Eric Bialik has been working in restaurants since he was 15, and throughout his life he always came back to jobs in the food service industry. His academic career went off the rails shortly after high school, but after years of managing other people’s restaurants, he finally teamed up with the right partners to open a restaurant of his own. In the process he’s learned quite a lot about starting and running a business, and keeping employees engaged, motivated, happy, and productive.
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Highlights from this episode include:
Running a Restaurant
- “I wanted to do something fun with people I enjoyed doing it with, and it just so happened to be a restaurant.” 00:07:06]
- Eric’s very first job in the food service industry. [00:07:31]
- On working in a pizza restaurant: “I did everything: started as a dishwasher, then tossed the pies, then became a key employee.” [00:09:41]
- Eric’s time as the manager of a speakeasy. [00:10:59]
- The practical value of managing a restaurant and tracking profit and loss each week. [00:11:26]
- How restaurant managers handle invoices. [00:13:04]
- “There are many transactions in a restaurant, whether they’re monetary, they’re verbal, or they’re shaking hands with a regular guest.” [00:13:46]
- “At this time, I was about 25, 26 years old, and I’d never spent that amount of money ever. But after a few weeks you get used to it.” [00:15:38]
- “At that time, I didn’t really have a working mentor, but how I learned at that time was through all my mistakes that I had made, and I made a lot of them.” [00:17:01]
- The two jobs that gave Eric the most important relevant experience in opening and running his restaurant. [01:22:11]
- “I call it alien proofing. If an alien were to come down and they were to see a checklist, they could run the restaurant.” [00:31:32]
- The many costs–beyond food–that go into running a restaurant. [01:08:53]
- The logistics of providing food for a local pro soccer team. [01:38:07]
- “You never really shut off. I’ll get calls all through the night.” [01:46:20]
- How Eric keeps track of everything he needs to get done. [01:51:12]
What it Takes to Open a Restaurant
- How Eric found his business partners. [00:32:56]
- The surprise snag that kept them from opening at one of the first locations they were considering. [00:38:20]
- How opening a small business often requires buy-in from spouses and other family members, not just the business partners. [00:40:00]
- The different approach that Eric and his partners are taking with their second location. [00:43:33]
- “We’re gonna take this thing a little bit slower than we originally thought.” [00:46:29]
- The conflict Eric encountered with a major restaurant chain when they tried to move into the same shopping center. [00:47:05]
- “You’ve got to look at your landlord as a partner, too.” [00:48:23]
- “There’s nothing proprietary about a restaurant.” [00:52:10]
- How Eric and his partners funded their restaurant. [01:55:22]
- “It was important that all of us were monetarily invested in the business. That was something that was non-negotiable.” [01:55:41]
- How Eric learned when to say yes and when to say no as a manager dealing with employees. [00:18:40]
- The cost and difficulty of finding reliable, competent employees. [00:20:10]
- “A lot of the fast casual restaurants, they don’t put a lot of value into their employees.” [00:20:51]
- “A lot of the employees are very musically inclined, so it’s little things like one of them plays a concert once every month, and it’s like, let me go see him play in this show.” [00:26:30]
- The surprising differences Eric found in managing employees in their teenage years and early twenties, as opposed to employees his own age or older. [00:53:01]
- How Eric worried that his younger employees might not listen to him, but they ended up quoting his handbook to each other. [00:53:59]
- Eric’s innovative approach to the “Employee of the Year” award. [00:58:19]
- The huge problem Eric ended up not having at all with his employees. [01:01:47]
- How and why Eric makes a point of making employee meals at Pacific Counter a more enjoyable experience than they can often be at other restaurants. [01:47:43]
- “As long as your actions match what you say, then everything for me would be okay.” [02:26:04]
Vendors and Suppliers
- The critical importance of vendor relationships in the restaurant world. [00:15:55]
- The power move Eric immediately made with his vendors when he started managing a larger restaurant. [00:17:44]
- The very involved process of finding reliable, high-quality suppliers–and back-up suppliers–that Eric and his partners went through before opening their restaurant. [01:11:58]
- How Eric’s suppliers can grow with him and his partners as they open more locations. [01:18:15]
- On his family’s expectations growing up: “I wasn’t allowed to do things unless I got A’s or B’s… My dad had no problem … not only not letting me play, but taking me to the game and having me sit in the stands and watch, and then having to tell everybody why I couldn’t play.” [01:59:50]
- “I got by with procrastinating.” [02:02:26]
- “I was a great test taker… but I didn’t want to do homework for the life of me.” [02:03:08]
- On his attitude in high school: “I really valued me at the time.” [02:05:56]
- Eric’s brief and calamitous first attempt at college. [02:09:38]
- On why college went so wrong: “I knew that I was fully capable. Everything that happened was a decision of mine.” [02:18:44]
- “I was kicked out of school, no longer in Orlando, is living back in Jacksonville, where I went to high school, living in my parents, living in the room I grew up in, but paying rent and the room that I was growing up in.” [02:19:45]
Zero to One by Peter Thiel
Mike Barrett: [00:00:02] Job Interviews: career and life advice from just about everybody.
Patrick Barrett: [00:00:09] Welcome back to the Job Interviews podcast. I am Patrick Barrett, sitting here with my brother Mike.
Mike Barrett: [00:00:16] Hello.
Patrick Barrett: [00:00:18] Today, we’ll be talking to somebody in the restaurant industry, which I’m very excited about because—
Mike Barrett: [00:00:23] The restaurant industry or the guy?
Patrick Barrett: [00:00:24] Everything.
Mike Barrett: [00:00:25] Oh [inaudible]
Patrick Barrett: [00:00:25] Everything in that—every noun in that sentence I’m excited about.
Mike Barrett: [00:00:29] What a nice mindset.
Patrick Barrett: [00:00:29] Yeah, thanks! [laughter] But, yeah, this is … Like so many jobs, the restaurant world is something many of us interact with, one way or another, on a fairly regular basis. To me, it’s just very interesting to get behind the scenes and hear more about what that’s like, and that’s what we are able to do today.
Mike Barrett: [00:00:53] Absolutely. Although, as with many of our interviews, another totally interesting dimension of this, that isn’t really directly related to the job that Eric has, is how he came to have it and the various—
Patrick Barrett: [00:01:04] Yeah, the path that gets you there.
Mike Barrett: [00:01:06] -difficulties and/or advantages that he had academically, also, in some cases; in this case, I should say academically. So, yeah, one thing that we often talk to people about, of course, is standardized testing, and college admissions, and all of that kind of stuff. I think it’s always interesting and instructive to hear how anybody managed that phase of their life, and how it went on to inform, and shape, or not, what their professional life was like. Eric’s path in that way is, I think, very interesting—interesting and unique, in some ways, but also extremely universal, in other ways, which we’ll talk about later.
Patrick Barrett: [00:01:47] Yeah, absolutely. And yet again, we have a situation where Eric had a certain path that he went down, and he did not … Not only did he not lay down this path ahead of time as the one he wanted to follow —nobody really could have. In so many ways, a lot of high school students and college students are attempting something that is not possible when they try to say, “Okay, in this year, I’ll do this; then, that year, I’ll do that—
Mike Barrett: [00:02:10] Because what they’re attempting is to map out every day of their lives almost, on some level.
Patrick Barrett: [00:02:10] Yeah, and something … One of those steps is just gonna go exactly how you don’t think it’s gonna go, and—
Mike Barrett: [00:02:18] Yeah, for most people. Not for everyone—
Patrick Barrett: [00:02:19] For most people, generally speaking.
Mike Barrett: [00:02:21] -but for the majority of people.
Patrick Barrett: [00:02:21] And that’s not to say that it’s bad to have a plan, but it’s just—it’s good to have a plan that you feel pretty good about and also to be prepared for something else to happen along the way—
Mike Barrett: [00:02:30] To be aware that nearly every plan … Right.
Patrick Barrett: [00:02:33] -and for you to be ready to react then and be secure in the knowledge that this is the standard human experience.
Mike Barrett: [00:02:39] It’s okay to deviate from a plan. Absolutely.
Patrick Barrett: [00:02:39] This is what happens, and that is certainly what we will be talking about in a moment, and—
Mike Barrett: [00:02:44] Yeah, and we’ll also … By the way, if you’re not interested in any of the stuff that we just said—I think you should be; I am—but in case you’re not, one other thing that comes up in this interview, which I think is very interesting, is the idea of the manager or supervisor and employee relationship —what Eric does now, as a supervisor; what he did previously as an employee; how his other employees, and supervisors have reacted, and interacted with all of that —and I think it will be very useful to you, if you ever plan to either be employed by someone or employ other people, which basically covers everyone.
Patrick Barrett: [00:03:20] That’s gonna be most people.
Mike Barrett: [00:03:22] Yeah. Some of Eric’s insights and experiences around that are super-useful, especially so if you, like most of our listeners, are in that late-teen to mid-20s age range, or if you are the mentor or loved one of someone in that age range, I think a lot of what Eric says, even if it’s not directly related to restaurants, can be applied broadly, and super-useful and insightful from that standpoint.
Patrick Barrett: [00:03:45] So much of what we are encountering in our interviews is just the importance of these kinds of—just the human interaction—being a part of a group, working on something. Some people’ll say, “Oh, great, I really work well with people,” and some people’ll say, “Oh, no, [laughter] that’s the worst thing you could say.” “What, that’s really important? That’s terrible news.” But it’s also important to remember that if you maybe do have difficulty being comfortable being around a lot of people or interacting with them, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be in a position where you can interact with every person on Earth or walk into any company on Earth and be comfortable and do well. It’s a matter of just finding the one situation—
Mike Barrett: [00:04:30] The right environment for you.
Patrick Barrett: [00:04:31] Yeah, where that works, and that might be just you … You might have a business that’s just you and your brother [laughter]
Mike Barrett: [00:04:42] Oddly specific …
Patrick Barrett: [00:04:42] But, yeah, there are so many different possibilities. It could be a small group that you end up spending a lot of time with, or a bigger one, or anything in between, so that’s just this common thing of [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:04:50] Also, I would like to add one other thing in there, as well. Whether you enjoy interacting with people on a professional basis or not —again, whether you are someone who enjoys that or not —nearly everyone can get better at it. I would go so far as to say every single person can get better at it than their baseline—
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:09] Yeah, pretty much. You can at least improve.
Mike Barrett: [00:05:09] It’s like a lot of things. You could be a natural talent at it, but if you wanna be over-the-top good, then you really have to make a, on some level, a concerted effort to think about it.
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:20] Yeah, spend some time doing it, and thinking about it.
Mike Barrett: [00:05:20] So, with all of that in mind, this interview will be helpful, I think, to a lot of people for a lot of reasons—
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:26] Yeah, it touches on these topics.
Mike Barrett: [00:05:26] -but one thing in particular is that exploring employers, employees, how all of that fits together, especially with respect to people in that younger age group.
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:35] Absolutely. So, without further ado, let’s—
Mike Barrett: [00:05:38] No, wait. I have more ado … [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:38] Oh wait …
Mike Barrett: [00:05:39] I’m out of ado …
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:39] All right. No more ado.
Mike Barrett: [00:05:39] Nope.
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:39] Here we go.
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:42] Hello again. We are here with Eric Bialik to talk about his unique journey [laughter]
Eric Bialik: [00:05:50] Yes, it’s very unique; it is.
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:52] Can you, in your own words, describe to us what your current job is and what you do?
Eric Bialik: [00:05:57] Yeah. So, I currently own a restaurant in St. Pete, downtown St. Pete, and it is a sushi bowl, and sushi burrito restaurant, build your own, and we are fastly looking to expand.
Patrick Barrett: [00:06:14] Awesome.
Mike Barrett: [00:06:15] That’s really cool.
Patrick Barrett: [00:06:16] So, Eric was gracious enough to bring us some food from this restaurant right before this that Mike and I just ate, and it was so good! [laughter]
Eric Bialik: [00:06:23] Yeah.
Mike Barrett: [00:06:23] If you ever find yourself in St. Pete, I highly recommend it.
Patrick Barrett: [00:06:26] Yeah, St. Pete. That’s Central Avenue, right?
Eric Bialik: [00:06:26] Yeah, and I made those yesterday for you [laughter]
Mike Barrett: [00:06:26] Oh, wonderful!
Patrick Barrett: [00:06:26] They’re still good. Imagine if they were fresh. Yeah, it was outstanding. It’s Central Avenue, right …?
Eric Bialik: [00:06:36] Yes, on the 600 block [crosstalk] in the Arts District.
Patrick Barrett: [00:06:40] All right. So, no matter how far away you live from St. Petersburg, Florida, book a flight tomorrow and get there.
Eric Bialik: [00:06:44] Yeah. Please.
Patrick Barrett: [00:06:44] It was wonderful. Please [laughter] So, do you—
Mike Barrett: [00:06:44] So, yeah, did you just … Oh, go ahead. I just—no, I totally interrupted you.
Patrick Barrett: [00:06:54] That’s fine [crosstalk] When you were growing up, did you think, “I always wanted to own a restaurant …” How do you think you came into this situation?
Eric Bialik: [00:07:06] No, I never—it never came to my head, like, “Let’s just … My lifelong dream is to open a restaurant.” That was never really part of the unplanned plan [crosstalk] Me, personally, with my experience in the industry, I wanted to do something fun with people I enjoyed doing it with, and it just so happened to be a restaurant, and it just so happened to be this restaurant.
Patrick Barrett: [00:07:28] Interesting.
Mike Barrett: [00:07:28] That’s really cool.
Patrick Barrett: [00:07:29] You mentioned your experience in the industry. Can you expand on that a little?
Eric Bialik: [00:07:31] Yes, sure. So, my very first job was in Jacksonville, Florida, at Cold Stone Creamery.
Mike Barrett: [00:07:39] How old were you?
Eric Bialik: [00:07:39] I was 15 years old, at first, and I was recently coming off of wrist surgery on my right wrist. Yeah, right there.
Patrick Barrett: [00:07:47] Oh … Good job to get into, just start grinding that cold [laughter]
Eric Bialik: [00:07:47] Well, I spoke to my therapist at the time and enough of the squeezing of the therapeutic balls later, she was like, “Hey, you know, you may go get a job, as long as …” I told her, “Well, there’s this place right by my house called Cold Stone Creamery,” and she goes, “Work there.” So, started working there—
Patrick Barrett: [00:08:07] It’s like extended therapy for your wrist—
Eric Bialik: [00:08:07] Exactly [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:08:07] It’s funny. I bet she had no idea the hero’s journey she was sending you on—
Eric Bialik: [00:08:11] No.
Mike Barrett: [00:08:11] “Work there, Eric …” [laughter]
Patrick Barrett: [00:08:11] It’s like the beginning of a Zelda game [crosstalk] She was like, “Go work there until you’re strong enough to do the next thing…” [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:08:21] “Strike the cold stone!”
Eric Bialik: [00:08:21] The three-eyed raven from Game of Thrones?
Mike Barrett: [00:08:24] Right, yeah [laughter]
Patrick Barrett: [00:08:24] That’s your own personal, a little more boring version of that [laughter]
Mike Barrett: [00:08:26] That was mean!
Patrick Barrett: [00:08:26] I mean, it’s more boring than Game of Thrones.
Eric Bialik: [00:08:31] It’s a dragonless story.
Mike Barrett: [00:08:31] It is, so far.
Patrick Barrett: [00:08:31] So, Cold Stone, that was your first job.
Eric Bialik: [00:08:37] Cold Stone Creamery was my entry into the food world. Then after that, when I first got into college, I worked at—I was a dishwasher at a Bennigan’s; rest in peace, Bennigan’s—
Patrick Barrett: [00:08:47] Was that your next job?
Eric Bialik: [00:08:48] That was my next food-related job, yes—
Mike Barrett: [00:08:51] Sorry, you just said, “Rest in peace, Bennigan’s …”?
Eric Bialik: [00:08:53] Yeah [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:08:53] Seriously, rest in peace?
Patrick Barrett: [00:08:53] Are they really?
Eric Bialik: [00:08:53] Yeah.
Patrick Barrett: [00:08:53] How did I not even know that?
Mike Barrett: [00:08:53] That was actually my first paid job.
Eric Bialik: [00:08:59] No way!
Mike Barrett: [00:08:59] I was… not a server, I was a host.
Eric Bialik: [00:09:03] Oh, yeah.
Mike Barrett: [00:09:03] There was too many people in line to be servers, so I was a host.
Patrick Barrett: [00:09:05] That was my first baked-potato soup I ever had was at Bennigan’s [laughter] It was so good.
