Serial entrepreneur Gaurav “G” Patel is the Founder of Eschelon Experiences, a hospitality group based in Raleigh, North Carolina that includes cocktail lounge concepts such as The Haymaker and Killjoy Cocktail. Since the age of 17, G has launched over a dozen companies and over two dozen hospitality brands. Additionally, he’s founded spirits and retail brands and various startups.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- Gaurav “G” Patel talks about Eschelon Experiences and what it offers
- How did G get his start in the restaurant business?
- How G’s restaurants stand out amongst the competition
- How did the pandemic impact business?
- The milestone G is most proud of
- The mistakes G learned from along the way as a young entrepreneur
In this episode…
Perseverance, formal education, and the desire for high achievement are a strong formula for success. But what happens when you buy into a business with little to no experience in that industry?
That’s the question serial entrepreneur Gaurav “G” Patel faced when he purchased a restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina. Although he worked in events and hotels, the transition into the restaurant industry was out of G’s league. Still, the perseverance that helped him work several jobs while in university gave him the confidence to operate in an industry where he was green. So, how did G do it and what lessons did he learn along the way?
In this episode of the SpotOn Series, host Chad Franzen of Rise25 talks to Gaurav “G” Patel, the Founder of Eschelon Experiences, to discuss his restaurant ventures. G talks about getting his start in the restaurant business, what makes him successful in the industry, how his companies survived the pandemic, and more.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Gaurav “G” Patel on LinkedIn
- Email G: [email protected]
- Eschelon Experiences
- The Haymaker
- Killjoy Cocktail
- Social House Vodka
- Chad Franzen on LinkedIn
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Chad Franzen 0:02
Chad Franzen, here, co-host for this show where we feature top restaurateurs, 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 with a combined 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 spoton.com G Patel is a serial entrepreneur from the early age of 17. He’s launched over a dozen companies with experience and launching over two dozen hospitality brands, spirits retail and various startups. G, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?
G Patel 0:44
Great, Chad. Thanks for having me.
Chad Franzen 0:46
So tell me a little bit more about Eschelon Experiences and kind of its history.
G Patel 0:51
Yeah, sure. So, you know, I started an events and marketing company while I was at the university, you know, doing three jobs and going to college at the same time just wasn’t going to cut it. And that kind of transition to my love for the hospitality industry. So as I was graduating, and I made my senior thesis project to write a business plan for nightclub, so leverage, kind of all the individuals that were, you know, working on my team who write a plan that would kind of really help come to make Laundry Lounge to fruition. So it’s the first shisha bar or hookah bar in North Carolina. Through my travels, and just obviously upbringing overseas, I felt that could be kind of my way in. So built the first bar, I would call it from ground up really kind of took understanding of how the mechanics work, plumbing or electrical works, municipalities, you name it, I kind of learned it from that standpoint. And that really got going. I thought, I got pretty good at it. And I was like, Okay, well, what’s next, right? I mean, at this point, we’re only selling alcohol and shisha. And at which point, we kind of discontinued the shisha because we learned the lifecycle of a customer’s how quickly can you turn the table as they say, right, and she says, last hours and hours. So I gotta, we gotta get we got to rotate these. So we nip that in the bud. And I really just focus on the spirits and alcohol side of it. And ran that for about a year and a half, I did a pretty good exit. And I, my wife and I, at that time, she was in Charlotte, and I was in Raleigh. So obviously, every time she visited me, I would try to take her to a nicer restaurant, so she would marry me at some point. And so which we did, obviously, we have two beautiful kids now. And we ended up going to this sushi restaurant, and you know, growing up in India, I didn’t really have access to seafood much. So I would always eat the, you know, their house salad with chicken. So the one time the owner comes to me, it’s like, Hey, come here a lot, you know, with your wife. And you normally I never order sushi, I’m like, and I told him and kind of got to know him for that standpoint. And, and I told him, I’m looking to start a restaurant venture didn’t really have any formal training in the hospitality industry, although I grew up working in the hotel business. So obviously, you know, one thing led to another and he’s like, Well, I’ll be willing to sell this too, which was kind of perfect for me, right, not having an experience and not understanding how to set up the line. hiring, firing SOPs, all those things that come with it. I’m a ripe age of 21 at this time buying this multimillion dollar restaurant, and it was a perfect fit, right because it kind of came with all the tools and the belt, I just had to sharpen it up. So bought the restaurant was doing about 1.5. And obviously, you know, I could have done a better job doing my due diligence and having the attorneys and the staff on point but you’re 21 Who needs all that right? You know everything. So I bought that and then rather quickly learned the numbers were fudged a little bit and so I had no choice but to increase the top line revenue. So started putting my marketing tactics in place and took the restaurant from 1.5 to 3 million in less than a year and a half and then really also learned the restaurant business at the same time. And then from that, I really got affinity to being in the hospitality business. So partner up by Chef over there to open up my first brick and mortar downtown Raleigh, which was my first built from ground up you know, we’re just scrambled to within inside of a core building used to be former Hudson Belk. So built that and then to I was like, Okay, well, what’s next, right, and I studied overseas in England, and I really liked the pub concept and gastropubs were kind of up and coming at that time. This was back in 2006 2007. There was a restaurant that had been beautifully built the millions of dollars on it, they just didn’t have any operational skill sets. So took $3 million restaurant that had closed that put another capital investment of a quarter million dollars in that 8000 square foot amazing restaurant. And so to turn into three and then from there just kind of kept building new brands really didn’t look to get into, you know, franchising or any of their models, because brand creation and brand development and building things from ground up was kind of where my passion really like now that I look back to it. That through that endeavor, you know, probably did probably did close to over 20 concepts, right? All different types of variations from cocktail bars, nightclubs, fusion of nightclubs, restaurants, American grills, sushi restaurants, you name it. I’ve done it.
