want – or need – to try and control everything, you cannot.  Let go.  And if you have a great team, trust them.  This can be the best way to let others rise to the challenge. 

I was reminded here that my partners want this even more than I do and are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.  I had to trust their will and determination.  And our excellent chefs and wait staff put all their best efforts to work.  I had to trust their talents.  In the end, we made sure that we got to where we wanted to go, together.  Key #7: if you can involve your people such that the success of the venture IS truly their own success, they will pull through.

I changed in our restaurant bathroom nervous with excitement.  And when I came out, our Opening Night was in full swing.

It was like a wedding or having a baby.  You remember it all but you don’t.  Many of our dear people came out to support us.  There was much hope and excitement, which was so nice to see and feel in a time when Spain, and the World, is still struggling with how to move forward.  Here is me in the midst of that evening.

Despite the whirwind, we three found time to hug, count our blessings, and do all the behind the scenes organization to keep it going.  I’m grateful to say the evening was a great success.  Click here to see our photos...

Now Comes the Real Work…

The next weeks were both successful at times and difficult in others.  But we are going strong and the amount of progress achieved even just since the inauguration has been incredible.  My partners run the restaurant and I help us operate, develop, and market as best as possible.

I hope very much we will succeed.  So far the feedback has been very positive but it takes time.  And luck.  So here is Key #8: Making your Own Luck = Hard Work + Openness to Learn (whatever is necessary for your success) + Practice + Ability to Change

Last Key: believe.  If we only wait for what is absolutely sure and guaranteed, we will be waiting for a long time.  Sometimes you just have to take the plunge and work like hell to realize your vision.  It is scary at times with all the uncertainty and difficult that it brings.  But there are moments like our recent, humble staff dinner with our excellent chef Fernando, and our fantastic head waiter Javier, and of course my two partners…where tired as you are, you realize you have created something important.  Jobs for five people.  But also a family, not based in blood, but based in vision.  And it’s a wonderful place to be.

Keep flying.


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