Eric Bialik: [00:09:09] Baked-potato soup? That was my … I think that was the first 3,000-calorie sandwich I ever had, the Monte Cristo [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:09:15] Yeah, the Monte Cristo. Oh, man [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:09:19] Yeah, can’t get away with that today. I used to ask for extra powdered sugar on it because there was not enough on there to begin with—
Patrick Barrett: [00:09:25] Right, right, right. Between the sugar and the jelly it’s just—
Eric Bialik: [00:09:25] Exactly, and the fried … Yeah
Patrick Barrett: [00:09:26] It’s too neutral [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:09:26] So, I was a dishwasher there [crosstalk] and then I worked at a local pizza restaurant, right next to UCF, called Lazy Moon Pizza, and then—
Mike Barrett: [00:09:37] What’d you do in the pizza restaurant?
Eric Bialik: [00:09:41] I did everything. Started as a dishwasher, then tossed the pies, then became a key employee. Yeah, we did big 30-inch pies there, too. They were delicious and cool.
Patrick Barrett: [00:09:50] Whoa. Did you do it like—was it one of those restaurants, where the people see you tossing the dough and everything?
Eric Bialik: [00:09:54] Oh yeah.
Patrick Barrett: [00:09:55] That’s cool [crosstalk] Did you do the YouTube-quality spinning and everything?
Eric Bialik: [00:09:57] Well, that things was—it was a 30-inch pie.
Patrick Barrett: [00:09:57] Wow …
Eric Bialik: [00:09:57] So, to give you a frame of reference, it’s about double the size pie than you can get at a Renna’s Pizza, or something like that. So, I would have a tip jar that said, “For the Blue Angels” because my pies would fly [laughter]
Patrick Barrett: [00:10:13] Was that effective?
Eric Bialik: [00:10:14] It was not [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:10:16] -did the tip jar say, “For the Blue Angels Because My Pies Fly,” or [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:10:18] Yeah. No, it said, “For the Blue Angels —See My Pies Fly.”
Mike Barrett: [00:10:19] Wow! I’m so glad I asked [laughter]
Eric Bialik: [00:10:24] So, did that, and they were just a group of really good guys. I really enjoyed them. That was about—geez, that was about 13 years ago, 14 years ago, and they have now expanded into multiple locations, and they’re actually a very, very big growing brand in the area, no thanks—
Patrick Barrett: [00:10:42] Cool. What was it called again?
Eric Bialik: [00:10:42] Lazy Moon Pizza, and that was no thanks to my Blue Angels …
Patrick Barrett: [00:10:46] To your efforts [laughter]
Eric Bialik: [00:10:46] No. No thanks to that.
Mike Barrett: [00:10:50] Think how big they could’ve been if you were a little bit better.
Eric Bialik: [00:10:51] Right? Yeah, so, not gonna say graduated—left school and worked [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:10:57] We’ll come back to that.
Eric Bialik: [00:10:59] -left the food industry for years. Then, had an opportunity to get back, here in Tampa. So, it brought me to Tampa, and started off as a server at a local speakeasy in town. And then, three months after that, I became the general manager. I was there for—
Patrick Barrett: [00:11:16] What place is that?
Eric Bialik: [00:11:16] Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club—
Patrick Barrett: [00:11:18] Okay, I’ve heard of that—
Eric Bialik: [00:11:18] Right down Bayshore [crosstalk] It’s the state’s very first—
Mike Barrett: [00:11:20] I was gonna say, I think that’s the only official speakeasy that we have.
Eric Bialik: [00:11:20] Yeah, it’s an era-appropriate speakeasy.
Patrick Barrett: [00:11:26] It’s the little place in the —that we go to. That’s Ciro’s, right?
Mike Barrett: [00:11:26] Yeah, have you never been?
Patrick Barrett: [00:11:26] No, I have.
Mike Barrett: [00:11:26] Okay, yeah.
Patrick Barrett: [00:11:26] I didn’t know if there was another one [crosstalk] That’s an interesting, cool place.
Eric Bialik: [00:11:26] Yeah, it is. Learned a lot there. Learned how to at least plug things into a P&L, and then had an opportunity at a much bigger … A place where my ceiling was much higher at a local restaurant group called Grille One Sixteen. The guys that owned it were the guys that started Hops. If you guys remember Hops, back in the day? [crosstalk] All over. Also, another dying restaurant brand.
Mike Barrett: [00:12:02] It’s interesting, in the restaurant industry, how many places that were loved by their—
Patrick Barrett: [00:12:08] Communities, and—yeah.
Mike Barrett: [00:12:08] Clientele do eventually just die.
Eric Bialik: [00:12:11] Oh, yeah, especially in [crosstalk] the state of Florida—
Mike Barrett: [00:12:14] -which is a thing I wanna talk to you about. Yeah, for sure—
Eric Bialik: [00:12:15] I was there for about three-and-a-half years. About six weeks before I got married, I put in my month notice and just did some light consulting work after that, and that’s when I stumbled upon this opportunity with my friends.
Patrick Barrett: [00:12:30] Cool.
Mike Barrett: [00:12:30] Can I interrupt you to ask something?
Eric Bialik: [00:12:32] Yeah.
Mike Barrett: [00:12:32] So, I think a second ago, you said “Plug things into a P&L.” Did I hear you right?
Eric Bialik: [00:12:33] Yes.
Mike Barrett: [00:12:33] Can you explain for our audience what that …?
Eric Bialik: [00:12:39] Yeah, sure. So, it was my first experience with a profit and loss report—
Patrick Barrett: [00:12:43] I thought you said piano.
Eric Bialik: [00:12:44] Piano—
Patrick Barrett: [00:12:44] I thought it was something joke about, like, “Yeah, that’s all I did was [laughter]” Like automatic music thing. So I thought “I’m gonna wait that out and see if there’s any context later on—”
Eric Bialik: [00:12:50] I was a pianist. I was a pianist, yeah [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:12:50] P and L, yeah, profit and loss.
Eric Bialik: [00:12:50] Yes. So, I didn’t have to actually—
Patrick Barrett: [00:13:02] As a manager? Is that what you’re saying …? That was part of your—
Eric Bialik: [00:13:04] As the operator of the speakeasy, pretty much the only one that—the only responsible one in the restaurant at the time. So, I would get my invoices, I would code them; plug them into the P&L that was already built for me. It was really, really easy [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:13:18] So it’s like a software you’re talking about.
Eric Bialik: [00:13:20] Exactly. It was just into an Excel spreadsheet program, and we had it all figured out, and it was just me plugging it in and seeing where we were at.
Mike Barrett: [00:13:25] I’m sure we’ll get into this more in just a little bit, but your invoices then … Sorry. One of the things which I really probably should’ve explained before we started this discussion —our audience is going to include a lot of people who haven’t really seen a lot of the professional world. One thing that we really try to get across is just the day-to-day transactional administrative stuff because it’s new to them [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:13:46] There are many transactions in a restaurant, whether they’re monetary, they’re verbal, or they’re shaking a hand with a regular guest. These particular transactions are—we would get deliveries about six days—every day but Sunday, whether it be alcohol, whether it be food, whether it be operating stuff, like paper supplies. Every invoice would come in, you’d code them, and coding them—like I say, we’d get a food invoice, and I’d get—
Mike Barrett: [00:14:13] The invoice, sorry, is just like a bill [crosstalk] It’s like a receipt—
Eric Bialik: [00:14:13] It’s like a bill, exactly.
Patrick Barrett: [00:14:14] If we gave you this, it costs this much.
Eric Bialik: [00:14:14] It’s like a receipt, and we would get it from—we would get everything from poultry to fish to produce, so coding your invoices and then plugging that into your profit and loss report, that way, you get an accurate idea of where you are with the restaurant for your purchases, working on a declining budget. So, we would have a budget every week, what we could spend on, and we would work backwards on that budget. So, it helped my chef and helped my bar manager figure out where we were for that week or that period of time.
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Patrick Barrett: [00:15:06] So, you mentioned the weekly budget and working within that budget. Did you have, in your position, autonomy to say … What range of decision-making power did you have to stay within that budget?
Eric Bialik: [00:15:20] That’s a great question, and that was something, being that it was my first time doing it, the autonomy or the ability to make a decision was very frightening for me—
Patrick Barrett: [00:15:30] That was new for you [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:15:30] It was very new. It was like, “Oh, we’re gonna spend $2,500 …?” [laughter]
Patrick Barrett: [00:15:37] How old were you this time? [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:15:38] At this time, I was about 25, 26 years old, and I’d never spent that amount of money ever [crosstalk] after a few weeks you get used to it.
Mike Barrett: [00:15:54] Yeah, it becomes normal.
Eric Bialik: [00:15:55] I did have the autonomy and did have the ability—the decision-making power to say “no” on this or “yes” on this. The relationships with your vendors or your sales reps were extremely important at that time, as well, because—especially in dealing with alcohol, there’s a lot of prerequisites and requirements they need to purchase alcohol—
Patrick Barrett: [00:16:16] You mean legally or what do you mean? [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:16:18] Correct. So, you have to go through a distributor. You can’t just go to a Total Wine or ABC— if you’re down on—let’s say you bought one case of a particular vodka that week—or gin, because we’re talking about the speakeasy—that week, and it’s Sunday and you don’t get your delivery til Tuesday, and you’ve got one bottle left. “Let me just go to the store and get it …” No, you can get shut down, and you’ll never be able to buy alcohol again [crosstalk] You have to go through a distributor.
Mike Barrett: [00:16:45] Is that in every state, do you think, or only in Florida?
Eric Bialik: [00:16:47] I’m not sure. I know for a fact it’s in the state of Florida. I don’t know about other states. I’m pretty sure it’s the same way in New York. But the state of Florida is 100%.
Mike Barrett: [00:16:58] And how did you learn all that stuff? How did you come to know—
Eric Bialik: [00:17:01] Still learning, but no, I had … At that time, I didn’t really have a working mentor, but how I learned at that time was through all my mistakes that I had made, and I made a lot of them. Rather than push it on somebody else, I would just take a lick on the chin, and [crosstalk] Exactly, and just be as transparent as possible with my bosses and my employees. And that’s how I went about it, and it was a recipe that’s worked for me ever since. Everyone’s gonna make a mistake—after that, after the experience there, at my next job, I sat down with all of my vendors. It was the first thing I did on the second day I had the job—
Patrick Barrett: [00:17:43] Your next job after this.
Eric Bialik: [00:17:44] Yes. It was operating another bigger, more expansive restaurant. And I sat down with every single one of my vendors before my people who [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:17:52] Individually, or as one—
Eric Bialik: [00:17:53] Individually, a whole day I had them on block, and I would make sure that one of the other reps would see that rep that I’d just left, too. So, I’d have one come in at 4:00, and the other one come in at 4:45, but I wasn’t done with the other one until 5:00—
Patrick Barrett: [00:18:05] Did you read that somewhere or that’s just your own—
Eric Bialik: [00:18:08] No, I just wanted them to make sure that there’s not blood in the water, there’s just this, “I’m buying it from somebody else, so you’re not gonna monopolize my purchasing.”
Patrick Barrett: [00:18:16] Yeah.
Mike Barrett: [00:18:17] Smart. Sorry, so many things you just said that I would love to expand on, in no particular order—can you describe for us one of the mistakes you made that comes to mind early in your …?
Eric Bialik: [00:18:30] Yeah, this is gonna sound really weird; it’s gonna sound really bad—
Patrick Barrett: [00:18:35] Good!
Eric Bialik: [00:18:35] -but it’s not the worst thing [laughter]
Patrick Barrett: [00:18:39] It gets worse than this.
Eric Bialik: [00:18:40] If you have an employee that you value and the book tells you —the figurative book in operating, I’m sure any business, but especially a restaurant —tells you it’s okay to say yes at times to protect … What’s the opportunity cost of saying no? Lose this employee for forever; are you going to have to go through the whole cost of acquiring a new employee? There’s a whole—
Patrick Barrett: [00:19:03] You mean saying yes or no, if the employee asks for something, like a favor, or something? Okay.
Eric Bialik: [00:19:05] Any time. Yeah, it could be anything [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:19:07] So, the employee says, for example, “Hey, I know I’m supposed to work on Friday night, but something’s happening, and I can’t …”
Eric Bialik: [00:19:12] That’s exactly what happened, too [crosstalk] It was for something … It wasn’t like, “Hey, I’ve got someone sick in my family,” God forbid that ever happens. It was, “I wanna go to a Taylor Swift concert,” or something like that. I forget what it was, and I was like, “You know what? I got this. I’ll cover you this time, but now I have leverage.”
Patrick Barrett: [00:19:31] So, you’re saying that was a particular incident, or you’re saying that was your policy …?
Eric Bialik: [00:19:37] Well, that was—what happened was I went by the book a little too much at first, and I lost a few employees, and I was all of a sudden the guy that was like this [crosstalk] I was somebody that I never was before [crosstalk] this organized guy, who [laughter] not who I am at all. There was a way to going about holding people accountable. And there are certain things you could let slide. And that’s what I learned most at that first job. Going to the next job, a 50-hour workweek turned into a 75-hour work week real fast—
Patrick Barrett: [00:20:06] Because you were covering for people?
Eric Bialik: [00:20:07] Because I was—yeah, I was bending over at times where I probably shouldn’t have.
Mike Barrett: [00:20:10] That’s a really interesting point. So, that’s something that you just mentioned I would like to touch on, as well. And it’s come up actually a few times in these discussions. You mentioned the idea of the cost of acquiring an employee. There’s the risk that perhaps the employee won’t be good in the first place. You’re gonna waste all that time.
Eric Bialik: [00:20:27] Correct.
Mike Barrett: [00:20:28] There’s just the actual time. Even if they’re great, it’s gonna take them a certain number of weeks to become proficient with everything and get on good terms with everyone. And I think a lot of our audience may not realize … When they’re out looking for a job, I don’t know if they necessarily realize that the business is going to be investing in them, in a sense.
Eric Bialik: [00:20:46] Totally. Totally.
Mike Barrett: [00:20:47] Yeah, and that’s part of what the decision-making process is for you, as the management.
Eric Bialik: [00:20:51] Absolutely. So, in the restaurant business, the turnover rate, the annual turnover rate per year, is about between 130% and 150% on your whole staff. Technically, on January 1 of one year [crosstalk] January 1 the next year, you’re gonna see a whole new [crosstalk] set of staff. A lot of it is, especially with your fast casual restaurants, which is the restaurant that I have—that we have, rather—a lot of the fast casual restaurants, they don’t put a lot of value into their employees or into their staff—
Patrick Barrett: [00:21:19] Yeah, see them as replaceable—
Eric Bialik: [00:21:19] They’re focused so, so much on the guests, which is great. It’s phenomenal to do that, but if you were to focus 10% of what you do on your guests, on your employees, your retention rate’s gonna go out of the roof [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:21:30] Sure, and that makes the employees better, which makes the guest experience better [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:21:34] Indirectly, you’re helping the guests, anyway.
Eric Bialik: [00:21:35] Exactly, and it’s so much more than just the cost of hiring and training. There’s so much more than that. There’s an inherent benefit of having the guests see someone, the same person, every day. And then, it’s not only empowering your guests, but empowering your employees. It’s okay to let them [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:21:53] -have relationships with those people.
Eric Bialik: [00:21:55] -have relationships with the guests, and also, let them know that even though … We have a restaurant; we have four bases, 10 proteins, 30 mixes and toppings, and eight different sauces. I think it’s like … You guys tell me—you guys are the math guys. You guys [crosstalk] 6.5 million different varieties you could make, if you stay within the realms of the build-your-own option [crosstalk] -one base, or halvsies, two proteins, five mixes and toppings, and a sauce. I think it’s like 6.4 million or something like that.
Patrick Barrett: [00:22:20] It’s a lot.
Eric Bialik: [00:22:20] There’s no reason why this—if this employee of ours has a great … If their palate is just great and they understand texture, and flavor balances, we let them create their own Bowl of the Month [crosstalk] We do that quite frequently. We let them do that, and it’s something that—it’s important to let them know that they’re part of the group. We just hit our one-year mark at our restaurant; we just had our first birthday, which is great [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:22:46] -congratulations. It’s a big deal in the restaurant world particularly.
Eric Bialik: [00:22:50] It is. It’s huge. Of the original 16 that we had in the restaurant—
Patrick Barrett: [00:22:56] Employees?
Eric Bialik: [00:22:56] Yeah, employees—we currently have eight of them now, which, up until three months ago [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:23:02] So, that’s 50%, as opposed to 150%—
Eric Bialik: [00:23:02] Exactly. We’re cutting it down by third; 60-some%. Up until three months ago, we had an 80% retention rate [crosstalk] all of our employees. Some of them moved on because they either moved or—one of them went to Germany for a semester [crosstalk] Yeah, they’re more than an employee—especially, you have a college student, or a high school student who just wants to work [crosstalk] like I was, you wanna see them make that next step. So, we just had two kids just go to the University of Florida, and I just wrote them a nice letter of recommendation for their—they’re gonna be TAs over there [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:23:41] They worked as high school students, and then they graduated, and now they’re heading off?
