Jim Laube is the Founder and CEO of RestaurantOwner.com, a restaurant consulting firm that has helped thousands of aspiring and struggling restaurant owners succeed and make their dreams a reality.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- What is RestaurantOwner.com?
- Jim Laube talks about common overlooked factors in restaurant ownership
- Jim shares success stories for past clients
- How Jim transitioned from accounting to restaurant consulting
In this episode…
In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen speaks with RestaurantOwner.com Founder and CEO Jim Laube about how they help new restaurateurs succeed. Jim launched RestaurantOwners.com in 1998, when the internet was still in its infancy. Jim and his team have helped over 65,000 independent restaurant operators achieve their dreams worldwide.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
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Chad Franzen 0:20
Chad Franzen here co-host for the 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 SpotOn 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 SpotOn.com 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 Rise25Media.com or email us at support@Rise25media.com Jim Laube is founder and president of RestaurantOwner.com, a business management and leadership development resource for independent restaurant operators. He has a diverse restaurant career in operations training and senior management positions during the 1980s and 90s. He practices a CPA and advisor and conducted training workshops for clients such as Disneyland, Vail Resorts, Cisco Food Service and the National Restaurant Association. He founded RestaurantOwner.com in 1998. And the online community has provided startup training and business resources to over 65,000 independent restaurant operators worldwide. Jim, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?
Jim Laube 1:44
Oh, my pleasure. Chad, thank you very much appreciate being here.
Chad Franzen 1:47
So tell me a little bit about RestaurantOwner.com. Who would benefit from using it and why?
Jim Laube 1:53
Well, people, we are totally targeted, as you mentioned in my introduction to our target market is independent restaurant operators. people that own an existing independent restaurant, or are thinking about getting into the restaurant business. So so that that that is our focus, and why somebody would want to join RestaurantOwner.com is if you take a typical independent operator, many of them, not all of them, many of them. They know how to run a restaurant, they’ve been a chef, they know food and inside and out. But they don’t know how to build or manage a business. And one of the things that we focus on is, is what are those skills in those disciplines that you have to follow to build a great business? Because if the business side of your restaurant isn’t good, guess what, you’re gonna have cashflow problems, you’re gonna you’re gonna have problems staying in business. So one of our big focuses is teaching and showing people how to run the business side of the restaurant p&l is cost control, inventory control. And so that’s a big part of it. Another part of it is systems. How, what do we need to put in place, so we can create a consistent guest consistent, high quality guest experience all the time, not just once in a while. And today, it’s also not not just important to have a consistent high quality guest experience. But you need to have a consistent high quality employee experience as well, due to all the labor challenges that there are in the industry. And so and then another part is there’s really three key pillars to what we try to teach and, and give people resources for systems, business skills, and then also leadership and culture. Because if you don’t have a good high quality culture, you may even be able to hire people, but you’re not going to be able to keep up. So the we think we believe that the number one way to solve or at least be able to manage the labor challenges in the industry is to have a high quality culture where people like hanging out, they like coming to work, there’s good management, there is a sense of almost a sense of family a sense of caring, that, that that causes people, it doesn’t give people a reason to leave, for example. Okay, so that, in a nutshell, is what we try to provide for our members.
Chad Franzen 4:26
Okay, sounds great. How can you guys impact culture? Or what do you you know, when somebody comes to you who’s new? Maybe they have some great ideas for recipes or for menus or for whatever? What kind of what kind of impact can you guys have on culture?
Jim Laube 4:40
Well, we try to teach basic leadership skills, okay. And leadership skills. There’s really three components. To be a good leader. First of all, you need to be professionally competent, you need to know how to run a restaurant. All right. So how do you manage a good a good shift for example, okay? You need to also you need to have high character, okay? Character is extremely important, especially to the younger folks today. Honesty, integrity, people want to work for somebody that has honesty and integrity. And also there needs to be some aspect of caring. In other words, you’re not just a cog in the wheel in my restaurant, but, you know, we respect you, we, we care about you from the standpoint of we want to see you grow and develop. Okay, we also have an interest in seeing that you have a good lifestyle is well. In other words, we have some flexibility with respect to schedule and things. Now, does that happen overnight? No, it doesn’t happen overnight. But but we try to teach in a stair step methodology is to how do you develop an appropriate caring relationship with everybody on your team? So that that, in essence is kind of the foundation of building a positive culture?