Chad Franzen 5:46
Wow. So how many how many restaurants are currently within your your portfolio right now.
G Patel 5:53
So actually, to be fully transparent, a few years back, I kind of started whittling down. And then with COVID, there was five operations at that time, and I closed five of those. So currently, I only have two operating. And underneath my ownership, which ones are those
Haymaker, which is a cocktail bar, and just you know, it was a, it was a, I would call it a passion project, right. And then Killjoy, which is another cocktail bar with small plates. And that was supposed to open up March of two, one, D 22. On the 26th. And obviously, on the 17th, we got a kibosh with COVID. So luckily, we survived that, and it’s operational and healthy, and it’s moving forward.
Chad Franzen 6:38
That’s good. Very good. So you said you, you were in college, and you had three jobs? Were any of those jobs in the restaurant industry?
G Patel 6:46
Um, yes. One, and that was bussing tables at Sweet Tomatoes. Okay. I would say that’s the only formal experience I had in the hospitality business.
Chad Franzen 6:56
So you know, you were really young, and you had kind of some ups and downs. But largely, you’ve been very, very successful. What what do you think, you know, why did you have these instincts? You know, besides just your experience bussing tables that made you successful in the restaurant industry?
G Patel 7:12
Well, um, I think, for me, it was I always looked at everything from a business perspective, right? Hence, I still have my hands in variety of dozens of different businesses, because I’ve always looked at it from not just okay, I made really good food, or I’ll have a really amazing ambiance is having the ability to understand all spectrums of a business. And a lot of times restaurant is a big conglomerate, it’s a big business, right? And having the understanding of how to operate the financials, the HR, the training, the building of that. And, you know, from a food standpoint, I mean, I wasn’t ever trained from a culinary expertise standpoint, but I knew individuals who work right so placing them giving them right tools to succeed, is what really created success for us.
Chad Franzen 8:05
So what do you think you do with relation to the business aspect for restaurants that kind of sets you apart?
G Patel 8:14
Um, we looked at a funnel hole, I mean, before experiences became experiences, right? I mean, before it was just okay, here’s food. And there’s that. And you look back to about, you know, 15-20 years ago, that’s when the experiential start standpoint started really coming in. And for us, we looked at everything from a holistic standpoint, not just okay. They serve amazing food, but from aesthetics, the food presentation, the ambiance, and then the how we engage with our guests, right? When we created this guest Bill of Rights, and please do not ask me to recite those. But I mean, everybody was required to remember those. And I know what our core values were, but really created a strong foundation and an a culture around the organization.
Chad Franzen 8:59
How do you what, what other kinds of businesses or industries are you also in as an entrepreneur?
G Patel 9:06
Oh, so I’ve been in a lot of tech startups. Still in couple of them. I’m in the oil and gas field in real estate development. My think a lot of my focus right now is from a f&b standpoint is on the ghost kitchen side. So became an advisor and investor in HUD kitchens, which is amazingly startup by Jason Johnson. I mean, kind of just really taken all the tools that I’ve accumulated over the last two decades and helping him re engineer and you know, figure out how do we make this thing scalable so we got our first contract to go into the RDU airport in conjunction with refund we plan on expanding that and we’ve taken a backseat he’ll be on the front but
Chad Franzen 9:54
how do you how do you approach your your hospitality businesses? is different than your approach, you know, some of these other ones that are, you know, in different types of industries? Or do you approach them all the same?
G Patel 10:07
You know, honestly, one thing I can say is the hospitality businesses really kind of shake up my ability to let’s reverse real quick, right? Being a hospitality business, you have to be able to control multiple variables at in that constant. Second, right. And when I look at the other ventures, are there verticals of business that I’m in? You’re, you’re managing one constant, you’re managing one variable, right? Over here, you got okay, my food costs has gone up my lead lines, you know, there’s a big thing going on in Mexico and our lives are cost labor shortage. I mean, it’s just it’s constant, right? It’s just, I mean, simplest way to put it, it’s like, you have all the plates that you’re rotating, you’re not just juggling three balls, right? I mean, you got five plays in the air, and you gotta be able to catch them.