Eric Bialik: [00:23:46] Exactly, yep.
Patrick Barrett: [00:23:46] That’s really cool.
Mike Barrett: [00:23:48] That’s really cool.
Patrick Barrett: [00:23:50] Another thing, I think, that ties into what we were just saying that I think is really useful information for our listeners and for anybody out there trying to get and keep a job is —we talk about the cost that companies invest in new employees of time, and money, and all that, and how huge a problem that can be in certain industries. And I think a good lesson for our listeners is you can create a lot of value, yourself, if you have that attitude of, “I am going to be committed to this, and I’m going to learn it. I’m going to stick around, and make the effort, and feel like I’m a part of this.” If you were a restaurant owner, I’m sure that’s the exact kind of person [crosstalk] that you want to have apply to you, and you would, if you could somehow see into the future and know this person is actually gonna be here for the next two years, even, or more than that, that you’d be perfectly happy to spend the money training or whatever, if you know that this a person you’re gonna be able to count on.
Eric Bialik: [00:24:47] Absolutely. We spend extra time, especially when we’re paying for the time—we spend extra time telling them how to break down a fish, like a full fish [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:24:56] Like psychologically [laughter]
Patrick Barrett: [00:24:56] Like in an interrogation context.
Eric Bialik: [00:24:57] -it’s not part of their job expectation, or requirement, or what they thought was gonna happen—
Patrick Barrett: [00:25:10] Yeah, but it kind of fits in with the whole thing—
Eric Bialik: [00:25:10] Yeah. It’s something that they think is—
Patrick Barrett: [00:25:12] It’s a cool skill to have [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:25:12] It’s a cool thing; like how to sharpen a really nice sushi knife [crosstalk] It’s totally different—
Mike Barrett: [00:25:20] -it’s not symmetrical, right? The Japanese knives—
Eric Bialik: [00:25:21] It’s not, but there’s a certain way … We don’t just take the thing [crosstalk] One of my partners is a classically trained master sushi chef, so he’s sitting there with them, taking the time to come in early and show them, “This is what we do.” We’ll pay extra, sometimes, with our vendors. We’ll pay extra for another delivery because these two employees can only make it on Monday. So, we’ll let them see the fish come in. We’ll show them the curing process, the breaking down of the fish process. It’s something that we think is really cool. And then, three months later, they’re still working in the restaurant. It’s not something that’s like we’re gonna ask him to break down a fish, or her to break down of fish, or them to break down a fish any time. It’s just like, yeah, you know what? Now, they really feel like they’re valued [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:26:12] Well, and that will also make them better ambassadors for the store, and the brand because if they understand [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:26:16] -more enthusiastic about the whole thing.
Mike Barrett: [00:26:18] That’s really smart.
Patrick Barrett: [00:26:19] That’s really cool.
Mike Barrett: [00:26:19] How did you learn that stuff? Did you do see someone do that, or you read books, or [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:26:22] How to break it down? I mean—
Mike Barrett: [00:26:22] Sorry, I meant—well, that, too, but how did you learn—
Patrick Barrett: [00:26:27] -to include the employees in that way—
Mike Barrett: [00:26:28] -a treat the employees in that kind of way?
Eric Bialik: [00:26:30] Mostly through experience. I’ve worked in places that I didn’t feel the most valued, whether it was me getting in my own head or me just not being mature enough at the time, but the feeling still existed. It’s like, what can I do today to make sure that none of my employees, or our employees feel that way [crosstalk] Whether it’s going overboard, or whether it’s—I have so many—these kids these days are so talented and doing so many things, and so many of them …. A lot of the employees are very musically inclined, so it’s little things like one of them plays a concert once every month, and it’s like, let me go see him play in this show. That’s something that’s— that goes so far. Coincidentally enough, that’s one of our employees that’s still with us a year later [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:27:15] Well, and it’s interesting for you. It tells you more about that person [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:27:19] If you don’t know them outside of the restaurant, you don’t … There’s a fine line, don’t get me wrong, but you have to [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:27:24] -you don’t want them knocking on your bedroom window, “Doin’ anything?” [laughter]
Eric Bialik: [00:27:24] Yeah, “Hey, man, wanna go somewhere?” [laughter] You have to know what motivates them and what motivates them in a positive way. So, that’s something that was very, very important to us.
[00:27:43] [Musical Interlude]
Mike Barrett: [00:27:43] Did you know that most schools don’t care at all about your score on the SAT essay, or the ACT essay? And the schools that do officially require an essay score for those tests seem to view that score as the absolute least important part of your application. In fact, they actually seem to ignore the essay score altogether, even if they won’t admit that publicly. Now, I wanna make it absolutely clear, I’m talking about the optional essay portion of the SAT and the ACT here. That’s the thing that schools don’t pay attention to, even when they request it.
[00:28:11] I am not talking about essays or personal statements that you submit as part of your actual application, because those definitely can be important. I’m just talking about the optional essay sections on the ACT, and the SAT. If you wanna learn more on this topic and save yourself the trouble of prepping for the optional essay on the ACT, or the SAT, then stay tuned for the special segment at the end of this episode. And for more on the SAT, and ACT, head over to questprep.com, or search for the SAT Prep Black Book or the ACT Prep Black Book on Amazon.com.
Patrick Barrett: [00:28:42] So, when you think about— because we’re talking about the situation that you have with your restaurant and how you’re trying to create this environment, and this community of people —it sounds, honestly, like a great place to work. And then, on the other side, you mentioned you’ve had jobs where you didn’t feel that way when you were working there. Do you have any particular take on, like if you are in, as an employee, a situation where you’re working in a restaurant, and you don’t feel that positive community atmosphere—
Eric Bialik: [00:29:12] Yeah.
Patrick Barrett: [00:29:13] What would you do? Are you just looking for other jobs while you stay with this one? Can you change the culture where you are [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:29:19] Sure. Well, I’m sure the restaurant business is different in a lot of ways than other industries, but the same in a lot of industries. What I would tell anyone who was ever feeling that way is, one, confront —confront your manager, or your shift leader, or whoever, and voice your concern. If you feel you’re not heard, give them an opportunity. And if you are not heard, then I would start looking elsewhere. But as long as expectations from your shift lead, or your manager, your boss, are very clear and concise, and as long as you have all the tools to carry out the expectation, then I would suggest it’s probably not the place for you, at that point.
Patrick Barrett: [00:30:01] And when you mentioned looking elsewhere, do you have any thoughts on how you would try to determine, if you’re applying to a place, will this be the kind of place that I’d like to [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:30:09] I would make a pros and cons list. What is good about this job that I like? Obviously, you’re still there working. If it’s your first day and you’re feeling this way, then just leave. [laughter] If you’re there for month two, or month three and there are things that you really like about it, make a pros and cons list. I’m a pros and cons list—my wife and I are pros and cons list people for everything —buying a house; what are we gonna do for dinner? [laughter] two and the same. Make a pros and cons list. What is really bothering you? Can it be fixed? Is it salvageable? If it’s not, then no hard feelings. It just is what it is.
Patrick Barrett: [00:30:43] And then when you go to look for that next place, is there something that you would look for, when you’re considering—like, if I’m gonna apply here, is there telltale signs that this might be the right environment, or the wrong environment—
Eric Bialik: [00:30:54] Yeah, well, first I would … What kind of place are you going to? Some people don’t work well in mom-and-pop restaurants. I’d call our restaurant a mom-and-pop restaurant. Some people want more structure. Some people want more … Our people and our product is great, but I’d be lying to you, if I said our processes were pristine. Any restaurant would probably be lying to you. The restaurants that have 3,000 and 4,000 locations probably have their processes down [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:31:20] Now, to be clear, sorry, when you’re saying pristine, I don’t think you mean that it’s not sanitary. You mean that it’s not [laughter] If you’re working in a large fast food chain, the steps to make the fish nuggets or whatever are the same [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:31:32] The same, no matter—I call it alien proofing. If an alien were to come down [crosstalk] and they were to see a checklist, they could run the restaurant.
Mike Barrett: [00:31:35] They’d be like, “Well, I can make those French fries [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:31:40] That’s how we evaluate it. It’s like, “Is this alien proof, right here?” [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:31:43] You’re aiming for that, but you’re not there—
Eric Bialik: [00:31:47] Aiming for that … There are so many things that change [crosstalk] for us that it’s hard to develop that, especially when working with fresh produce. You don’t know when—is an alien gonna know if this avocado’s two days out or six days out? No, probably not. But as much as we can, to have the process is great. But some people, they don’t wanna grow with figuring the processes out, and that’s okay—
Patrick Barrett: [00:32:12] Yeah, they’d rather get there when it’s all done.
Eric Bialik: [00:32:12] That’s okay. They wanna go somewhere where they can put the headphones on, and just not be bothered, and just do their thing—there’s nothing against them, but I would recommend going to a place … If that’s what you’re better at, maybe go to a chain, and vice versa, if you’re at a chain restaurant … Speaking on restaurants right now, if you’re at a chain restaurant, and you’re like, “Wow, I do not like being micromanaged,” come on over to Pacific Counter. We come from the School of Macromanagement [laughter]
Patrick Barrett: [00:32:38] It sounds like a huge first step is take the time to understand yourself and what exactly—what position you’d like to be in, and what is gonna fit in—
Eric Bialik: [00:32:48] Correct. Make that pros and cons list. You’ll find out a lot about yourself.
Patrick Barrett: [00:32:54] Yeah, that makes a ton of sense.
Mike Barrett: [00:32:56] Sorry, this question is gonna jump all over the place in your timeline. How did you find these people that you came to partner with to own this restaurant? What was the process? How long have you known them? Where did you meet them?
Eric Bialik: [00:33:09] Great question. So, my small stint, my five-and a half months in college, I kind of joined a fraternity. I joined this fraternity, and I met a lot of really great people that I still keep in touch with. And one of them was my partner, Tanner. We had been friends since we were 19 years old. He’s originally from St. Pete. We both went to UCF. I met him the year after I left college and was still living in Orlando. Met him there, and we were great friends ever since. He started the first food-delivery service business in St. Pete, back in 2011 or ’12, I wanna say—somewhere around there. He started the first food-delivery service in St. Pete. It was called 727 Food Now. And long story short, about two-and-a-half years ago, March of ’17; yeah, two-and-a-half years …
Mike Barrett: [00:34:08] Yeah, good job [laughter]
Eric Bialik: [00:34:13] Somewhere around there. Spring of ’17, he had an opportunity to exit his business, and did, and sold it to another bigger delivery service business. And then he was like, “What should I do next?” We were sitting at another friend’s house, eating dinner, from college. And he goes, “Hey, Eric …” He knew, at this point in time, I was just doing consulting work. I was not in a restaurant; just doing some mini-development for some small mom-and-pop restaurants and enjoying my life very much. And he was like, “Hey, would you wanna get back in the restaurant game? If so, at what capacity?” I was like, “Well, I’d wanna do it with someone—something fun.” And all I could remember was my college stint at Lazy Moon Pizza and how fun it was and how successful it was, based on how fun it was. And I go, “Yeah, as long as it’s fast casual. I’m not gonna do another server, or another bartender again, for the rest of my life …” [laughter] He’s like, “I had the same idea.”
[00:35:14] So, did we know at the time it was gonna be necessarily, exactly Pacific Counter, sushi bowls, poke—sushi bowls, and sushi burritos? Maybe, but that wasn’t all—we weren’t all the way in. We said to each other, “We need to have three.” What was important to us at the time was —being newly married at the time —it was I wanna be able to spend time with my wife. I felt like I lost a lot of time over the five years prior, putting in 70 hours a week, 80 hours a week into a restaurant, and I wanted to have the creative flexibility to, if something comes up, to do something, or if a family member, or something were to happen—
Mike Barrett: [00:35:50] If you’d need to be on the podcast, and bring food or [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:35:54] -these are important priorities.
Eric Bialik: [00:35:59] He had the same priorities. Luckily, he was like, “I have the perfect third person,” and I go, “Great, let’s go meet him.” I’m thinking I’m gonna drill him. I’m gonna have all these questions; different questions on a profit and loss report [crosstalk] purchasing … Who does he know? I’m thinking I’m King Tampa, at this point [laughter] five years, right? So, I meet him and he’s 38, and he had been doing this for 21 years. And I was like, “Well …” [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:36:26] Maybe I’m Prince Tampa …
Eric Bialik: [00:36:26] We start talking … 15 minutes, I go from, “Oh, but do you know this,” to, “Wow, well, how do I do that?” [crosstalk] It was so easy, and the dynamic felt right. Then, we started brainstorming, and a whole year after that is when we opened the restaurant. So that was—Tanner and I had been talking for years. Then Chef Tock was the third—
Patrick Barrett: [00:36:49] Were you pretty much spending that whole year, would you say, like 40 hours a week, you’re figuring this out, or just you meet every so often and take the next step, or what was that process like?
Eric Bialik: [00:36:58] There’s a lot of things that happened. We originally were gonna open in Tampa first. There’s a spot right on Howard Avenue. It was gonna be a second-gen location. And we were gonna open there and in St. Pete at the same time.
Mike Barrett: [00:37:11] Sorry, can I interrupt you for one second? So, for the audience may not know, Howard is a big party, socializing kind of a street here in Tampa—
Patrick Barrett: [00:37:18] A lot of restaurants, a lot of bars—
Mike Barrett: [00:37:19] -restaurants, bars. Yeah, very young energy. And a second generation location is a location that had previously served in some kind of food-service capacity, so it already has—
Patrick Barrett: [00:37:28] It already was a restaurant [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:37:29] Yeah, like the stuff for refrigerators, and fryers, or whatever else that you might need, right?
Eric Bialik: [00:37:33] Yes. Yes. The skeleton was already there. We just were gonna reflesh it out, and thank God that that didn’t happen [laughter] I don’t know how we would’ve been able to do that.
Patrick Barrett: [00:37:41] What stopped that from happening?
Eric Bialik: [00:37:46] We got all the way—we wrote a letter of intent to move in. You have to do that on all of your locations … An official letter of intent, which also means exactly nothing [crosstalk] There’s nothing contractually binding, but it’s official—
Patrick Barrett: [00:38:02] Submitted to the city, or …?
Eric Bialik: [00:38:03] Submitted to the landlord. It was a five-unit little thing. Had two restaurants in there, or, I’m sorry, three restaurants in there, a cigar shop, and then, the second-generation restaurant that we were gonna, at that time, hopefully move into—
Mike Barrett: [00:38:20] Take over?
Eric Bialik: [00:38:20] We get all the way through the LOI process; we had our guy look at the terms of the lease or what—at least the emailed terms of the lease—not an official document. We’re like, “Oh, great. That sounds great. Let’s do this thing.” We’re all getting all anxious, and jittery, and excited about it. Long story short, about a week later, the landlord calls us. It’s an absent landlord all the way in North Carolina. She goes, “Well, we have an exclusion on rice.” The exclusion was from a company called Noodles, and they had an exclusion on rice, believe it or not, so—
Patrick Barrett: [00:38:54] One of their current tenants had an agreement where nobody else who sells something with rice in it can be in the same—
Mike Barrett: [00:38:58] No one else can serve rice.
Eric Bialik: [00:38:58] They weren’t serving rice at the time [crosstalk] It’s called Noodles. They had an exclusion on … It’s pretty unheard of in the real estate business for someone to have 96 exclusions on a five-unit property. It’s pretty much—you never really had more than—
Patrick Barrett: [00:39:19] So, what could you be, if you wanted to [laughter]
Eric Bialik: [00:39:21] Exactly. Exactly [crosstalk] It’s now a pretty nice burger joint. I’ve never actually been, but I’ve ordered from a delivery service, and it is really good.
Patrick Barrett: [00:39:32] No buns? [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:39:33] -and the noodle place is out of business now. Yeah, noodle place is out of business, and I think, I think, a poke shop is going inside [crosstalk] Karma. So, that’s why we didn’t [crosstalk] that’s why we didn’t open there, and that was a whole six months before we—or three months before we signed our first lease. So, we had everything conceptualized. We thought we were ready to just do an on/off switch—
Patrick Barrett: [00:40:00] Go right in.
Eric Bialik: [00:40:00] That’s when we got to St. Pete. So, that’s what prolonged the process from our initial conversations was the leasing process, finding the perfect location, and we all … The first thing we did was get permission from all of our wives, first and foremost, and luckily all of our wives somewhat, at the time, had known each other, and it was important for that dynamic to be strong, too.