Chad Franzen 6:09
Restaurantowner.com, or some variation of it has been around for almost as long as the internet, what’s some of your experience in restaurants?
Jim Laube 6:17
Well, I was a restaurant manager, manager, early micro early, early in my career. I was a bartender server work for a fast food restaurant when I was in high school, essentially earn my way through college as a bartender in a server. And then I went to went to went to work for a large public accounting firm, I graduated with an accounting degree. And after having all the fun, I could stand for a couple years, I decided to go work for one of my clients who was a, which was a multi unit barbecue chain in Houston, Texas. And I was started out as the comptroller became the chief financial officer worked there for about four years, and then thought that I knew everything there was to know about managing restaurants. So I decided to open up my own accounting and consulting practice and did that for about 15 years. Okay, most of my clients, Chad, we’re small, independent restaurants.
Chad Franzen 7:09
Okay. So, you know, the internet is in its fairly new stages. How did RestaurantOwner.com come about then?
Jim Laube 7:17
Well, I was doing a I actually got into the, into the seminar business. And I went around the country and would market these on my own. We, I did a one day class and I gave continuing education credits to CPAs. I also marketed to restaurant operators and people in in institutional food service and country clubs and things of that nature. And I did a one day program on restaurant accounting and controls. I did that for about four years, I would do about 50 to 60. Seminars a year, I would send out 1000s of brochures I would buy, I would buy lists of CPAs have restaurant operators and things of that nature. So it sends out about six to 10,000 brochures to every city that I would that I would go to. And so I did that for a few years. And then the internet started to percolate. We started raising a family at that time, and I was spending too much time on the road. So I said, I wonder what would happen if I put the content from my eight hour course on the internet. And I got a telephone call from somebody after he had downloaded he told me about 150 pages of of content and spreadsheets and different forms I put up on the internet for free. He said, Why aren’t you charging for this? And I thought, well, that’s an interesting idea. So I I got my web, my web designer to get a programmer and we built kind of a makeshift membership site. And lo and behold, the first month I sold 20 memberships at $99 Each and put him put a little money in my pocket. I said, Well, maybe this has some potential. So that’s how he got started.
Chad Franzen 9:02
Yeah, that sounds that sounds incredible. How did word get around? About Well,
Jim Laube 9:07
at that time, Chad, it was it was really easy, because I didn’t have any competition. I would show up in the top two or three or five at the most of most of the key search search engine phrases for a restaurant business plan for restaurant checklists for restaurant this or restaurant that. So I just organically gotten a lot of traffic for, you know, from from the search engines.
Chad Franzen 9:36
Yeah. How did you know how to put stuff on the internet at that time when it was so relatively new?
Jim Laube 9:43
Well, I was very fortunate put it that way. I really didn’t. It really didn’t. It just it’s what I had. And that’s what I use. So that’s just been fortunate the right pleasure. Yeah,
Chad Franzen 9:56
so you talked about how you help independent restaurants and startups. For startups, what are some common elements that are often overlooked by folks who want to open their own restaurant? I’m sure you know, there’s elicit a long list of things that you help people with. But is there kind of some common things that are overlooked?
Jim Laube 10:13
Yes, that’s a great question, Chad. First of all, they underestimate how hard it’s going to be. And one of the first things we do is we have a course it’s free to anybody on restaurant reality. And we talk about the challenges of opening up your own restaurant, we talked about the survivability rate, we talk about what’s often overlooked, that people don’t sit in terms of the cost that it’s going to take to get into the business. And then all the challenges that are going to come after it’s open, it’s hard enough to raise capital and start a restaurant. But it’s even harder than once you’re open to actually convert that restaurant into a, into a profitable business enterprise. So what we do is what we’re, we try to be honest, and discourage people that are kind of on the fence, if you will. And we only want people that really are committed, and this is truly a passion and they have the attitude that failure is not an option, if you will, all right, we find that if you have that type of attitude, and you see your destiny is to open and have a successful restaurant, you’ve got to be a restaurant operator. That’s the mindset we’re looking for anybody else? We would rather that you not go into the restaurant business, because that’s the source of, of bankruptcy, divorce me all sorts of problems can be as a result of people getting into the restaurant business that really shouldn’t get into the restaurant business.
