top of page

Do As I Say, Not As I Wish I'd Done.

Updated: Jan 12



3 years, 2 months, 11 days.


Has it really been this long? Already?


When we started all of this I had clear goals, almost too clear. I was quite specific about what I wanted our little restaurant to accomplish. Prior to República, I was a small time coffee roaster. For some reason, transitioning from being a roaster to a restaurant owner didn’t scare me, everything about this industry seemed attainable.


I had a formula that I called the “Comparative - Competitive” scale. It was a simple formula that entailed a number of questions:


What are the 3 best restaurants in Portland that are our size?

1.

2.

3.


What makes them so great?

1.

2.

3.


What is their (perceived) best strength?

1.

2.

3.


__________________________________________________________________


What are the 3 best Mexican restaurants in the Country?

1.

2.

3.


What makes them so great?

1.

2.

3.


What is their (perceived) best strength?

1.

2.

3.


This might seem too simple to some, but for me, this formula continues to be the starting point. From this I knew what I could and could not do to make up ground. In other words, if one of those great Mexican restaurants in this country had years of experience and great financial backing behind it, trying to replicate their success was going to take years. 


And so we made a list of all of the things that we were going to do better: Storytelling, Mexican wines, wines produced by LGBTQ+, Women, and BIPOC Makers, Mezcal from only Mexican companies, the development of young BIPOC and Women Chefs, hyper-seasonal and hyper-local ingredients. All that compiled with the element of surprise, and I was certain that no one was going to see a tiny Mexican restaurant from Portland with an “all electric” kitchen coming. 


But even if we did all of that and somehow got it right, I wasn’t sure how we were going to measure our success. I knew that financially we would know if it was sustainable based on whether or not we were able to get by. But how were we going to know if what we were doing was going to be accepted by the public? 


And this is where our plan became a bit more… complex.


You see, we did the first part right, but at this point we still had no idea whether the public wanted ANY of this. Did this concept need to exist? It was easy for myself and my partners to say absolutely YES to that question, but outside of us, would anyone in the world care?


I took a step back and began to look around at the people who I admired in this industry. Their stories, and more importantly their timelines from when they began their careers until the moments they began to truly reach some of the more memorable accomplishments. Like us, many of them did this on their own, without backers, hospitality groups, and even true industry mentors. 


And so, I created a timeline for it all, from beginning to end. All of it as a way to not lose sight of where we needed to be in the eyes of the public and our peers. In retrospect, I’m not sure why their timelines became our North Star.  


Year 1: Earn a couple of good local write ups. Build a good team. Survive and tell the story. 

Year 2: Earn Restaurant of the Year (local). Get written up by the LA Times or NY Times.

Year 3: Be named one of the best new restaurants in the country by  Food & Wine Magazine or Bon Appétit.

Year 4: Receive our first James Beard Foundation nomination

Year 5: Open another restaurant. Repeat the cycle. 


Funny enough, we accomplished this in the first 13 months of República. 6 months after, we started that cycle again with Lilia, and later with De Noche & Comala. It's a lot to be proud of. A lot. And yet, oftentimes when I take two steps back to look at the entire picture, I can’t help to think how limited my thinking was. I took only what was on the surface, focused primarily on the things that would help us get to the above. It wasn’t just someone else's timeline, it was someone else’s surface level reality of what a successful restaurant is.


Truth is, knowing what I know now, that 5 year timeline would look SO DIFFERENT. Rather than ever again measuring success as I did when I started, my new 5 year timeline would read more like a diary than a list.


Something more like this:


Year 1:

Settle in, it’s going to be a long and daunting grind. In fact, do not open this ________ until you can accept the following terms.


- You are going to work more than you ever have in your life. 

- Say goodbye to weekend plans, holidays, PTO, and vacations with family & friends.

- You are going to lose “relationships” along the way.

- People are going to hate you without even knowing you, you better be okay with that. 

- Do not invest more than what you are willing to lose. If you do, you better be mentally and financially okay with losing it all. 

- Give yourself a timeline, stick to it. 


With that said. 


- Build systems and operating procedures; management (FOH & BOH), accounting, social media, etc. Don’t leave anything up to chance. 

- A RELIABLE accountant is more important than a great prep-cook. Figure out how to pay for one. 

- Hire for work ethic first, skill second. Remember that talent is fleeting, your best people are going to be the people who are constantly looking to learn vs those that are comfortable with the skills they brought to the job. 

- Build with intentionality, and make that intentionality part of your company values. Constantly revisit the reasons why you chose to open this __________, this will help you stay on your own right path.

- Be grateful for the accolades, but remember that they do not equate true success. If anything they are simply a validation of the work that you have put in during the journey.

- Remember that before you can develop talent, you gotta develop trust, and before you develop trust, you gotta earn respect. Define what you want to be respected for.

- For goodness sake man, pay yourself!




Year 2: 

More questions:

- Are you still on your own right path?