Mike Barrett: [00:40:21] Yeah, that’s good. Yes, with the small business, I don’t know if people realize, if they’ve never been through the experience of starting a small business, especially with your friends, it’s a community thing [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:40:32] You’re on a team together [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:40:34] Yes, we all are on a team. You’re right. Expectations were very clear, at first. It was like, “Hey, I may call your husband at 3:00 in the morning [laughter] I may have some crazy idea, and I’m not like Jerry Seinfeld, where I’ll have my thing on my nightstand to write it down. I’m gonna call him, or text him, and even more—
Patrick Barrett: [00:40:51] There might be an urgent meeting, or who knows [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:40:55] Right, or something might happen [crosstalk] jump on it. Restaurateurs, at the end of the day, are glorified real estate salesman, a lot of them. You find a good location, you make it better, and then, at the end of the day, your strategy is “do I wanna own this for 50 years? What do I wanna do here?” You work the terms of your lease out and then, you go from there, but it’s all negotiating your leases … As long as your product is great. There’s way more—there’s way more moving parts, but when you get to—hopefully, if we ever get to the stage where we have 15-20 locations, it will be a real estate game at that point.
Mike Barrett: [00:41:29] That’s really interesting. You mentioned this idea of negotiation. I’m gonna guess, from the context of everything else, that that’s also a self-taught thing for you, or how did you pick that up?
Eric Bialik: [00:41:38] We just got our second lease. Woo!
Mike Barrett: [00:41:44] Was that because it was yearly?
Eric Bialik: [00:41:47] No, for our new location [crosstalk] we’re gonna open up a new location. This has been nine months of negotiating this new location. So, things happen, and I still don’t understand the vernacular, or the language that a lot of the brokers and what everybody uses, especially when it’s in an official document. Why can’t they just say … All the wherebys, and the herebys … Just give me [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:42:07] -a second version that’s just like a regular straightforward [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:42:13] Yeah, just give it to me. This particular lease is 75 pages long and, for me, it’s like, I gotta tackle that thing—it’ll take me a whole month to read—to really break it down. I have to [crosstalk] What does this mean? I usually look straight at the numbers and I let the words just kind of exist [laughter] I’ll look at the numbers. We hired a broker who we trust big time. He’s got a law degree —he’s in real estate law —from Elon, and he’s a great guy. We trust him, and he truly feels like an honorary member of the team at this point. That was one of his first big commercial real estate contracts [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:42:53] Where did you find him?
Eric Bialik: [00:42:55] He went to high school with my partner, Tanner, for a little bit, in town. His family has a lot of experience in the St. Pete community. It was also very important to us.
Patrick Barrett: [00:43:07] Yeah, that’s cool. Where is that second location …?
Eric Bialik: [00:43:10] The second location is going to be in Lakewood Ranch, just over the Skyway Bridge. It’s a very fast-growing community. If you know where the IMG Academy is, it’s not too far from the IMG Academy [crosstalk] You take the bridge from St. Pete [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:43:29] Oh, to Sarasota. I wasn’t sure which direction on which bridge [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:43:33] You take the Skyway over, and it’s right … It’s a very up-and-coming, growing residential community. So, our current location, if you haven’t already Googled it by now, is in downtown St. Pete. It’s an urban core footprint. We know that that works. We know 100% that the urban core footprint works for us. Lots of foot traffic, lots of downtown business, and lots of downtown residential. This is a completely different community. This is extremely residential-driven. We’re right by a high school. There’s a soccer field close by that 600 people go to every day of every weekend. This’ll be one of those—we won’t be opening late night. I can’t imagine alcohol sales will be nearly as high as they are now—I may be pleasantly surprised, but we’re doing it for a real proof of concept is why it was important to us to go [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:44:22] To pick a different type of market and see if you succeed there as well.
Eric Bialik: [00:44:25] A whole different area and a whole different community and clientele.
Mike Barrett: [00:44:30] Another approach, which I understand why you didn’t take it, but again, just for the audience, another approach would have been to say, “Well, we know we can do this urban core thing in a city. Let’s find another city …” [crosstalk] and just copy-paste the same scenario—
Eric Bialik: [00:44:40] Correct.
Mike Barrett: [00:44:40] -but you don’t wanna do that because [crosstalk] but eventually you’ll do it—
Eric Bialik: [00:44:45] Not yet. Absolutely. We want to do a proof of concept first—
Mike Barrett: [00:44:50] To show that it can work in any kind of environment.
Eric Bialik: [00:44:53] Correct, for any potential future endeavor we might have, whether it’s franchising or, if we were to get really lucky, something else.
Patrick Barrett: [00:45:00] Yeah. Awesome.
Mike Barrett: [00:45:01] That’s really cool. So then, it sounds like, from the beginning of starting this whole thing out, the plan was eventually, like you said, have a dozen, two dozen locations, at least, and maybe sell it off—
Eric Bialik: [00:45:11] Yeah. I’m glad you asked that because I don’t want it to get misconstrued or anything like that. It’s not that we’re all greedy people … I wanna touch base on it. Both my partners recently had children. One of them had a child two days before our first day of opening the restaurant [crosstalk] Talk about a lot of things happening. My other partner has got two now. One is three, and one has just turned a year and a half. Both of them have young ones. I’m not fortunate enough, or lucky enough to have had one yet, but it’s definitely on the plan; it’s definitely part of the plan.
[00:45:51] We all had an agreement, at first, that we are not gonna be partners in this business, this endeavor, our “Zero to One” brand. So, any of our firstborns could have their first job when they turn 16 years old. If it happens that way, that’s great. That’s awesome [crosstalk] but that wasn’t the goal was to develop something like this. I don’t wanna have my wife, and cousin, and daughter … It’s not like that, all working in the restaurant. We didn’t really want that to happen. We wanted to use this as a stepping stone for success for our families and extended families and loved ones. It wasn’t for that.
[00:46:29] Our goal has always been to grow. First, we wanted to grow too fast. Our goal has always been to grow and to open in different areas. Most importantly, we— community reach out in each area we go to. We really wanted to feel each community. And I’m happy we didn’t open in Tampa first, but it doesn’t mean we won’t open in Tampa pretty soon. We’re gonna take this thing a little bit slower than we originally thought. One a year would be great for us. It allows us to really connect to each community every year, no matter where we go; go to different soccer events, go to different—
Mike Barrett: [00:47:03] Also, if it takes nine months to get a lease figured out [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:47:05] Yeah, yeah. Again, that was another blessing in disguise. We didn’t know … Thank God that lease didn’t come—there was a whole mess that happened with that lease. The developer sold to another developer, so that took some months, right when we were gonna do this lease [crosstalk] Then, we had to get a special sign off with a big brand that’s in the facility, too. We can’t use the word—we couldn’t, at the time, use the word “burrito.” Yeah, I’m gonna let you figure out which big one that was. They’ve had some food-sourcing issues in the last few years, but they’re a great growing brand. We got them to sign off on that, and that took a few months, as well. What’s good about big developments like that is that developer owns developments all over the state of Florida—
Patrick Barrett: [00:47:52] So, if you have a good experience [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:47:54] -and they already wanted to go in their other locations, which we already have—the burrito people are in there. So it’s already—we already have a few of these steps crossed off [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:48:05] That’s really cool.
Patrick Barrett: [00:48:06] Again, for our listeners, the perspective shift between you, obviously, as a business owner, you want to have the space to rent and use, but then for them, as the developer, or the landlord, they want tenants who will succeed—
Eric Bialik: [00:48:19] Yes, exactly.
Patrick Barrett: [00:48:19] -they don’t want somebody to come in and fail, and default, or whatever [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:48:23] You’ve got to look at your landlord as a partner, too. If you don’t have a partnership, and it’s just strictly a business/transactional relationship, then the next time the roof need to get fixed, or something like that, it’s gonna be [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:48:37] -it’s better for them if they can feel like they found somebody who will open a location, and be successful at it, and maybe, as you said, [crosstalk] go to another one, as well.
Eric Bialik: [00:48:44] Correct. That’s typically why this particular … They like to have a lot of the same brands in their places because they’re sustainable brands. You’re absolutely right.
Mike Barrett: [00:48:52] That’s very smart. I would like to go back to something that you mentioned also on this topic of growing the business to sell it. One of the first things that I was ever taught by a mentor was the idea of having an exit strategy. And at the time, I was so excited about whatever I was working on, I just wanted to get it going—
Patrick Barrett: [00:49:10] You wanted to enter [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:49:11] Why would I ever wanna exit this …? I didn’t really understand the importance of that. And I would imagine a lot of our audience also maybe hasn’t ever thought of that before, if it’s never been pointed out to them. But literally nothing lasts forever. In the very worst, at some point, you and your partners will all pass on. I hate to say it, but that’s going to happen—
Eric Bialik: [00:49:30] Right, yeah. Science. [laughter]
Patrick Barrett: [00:49:37] They haven’t cracked that one yet.
Mike Barrett: [00:49:37] So, at some point, the three guys who started this thing—
Patrick Barrett: [00:49:40] Will exit—
Mike Barrett: [00:49:40] -will not be running it. Right [laughter] either because it doesn’t exist anymore or [crosstalk] they’ve all moved on to other things, or who knows what. And you wanna be thinking about that from the beginning. And I would say that probably now, career wise, similar advice would be given to anyone, whether they wanted to start a business or work for someone. In our economy now, it seems to me the case that it’s really not common anymore for someone to have the same job for 30 years or 40 years. What I’ve seen a lot with—
Eric Bialik: [00:50:08] Loyalty is over.
Mike Barrett: [00:50:09] It really is [laughter] or it has to be re-earned all the time, which is kind of the same as not having it, I guess, but—
Patrick Barrett: [00:50:15] It’s called moment-to-moment loyalty [laughter]
Mike Barrett: [00:50:15] Yeah, right. “Oh, I’m loyal for the next hour …” [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:50:15] We’re still figuring it out—
Eric Bialik: [00:50:15] We’ll see what happens on Friday.
Mike Barrett: [00:50:26] Right. The younger people that I have seen with successful careers, I would say all of them, from pretty much the beginning, have always thought, “Okay, I’m in this job. What do I hope to learn from this job? What skills do I hope to acquire? Connections do I wanna try to make so that whatever I wanna do next, it opens up?” I think that’s a really important thing, and not to just be shortsightedly thinking, “Okay, I wanna get hired because I need some money coming in for the next year, and I’m not thinking about what’s gonna come after that,” because something’s gonna come after—
Eric Bialik: [00:50:53] It’s grossly irresponsible, if you are short-sighted enough to think that whatever job you’re in, no matter what it is, that this is the end-all be-all, and, “They’re gonna take care of me. This is it.” I think it’s grossly irresponsible. So, having an exit strategy in the beginning was something that … Thankfully, we have two very great partners who are very business savvy, and that was very important from the get-go, especially with my partner, Tanner, who had exited—who had the opportunity to exit his business [crosstalk] two-and-a-half years prior. He had just gone through the process and so, it was still fresh in his mind, like, “Hey, we have to have some exit strategy here.” We’re not … The three of us aren’t— we haven’t taken a check yet, haven’t taken any money yet, and so there has to be a plan, especially with my life. I have to have a plan. It’s that three-year, five-year, something in the middle there [laughter] pros and cons list for every year. You have to have a plan, especially in … I can only speak on my industry, and my business —it’s extremely competitive. Someone’s gonna come around; someone named Atlantic Shelf … Someone’s gonna come around, and—
Mike Barrett: [00:52:02] We were joking earlier that I would open up a competing shop to Pacific Counter, and call it Atlantic Shelf and be right across the street. I won’t do that, but somebody will.
Eric Bialik: [00:52:10] Yeah. There’s nothing proprietary about a restaurant. You’re serving food; you’re serving a need people need. It’s fuel for people. There’s nothing proprietary about it. We’d be lying if we said we didn’t have some inspiration from some huge brand—every brand. There’s inspiration all over the place. So, hopefully, we can be a brand that will inspire somebody one day … It would be very irresponsible to not have an exit strategy, or a plan, or at least anticipate the inevitability of [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:52:34] Sure, because things are going to happen—
Eric Bialik: [00:52:35] Whether it’s a good exit, or an unfortunate exit [crosstalk] You’re absolutely right.
Mike Barrett: [00:52:40] Very cool.
Patrick Barrett: [00:52:41] You described that you have a lot of experience in this world, coming into owning and running your own business. What have you learned since you’ve opened that you did not know before?
Eric Bialik: [00:52:55] Wow [laughter]
Mike Barrett: [00:52:55] In like five minutes [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:53:01] We employ a lot of the younger demographic and generation, and what happened—what college was like, or what that was like 10 years ago, what I’ve learned most is how different it is now … How the mind works from these young kids is just … When I say kids, I mean anyone from 16 to 23—
Mike Barrett: [00:53:23] Basically anyone younger than you [laughter]
Eric Bialik: [00:53:25] -some older, too. One, how emotional things can be, and how much pressure they put on themselves. And I don’t know if that’s just inherent pressure from their parents, or just from society, in general. Everything that you say, they rest on each word, and it’s so important. So, at first, for the first month … I had all these dreams, or nightmares, rather, before we were opening. And I trained tons and tons of staff. I’m actually a certified sommelier, too, so I’ve taught people—
Patrick Barrett: [00:53:59] Nice.
Eric Bialik: [00:53:59] -how to drink … Nice! Taught them about how to drink wine and all types of things. I’ve taught—done so much. I had all these nightmares, like, “Oh, my God, I’m about to sit in front of 16 young, captive individuals, and it’s like, I had all these nightmares of me just not finding words. Come to find out, it was all fine. I wrote my training manual, and my handbook, and everything. A month later, these kids are quoting this handbook, and I’m like, “Yo! No way! [crosstalk] You’re quoting this handbook, right now!”
Mike Barrett: [00:54:32] You think that’s a real thing.
Eric Bialik: [00:54:34] Silence is acceptance. It’s like, whoa! That’s something that I wrote. So, I guess the thing that I learned the most was anything that you say, or you do, especially with them, they’re gonna remember it. One, they’re listening—most important part —they are listening. Two, they’re gonna act on … Great for the successes, but if there’s anything that is unsuccessful, it’s like I only have me to blame. I’m more the operations side of things with the restaurant, as far as our partnership goes. So, if anything … If someone didn’t address the guest the right way, or have the right answer on how to describe a food or flavor, that’s only on me, and that was the hardest thing for me to understand. Wow, everything that I’m saying, they’re actually listening to.
[00:55:22] I was so used to me saying stuff and then just taking this handbook, balling it up, and throwing it away because that’s what I did [laughter] It’s like, “Let me just get through this, so I can go home, play some Mario Kart.” [crosstalk] No, they are truly, truly motivated by words and vice versa, they can get down very easily, too. Learning about the highs and lows of the individuals who are on your payroll, and who—they look at you as not just an owner of a restaurant, they look at you as a teacher, which is really cool, and they actually learn stuff. I was never much of a student, so I didn’t really know how … This is what they’re doing [crosstalk] your word and listening. Them listening, alone, that was them holding me accountable to my word, and that was the hardest thing, but also, once you learn how to use it, it was what’s most rewarding—
Patrick Barrett: [00:56:18] Like a superpower—
Mike Barrett: [00:56:19] I’d like to point out something, jumping off of what you just said. I think a lot of people in your position, if they had encountered a staff that operated fundamentally differently from how you would have operated in that position, a lot of managers, owners, whatever, would have thought that the fault lay in the staff, that there was something wrong with them. They would have just gotten frustrated and said, “Oh, I hired all these kids, and man, they’re just not like I remember being when I was a kid …” They would have just said, “Okay, well, that’s the way it is.” I think a large part of the success that you’ve had and that I hope you’ll continue to have probably comes down to you being willing to say, “okay, well, I was expecting them to be a different way. I didn’t even realize I was expecting that until they weren’t that way.”
Eric Bialik: [00:57:03] Exactly.
Mike Barrett: [00:57:04] “Now that this is what I have, what does that mean? Well, this means that I can train in this way. I can do this …” You took a challenging situation and instead of getting upset about it, or wishing it were different, you just accepted it as a fact and then thought, “well, how can I—” [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:57:19] Adaptation, yeah.
Mike Barrett: [00:57:19] Right, “how can I modify what I’m doing to deal with the situation that I have now?” I think that’s a really, really critical skill, very hard skill to teach or to learn, but it is one of those things where, if you hear about it —hopefully like in a podcast or something —[laughter] maybe then you can start to look for that in your own life, to say, “well, this one teacher is frustrating, or this friend I have is frustrating, but instead of getting upset about it, what can I do to—” [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [00:57:44] -understand the nature of the person you’re dealing with and react to that instead of trying to change their nature.
