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John Bonavia

John Bonavia is the Founder of The Gateway Advantage, a luxury business club in Baltimore. The Gateway Advantage aims to create a professional network environment for business owners, entrepreneurs, and investors to meet like-minded people and find innovative solutions. John is a sales and marketing guru who uses his skills in problem-solving, ethics, leadership, and creativity to meet sales, profitability, and growth objectives. Previously, he was a Regional Sales Manager for First Data Corporation, a Property Manager for Macerich, and a Contract Specialist for The National Institutes of Health.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • John Bonavia shares his inspiration for creating an elite business club in Baltimore
  • How do you join The Gateway Advantage and what are the benefits?
  • John describes the “Shark Tank” environment of the club and why he’s driven to help young entrepreneurs succeed
  • The hurdles John overcame on his path to launching The Gateway Advantage
  • How John decided which restaurant to partner with for the exclusive club
  • The Gateway Advantage’s biggest milestones, set-backs, and exciting new features


In this episode…

You look to the left and see a successful CEO of a multimillion-dollar company. You look to the right and see an energetic young owner of a startup. This is the exciting reality of The Gateway Advantage in Baltimore.

A luxury business club, The Gateway Advantage fosters an environment of ingenuity, class, and success. Members mix and mingle to create new partnerships, network with other entrepreneurs, and meet investors. It’s a haven for brilliant minds to meet and generate a brighter future for businesses. So come sip exquisite wine, dine on fine fare from the city’s top chefs, and let the ideas flow.

In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen is joined by John Bonavia, the Founder of The Gateway Advantage, to discuss how he created a stellar business club in Baltimore. John describes his vision for The Gateway Advantage, the hurdles he’s overcome on his business journey, and the benefits that new club members will enjoy.

Resources mentioned in this episode:


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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:04 

Welcome to the Top Business Leaders Show powered by Rise25 Media. We feature top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world.

Chad Franzen  0:20  

Chad Franzen here co-host for this show where we feature top restaurant tours, investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn Series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail. And they have a flagship solution called spot on restaurant, where they combine marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve served everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and Subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more go to This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients, referral partners and thought leaders in your space, there’s no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more, go to or email us at John Bonavia is founder and president of The Gateway Advantage, a place where business owners and managers can meet regularly with like minded people who face similar problems and issues. Members of The Gateway Advantage can participate in popular events, watch games and discuss business in a luxury cigar lounge, use the conference room to conduct business and enjoy food made by an exclusive kitchen staff. The Gateway Advantage is proud to be the best business club for entrepreneurs in Baltimore. John’s expertise in sales and marketing allows him to use his skills and problem solving leadership, ethics and creativity to meet objectives in sales profitability and growth. John, thanks so much for joining me. How are you? Hey, doing great,

John Bonavia  1:51  

Chad. Thanks for having me.

Chad Franzen  1:53  

Hey, I’m excited to talk to you about this venture. First, can you just tell me a little bit about yourself? What’s your background? Sure, absolutely.

John Bonavia  2:00  

So, you know, in 2010, I was in the financial world. So I come from a financial background with investments and doing you know, the stock market and I lived in New York City worked on Wall Street for a couple years. And as I grew into an entrepreneurial spirit, I realized that instead of making money for all of the companies that I worked for, I’d rather be my own company and give back what I’ve put into it.

Chad Franzen  2:30  

So you have worked yourself to the point where you founded The Gateway Advantage. What is that?

John Bonavia  2:36  

Right, so The Gateway Advantage is a private exclusive membership only restaurant lounge, we’re not creating the wheel when we open the exclusive restaurant Lounge, which is private members only. But what we’re in or we’re incorporating is allowing our members to have a return on their investment as being a member with The Gateway Advantage. So what that means is semi annually, we’re going to have investors in house come in and allow our members to do somewhat of a shark tank in house. So they’re going to pitch their ideas to our investors to potentially get funded. So while being under one roof of The Gateway Advantage, obviously you have the collaboration and of being able to have the community of all young entrepreneurs, but also the ability to partner with other members, as well as putting together a strategic business plan to pitch to investors to really uplift or get your business concept off the ground.

Chad Franzen  3:37  

When did you come up with this idea?