- Have your values changed? How and why?

- What has been the biggest learning lesson?

- What are you going to do differently? - How is your mental health?

- Is this still what you want to do? 


Now then, now that you've answered all of that lets begin:


- Get your taxes right. You will need these at every turn from this point forward.

- Revisit your values, what can you add to them?

- What is the goal for the year? Do you have one for you and for the business? 

- Find a routine that is beneficial to your health; meditation, walking, running, sleeping… do it all.

- Are you staying sharp? What are you doing to improve yourself? Reading, online courses..?

- Are you developing your team? What does development look like for them?

- Is your business growing? If so, how? Financially, professionally, in popularity?

- Can you document its growth and what the cause for it was? If so, double up on what works. 

-  If it's not growing, can you explain why? (If possible with data)

- Take days to remove yourself from your business and see if the systems you have in place are indeed reliable. Once you feel good about the above, make time for yourself. 

- Make time for others. Prioritize the people that can use the mentorship within as well as outside of your organization.

- Genuinely praise others in your industry. Make time to visit their establishments, offer your support and your expertise when they need it. 

- Don’t pay attention to the people who will never accept you or your concept. It is easy to get sidetracked by the bullshit, but at the end of the day, remember that it's all bullshit. 

- Don’t take it personally when publications and writers prioritize others over you. Times like these are great to rally your team around your own values. Do not create an “us vs them” environment, instead, key- in more on your craft, values, and purpose. Trust the process. 

- Always prioritize the mental health of your TEAM before that of an individual. In other words, if you have one of the best ______________ working for you but that person is complicated to work with, do what is best for everyone and let them go. Trust me, there is no point in losing a number of people over the difficulties of having to work with someone who is “hard” to get along with, it doesn't matter how talented they are. At the end of the day that person will always walk away calling you and  everyone around them incompetent (it's what they do). Prioritize your team over the ego of an individual. 

-Have you paid yourself yet?



Year 3:

Congrats, take some time to reflect on what an accomplishment it is to still be in business. 


Now, I will ask you again:


- Are you still on your own right path?

- Have your values changed? How and why?

- What has been the biggest learning lesson to date?

- What are you going to do differently?

- How is your mental health?

- Is this still what you want to do? 

- Are you resting enough?


Look, by this point, I don’t need to tell you what you should be doing, the truth is, you can copy all of the above from year 2 and maybe sprinkle a few more that I think have incredible value.


Here is what they are:


- Have a tight relationship with your bank.

- Find other financial institutions within your city, establish a relationship with the company, even if you don’t need their help. 

- Find a “support” group of professionals within your city. Bring something to the table other than complaints about your own operations. 

- Make yourself available to new folks coming into your industry. Reach out to them on social media, make time for coffee. You have to be a good ear before you can be a good mentor.

- Know the politics of your own city. Make a conscious effort to understand all that is happening locally and get involved when necessary. 

- Go beyond your own industry. Befriend movers and shakers within your city, they will not only provide great mentorship but also be your biggest supporters along the way. 

- Now more than ever, take time to either plan your exit strategy or plan your expansion. If you do not have a plan for one or the other you will burn out on what your brain might perceive as monotony. 

- Ask yourself, what you want your legacy to be. It's not too early to start defining it. 


That’s it. Knowing all that I now know, this is what I would have focused on instead of a timeline with a list of accolades. Do not get me wrong, there are  MANY other things I would have done differently, but when it comes to measuring success, being able to answer these questions would have been our true barometer. 


Of course, doing all of the things on that list was no small feat, but to be perfectly honest with you, in retrospect, for someone who preaches “do what is right not what is easy”, I somehow failed to dream bigger than what others had already done. Nonetheless, here we are. I hope this is of help to you. But if that’s not enough. I added a few more random thoughts below.

If you are reading this, know that I will always do my best to make myself available to you.


 

Work Harder.


That’s the answer to your life's problems. Whether it means working harder on your career or working harder on yourself, either one will make your life easier.


Many people won’t understand this. They are quick to push a “work-life balance” narrative in response to statements like the above. Which is always confusing to me, as someone who has always worked harder in hopes of one day attaining an ideal “work-life” balance.


Working harder doesn’t have to mean work more, it just means you have to take pride in working smarter and wiser than everyone else. When that mentality becomes the thing that drives you, success tends to follow.


Now there's that elusive part, success. What are you working towards? Buying a new car, taking a vacation, having a work-life balance…?


Those are all great things, yet some are able to attain this by simply working for the right company or being born to the right family, and when it's attained there isn’t much left to work towards. You don’t necessarily have to think bigger, you just have to think long term. This applies to your career, yourself, and anything that will bring you happiness. 


People often ask me how I am able to work so much, what they don’t realize is that I’ve visualized my life backwards; I dreamed up the biggest future I could, and simply mapped it out in reverse. In other words, most of what you are seeing right now is by design; the good, the bad, the lessons, they are all part of personal growth, fueled by hard work. 