Mike Barrett: [00:57:48] -I’m just thinking about this. I often compare things like that to a hurricane. We just had a hurricane come through here. You can get upset about the hurricane all you want, but it’s coming [laughter] so, what are you gonna do about the fact that here comes this [crosstalk]
Eric Bialik: [00:58:01] If you don’t board up your windows, and the window breaks, it’s not the hurricane [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [00:58:04] —or move to a place where there are no hurricanes [crosstalk] Right. Whatever it is … In a similar way, “okay, I have this staff. They don’t think the same way I thought when I was their age. How can I maximize this for everyone?” And it sounds like you did a really great job with that.
Eric Bialik: [00:58:19] Another thing I’ve learned is how … Keeping things very creative, especially motivating wise, having different incentives for them. And I’m not talking about monetary incentives. I’m just talking about smile incentives, and feeling good incentives. We’ll post something on social media or something like that. I used to award an Employee of the Year award daily. It was the most prestigious award [laughter]
Mike Barrett: [00:58:46] Keeping that theme of loyalty is [crosstalk] Now, your year is a day long.
Patrick Barrett: [00:58:46] He’s been with us for one day [laughter]
Eric Bialik: [00:58:46] I learned that from an old—a mentor of mine at one of the places I worked. It was awarding an Employee of the Year award daily, but I’d never realized … One week, it was a Monday, and I did an award on Tuesday. I did an award on Wednesday. Thursday, I wasn’t there. Friday, I came in and they’re like, “Dude … We don’t know who’s won Employee of the Year” [crosstalk] Employee of the Year, it would be something like a pat on the back, a selfie, or a little taste … We have some Dole Whip in house, some pineapple sauce, or a little something like that, but it was a recognition and making it fun and creative. Now, what we’ve started doing was, every week, we started giving away pins. There was one employee of ours, who’s still there … She’s great. Her name is Vivian. We call it the Viving Back Award. She’s a very [laughter] The Viving Back Award. She’s very free-spirited—
[00:59:52] She likes to go to different festivals, and she volunteers at the different festivals. She vives back. And she loves these pens. So, what we did was we started buying pins, like pineapples, coconuts, and Monstera plant little pins, and everything. All the stuff that describes Pacific — Pacific’s all encompassing, don’t get me wrong. And so we started buying pins. And every week we would then award. The employee of the year then evolved into that viving back award, then I put it on their hats like — you guys went to UF — but like the old Florida State helmets, right? [crosstalk] You’re playing football, and you get the little tomahawk. It’s kind of like that. If you see the kids — you see the grown adults in the restaurant working and they have pins in their heads because they won multiple Viving Back awards. [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [01:00:42] They’ve viven back many times.
Eric Bialik: [01:00:42] And that’s an award strictly based on a good attitude.
Mike Barrett: [01:00:45] That’s really cool. I like stuff like that.
Eric Bialik: [01:00:48] It’s the evolution of the kindergarten smiley face, sad face, rainy day, sunny day.
Patrick Barrett: [01:00:53] I feel like one thing that you definitely learn as you — I think the people listening to this would probably see us as grown up more than we see ourselves as grown up. But as you grow up, you just realize everybody’s still basically a middle schooler or a kindergartener. The fundamentals motivations are pretty much the same.
Eric Bialik: [01:01:09] We are who we are.
Patrick Barrett: [01:01:13] It’s just dressed up differently. But the stuff that mattered when you were a lot younger is pretty much largely similar to what matters now. So you then would say that the biggest surprise, biggest thing you’ve learned since opening is just you think it’s the generational difference or?
Eric Bialik: [01:01:32] I think so. I think it’s a generational difference. And I don’t know what contributes to that difference. It could be the connectivity, it could be these.
Patrick Barrett: [01:01:39] Maybe just the human direct — it just means more because they’re so much more removed.
Eric Bialik: [01:01:47] Maybe. I thought I was gonna have the hardest time managing these things in this restaurant because the old restaurant I was—
Patrick Barrett: [01:01:54] —for our listeners, these things were—he picked up his phone and gestured to it.
Eric Bialik: [01:01:56] This little pocket computer.
Patrick Barrett: [01:01:59] Yeah, exactly.
Mike Barrett: [01:02:00] The thing you’re probably listening to this on.
Eric Bialik: [01:02:03] They would rather not be on their phone for four, six hours at a time. It’s really, really interesting to me. Now if they wanna go play a song or something that in the back of the house or something, the kitchen is the back of the house, they can totally do that. And that’s fine. But I have not had a problem with these things and that is in the employee handbook. It’s one of those, I don’t have a rule because it’s never been a problem. If it becomes a problem, I’ll rewrite this handbook and then we’ll have a spot for these in the office. But it’s never been a problem. And I thought that it was. So I don’t know what exactly it is. Maybe they’re more in touch than—when I was that age, it was like, “Okay, when I’m gonna play basketball next? I know I have class on Tuesday, but maybe I’ll go in March or something,” I’m not sure. But it was nothing, I was living my — they’re so much more in touch and they’re so much more creative and there’s so much—a lot of creative motivation in there and that’s been probably the coolest thing working with them.
Patrick Barrett: [01:02:59] And would you say that’s been the biggest surprise, was that difference? Or was there anything else that was surprising?
Eric Bialik: [01:03:03] Probably. Yeah, and what a lot of people say, too, is that generation and a lot of people think that millennials, somehow they’re now between the ages of 8 and 40 now. Any baby boomer wants to call anyone younger than them a millennial. Like anyone younger than meis a kid. It’s that thing. But with that generation, everyone’s—be careful with their work ethic and this and that. They’re gonna slide through it and it’s like no, every single one of the employees that we have, as long as they have the proper, proper tools to carry out the tasks and the expectations are very clear and concise, they’ll get it done and they’ll do something, they’ll get bonus points somehow doing extra on top of it, they all have an extremely good work ethic.
Patrick Barrett: [01:03:48] I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that, you described how you guys seem to go the extra mile and you look back on your experiences as an employee and try to create their environment based off of that. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that you have such a good experience. I could imagine maybe these same kids, even same adult workers in some other restaurant that does not have that feeling that maybe they would slide into these stereotypes, that maybe it could be, or a reaction to, “well, this is very unpleasant here…”
Eric Bialik: [01:04:15] Thank you, by the way.
Mike Barrett: [01:04:16] That is true too because the people younger than us are kids, then the fossils are everyone that is older than me. But those older generations who are complaining often about, they wouldn’t do—those older generations would not do the things that you did.
Eric Bialik: [01:04:32] Probably not.
Mike Barrett: [01:04:33] They would have an employee of the year once a year. [crosstalk] I never had a boss who would have come to any concert or anything, not that I ever did a concert specifically. [crosstalk] Never would have come to any of those things. And I get the sense from listening to you, you’re not doing it, just to score points with an employee and check it off a list that you did it, but you actually wanna do it.
Eric Bialik: [01:05:00] Yeah. It’s important. When you’re working with someone in such close quarters for the amount of time that we’ve been working with them for, not even for being that’s been a whole year, but you’re working with three to four people for six hours at a time.
Mike Barrett: [01:05:12] And restaurant work, if you’ve never done it, is very physical, very intimate. You know everyone around you who’s working with you, how they function.
Eric Bialik: [01:05:21] Correct. And everyone works together. It’s the perfect environment. And everybody—you inevitably become close with your employees, with everybody. They become an extension of your family, when you’re there that often. And that’s the type of culture that we hope that we’ve been conveying. And hopefully we have. But yeah, why wouldn’t you go to your brother’s child’s first birthday party? I’m gonna go to my employee’s, this is his first big performance outside of school. And he’s doing it by himself. And why wouldn’t I go to that? If my brother was doing it or my cousin and I was in the same area and I had the opportunity to, like absolutely.
Mike Barrett: [01:06:03] Yeah, that’s really cool. That’s nice. Do you mind if I jump to—
Patrick Barrett: [01:06:08] -go nuts.
Mike Barrett: [01:06:09] All right. I’m drawing little boxes around the things I wanted to talk about. Jumping back a little bit when you were doing the consulting work that you were doing before you got into this, how did you, first of all, decide to do that? I’m familiar with the idea of restaurant consultants. I didn’t think it was—
Eric Bialik: [01:06:27] A thing?
Mike Barrett: [01:06:28] I didn’t think I’d ever meet one.
Eric Bialik: [01:06:30] So let me be very clear. It was a lazy, failed experience on my behalf. [crosstalk] No, you see people come in the restaurant all the time and it’s like “that person doesn’t work 70 hours a week. I’m sitting here, they probably make more. They’re gonna tell me that I should put this in that” or whatever.
Patrick Barrett: [01:06:55] You’re saying when you were an employee—
Eric Bialik: [01:06:57] When I was operating—so, yes, exactly. When I was operating these restaurants, multiple consultants would come in and they might be consultants that bigger companies would hire as a third party to come in and be like “hey, this is what we’re trying to sell,” or whatever. And “this is where you should put stuff on your menu,” and consultants for everything. And I thought the word consultant was ambiguous enough for me to just slide in there. Figure something out [crosstalk]. And then so it turned into this one particular client, ex-client, it turned into, “let’s make you a cocktail list based on your current alcohol license.” They weren’t allowed to use liquor, so they wanted low spirit cocktails. So I was like, “okay.” And then that turned into me sourcing equipment for them that didn’t have anything to do with cocktailing or drinks or wine or anything. And I was like, “is my strength really in sourcing equipment? Is that really — he’s got the same internet I got, I don’t think I got some special internet.” [crosstalk] And it turned into four or five months of just dragging me along, as a consultant. You do all this work, but then when it comes down to brass tacks and you wanna get paid for it, it’s like, where—and then it’s like “well, I worked a hundred and twelve hours for you. I usually bill this per hour—” which I have in the past. It was like “no, we’re not gonna pay you that. Here’s a few hundred bucks.” And I just did this for a collective amount of time, that was part on my fault. And I say lazy. It wasn’t necessarily lazy, it was just failed. And that was very opportunistic at the time for me to get out of there and do something different. But it’s so hard because restaurateurs don’t wanna pay. Margins aren’t big in restaurants, that’s for sure.
Mike Barrett: [01:08:42] And margin is profit, basically.
Eric Bialik: [01:08:44] Margin is, what are you making.
Mike Barrett: [01:08:47] So in other words, the money that you charge your customers for selling them the food, minus all the expenses to run the thing.
Eric Bialik: [01:08:53] Correct. Food costs is a very small part of your total costs. Someone’s gotta pay for the lights. Someone has to pay for fixtures and equipment. Someone’s got to pay for the water. Someone’s got to pay for the lease. Someone’s got to pay for the labor. So someone’s got — there’s so many expenses. That’s why when people come into the restaurant, “I can make this for $5, you’re charging $12.” Look around [crosstalk]. Do you see this? But again, and not everyone understands that. And so at first, it’s so defensive when someone comes in and says something like that. And at the end of day, it’s not their fault. They don’t know. And now it’s on me. Now, how can I educate them on this?
[01:09:35] And so then I just, err on the side of safety and tell them my life story. I was in your shoes eight years ago. Now, I’ve done this, done this, and done that. And hopefully you can turn a negative into a positive. But you’re right, margin is what you take home at the end of the day after all your expenses. But the consulting work was very tough mentally for me. Not physically or anything like that, it was tough mentally, because it was hard for me to convey what were we really trying to do for this place based on the feedback that we got from them. And I took their initial sit down as a, for this particular client, took their initial sit down as, this is the end all, be all. But it wasn’t. And there are a lot of moving parts. I should have sat down with the entire [crosstalk], communication was the biggest thing. So it wasn’t lazy, but it was definitely, definitely failed. 100% failed.
Mike Barrett: [01:10:33] Well, and that’s something else to drive home, maybe for the audience. Tell me if I’m characterizing this incorrectly with your experience. But a lot of times, especially when you have a business between the size of one or two people and 10 or 20 people, somewhere in that range, it’s not really big enough that there’s a clearly defined decision-making structure for everything, but it is big enough that not everybody knows what everybody else is thinking. And you run into these situations where some people think, “oh, the company definitely wants to do this. So start doing this exactly this way.” And then you get two months in and you find out, no, half the other people think it should be some other thing and it just goes in circles.
Eric Bialik: [01:11:12] And to your point, when you’re doing something on your own, your weaknesses get very polarized and glorified. And I come from the school of thought. You always glorify your strengths and you try to disguise, rather than trying to make your weaknesses, just shove them underneath the rug. And my weaknesses were getting exposed left and right. And when I was trying to do that and a lot of it came down to communication and not speaking to the people who I probably should have been speaking to, but having a business for one or two people, just that’s why we wanted three for this restaurant.
Patrick Barrett: [01:11:47] Your strengths cover your weaknesses.
Eric Bialik: [01:11:49] Exactly.
Mike Barrett: [01:11:50] And that’s how you learn; the consulting thing or whatever it might have been, it doesn’t go well, okay, life continues, what do you wanna do next based on what you found?
Eric Bialik: [01:11:58] Exactly.
Mike Barrett: [01:11:58] Yeah, cool. Another thing, if we could talk about the sourcing, how in general, how does — well, actually, let’s stick to your specific experience. How do you guys source stuff to the extent that you’re comfortable sharing that information? And you mentioned the Internet. What other kinds of tools are out there? Do you use brokers? Do you personally go out and scout things or how does it work?
Eric Bialik: [01:12:23] So to start, being a sushi bowl, poke bowl and sushi burrito restaurant, your diamonds are your fish. You’re serving a raw product, first and foremost. Where is it coming from? You have to make sure that it’s a reputable source, you have to make sure you get the parasite destruction letters on everything. A lot of fish have parasites, especially salmon. You have to get it from a source that has a destruction letter, a certified destruction letter.
Mike Barrett: [01:12:52] And does that mean that the fish was—.
Eric Bialik: [01:12:53] —it’s clean. It means you’re good, it means you’re okay.
Mike Barrett: [01:12:56] How do they destroy it? Do you know?
Eric Bialik: [01:12:58] I’m not sure if they just drop something in it.
Patrick Barrett: [01:13:01] Drop it from a building.
Eric Bialik: [01:13:04] It’s mainly in the cleaning process and how they handle it and where the actual fish is being sourced. And that makes the destruction letter a little bit easier to get. But we interviewed, I believe it was eleven different fish purveyors, not even just in Tampa and not even just in St. Pete. And price was not our biggest thing. We knew about, almost all of our projections were within 10 percent of what they thought they were gonna be from, from sales to purchases to pounds of what we’re selling a week and what we’re actually going through, which we got very lucky with that. So we’re going through about 400 to 500 pounds of fish every single week. So part of the sourcing is “I can get it from Joe fishermen. Is he gonna be able to supply that bulk, that quantity every single week?”
Mike Barrett: [01:13:52] Because you guys, as the restaurant, you’re relying basically on the consistency of this fish.
Eric Bialik: [01:13:56] Correct.
Mike Barrett: [01:13:56] If somebody comes in today and they have one kind of fish and they come back and order the same bowl in two weeks—.
Eric Bialik: [01:14:01] It’s got to be consistent.
Mike Barrett: [01:14:02] It’s gotta be the same.
Eric Bialik: [01:14:02] It’s got to be consistent. So we found a particular purveyor that, our salmon is beautifully — we’re the only fast casual restaurant in the southeast United States to have this salmon. To put it in perspective for you, only two of the restaurants in the whole Tampa Bay area get this salmon.
Patrick Barrett: [01:14:20] I just ate that salmon. It was really good.
Eric Bialik: [01:14:25] I forgot, you got it. One of them is Council Oak Steakhouse. So you’re gonna get about five to six ounces of cooked salmon for probably about forty bucks, low $40s. And another one is Parkshore Grill, which is one of the higher end, he does a great job, that guy, one of the higher end restaurants on Beach Drive in St. Pete. And you’re roughly, these are white tablecloth restaurants, high end restaurants. So for us to get it, we’re like “we’re gonna get this salmon, we’re serving, if you get a double portion, that’s X amount of ounces,” but if we can provide that value, as long as we can get something else—to us, we were saying if we sell chicken, then we can sell this salmon and we can really flex on it as long as it can be consistently delivered. And the price is gonna be fairly consistent. And it’s gonna fluctuate. At the end of the day, it’s gonna fluctuate. But that was really important to us. Quantity, consistency and amount of deliveries per week. Those are the three big ones we wanted.
Mike Barrett: [01:15:23] And the deliveries per week, you want a high number or a low number?
Eric Bialik: [01:15:27] If it was a high number, as long as that doesn’t affect the cost of the per pound cost of the fish.
Mike Barrett: [01:15:34] Because they’ve got to drive it so gas cost.
Eric Bialik: [01:15:35] Correct. Now salmon is a very interesting fish because you, by law, after you get your salmon, you have to freeze it or it has to come to you frozen. So anyone that’s say—
Patrick Barrett: [01:15:46] If you are gonna serve it raw or at all?
Eric Bialik: [01:15:48] At all. It has to be at least frozen before it gets to you, which I hope that everyone’s salmon is frozen before it gets to you. If not—you’re not getting salmon in the Gulf.