Chad Franzen 11:52
Sure. What about people who have started out but then you know, maybe they maybe they didn’t totally realize what they’re getting into, although they have some potential, and they do have some passion. They just don’t totally know what they’re doing. Is there? Are there common things that are most often overlooked by people who are already in the business, but kind of, you know, have hit rocky waters?
Jim Laube 12:13
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. One of those is focusing totally on sales volume. In other words, you think that sales is going to solve all your problems? Well, not necessarily true, because there’s 1000s of ways to lose money in the restaurant business from the standpoint of food and scheduling and, and just a mere fact all all kinds of things. So that’s really where the business skills comes in. And that’s where looking at your p&l, having a weekly report that tells you exactly where you’re at managing your cash flow, things of that nature. So, so looking totally at sales is one thing. In other words, just thinking, if I’m busy, then I’m going to be successful, then I’m going to be profitable, not necessarily the case. Okay. Another one is having is having a weak concept. In other words, trying to appeal to everybody, we find that that that operators that have a specific target market, and in mind, and many times it’s the the narrower the target market the best and having a very, not necessarily a concise but a very consistent menu offering that really satisfies a specific need. That’s very distinct. That is done very, very well. High quality consistently over and over again.
Chad Franzen 13:37
Can you give me an example, you know, maybe if you want to mention names, you can but you don’t, you certainly don’t have to have a client of yours that came to you kind of in the midst of panic or, you know, really struggling and maybe telling me what the situation they were in at the time, some of the things you did and how they’re doing now, if you can take one. Yeah,
Jim Laube 13:56
I’m one of the we have an operator in in Los Angeles. And this is a real success story. This guy was actually imprisoned for armed robbery early in his life. And he had a he had he actually had a religious conversion at some point, and he got out and he started selling tacos, or sushi Mexican sushi. On the side of the road in Los Angeles. His he has a has a nephew that from Mexico that sold work, there was a chef for a Mexican sushi operation in Mexico. And he tasted the Mexican sushi while while he was visiting him and in LA and he said this is absolutely fabulous. People would love this. So they started selling it from a car and LA not knowing that you had to have a health permit while they were open for about a week and then they got shut down. But it was long enough for them to get a sense of man. People really liked this and they already generated and some, some consistent, customers would come back to their little cart. And so then what he did, he didn’t have a lot of capital. So he. So he started serving, he actually opened up a little outside restaurant in his front yard. And, you know, any, and he got away with that for about a year before before he got shut down, he would just open it on, on Friday and Sunday night, a Saturday night when it was date night with his wife. So he didn’t open on Saturday night, but it was open two days a week. And then from there, he was able to I won’t go into a lot of detail of his story. But he was able to actually secure a very inexpensive lease in a rundown strip center. And it took him about a year or so. But he found out about restaurantowner.com. And he had no previous zero previous experience running a restaurant or managing a business. And he learned about systems. And he learned about what a p&l was about. And he sent Jim I learned all the basics from from the website. And he is just tenacious and with respect to you know, you can imagine is personality is such that is when he, he sees something that makes sense. He’s tenacious in terms of implementing it, and making it work. And he’s very humble. He realizes what he doesn’t know. And now he has three restaurants, all of them are doing over three to $4 million a year, his sales per square foot is off the charts. He was very successful in getting through COVID. Okay, in their full service restaurants in Los Angeles, we did have some of the highest wage rates in the industry. So that’s one of our biggest success stories.
Chad Franzen 16:42
Wow, great, great. You mentioned COVID In the past couple of years now that it’s part of our lives. And it’s certainly a part of restaurant tours lives. How is your approach this kind of a consultant changed if it has?