John Bonavia  3:39  

So in 2004, I had gone to the Soho House, which is the creme de la creme of the Private Member’s only restaurant lounge, and I realized that, you know, when I walked in, I I knew it was very exclusive. I mean, you look to your left, you see Tom Cruise now, you know, you hear stories of Lebron James. It’s a very exclusive location, and there’s a 19,000 member waitlist, so everybody wants to get in there. And I realized it doesn’t just have to be New York or Los Angeles, or Miami to have the exclusive environment feels. So that’s why we decided to bring it to Baltimore. We believe it’s a really growing market. We believe that we can incorporate what’s in New York City and LA, all under one roof in Baltimore, while allowing our members not only to just pay a fee to be in an exclusive environment, but also have the ability to get a return on that membership fee. From

Chad Franzen  4:41  

a prospective members standpoint. You know, let’s say they’re considering let’s say they’re considering joining they stumble across you What do

John Bonavia  4:48  

Sure so you go to What you would then do is apply for a membership there you will submit your resume some recommendations given A brief bio description of yourself saying why you would be a good fit at The Gateway Advantage. Adding any accolades that you have, which maybe would be beneficial to The Gateway Advantage, as far as doing weekly speeches on what your expertise is submitting a picture, and once that is submitted, our board of advisors will review the application. And if we decide that we will accept you into our club, we then will offer you guys a membership, which is $1,000 annually, which breaks down to about $83 a month. And again, you know, the the main foothold here is the ability to really get your own business off the ground and meet other people that can help you collaborate into advantageous financial avenues.

Chad Franzen  5:45  

So we’re really interested in like, kind of personal stories, what how did you transition from what you were doing, where you had a job into basically creating your own job creating your own company, creating your own concept? What are those early days kind of look like for you?

John Bonavia  6:02  

Well, I think it was a mixture of things, right. So essentially, COVID-19 was a smack in the face to everybody in regards to whether you had a nine to five job, you’re an entrepreneur, or, you know, you were just exploring, you know, trying to start your own company, regardless of what you had going on. There was no security companies were closing, business was closing, people that have been with companies were being laid off. And if you had your own company, you know, the foot traffic and or whatever individual business you were in, it minimized dramatically, right? So I realized that if I’m going to put myself in a position to have security and be in an environment where I’m enjoying my life, I’m going to do it when I’m in control. Because when I did it, with these fortune 500 companies, I still wasn’t in control. And, you know, COVID just made me realize that there is no guarantee and if I’m going to live this life, one time, I’m going to give it my all to say that I tried my best to do something that was a dream for me. And that’s where I’m at. That’s where I’m going for

Chad Franzen  7:16  

what makes this concept a dream for you.

John Bonavia  7:19  

So this concept is a dream for me, because I love Shark Tank, right. And I love the ability for the young entrepreneur to get a chance at the American dream. This is providing that on a scale of individual smaller cities, we plan on being in three cities in five years. It gives the ability for not only for our members to go in and act, you know, like they would have the Soho House where it’s exclusive, but more so collaborate in an environment where you’re surrounded by people that have a business mindset, entrepreneurial spirit, and their their their motive to succeed is driven. So we’re providing Dale Carnegie teachers and trainers to come in to teach about business plans, will have in house lawyers, you know, to be able to draw up business plans ppms anything that a young entrepreneur needs to get the ball rolling for a legit company to scale, we will be able to provide all these services.

Chad Franzen  8:20  

You founded the company in about 2015 Does that sound right?

John Bonavia  8:27  

I felt I came up with the concept in 2015. I worked on it for a long time I tried to develop partnerships, we became a corporation in 2019. And because of COVID and setbacks, we’ve really changed the direction of where we’re going. But we’re really excited about Baltimore. And right now is we’re really finally starting to see the progress we’ve been looking for.

Chad Franzen  8:54  

So it’s really been in operation, you know, like really kind of churning in operation as of the last couple years. And and that includes the time when COVID That includes the time when COVID hit. And that’s what’s

John Bonavia  9:05  

so amazing about about this concept, right? So anybody like myself, who’s trying to be an entrepreneur, there’s a lot of hurdles that you hit. And you know, sometimes you don’t know exactly which direction to go. Fortunately for me, I learned from all of those hurdles, but you know, they were time consuming, financial draining. And, you know, that’s what we’re trying to have our members come in to alleviate. We want them to come in, understand the entire full process of what it takes to start a business, get investments, have partnerships and do marketing all in one opposed to you know me that had to take several avenues and learn the hard way to finally get to where we are right now. So this is a one stop shop for anybody who wants to collaborate and initiate a business as well as get, you know, further financing for existing businesses and things like that.

Chad Franzen  9:57  

So some of our listeners can kind of relate to What, uh, what would you say are some of the biggest hurdles that you were just talking about specifically?