Mike Barrett: [01:15:58] So in other words, it’s not gonna get here on time.
Eric Bialik: [01:16:00] Yeah, exactly.
Mike Barrett: [01:16:01] I didn’t know that, though.
Eric Bialik: [01:16:03] Yeah. So anyone that says they’re getting day boat salmon, you should probably not go there. That’s either not salmon or they’re just a bunch of liars. And then we wanted to get a premiere, high-end, yellowfin ahi tuna. Now when we approached our purveyor, we were buying so much ahi tuna at the time that they had this whole new process for us that they would — you had the tuna earlier, you had the tuna earlier — should be almost perfect cubes, this tuna, that spec of tuna, that cube is only for us. We get that spec and it’s this—whole factory changed everything they’re doing.
Patrick Barrett: [01:16:45] You say “this spec” like this specification?
Eric Bialik: [01:16:47] Yes. With the intent that we would go with them if we ever opened up other business. And we have a contingency as long as the quality remains the same, sure. But it’s a yellowfin ahi tuna typically coming from either the Philippines or somewhere in the Pacific islands. Our salmon is coming from Canada. So it’s coming from Vancouver Bay up in Canada.
Patrick Barrett: [01:17:20] So I often think in this kind of situation, you have experience in this world, I always think what is step one? Is it Google?
Mike Barrett: [01:17:29] Did Chef Tock have input on that?
Eric Bialik: [01:17:32] So, yeah, with both of our experiences in the industry, I say I operated at a higher end steakhouse, it wasn’t just steak. It was just a high-end American grill and we had tuna and we would get salmon from there. So the first place I said, “I got a guy, I got a guy,” and we went there and the guy didn’t, he didn’t have great business practices. And another thing that I forgot to mention was we wanted to make sure that we were touring each facility. We wanted to see their employees in action handle the fish. So there’s pictures of us in our full Breaking Bad attire. You had to get fully covered up. So all of their critical control points were important. CCPs is what they call them.
Patrick Barrett: [01:18:11] That’s a good indicator if you go tour a place, they make you cover up.
Eric Bialik: [01:18:15] [crosstalk] cover up, especially when dealing with beef and raw fish. Anything raw for that matter. Produce is a little bit, a little bit different. But a lot of things—of all the things, that was probably the most important was how are they handling it. So, yes, so we went to my guy, bad business practice and communication on his part. He was at my school of consulting and practiced it himself. And so we went to a few others and it was the perfect one that we wanted to work with. And lo and behold, they had a distributor that distributed—they’re actually delivered to us twice, sometimes three times a week right now. And then right now, it’s the perfect amount. And they’ve committed to us down in our next location as well.
Patrick Barrett: [01:19:01] So did you go to Vancouver or you go to a more local facility?
Eric Bialik: [01:19:04] So, that local facility distributes this particular fish, but they still have to receive it, and they still have to handle it. So, much like alcohol in the state of Florida, I’m sure this is the same across the board for the whole country for fish, you have to buy your fish from a distributor. You can’t just buy it from — a lot of them are the, your distributor buys the fish from the fishermen and they have a sub-entity that they buy that from and then they’ll get it to you. So, the actual fish—we get it from is a fish called Skuna Bay and it’s the same fish that James Beard—James Beard is a prestigious award every year for big time, big awards. It’s their preferred fish. So they have won multiple humanitarian awards, are doing green certified craft-raised fish in the entire world.
Patrick Barrett: [01:19:53] Do you have this info up in the restaurant?
Mike Barrett: [01:19:54] I was gonna say—
Eric Bialik: [01:19:56] So, yes. So part of our training process is to have this. It’s so great to see a seventeen year old who just got out of school and they’re coming in the restaurant and someone’s asking for salmon. “Oh, that’s a great choice. So our salmon is…” And they go on, spit all these facts, oh my God, it just makes me so happy. So we know the person who pulled the fish, person who cut it, the person who scaled it, the person who shipped it and the minute that it was shipped. So the scalability on the fish was extremely, incredibly important to us.
Mike Barrett: [01:20:32] Clearly that’s huge, especially if you want to have, like you said, dozens of locations.
Eric Bialik: [01:20:35] Correct. Absolutely.
Patrick Barrett: [01:20:39] So when your tuna guy or whoever he was didn’t work out, did it to come down to Google?
Eric Bialik: [01:20:46] I reached out to some contacts we already have. First thing we did was we looked at our phonebook and we said—
Patrick Barrett: [01:20:53] —just from your previous restaurant work.
Eric Bialik: [01:20:53] Exactly. Exactly. I looked at my old emails to see where all my invoices are coming from and reached out.
Mike Barrett: [01:21:00] Didn’t mean to interrupt you, if something is to happen—let me try that again. If something ever does happen to this supplier, do you have a backup?
Eric Bialik: [01:21:08] Yeah, we have the backup.
Patrick Barrett: [01:21:10] From that same process?
Eric Bialik: [01:21:11] Pretty much. The backup’s been really wanting some business lately. So, yeah, it’s a phone call away. We actually have a few different backups.
Mike Barrett: [01:21:25] Cool. What about for—you mentioned equipment sourcing and things like that before. Was it a similar kind of process or is it not as important to vet that?
Eric Bialik: [01:21:32] Actually, the equipment was a little bit easier. The biggest part of that process was sourcing for the best price. There’s only so many manufacturers of a lot of this equipment. A lot of it was experience. A lot of it was “we want to buy this new, but that used and we want to, what do we have? We can make that work for that.”
Mike Barrett: [01:21:48] And that’s coming down to your experience in other kitchens?
Eric Bialik: [01:21:50] Exactly. That’s all through experience. Light Google search to see who had what locally. And that was just all through experience.
Patrick Barrett: [01:22:01] Was there one particular job of the ones that you mentioned where you feel like you gained the most of this relevant experience, or did it span everything that you did, would you say?
Eric Bialik: [01:22:11] I was initially gonna say there’s one, but now that I’m just now thinking about it, it’s been a culmination. But two very big ones, that pizza place I told you about, Lazy Moon Pizza, and my most previous restaurant before this one, which was a restaurant called Grille One Sixteen.
Mike Barrett: [01:22:27] I used to fence with the lady whose husband owned that place. Small world.
Eric Bialik: [01:22:35] Little French lady?
Mike Barrett: [01:22:38] Yeah. Can’t remember her name to save my life.
Eric Bialik: [01:22:41] I know her husband’s name, I won’t say it right now. But I know her husband’s name. I just was with him the other day. So there’s a few things from the pizza place when you just realize, you just got to make something work.
Patrick Barrett: [01:22:53] What was that? Were you a manager? Was the title of your job at that place?
Eric Bialik: [01:23:00] “Eric, come in when you want,” toward the end it was like that. We know who you are, just come in when you want but it turned into a key employee where I come in, it evolved. And I’m glad that it did evolve.
Mike Barrett: [01:23:11] A key employee in the restaurant—
Eric Bialik: [01:23:12] A key employee is someone who has a key but doesn’t make any decisions. [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [01:23:17] That’s why I wanted to make it clear. Someone who can open or close the restaurant, which is a big deal.
Eric Bialik: [01:23:25] So I would get in there at, the position evolved. The prep position evolved in that restaurant. And it came down to—I got another job at the time. I was working for the Adidas company when I was 22, 23. That was a really cool job, not food related. And so it turned into, “hey, Eric, let’s make this thing work.” I still loved the guys. This is year four me being there. They’re like, “When is this guy gonna leave?” But it turned into let me get there early, let me get there at 5:30. I’m gonna stay there till 9. I’m gonna get the ovens hot, get the air on, get everything set up, get the ball rolling and get some momentum.
Patrick Barrett: [01:24:04] 5:30AM?
Eric Bialik: [01:24:04] AM. I would go in at 5:30AM. I’d leave around 9:30 and go home real quick to wash all the dough and everything off of me and flour and gross stuff. I get a lot of flour in my bellybutton, a lot of tossers go— [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [01:24:21] Were you not wearing a shirt?
Eric Bialik: [01:24:23] It’s a 30 inch pie. You get into it a little bit so flour would fall off the pizza and get in my belly button. So I’d stay there till about 9:30 and then leave.
Patrick Barrett: [01:24:39] 9:30PM?
Eric Bialik: [01:24:39] AM. Four hours, and then I’d go home and shower and go visit my customers with Adidas. No one with Adidas ever knew that. That was a big no-no, sorry.
Patrick Barrett: [01:24:55] Just in case somebody listening to this wants to be in a position like that where they’re learning all these lessons, would you say it’s similar to a manager role or?
Eric Bialik: [01:25:04] It’s a solid step to being a manager. They trusted me. That was the biggest part, is that they trusted me. I didn’t want a manager role there. And they approached me about it, not formally or anything.
Mike Barrett: [01:25:18] If you trust a guy with a key and opening the store—because if it’s opened poorly then the whole day is not going to work.
Eric Bialik: [01:25:24] Yeah.
Mike Barrett: [01:25:24] So management seems like a logical move to go to after there.
Eric Bialik: [01:25:31] A key employee—so go back to the Speakeasy part and we’re going to clear this key employee thing up. I went from server to key employee to general manager. Okay, so it was one of those when the GM’s not there, we didn’t have an assistant GM, we didn’t have a manager. It was just key employee then general manager. So key employee is a broad term for a restaurant to use for somebody to say, “this is your key, I trust you and you do well, you could be a manager one day.” One of those things. So for me, I knew it was doing it four days a week, three days a week. And I was just doing it because I wanted to stay relevant in the pizza game, in the belly button game. And it was a way for me to make extra money at the time.
Mike Barrett: [01:26:17] Let’s say that one of our listeners is high school or college-aged and has had either zero restaurant jobs or maybe one or two early ones you might have as a server or something like that. Would you say that they have enough knowledge and experience at that point to try to open a place as you’ve done? It sounds like no would be the answer—or is it necessary, in your opinion, to do these things not for a particular number of years necessarily, but just to have experience?
Eric Bialik: [01:26:46] Yeah, I don’t know if there’s a certain window that you say, like three and a half, three years, three months and three days, that’s when you wanna go open up your own thing. But I think a lot of it is realizing what you don’t know—finding out what I didn’t know was another big thing and finding out what I didn’t know, I realized what I did know. So honestly, if you have some experience and you’re a person that has it has a can do attitude and is willing to make a mistake and is willing to take a leap, I don’t think that there is any certain time where you have to work and be this is what — a lot of the stuff you can wing it a little bit. But you do want to have some experience. As long as you have a little bit of experience, I think you’ll be okay in wanting to open up your — as long as you have a goal and you have a plan, then you’re fine.
Patrick Barrett: [01:27:35] An exit strategy?
Eric Bialik: [01:27:37] Yeah, an exit strategy.
Mike Barrett: [01:27:38] What do you think about food trucks? Do you have any particular experience with those or opinions on those?
Eric Bialik: [01:27:43] Yeah. So food trucks are, typically the cost of — we looked at a lot of food trucks and it’s still something that we might do, but not as a primary revenue maker at all or generator. A food truck is a great — if you don’t know, just so the listeners know — it takes a lot of money to open up a restaurant. It’s not something like “I’m gonna save up on my tooth fairy money. I’m gonna open up a restaurant.” It’s not that.
Patrick Barrett: [01:28:09] That’s what I was going to do.
Eric Bialik: [01:28:09] I’m still working on it. It’s something that can take, not only it takes a lot of time, but can take a lot of money where—there’s always money out there. You can find it from a bank. If you have a solid plan, someone will be willing to invest in you, if you’re a solid person. A food truck is a great way to test it out, to cut down that initial investment and kind of be like, is this gonna work?
Mike Barrett: [01:28:09] Find that proof of concept that you were talking about.
Eric Bialik: [01:28:38] Correct. And you can find food trucks—a really expensive food truck is $50,000.
Patrick Barrett: [01:28:42] Like the truck itself.
Eric Bialik: [01:28:44] The truck itself, the equipment inside and everything like that.
Patrick Barrett: [01:28:47] To get going.
Eric Bialik: [01:28:48] But you can find some out there and you can really make it nice for $10,000, and you work really hard for a good amount of time.
Patrick Barrett: [01:28:57] And to be clear, that is a lot of money compared to a restaurant, its not [crosstalk].
Eric Bialik: [01:29:01] Yeah. It’s about $9,900 more dollars than what I have right now. But yeah, it’s a great stepping stone into figuring out if this is something you wanna do, figure out if that everyday grind is something that you really want to do. If you can work in this heat like that becuse you’re gonna be sweating somehow, some way. And it’s a way for you to tweak your product. So we’ve discussed it and there’s always, every month with each of us, we’ll send each other, this truck’s for sale. Do we wanna get this? And it’s like, well, we don’t have any money, but it’s something if we’re ever fortunate enough. I talk exit strategy, that’s a dream, first off. But if we’re ever fortunate enough to be in the position to where we’re buying the food truck, it’s because we probably have four or five locations already. And the food truck is a tool for marketing or to go to different events. It wouldn’t be a primary revenue generator.
Patrick Barrett: [01:29:51] Do you know anybody who does that as a primary revenue generator?
Eric Bialik: [01:29:57] Big time. There’s a guy in my neighborhood with a coffee food truck and he just absolutely crushes it and he’s got — I’m not like a coffee-seur, coffee connoisseur.
Mike Barrett: [01:30:10] Sounds like kind of a sickly dinosaur.
Eric Bialik: [01:30:20] And I don’t know if his coffee is great. I don’t know whether—how to judge coffee. I’m not a decision maker on that. But that’s the only place where I would go and buy my coffee, I’ll tell you that. And it’s not the most convenient thing in the world for me. It’s not a drive through, it’s tough to get out of my car, right? Order outside in this heat and usually wait in line behind a lot of people.
Mike Barrett: [01:30:39] I was there today; I think I waited in line 20 minutes.
Eric Bialik: [01:30:41] Yeah, but it’s like one of those things. It is what it is. It works and good luck to him and hopefully he has plenty more.
Mike Barrett: [01:30:50] And that’s another example, too, of going back to your point about creating the community outreach and everything, when you’re there, you feel like you’re part of the neighborhood. And he knows everybody. There’s people, you see the same, it’s not just, let me pull up to this window, pay my three dollars or whatever, get my latte and pull away.
Eric Bialik: [01:31:08] No, and he’s done a great job. And this is something that we focus on in the restaurant very much. You’re buying food, you go to a Chipotle or a McDonald’s—or Starbucks, if you’re talking coffee—everything’s very transactional. It’s like: coffee, me, money, you, here it is, okay. We’re done? Okay, good. What we try to do and what he does very well is “how do I make a transaction experience now?” Buying coffee out of a food truck is an experience in itself. He’s got a great model and he does it very well. And he did little modifications. I’m sure you saw the evolution of it, the pavers, the old van [crosstalk], I don’t know where he got that from, but the old van, the shade thing. And you know what, he did in order to clean that all up, there was a lot of misplaced people in that general area. And he just paid them all, “Hey, you wanna come and help me clean this thing up?” That’s what originally got me really excited about this guy [crosstalk] in the area was, the way that he did that in the way that he didn’t just turn his head, he lent a hand. And that was really cool. So in our restaurant, we really try to turn, “Yes, this is a $12 sushi bowl, but it’s still $12 sushi bowl, how can we make this an experience?” When’s the last time anyone at X fast casual remembered anyone’s name or would write a review. And so we have a model.
Mike Barrett: [01:32:31] Or could spout off where the meat was sourced from.
Eric Bialik: [01:32:34] Correct, from going in and talking to a kid. There’s a model—and there’s a success model, and I, my mentor told me this years and years ago, and I stick to it. And it’s a model for success in a restaurant. It’s a math equation. So you guys might follow along. It’s your food plus your ambiance plus your service divided by your price will equal someone’s perceived value. Right. Sounds simple, right? In that numerator, your food, your service, your ambience, the biggest variable there is what, do you think?
Patrick Barrett: [01:33:12] Like the most important one, you’re saying?
Eric Bialik: [01:33:13] Not necessarily most important, for me it was most important. Just the biggest variable, what would change the most?
Mike Barrett: [01:33:20] To me—and I’m not trying to get out of answering the question—but when I think of the ambiance, I’m thinking of also the food and the service together. I would probably say ambiance.
Patrick Barrett: [01:33:28] Maybe it bleeds into everything else. Ambiance to me, it’s the hardest thing to find, I feel.
Eric Bialik: [01:33:33] Well, now we’re in an Instagram world, right? Your food is now part of your ambiance. But for me, the ambience, all we ask our employees and our operators to do, when you get there in the morning, make sure the chairs are in the right order, make sure the lights are on, make sure the music is set to exactly what you can’t set or unset it to, just turn it on. Make sure the air is at 72 and then boom: ambiance has already been set for you. It should be easy at that point. The food has already been purchased. You can’t change a salmon into a piece of mahi mahi. It’s already been bought.
