Of all the columns Hersh Ipaktchian wrote throughout his career, one in particular encompassed not only his view of success in the restaurant industry but also contained elements of his own struggle. The column (“The American Dream Cafe“) appeared in the May 1986 edition of Western Foodservice. It appears here in its entirety.
We were dining at a Mandarin-style restaurant last week when my friend observed, “There sure are a lot of minorities in the restaurant business, aren’t there?”
It’s a topic we seldom think about, and even when I think about it, I think of it as normal, having been in this business for more than 20 years. But my friend’s comment has merit. Yes, there are a lot of minorities (or people of non-Anglo backgrounds) working in this business. A recent fact sheet from the National Restaurant Association notes that foodservice leads all other retail industries in the number of minority managers. And they do more than work in restaurants-they also own them.
I have some ideas as to why the minority population has been so successful in this business. The key is entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur usually begins with an idea or a concept and then drives toward that concept with single minded devotion. Recent studies of successful entrepreneurs show that 1) they usually went “against the grain” with an idea that most others saw as too risky, and 2) they worked long hours to make the concept become a success.
With these two personality traits, it is little wonder that the restaurant business is their vehicle. Many immigrants initially have difficulty with the English language and lack expendable income, presenting roadblocks to a college education, the traditional vehicle for “moving up” in American society. This lack of education is a drawback to entering many professions and industries, but success in a restaurant can be achieved without a broad education. Foodservice is not a profession for dummies, but success can be achieved without a knowledge of calculus or Beowulf. And even though initial costs have risen dramatically, a small restaurant can still be leased or built for a much lower cost than a similar retail operation in another sector can. In my community, an Asian couple recently started living their “dream” by reopening a failed restaurant; they came up with $700 for the first month’s rent and they opened the doors.
Once the doors are open, the second personality trait comes into play. The minority owner often is not tied to the traditional trap???? pings of an American lifestyle. The 40-hour work week means little to him; his dream is the restaurant, not the “40-hour conscience” with the boat and camper. The most important thing to him is the restaurant-and if its success means working from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., he’s willing to make that sacrifice.
The growing popularity of ethnic foods has also helped, as foreign-born owners can use their expertise about ethnic spices and preparation techniques. But I find that many successful restaurants are not owned or operated by a member of that same ethnic group. The popular Mexican restaurants in my area, for instance, are owned by Middle Eastern and Greek families – and the only Spanish they know is the term con carne on their menu. But these entrepreneurs work hard, following every minute operation in the restaurant.
The minority owner has his drawbacks too. Many “new Americans” make the mistake of thinking that their own “old country” recipes will be readily accepted, not understanding the American lifestyle and the need for promotion. But if hard work is combined with a willingness to learn and change, the dream can come true.
Restaurants, of course, come and go, and much of the failure is due to owners thinking it’s an easy business. You readers know that it isn’t easy, that the net is lower than in most other retail sectors, that a fickle public and heavy competition make any venture quite risky, and that an owner-operator is in a position for more control than a restaurant run by paid management.
That’s a clear picture of foodservice today -and it’s one that makes the entrepreneur smile. He often has little to risk but his time, and that selfless work ethic makes the difference when the accountant peers at the books.
Give me your hungry, give me your tired, your poor. Well, the hungry American is dining out more often, the entrepreneur doesn’t care about working until he’s tired, and success in a restaurant is a way to escape poverty. It doesn’t always work, but more than ever we hear a babble of different voices in our kitchens and our dining rooms. That????????s America – and that’s entrepreneurship.
The foregoing insights were taken from Hersh’s biography titled Appetite for Success. The same message is a core value of the Iggy’s Sports Grill experience located at: Layton: 802 West 1425 North – Layton, UT 84041- (801) 525-1515