John Bonavia  10:04  

Well, in regards to the research and development of finding a demographic, that was a tough situation, because when you really dive into the amount of space that you need for a projected location, you know, for something like The Gateway Advantage, and you’ve never been involved in this, and you have partnerships that, you know, are young entrepreneurs like myself with, with with no real past restaurant and or private member’s only restaurant history, you know, it’s basically a situation that you’re taking on, you have a full passion for it. And, you know, you’re learning every step of the way, right? So as you’re learning every step of the way, there’s things that you have to ask yourself, you know, can I have 400 tables in a 20,000? Square foot? Once I get 20,000 square foot? How much do I get for tenant improvement? You know, what kind of location Am I looking for? Am I looking for foot traffic are brands looking for private because this is a private member’s only and I don’t want the restaurant to be open to the public, there was a lot of questions that I had to fall into. And then, you know, the idea of partnering with a restaurant to take over that portion are partnering with a management company to take over the membership side, you know, looking into offering equity to a chef, you know, to bring bring marketing to the company, asking yourself about having a manager get equity in the company. You know, same as with a marketing company, you know, the marketing push for something like this is going to be huge. But our belief is that, once we disclose our location that we have in Baltimore, you know, people will hear the buzz of how exclusive it is. And you know how different it is. But Baltimore seen an environment where it’s completely making it different than what most people are familiar with in Baltimore.

Chad Franzen  11:56  

So he talks about, you know, all those things that you have to incorporate, and your lack of kind of experience going into this involved involving specific restaurants with the restaurant industry. So how does that how does food preparation and things look like for you? Did you give equity to a chef? Or did you do something else? Right,

John Bonavia  12:14  

so as of right now, we’re in talks with pre existing restaurants that have new concepts that want to incorporate, you know, different directions of where they’re at. So I have state companies that wanted to do something that was a little bit more boutique asked, and we would incorporate that, as well as private owned coffee made, companies that would have, you know, pastries and things like that on a daily scale, right. So there’s, there’s a couple options that we have to decide to, to finalize, but we, we did decide to partner with an existing restaurant so that we could get the ball rolling, and, you know, as I’ve learned in this business, is that, you know, you’ve got to pivot a lot, there’s a lot of new decisions to be made. And through time, you know, to set yourself up in a contract with people that is advantageous for yourself, so that, if you feel like you want to go in a different direction, you can, and, you know, these are all things that I’ve learned along the way, and that I would definitely, you know, make the our lawyers have our members understand that, you know, these are things that come up and, you know, don’t look at it as, you know, a problem, but more so as an opportunity to learn, grow and be able to, like I said, pivot in the direction that you know, you think is best for your company?

Chad Franzen  13:27  

Are there any big milestones or turning points for your company so far, that you’re particularly proud of?

John Bonavia  13:33  

Yeah, you know, I really am excited about the marketing partnership that we that we just move forward with. Working with a woman named Monet, and she is phenomenal. You know, starting out with this company, there was a couple options that I had, you know, you can pay a marketing company $100,000 and hope that they can generate traffic, you definitely can send out you know, 20% equity of your company in hopes that you know, they would really be willing to work for you. But the main thing is getting somebody behind your company that has that booth sees that and sees the vision, you know, believes in the concept and you have a great working relationship with them. Her her like I said, her name is Monet, and she’s momentum online marketing. And I just highly recommend her because she She not only is working as an as a partner in this endeavor, but she sees the vision, she’s passionate about it. And and she’s excited. So the one thing I would say is that if you partner with people, you know, I wouldn’t just say giving them equity or or, or getting, you know, financial investments which could be done money. You want to partner with people that have a vision for what you’re doing. You see the passion that they have and they get the concept

Chad Franzen  15:00  

How is the you guys really kicked off in 2019? COVID? Hitting 2020? How is The Gateway Advantage different now than it was prior to COVID?

John Bonavia  15:12  

Well, it’s different in the sense that the location is completely changed. We were initially going to go in Houston. And then we were going to scale out to San Diego, and then Baltimore, and then Nashville. But now, since we had COVID hit, and some things changed. We just changed the projection cities, from Baltimore to Houston to San Diego, and then Nashville that so that just changed a little bit.

Chad Franzen  15:37  

Okay. Has there been a, you know, obviously, when you kick off a new thing, you’re gonna, you don’t exactly know how to do everything perfectly? Has there been any kind of major mistake or big mistakes that you’ve learned from? And it turned out to be a benefit for you?

John Bonavia  15:51  

Yes, absolutely. So we were set and ready to go secure to location in San Diego, the price per square foot was dramatically higher than what I was hoping. But I was just so eager and excited to get the ball rolling, we went to the location, we spoke to everybody, we were getting all involved, if people were interested in we’re getting ready to do the deal. And then COVID it. Now when COVID hit it was a very big blow. And I was really upset because we were losing location, and the restaurant wasn’t going to start. But as time has gone on, I realized that the more r&d I’ve done, Baltimore’s the city, we want, the price per square foot is dramatically lower. So it turned out to be a good thing. And we’re just so excited that we switch cities because of the amazing growth and and benefit of moving forward with the Baltimore market.

Chad Franzen  16:46  

Is there anything that you’re doing now that you’re working on that will be new for The Gateway Advantage moving forward?