Mike Barrett: [01:34:10] So don’t try.
Eric Bialik: [01:34:14] Not too many fast casuals focus on their service.
Patrick Barrett: [01:34:21] If you want to make a change at your restaurant this week, you’re not gonna change the ambiance without a huge effort.
Eric Bialik: [01:34:26] And you can always get a great meal—.
Patrick Barrett: [01:34:28] But you can improve service significantly.
Eric Bialik: [01:34:31] Always, you always can improve it. A smile can make a bad meal taste good. A good meal can be, you can say, “I don’t like the way that that person spoke to me. I don’t like the way they said something to my wife.” So the biggest variable is service. So if you look at our reviews online and we still have 5 stars on Yelp, we’ve got 4.8 on Google. And it’s not like we have eight reviews, we have a few hundred.
Patrick Barrett: [01:34:59] I looked it up, it’s impressive. Especially on Yelp, people can be brutal. I was looking at a restaurant once and a guy was like, “I was gonna meet some people here. While I was waiting I saw they had this beer I liked so I had one while I was waiting. They texted me they weren’t gonna come. So I left. Three stars.”
Mike Barrett: [01:35:18] They did everything they were supposed to do.
Eric Bialik: [01:35:24] We got one, “They didn’t have steak. So I left.” It’s like, we’re a sushi restaurant. So service is the most important thing. So as a service professional, because that’s what we tell, all of you guys are service professionals, you’re getting paid to smile right now. As a service professional, how can we turn this transaction into an experience? If we can turn nine out of ten transactions into experiences, we will win. We will win all day. There’s a human level and they’ll come every day. There’s also a fun thing of building your own bowl or roll or burrito. So there’s something fun, but what he’s done very well from a food truck standpoint has turned the transaction into an experience.
Patrick Barrett: [01:36:08] Yeah, there’s two things I just want to cover. We’re not running super short on time, but just short enough, that I want to make sure we get into this. Can you describe what is a normal day for you? If somebody is thinking, “maybe I want to have this job,” what is that actually like?
Eric Bialik: [01:36:25] Well, I’ll start with today. On a typical day, I’ll usually leave my house sometime between 6:30, 7:30 because we’re working with fresh produce right now. And we’re working on our supply chain on that, on pricing, not fish from how good it is, but on sourcing alone or pricing alone. And now that we have one location, I’ll go out to the local markets or I’ll go somewhere and I’ll see where the market is at that day. What the market—I can touch, I can feel, what are they saying the price of this is right now.
Patrick Barrett: [01:37:04] You say the local market, you mean where a regular person shops or you mean a restaurant supply, wholesale kind of thing.
Eric Bialik: [01:37:09] A few restaurant supply stores, but also there’s a farmer’s market, that’s usually where I’ll go first. They’ve got a pretty good — they supply a lot of restaurants.
Patrick Barrett: [01:37:17] As far as we talked about the laws with distributors with fish and alcohol, is this a place you can buy from?
Eric Bialik: [01:37:23] You can buy from. Yes, you can.
Patrick Barrett: [01:37:24] Because it’s produce?
Eric Bialik: [01:37:25] Yes. Technically, they are the distributor at that point, so you can totally buy it. Everything but our greens. Our greens, we get from a local vertical container farm in St. Pete. But everything else besides that is, we order it. It’s three deliveries a week. So if we’re upset with our vendor at that time, for whatever reason, we’ll go and we’ll shop it ourselves. Right now we can. So I’ll typically leave between 6:30 and 7:30, I’ll go shop at the market or wherever it is, restaurant supply store, whatever. If I have a paper supply that we don’t have that we ran low on—again, we’re figuring out a lot of these processes.
Mike Barrett: [01:38:05] Like napkins or something.
Eric Bialik: [01:38:07] Yeah. Or bags. Receipt paper, something silly. I’ll go and I’ll get that. And I’ll usually get to the restaurant between 8:00, 8:30. And typically — because we are the official food provider for the local soccer team, the Rowdies, the local professional soccer team, the Tampa Bay Rowdies — we will deliver, we’ll make all of their bowls for them and we’ll deliver it to the team three times a week. So I’ll make that delivery.
Patrick Barrett: [01:38:38] They have a standing order of what each player likes?
Eric Bialik: [01:38:41] Correct. And usually a player might change it every week. So each week they’ll get that same bowl for that week. So they are men of routine, these guys, it’s crazy. That’s the routine. I wish I had one. I’m explaining to you why I don’t have one. And then because—we have a location inside of Tropicana Field, where the Rays play, we treat our restaurant as a commissary. So food delivery service works like a third party. And then they take a cut of your food. A cut of what the guest pays for your food. Pretty much the same thing with the stadiums. You can go two different routes, you can go the route of third party where you treat your restaurant or whatever as a commissary and you come in and you just provide everything and they take a cut. Or they do everything there, supply the labor, do everything. And it’s a licensing deal at that point.
Mike Barrett: [01:39:38] So it can either be basically their employees preparing food according to your menus—
Eric Bialik: [01:39:42] Exactly and our brand was just too new to do that—
Mike Barrett: [01:39:45] —or it can be, you guys make it in your own locations and then you ship it in basically, truck it in or whatever, bring it in and sell the pre-made kit there.
Eric Bialik: [01:39:55] Well, just bring everything there. And we have a big enough prep area there where we can small prep some stuff, but we’ll bring all the product there. So luckily it’s only four blocks away from the restaurant which is on the 600 block in Saint Pete, 660. So it’s only four blocks away from the restaurant. So typically, because again, we’re working on fresh produce, we’re working with so many things, it’s a daily thing and there’s 81 home games a year. And typically you have home stands that lasts from, our current one that we’re in is a ten game home stand. So I’m there for 10 straight days. So I’ll go on a day—like today, I made the run earlier, so I’ll go, I’ll get everything set up for our employees there so they can just walk in and just go off a checklist and bam. And then I’ll get back for typically our lunch rush in the restaurant and I’ll see who’s there. And, lately it’s been, let’s go down to Sarasota to look at that location. Let’s look at this lease. Let’s look at other things. But there’s pretty much no routine. On days where I don’t have to do anything like that, I’ll go to the restaurant and I’ll just wash dishes for as long as I need to wash dishes for. So as long as they still let me go in there, I’ll still do it. But it’s something that I actually find a lot of joy in, which is washing dishes.
Mike Barrett: [01:41:15] That was your first job.
Eric Bialik: [01:41:16] That was my first job. I always come back to it. And also it’s a message to the employees that no one’s above any job. So if I’m there to wash dishes, I’ll get a few high fives; a few thank yous. And it’s like, thanks Eric.
Patrick Barrett: [01:41:30] Employee of the year.
Eric Bialik: [01:41:30] And then I’ll win Employee of the Year award.
Mike Barrett: [01:41:36] This might be a silly question, but do you have a machine to wash dishes with? And if so, what kind?
Eric Bialik: [01:41:43] I don’t, but that would be the last time we don’t have a machine to wash dishes in any location. Right now, we just have a three compartment sink. All of our stuff is, all of our bowls which you guys ate out of earlier is all paper. All of our plastic is biodegradable and stuff, so we don’t have plates to wash, but there is equipment, there is stuff like that to wash, the little trays, the little easy trays to wash. Each bowl, if you were coming to the restaurant, there’s little mixing bowls that they’ll mix everything in before, to put it on. So you get a little bit of sauce in every bite. So those things to wash. I love washing dishes at work, not at home. So that’s something that I’ll do and I’ll typically try to leave—you guys know the traffic is like. If I leave, I’ll give a hand off, we’ll have a hand off—I’ll touch base with my shift leaders and operators and I’ll try to ask one of the employees, what’s going on? How you doing? And then we’ll always try to tweak something. And then I’ll look at all the invoices. I’ll do some coding or see where we’re at on pricing, make some calls, send some emails, and then usually head home.
Patrick Barrett: [01:42:46] When you say do some coding, that’s similar to what you were describing at Ciro’s where you’re entering invoices to your software.
Eric Bialik: [01:42:53] Exactly.
Patrick Barrett: [01:42:53] So not coding like writing computer code?
Eric Bialik: [01:42:55] No, not me. I don’t even have a computer to code on, so if you don’t need a computer [crosstalk].
Patrick Barrett: [01:43:08] So what software are you using to do those things?
Eric Bialik: [01:43:11] Yeah. So to code, I have QuickBooks and then we’ll manually, we have—our QuickBooks is directly lined up with our credit cards. And just from there categorizing is, we tried making it—and my partner is great at this, but we tried making it as easy as possible for us and just try to have eight simple categories. And then if we’re, again, if we’re ever fortunate enough to expand, those will get refined and tuned up and sub-categorized. But right now, we have eight categories. And then the system that we use internally in-house is a system called Revel. There were only two systems when I was in high school, it was Aloha or Micros. Or this system right here. Which I still do a lot of actually. But this is a very intuitive system. If we wanted to, it categorizes everything for us. I haven’t done the legwork to do it.
Mike Barrett: [01:44:04] And it’s called Revel?
Eric Bialik: [01:44:04] Revel. R-E-V-E-L. And it’s on the higher end side. But as far as customer information goes, with all of the other service providers, you only had the customer’s information. So if they buy into a rewards program, the days of having the punch cards are over. So it’s all done digitally now. So if someone graces us, they wanna join our rewards program, that’s what we call collecting information. They’ll just give us their name and their email address. We don’t even want a phone number, only if they wanna give it to us. And that’s just there so we can track what they’re having. This software is so intuitive that if they come in and they get the O.G. Bowls, one of our creations, three times and then the fourth time they decide to get an Over The Rainbow bowl, it’ll have a prompt on there, that says, are you sure you rang in the right thing?
[01:44:56] And it also — this is a little weird — it has facial recognition. We don’t use that. We don’t use that, people would get little too [crosstalk]. So if they wanted to, they could sign up for the rewards program and it could take a picture of their face. And then every time they come in, they just put their face in front of the system on the iPad. And it’s like, you have this X amount of points, you only need Y more to redeem this reward. So that system was very — we valued it a lot, especially with my partner’s old business where his whole business, the food delivery business is all customer information database. So for us, if we do a direct mailer if we do something — a direct mailer, meaning we send a coupon in the mail to somebody.
Mike Barrett: [01:45:46] Like the physical mail? The old mail.
Eric Bialik: [01:45:48] Yeah. We have a good baseline of where to go and we have a good idea of which area codes or zip codes to hit.
Mike Barrett: [01:45:57] Based on the information of the people that you know are coming in frequently.
Eric Bialik: [01:45:59] Exactly.
Patrick Barrett: [01:46:00] So you were saying you—toward the end of the day, as the day wears on a bit, you would do the coding and you would sit down, look at invoices. What would come next?
Eric Bialik: [01:46:09] What would come next is I would touch base, see if there’s anything that we need to get for the next day, make sure the night crew is all ready to go. And then, I get home and it’s family time.
Patrick Barrett: [01:46:20] What time—
Eric Bialik: [01:46:20] You never really shut off. I’ll get calls all through the night. And if it’s any call at the restaurant, again, this is an agreement we had with our wives, especially—my wife has been the wife of a restaurant guy for many years now so she understands it. So if there’s any call coming from the restaurant whatsoever, it’s one of those, I kind of get a free pass.
Patrick Barrett: [01:46:46] Sort of like being a doctor on call?
Eric Bialik: [01:46:48] Yeah, I like that. That’s what I’m gonna say. I’m on call, you know I’m on call. So it never really shuts off. But I’ll typically get home depending on, if I don’t leave St. Pete by 3:00 or 3:30, I’m not gonna leave till 6:30.
Patrick Barrett: [01:47:05] Because of the traffic?
Eric Bialik: [01:47:05] Because of the traffic. So I’ll try to stay around and do something, find a cleaning project or rearrange something. [crosstalk].
Patrick Barrett: [01:47:14] And how late is the restaurant open?
Eric Bialik: [01:47:17] So the restaurant Sunday through Thursday is open until 10:00 p.m., and then on Friday and Saturday is open until midnight.
Patrick Barrett: [01:47:23] And how often do you eat the food from the restaurant? You, personally?
Eric Bialik: [01:47:27] Man, you would think that after this long I’d be like, I’m sick of it. [crosstalk] honestly, really hard to get tired of. I’m not just saying that, I promise you.
Patrick Barrett: [01:47:38] I love anything sushi related. I could eat that twice a day. Three times a day.
Eric Bialik: [01:47:43] Yes. There are plenty of things that aren’t sushi or aren’t raw. Today I had a new Aloha barbecue chicken and I wanted to eat it on a bed of lettuce. And I wanted to see if we could do something to like — Oh, we can call it a chicken salad. So that was, stuff like that I can never get tired of it or sick of it. And I know what I’m putting in my body and I see it processed every day and I see how it’s prepped. And I’m a firm believer in it. And if I wouldn’t eat—in many restaurants, you guys have worked in restaurants before. They always tell you if you want something to eat, especially in a full service restaurant, “you ring it in and you sit in the corner in your little Harry Potter closet, [crosstalk], don’t make eye contact with me and it’s 50 percent off. That’s it. I’m not cooking. I’m not cooking this, it’s just these two things.” I don’t want a house salad and I don’t want a soup.
Mike Barrett: [01:48:38] In Bennigan’s, God bless it, the menu at Bennigan’s was 90 pages long. And for employees you can have six things. They wouldn’t make most of them.
Eric Bialik: [01:48:46] No, “I’m not making that.” So another thing based on my experience of having that and having a very gung ho chef on not wanting to do anything for a server was for every day, every shift that our employees work, they get a free meal. And it’s a meal that I want them to leave the line, leave the assembly line, the front and go to a table in their uniform and eat outside. And if they don’t wanna do that, they’re not hungry in their shift, I’m not, well, “you don’t get your meal.” You could take it home with you, you can come 30 minutes early. [crosstalk] the value of me when I go into a restaurant, tell me if you guys disagree, if I see someone who is an employee of the restaurant, has the hat, has the jeans, says Pacific Counter on the shirt, looks like it, smells like it, feels like it, everything lines up. If I see the employee eating there and I see the employees eating there often, then that must be, to me [crosstalk]—
Patrick Barrett: [01:49:40] It’s one of the best endorsements you could make. They know everything that’s going on behind the scenes.
Eric Bialik: [01:49:45] That’s the ambiance. It’s part of the ambiance. But if I see that I’m going to be, “Okay, I’m in the right place. I’m in the right place and I’m gonna eat that.” And we wanted our employees to have the same amount of confidence in the food that we have. We’re proud of what we serve. We’re proud of what we eat. You should be, too. And they totally are. And that’s what evolved into, “Okay, well, let’s get these new monthly bowls going.” We call them our Wave items, like a wave that comes and goes [crosstalk]. So we wanted to make that very important. I don’t know where, how we got to that just now, but.
Patrick Barrett: [01:50:22] Well, I was saying, do you eat there, and how often.
Eric Bialik: [01:50:23] If I’m there, which lately has not been every day—we’ve had a lot of out-of-the-restaurant stuff to do—any time I’m there for more than three or four hours at a time, I’ll eat. As long as it’s not, I’m not getting in the way of any staff, I’ll eat. Usually, I’ll go do an hour of dishes and I’ll call that, okay, I get my shift meal now. But I don’t—and every day, I leave, my wife or some of my friends and family at home, they’ll say, “Hey, can you bring a bowl for me?” No one’s gotten sick of it yet. At least, they haven’t told me.
Patrick Barrett: [01:50:59] So out of all the, would you say—as you said, not every day is the same day by any means. But would you say that you’ve described all the components that might make up a day or is there anything else?
Eric Bialik: [01:51:12] Pretty much. You’re gonna have stuff. I make weekly checklists for myself. And if I don’t get it done on Monday, I will on Tuesday to Wednesday, if I don’t get it, and so forth.
Patrick Barrett: [01:51:19] Do you track that on your phone or just a piece of paper?
Eric Bialik: [01:51:22] I actually have — sometimes I’ll put it in my phone, but I have a little Moleskine that I keep.
Patrick Barrett: [01:51:28] Alex told us that she has physical paper books and binders that she takes notes in and it’s funny to hear.