Chad Franzen 11:00
You know, you, you talked a little bit about how COVID kind of impacted you can you can you kind of expand on that. Maybe tell me how you where you were, you know, in March of 2020, and then how Eschelon Experiences looks now. Yeah,
G Patel 11:14
um, so I’m most important 20. I mean, I was kind of already transitioning slightly out on my own. So I’d say in 2012 2013, I had a full cc c Suite team, essentially had a CEO, CFO, you name it. I’m entrepreneur by heart, right. So for me, he’s like, I like to get things formulated, get it moving, then I move on to the next one. So the hospitality company was kind of built to do that. And after I went on to kind of start my other venture, which was a Social House Vodka, it really took a kind of a hit, right, and no fault of anybody’s, but I’ve always believed in cultivating growth from within, right, but so but if I’m the engineer who’s cultivating the growth, if I’m not present, then that kind of stops right there. Right. So it after a while, you know, obviously, we’ve kind of started selling off restaurants and closing off the ones where the leases were going and back in, let’s say 2019 2019 2020, we had about six operations going on. And I was kind of tying out myself because I wanted to get more on the development side of things anyways. So I, when 2020 came, obviously, we kind of put pause on the restaurants that we had. And we were able to get okay, because we didn’t know where the end was. I mean, I think that we’re finally I’m gonna cross my fingers, knock on wood, or whatever, say, I think we’re finally coming out of it. So at that time, in the uncertainty, I just felt it was the best time to really, you know, stop the losses stop on any bleeding that might incur, and say, Okay, let’s just have a clean break. It’s easier to do that when trying to, you know, stretch things along. I think, as entrepreneurs in the hospitality business, a lot of times we’re so invested emotionally, right? Where we don’t, or we can’t just cut the corners. Okay, that’s done. Right? What a lot of other things we can, but because of the nature of hospitality, business, we just get so emotionally attached to it to the point, you become delusional, you think that you can still make things work when you it’s when you look at paper, it’s clear, right? If I was evaluating somebody else’s business, and I looked at their p&l is like, Okay, you’re out of your mind, cup of loss and goes, go to the next thing.
Chad Franzen 13:43
What milestones are you particularly proud of regarding your hospitality ventures?
G Patel 13:50
What milestones so that’s a great question. I mean, honestly, I think I would probably say the third restaurant would be a great milestone that I can really reflect back to and remember in a specific moment, and the analogy that I’ve always referred to is, you know, when you have one restaurant, it’s that’s your sheer focus, right? So if, let’s say, if something catches on fire, you’re there, you can put it out. When you have to, you can assess it, you know, it’s like, okay, well, I’m here this summer. For this one, I’m, I’m going to put this fire out and move it to the next one. When you put out the third one to the mix, things just get really complicated, right? And it just like anything else when you’re failing. I think three is kind of the magic word after three. I’d be like the eighth, eighth one is where you really have to start putting the systems in place and started creating economies of scale. But I think from a milestone standpoint, I would say, you know, when we hit that first $10 million in revenue, I was like, oh, in my early mid 20s. That’s a pretty good milestone.
Chad Franzen 14:54
Yeah, I would say so. I would say so. You know, for somebody who got into it so young and was at a high level also So Young was, did you make any mistakes that ended up being a, you know, a big learning experience for you along the way?
G Patel 15:07
How much time do we have on this? You know, I’m, I’m a, I come from a school of hard knocks, right? Not having a formal training, or being mentored under somebody who’s there, where I’m their predecessor. I’ve made so many mistakes, so many mistakes. But those mistakes, for me the biggest learning tool that I could use, and there’s not one specific at the moment that that sticks out, but we constantly re engineered anything that came up. And we saw that as an issue. You know, we were really diligent in consistently evaluating and being on top of our p&l on a weekly basis in that. And we didn’t implement that until when we’re just doing it on a quarterly basis. And when it’s a monthly, it’s like, why are we why are we doing this ourselves? Right? This is the bloodline of our business. We should know every single penny works.
Chad Franzen 16:08
You have a lot going on outside of the hospitality industry. Do you have any, any plans or goals within that hotel, the industry moving forward?
G Patel 16:16
So I mean, yes, I think where I’m positioned now is really to help individuals for looking to get into the hospitality business, and then set them up for success, right, my length of time I was in it and the information and the knowledge I was able to retain, I want to shorten that curvature for any other individuals that’s getting into it, right? I mean, I have gigs of data and excel sheets and Process and procedures, that I’m always more than happy to give that to somebody who’s looking to get started, right? So not making these small errors or mistakes that most of the time you make when you get into as you’re a hospitality entrepreneur. So for what my vision is to really, on the real estate development side, when an individual comes in, really set them up for success, not just okay, well, they’re gonna be my tenant. They’re gonna pay me rent and we’ll call the day. Right? Because their dream allows me to continue my dream.
Chad Franzen 17:16
Last question for you. How can people find out more about what you have going on with Eschelon Experiences?
G Patel 17:22
The best way to honestly is reach out to me on my website, which is [email protected] Well, I’m sorry, I gave you my email. It’s just the gpreneur.me.
Chad Franzen 17:39
Okay, great. Hey, it’s really been great talking to you. I appreciate your time and your thoughts and your insights. Appreciate it.
G Patel 17:46
Chad Franzen 17:47
So long, everybody.