John Bonavia  16:51  

Yes. So you know, with cryptocurrency, it’s pretty much a big craze right now. And I’ve been doing my research in it for like the last six months. And I just thought to myself, you know, wouldn’t it be great if we had our members incentivized while joining The Gateway Advantage, kind of like an in person Reddit. So, we were willing to give an undisclosed cryptocurrency for the time being about 100,000 coins per member when they sign up. So that when they are members, everybody will have 100,000 cryptocurrencies of, of this crypto, and this is very new, we’re, we’re in talks about it right now. So I’m not going to disclose who it is. But to really get get our members excited, and to pump into help marketing and to learn more about that space, because we do feel that this is a very fast and growing and upcoming, you know, way of the world international transaction capability. So we’re excited about that. And we are going to move forward with that. But you know, there’s a lot more information to come.

Chad Franzen  18:01  

What does the what The Gateway Advantage does mean to you personally, you know, obviously, you enjoy being your own boss, you enjoy running your own thing, but in terms of a specific kind of mission or purpose, what does that mean to you personally?

John Bonavia  18:16  

Sure. So, you know, one of the things that, you know, I mentioned was when I went to the Soho House, and, you know, as I was younger, in my younger age, you know, I’d go out and I drink and party, and we dress nice, and we want the nice cars. And, you know, it was about an ego thing, you know, wanting to be in the cool place. And I remember I was walking up to a girl at the Soho House, and I was talking about what I did, and you know, what I was working on and what I was trying to do, and she looked at me, and she said, Hey, you’re at the Soho House. We already know you’re doing good, you don’t have to tell me what you do. And at that moment, I realized, wow, you know, this Soho House is so exclusive, you know, you look to your left, you see LeBron James, you see these big names, she was right. You know, once you’ve made it, you know, you go to these locations that, you know, you can enjoy and have a great environment. So the reason I’m passionate about this is because we’re creating this environment where our application process is going to be so strict. Once you’re accepted into this gateway exclusive community, people will know you’re here, because you’re a business mindset. You’re an entrepreneurial spirit. You want to collaborate with other like minded people. And you’ve been accepted by a board of advisors. So I’m passionate about the idea of helping other entrepreneurs. Take it to that next level.

Chad Franzen  19:40  

Couple more questions for you. We’re big fans of gratitude around here and like to give people the chance to public publicly acknowledged people who have been influential to them. Is there anybody in the industry or just in your background that has been particularly influential for you? That you look that you’ve looked to it for advice?

John Bonavia  19:56  

Sure. Absolutely. You know, and I’m a big fan of it. You know, positive videos and and joining you know business coaches and life coaches and, and watching all the YouTube Tony Robbins videos the Joe’s teens that uplift you. And that’s another part of the reason why I got this concept because, you know, you can go to all these online meetings and you can watch the YouTube videos, but for us to incorporate something like this positivity live and speaking and having it collaborating all under one roof, is why we started it. So I personally would like to thank, you know, obviously my mother, my father, who raised me and, you know, gave me this entrepreneurial spirit gig, you know, instilled in me to be motivated and to do your very best and, you know, you know, treat people kindly and do the right thing. I love, you know, Rob Kiyosaki and Tony Robbins, obviously is the best, but, you know, there’s, there’s nothing greater than the ability to partner with somebody and have an experience and success together. So it’s great to listen to other people that have succeeded, and to want what they have. But what we’re incorporating is the ability to truly live the the successful platform that we’re creating with others, while you know, giving back to our community, we’ve lined up with several charities that we want to incorporate making Baltimore, an ever changing location, that’s just continue to be to be great. Kevin Plank Over Under Armour. You know, he’s he’s opened up his facilities in Baltimore. You know, it’s just, it’s just a really great environment. We’re excited to be in Baltimore area.

Chad Franzen  21:44  

You kind of told me this earlier, but maybe I can, maybe you can do it one more time. How can people find out more, more information about the great way, like The Gateway Advantage,

John Bonavia  21:52  

so people can go to, take a look at the website. Once you guys hit apply, now, you fill out the application, you submit the application for our board of advisors, except you, you’ll receive an email and you know, it’ll be $1,000 annual fee. And you’ll be able to get the location of where we are opening our doors in the next in the spring. And you will learn as to which restaurants we’re partnering with and the exclusive cryptocurrency 100,000 tokens that you will receive while while also being accepted. So essentially, you’re paying now but you could, you know, be making a lot more money. And that’s why we’re adding on this. This cryptocurrency incentive to say, when you become a member, you get 100,000 tokens. And let’s hope that this cryptocurrency goes to the moon. And everybody wins. We want everybody to win it The Gateway Advantage.

Chad Franzen  22:51  

Okay, John. Well, hey, it sounds like a very exciting, it is a very exciting venture. And I’m very thankful that you took a few minutes to speak to me about it, and it was good hearing about you. Thanks so much for your time today. Hey, thank you for having me. Thank you so much. So long, everybody.

Outro  23:07  

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