No sacrifices here. I am not missing out on anything that is bigger than the future I’ve already imagined for myself.


I am simply working hard to get there sooner.


Every one of our concepts carried intentionality behind it, not just in the product, but the timeline. As an Entrepreneur, everything around me revolves around concepts, and deadlines. I choose this mentality because it creates a greater sense of ownership on a project while giving it a date of completion. This is the way I take big projects and break them down to smaller tasks.




 

Keep Learning.


It may seem like common sense advice, after all our brains never stop taking in new information.


What I am talking about however, is actively seeking out new knowledge, daily.


Whether it’s books, audiobooks, podcasts, or even documentaries. These are all pretty easy to consume and we all have the time to do it.


For me personally, actively learning something new is a bit like meditation. I need it to balance out my day. If I’m too busy to read a book, I simply listen to something, be it during a walk, a drive, or on the streetcar. There is always time to learn, especially if you are attempting to gain a greater understanding of a particular subject.


This year alone, I consumed 19 books, each one of them driven by something that was important to me at the moment. When I knew that I would be meeting with city officials about the problems with our city, I went and read 3 different books from city planning to tackling addiction and homelessness in the inner city. I did this because I wanted to make sure I understood the language, the challenges, and the strategies that have worked in the past. I needed to cite my sources to add credibility to my proposals.


Same goes for our restaurant year round. When talking about our food, course after course, I have to go beyond what is on the surface of a dish. As you all may know, etymology is king at our establishments. Passing down all of this information requires a lot of reading and at the same time, a lot of teaching. None of this is possible without the hours I have dedicated to making etymology a pillar of our establishments.


My advice, find a topic that you are really interested in, whether it's health, history, career, etc... Start with the podcast, move on to audiobooks. If you have the money, get an audible account or simply download the app from your local library and rent for free.


If you can listen to music during your commute or your run, you can listen to a great book as well.


 

Give It Time.


In life as well as in business, the more you put yourself out there (work & life), the more likely you are to encounter disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, if you put in the work, success will come. However, before, in between, even after, you will encounter a good amount of disappointment. 


Sometimes, it will come in the form of rejection or failure, other times (most often) that disappointment will come from the people around you. Over the last 3 years I’ve learned a lot about it all, from failed concepts and opportunities that didn’t pan out to failed partnerships and the friendships lost along the way.


I spent what felt like nearly a year, drowning in those feelings. Often contemplating my role in those failures both professionally and personally. If you reflect on it long enough, it will consume you. Maybe consume is not the right word… it will fuck you up.

It will become part of your identity and narrative. It will influence the way people view you, regardless of whether you are in the right or the wrong.


The best advice I can give you is to reframe your thoughts. If you were in the wrong about something, look at it as a learning experience, it's your life, you are entitled to own your own narrative.  By no means am I asking you to find a way to spin it, what I am saying is that you first have to own it, count the takeaways, think of what you will do differently, and do all of those things. The best way to forgive yourself is by growing from the experience.


Same goes for if you were wronged by someone, I can give you hours and hours of advice on this, but the best thing I can say is: give it time.


I know that may seem like common sense, but trust me, give it time. Don’t give too much attention to their narrative or their storylines. Getting caught up in that will only take away from your energy and your creativity. If there is one thing I’ve learned during my time in this industry is that time always tells the tale, and so far, time is undefeated.


Here’s to 2024, the best year yet.


 


Intentionality.


I'm not a chef. Maybe a writer. Definitely a reader.


Any topic out there, when I want to understand something better, I don't read for answers, I read for inspiration.


I read to try and understand their formulas, the way beat junkies listen to Dilla, in hopes of making sense of the patterns that made his sound one of a kind.


Can I first understand Bolaño and Borjez before I can understand Neruda?


Or is it the other way around?


I don't read because I hope to emulate, I read because it forces me to develop my own style, not as a writer but as a teller of stories.

Not on paper or on social media, but as a creator of concepts.

At República, these books here are what we present our checks on at the end of one's meal. We are certainly not the first to do it, but probably the first to intentionally pick the writers who inspired this space and even a dish or two in the past. The same writers, who write poems to which we name cocktails after.


Every once in a while, you get the literary nerd or the retired anthropology professor, and when they see it all come together, it blows their mind.


Some of our tables are named after those writers instead of numbers. What can be better than naming a dish "Ode to the Apple"?

A person reciting the actual poem to their partner while sitting at "Neruda", having an anniversary date.


That's my formula, I guess.


Give the little things meaning.


You say the margarita is the most requested cocktail in a Mexican restaurant? Great, name it "What Happened in 1519" .


When they ask why we chose to call it that, simply explain to them the story of the arrival of Spaniards to the coast of Veracruz and the good and bad that came from that exchange.


And when you do it, channel the cadence and approach of the greats.

593 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page