Jim Laube 16:54
Well, it has changed the restaurant business has always been hard. But now it’s hard on steroids. As you can imagine, we have had to really pivot our offerings of what we talk about on RestaurantOwner.com. From the standpoint of not only these are the three pillars, systems, business skills, and culture. But we also need to think about other ways to sell our products in terms of delivery, carrier out curbside things of that nature. So the business model of many restaurants has really has really shifted here. So that they have, they have many more sales channels, if you will. So that has been been some of the biggest changes in terms of what we’ve been exposing our exposing our membership to. And also, just about everything, technology has touched everything. In our business, I mean, the guest experience different types of sales, just so. So for an independent operator that has limited resources and limited staff. Technology can be a huge, huge challenge. So we’re trying to and we’re we’re still trying to get better at this is identifying the types of technology that an independent operator can implement easily. That really integrates well with what else that they’re they’re doing the gives them a real, that helps them compete with the chains essentially. Okay, so. So that’s another big part of what has happened last couple years that has really impacted us and also also our members.
Chad Franzen 18:36
Yeah, what is the best reason to hire a consultant, if you want to open your own restaurant? You’ve listed a million of them what do you think is the best one
Jim Laube 18:48
In terms of hiring a consultant. consultants have been through it so many times, you know, uh, let me let me qualify that to a good consultant. Okay. There really needs to be work on the front end to identify the qualifications, accomplishments, who they’ve helped in the past. But they can save a lot of, obviously, dumb mistakes. There’s what I call and I’ve heard this before, from from other people, a dumb tax. And that’s when you make stupid decisions and you pay dearly for it. A good consultant can help you avoid a lot of those things.
Chad Franzen 19:27
You talked about how you have you have, you know, a big background in accounting that could have taken you in multiple different directions. What was it about the restaurant industry that was so appealing to you?
Jim Laube 19:37
Well, it’s extremely dynamic. It’s a people business. And there’s always something new. There’s always something new to learn. You never ever get to the point where you know it all. Not even in fact, not even close. Chad. Yeah. So so from that standpoint, it was just, it was very appealing to me. Personally, yeah,
Chad Franzen 20:01
the your your website has been around for more than two decades. Are there some milestones or, you know, specific time periods that maybe you’re particularly proud of and kind of the evolution of your business?
Jim Laube 20:14
Yeah, we went through some real challenges back in 2008 2009. We lost about probably 20% of our membership. And being able to bounce back from that, I think was a real accomplishment.
I’m trying to Well, I’ll tell you what we we switched to a back in 2004. We switched from our own makeshift made from scratch website platform, to a platform called member gate and member gate is still out there today. And our business essentially tripled. The moment we went on member gate. It had a lot of the bells and whistles that we’d always wanted to have on our on our existing website at that time. It search engine it was optimized for for, for search engines. Our rankings went up almost immediately. And so that was a milestone as well. So having the right website platform was very important to us. Yeah.
Chad Franzen 21:26
I have one last question for you. But first, I usually ask people how they can find more information about you. But I guess in your case is pretty self explanatory.
Jim Laube 21:34
It’s all online.
Chad Franzen 21:37
RestaurantOwner.com. Yeah. My last question for you is, do you have any favorite books or podcasts or things like that, that you’ve found valuable for your process or that you’ve just enjoyed?
Jim Laube 21:49
Well, in terms of books, I really like John Maxwell for leadership. He’s fabulous. Podcast. Boy, I’m just having kind of a momentary blank here on I do listen to podcasts. I’m having kind of a momentary blank.
Chad Franzen 22:12
Most people, most people have a lot more books than they do than they do. Yes. Yeah. So John Maxwell is a good one for you.
Jim Laube 22:19
Maxwell, I read a I also read read books out of from our industry is well, I mean, my favorite book of all time is Danny Meyer setting the table. Anybody that has customers or customer service, direct customer contact, that book is an absolute must. It’s all about creating a culture of hospitality. And hospitality is that personal connection with your customers. And even with your employees, which I think is the essence of, of success in business. I think it always has been because business is built on relationships. And it’s all about building positive relationships and creating that personal connection with the people.
Chad Franzen 23:05
Well, hey, Jim, thanks so much for sharing those recommendations with us and for sharing your time today. I really appreciate it. It’s been great talking to you.
Jim Laube 23:12
My pleasure, Chad, great questions, and it’s been a pleasure. Being here with you and your listeners.
Chad Franzen 23:17
Okay. Thank you so much, Jim. soiling everybody.
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