Eric Bialik: [01:51:33] Unrelated, we have Moleskines. Yes, I do it because I was never organized enough. From knowing what I’m not good at, I was never organized enough. And I was always, would like, I’m gonna do that. I wanted to champion everything during my first years of operating, no matter which concept it was in. I found a lot of stuff just falling underneath the cracks and I’m not finding out about it until it was way too late. Let me call this person for this catering. Let me call this. And I was like, man, I didn’t call that person, but if that person only knew what happened that day, they totally [inaudible]. So I used to keep these Moleskines, just this big that could fit in my back pocket because I like to wear a suit at my other restaurant every day. I would always take the jacket off, but I would be in a button up and some slacks, and I’d keep a Moleskine in my slacks. I was writing, once I found out about it and the gratification that I would get from my checking something off was the coolest thing ever to me. And I was like, “I didn’t forget it, that’s awesome.” Now habitually, something comes through the pipeline, I just knock it out right away. But I still have to consciously make myself a checklist on one of those Moleskines every single week. And it’s something that, I don’t do the stuff, like the daily stuff, like go to pick up this. But sometimes I’ll put the list that I need to make from either here or from my, some of my staff. I’ll make that list of things I need to pick up on there. But most of this stuff is, I write deadlines in there, business tax deadline, whatever this is, whatever that is. And I’ll give myself a week to do it.
Patrick Barrett: [01:53:11] So that weekly checklist is different week to week?
Eric Bialik: [01:53:14] It’s different week-to-week. A lot of the stuff may remain the same, I might go to a different market or might go to a different, sometimes I’ll write stuff in that market, pricing that I saw or whatever. But I used to go through one of those Moleskines, it’s a little hundred page notebook you get. I used to go through one of those every, about two weeks. Two and a half weeks. I would write everything down, because it’s [crosstalk] down. If I didn’t write stuff down, it wasn’t gonna get done. Then that evolved into my Google calendar. If I don’t have stuff in my Google calendar, then I won’t do it. Lately the schedule’s been a little bit different because we’ve been doing, thankfully, we’ve had a lot of good press lately. We’ve been doing a lot of cool videos, meetings with the press, cool podcasts like this. So all of that goes into my Google calendar and I’ll check that before I check my Moleskine. My Moleskine is something that I kind of—
Patrick Barrett: [01:54:08] Is there a certain, you know, Sunday afternoon you sit down and make the list for this week, or it’s just whenever you get a chance?
Eric Bialik: [01:54:15] Kind of when I have time. So if there’s something—if I have on that list, so next week’s list will be 9/8, September 8th list. So I’ve already been slowly building that list for next week based on stuff that’s happened this week. Stuff that I know I’m not going to be able to do this week, that I’m just gonna have to do it next week. And that’s going on the list. My business taxes up to September 30th. The sidewalk license is done September 30th. So I know that stuff—.
Mike Barrett: [01:54:46] Sidewalk license?
Eric Bialik: [01:54:46] Sidewalk cafe permit, so seating outside. Completely different permit for it. Alcohol outside is completely different. All that stuff is, there are so many things. But those things I make weekly checklists for and stuff goes into Google calendar. But it’s something that I’ve habitually done. I’ve had an operator in our house. It was similar to how I was a few years ago. And I put them on these Moleskines and you can write all the stuff down you want, but if you don’t actually read what you wrote down, it won’t matter. [crosstalk]
Patrick Barrett: [01:55:22] So another thing I did wanna ask also because I think this is probably something that a lot of aspiring restaurateurs want to—a problem they need to solve—is the funding side of the restaurant. Again, just whatever you’re comfortable with sharing, was it hard to get out and get funding or?
Eric Bialik: [01:55:41] Yeah, great question. So the three of us, it was important that all of us were monetarily invested in the business. That was something that was a non-negotiable.
Mike Barrett: [01:55:51] As opposed to just investing your time and energy?
Eric Bialik: [01:55:53] As opposed to sweat equity, as they call it. We were all gonna sweat. So we knew that it was all something that was, we’re all gonna bleed and at times, we were all gonna cry. But it was important that we were all monetarily invested. And that was something that my partner Tanner had preached in the beginning. And none of us ever had a qualm with it at all. And it was something that was, he had been in businesses before where not everybody was monetarily invested, meaning invested money. And when they didn’t feel like doing something, they had no skin in the game. So we are actually all self-funded. We were all in a fortunate position at the time—and I would be nowhere without my wife, and I think that my partners would say the same thing—but we did seek some outside private funding. We have one silent investor, that was it, though. So we have seeked no banks, no loans, nothing. And so when the time comes, it’s going to come, where we have to seek some somebody if we want to grow at the rate we want to grow at, which hopefully will be sooner than later. We’ll have to find something. But right now, we’re all self-funded. But typically a lot of people will either seek a private investor or an equity firm or something.
Mike Barrett: [01:57:10] To create that initial agreement, did you go to an attorney or did you download a form from Legal Zoom or something?
Eric Bialik: [01:57:16] So we first drew up, like a football play, like in the sand, we first drew it up on a pencil and paper and we all sat down. That was one of the first things that we talked about, all the steps you take when you take a brand zero to one. Well, let’s figure this part out first. Granted, we all trusted each other. It was something that we knew that nothing — we’re all good people. Well, the two of us are good, one of us sitting right here, probably not the best. But we all trusted each other. But you have to have something drafted up, legally speaking. So we have a lawyer. They drafted it up and we all signed. That’s how we left it. It was all one of those, “this was easy. Let’s just sign this thing.”
Patrick Barrett: [01:58:03] One thing we didn’t really get into it all yet—
Mike Barrett: [01:58:08] Well, sorry, I don’t want to abuse your time, we’re running up against.
Eric Bialik: [01:58:12] Don’t worry about it. I’m not going back to the restaurant today.
Patrick Barrett: [01:58:14] So we haven’t really gotten into your whole high school, college experience in general. So would you say growing up that in your household, growing up, did your parents express to you that education was very important, that they expected certain things from you? Is that part of your experience or not really?
Eric Bialik: [01:58:40] No, no. Education was a huge thing for them. So my dad was originally from New York. My mom’s originally from San Diego, California. My dad was going to a certain school in New York City back in the 70s, got stuck in some blizzard that all the New Yorkers talk about in the subway. And decided to pack up his little Mitsubishi truck at time and drove from Long Island all the way to San Diego and got his residency. So didn’t work for or didn’t go to school for a year, got his in-state residency and then started going to San Diego State. So education was very important, but I will get to the reason why I just described that. Education was very important, but also owning your own decisions and making your own decisions. For my grandparents to have one of their—their baby go from Long Island all the way to San Diego. You couldn’t just send an email at the time [crosstalk]. My grandma pretty much thought she was never going to see my father again.
Mike Barrett: [01:59:38] To put this in perspective for our listeners, it’s a silly thing to feel like you have to explain, but a long distance phone call cost money then. It was an investment.
Patrick Barrett: [01:59:49] Even just to call a person on the phone was a non-trivial—
Eric Bialik: [01:59:50] Even just have the phone. But he got to a point where his decisions—and he was a very good student. Very, very bright guy. Very, very good student. So is my mother. But I took more the path that my mother took. But it was very important. I wasn’t allowed to do things unless I got A’s or B’s. I couldn’t play — I was always playing sports, some type of sport: baseball, basketball, football. Any of those sports I was always, always playing. And it was one of those “you’re not going to go to the game.” My dad had no problem, even though he paid for the season, it’s a huge game and no problem, not only not letting me play, but taking me to the game and having me sit in the stands and watching and then having me tell everybody why I couldn’t play.
Patrick Barrett: [02:00:38] Did that happen often?
Eric Bialik: [02:00:44] So yes, I never really learned. So I was a consummate procrastinator. I got by and I went to Paxon High School, go Eagles. Golden Eagles, maybe, I don’t know, that’s how much I paid attention. I was in a bunch of AP classes. I didn’t do IB or anything that. But it was a good school. You guys can attest to that, at least arguably the best school in the city. It’s not like the school was easy, but procrastinating was something that I always got by with. And I always went to certain—my neighborhood schools growing up. As soon as I got to Paxon, it was one of those things — well, as soon as I got to James Walton Johnson in eighth grade—
Mike Barrett: [02:01:30] Which was the magnet middle school.
Eric Bialik: [02:01:31] Which was the feeder middle school. I went there because my dad wanted me to go to — education was important. He wanted me to go to either Stanton or Paxon.
Patrick Barrett: [02:01:39] Those are magnet public high schools in Jacksonville.
Eric Bialik: [02:01:40] So it’s not my neighborhood school. It’s still a great school. So he just wanted me to go there because it was important. You go there, you graduate, you get to a good school, and that’s what you do. So I got by with procrastinating in high school. I have no idea how I got into any college. When I got the letters from colleges, I almost didn’t wanna go to that school because I was like [crosstalk]. So I played basketball for a few years at Paxon and that was my main focus was basketball. Let me go get a job to rehab my wrist so I can go play basketball.
Patrick Barrett: [02:02:24] Oh yeah, Cold Stone.
Eric Bialik: [02:02:26] We’re all coming back now. So it was very important. But I got by with procrastinating and there was a time, which I’m sure I’ll get to the next question, there was a time where—when you don’t know what you’re procrastinating for. Its one of those things, I’m procrastinating. Oh, well, when’s the test? I don’t know.
Patrick Barrett: [02:02:47] So that’s just an ongoing policy.
Eric Bialik: [02:02:49] Yeah. Procrastinator.
Patrick Barrett: [02:02:54] So then when it was coming time to think about going to college and that kind of thing, did you have a school you felt like you wanted to go to? Were you thinking about your grades, your test scores, what was your mindset? Or were your parents trying to get you to think about it and you weren’t?
Eric Bialik: [02:03:08] Typically that. I was a little intimidated by it because I never really — I valued school. I valued going and seeing the people and sharing experiences. And I was a great test taker. Always. Was a good test taker. But I didn’t want to do homework for the life of me. Never wanted to do it. And I had a few schools that I wanted to go to, but I got into every school I applied to, believe it or not. And I had no idea how that happened.
Patrick Barrett: [02:03:37] That’s awesome.
Eric Bialik: [02:03:37] Yeah, I applied to one, so I got into that. So I applied to a few state schools and one out-of-state just to see if I would have gotten in. But there was a few schools that I really wanted to go to and going—in high school, traveling, along with education was a big, big thing in my house. And luckily we were fortunate enough — I didn’t go to any out of country trips or anything, but going to see big cities, coming from Jacksonville, Florida, thinking we have the Jaguars, we’re huge. And then going to New York, the subway, and seeing it. It’s like, man, I want to go to school in New York City. And then after looking at what they wanted for your GPAs and stuff, I was like…now looking back on it and thinking right now, that was all strategic by my father. You need that 8.9 GPA to get in there.
Patrick Barrett: [02:04:30] Nobody’s ever gotten that.
Eric Bialik: [02:04:31] So my parents valued education, but I was never put under so much pressure to be something that I wasn’t going to be. Whatever I was going to be, no one knew then. I still don’t know. But there was a few schools and one of them was, after touring the campus, I toured a few of the state schools in the state of Florida, one being Florida State, another one being UCF, and UNF. And I got into all of them and I decided I really wanted to go to UCF. So it was an awesome five months stint.
Patrick Barrett: [02:05:06] Well before we get to the UCF experience, do you remember anything, like taking the SAT? Did you prepare for that?
Eric Bialik: [02:05:15] So actually I took the SAT one time and I got a great score. I was always very good at taking math tests because there was always one answer. And I was like, “there’s one answer. If someone tells me how to do this one time, I’ll be able to get to it.” And that’s always how I have been. So the first time I took the SAT, I got, which for me was great, is like just shy of a 700 on my math portion. And then I fell asleep on my verbal portion. I literally fell asleep, literally fell asleep and because I went out the night before and the test was 8:00 in the morning and I was—
Patrick Barrett: [02:05:53] Wait, sorry. Went out the night before?
Eric Bialik: [02:05:56] I was 16, I took it right before my senior year. I was actually 17 in college. I was always very young. Was the last one to drive, last one to do everything. I have a late August birthday. I did have an SAT course and the SAT prep course was at UNF and it was a 6 session course. So six weeks we met every Saturday or Sunday at 8:00 in the morning and I was just like at the time, I really valued me at the time. I valued me, I valued my time and I was living for today and not ever for tomorrow or next month or next year or whatever. And I thought that the moments I was having today were — what was I gonna miss? The lingo wasn’t around then, but I had a lot of FOMO back in high school if I were to miss something. And it’s like, how much can a 16-year-old do? How much are you really going to miss? “Oh, I want to be by AOL Instant Messenger in case this girl I had a crush on logs in.” [crosstalk] So I did take an SAT prep course. I honestly, I couldn’t tell you if it helped me or not so it probably didn’t at that point. But I did take the SAT over again.
Patrick Barrett: [02:07:18] And you stayed awake the whole time?
Eric Bialik: [02:07:19] I stayed awake—yeah, I stayed awake the whole time. That was huge for me. It was funny. The one part I do remember was I was even trying to go to bed early the night before and I just couldn’t sleep. Not for anything; it wasn’t that I was a bad kid or anything. I wasn’t doing anything. I was a bad kid, but I wasn’t doing anything bad that night. I was just watching SportsCenter for the fifth time or something, one of those nights. And I remember, I got like an hour and a half or two hours of sleep and I thought to myself, “it’s okay. If I try to picture exactly what the SAT said before—” because I thought it was going to be the same test. So first I go in there and I ask the instructor, “if I score lower on this portion of my math portion, which” — she was like “we’ll keep the higher portion, regardless.” I don’t know if that’s true or not. So I was like, “cool.” So I slept during the math portion so I could stay awake during the verbal portion. And did it and I got, it must have been a reasonable score. I think it was, hovered around a 1200 or 1220 or something like that, which wasn’t too bad at the time. It got me into college. My GPA didn’t get me into college but my test score—
Patrick Barrett: [02:08:39] So you never stayed awake for a whole SAT?
Eric Bialik: [02:08:41] I never did. [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [02:08:47] It is a thing test takers are generally aware—or the test takers that are shooting for super-high scores are generally aware of all the ins and outs of the super-scoring and combining different things and so on. But they’re always, not always, they’re very often afraid. So they’ll realize, okay, I got an 800 on, I got a perfect score on this one section two times ago. And I know that technically I don’t really have to get that serious about it this next time, but I don’t know, what if somebody looks [crosstalk]. And in a way, I’m very proud of you that you’re like, “oh great, this is done, I’ll just get some sleep [crosstalk].”
Eric Bialik: [02:09:23] Oh, yeah. I had full trust in people I’d never met before. I’ve known this person for literally 32 seconds and I’m going to take her word [crosstalk].
Patrick Barrett: [02:09:33] So then five months in college. Let’s go into that.
Eric Bialik: [02:09:38] So I went to Summer B at UCF. I applied to Summer B to every school because I heard it was easier to get into the school.
Mike Barrett: [02:09:48] For the audience is—it’s a term, a period of time, not fall semester, not spring semester but the B summer semester. The second of the two summer semesters.
Eric Bialik: [02:09:56] So I went into Summer B at UCF and I remember signing up for classes. I remember that. And I remember my dorm room—
Patrick Barrett: [02:10:06] You sound like you’re describing a car accident.
Eric Bialik: [02:10:07] Well it was a huge accident for me. Summer B at the time was a huge, huge accident.
Mike Barrett: [02:10:14] So you signed up for classes?
Eric Bialik: [02:10:16] I signed up for classes. And I remember one was a biology class and the other one was originally — I declared myself a hospitality major before that. Look at that now. And then right after that semester, I started working and I was like, “I don’t need to go to school to be a hospitality major. Let me change this thing over to business.” And it’s like, I don’t know why I did that because I never went to classes anyway. So I got put on academic probation after Summer B and didn’t tell my parents. And I remember the next semester, it was two weeks in or something, and then I figured out you could drop classes and it wouldn’t go against — sorry, this is the probably the worst—
Patrick Barrett: [02:10:57] No, this is what happened, this is what you did.
Eric Bialik: [02:11:00] I remember I dropped three classes. At this point I had 75% Bright Futures, by the way.
Mike Barrett: [02:11:07] Which is a state scholarship.
Eric Bialik: [02:11:09] [crosstalk] Which I lost it after that semester. But my—I never told my parents and I guess they eventually got a bill, whatever.
Mike Barrett: [02:11:20] So to this day you don’t know.
Eric Bialik: [02:11:21] No. They found out and I am going to tell you how they found out. So I dropped three classes. In my head, again, this is like taking two half SATs. In my head, I was like “if I drop three, focus on this one, I will get myself out of probation.” In my head at that time, I’m going to go in and out of academic probation every other semester in and out. I’m not a college athlete. I don’t need eligibility or anything like that. I already lost my Bright Futures, whatever. I’ll go in and out and I’m just gonna milk this thing. That was my big goal at the time was, “let me drop three classes to focus on one.”
Mike Barrett: [02:11:58] If I can interrupt for one second. That’s actually a pretty clever, tactically intelligent — you’re thinking, “okay, what are the hard lines that you can’t cross, how do I optimize what I’m getting—”
Eric Bialik: [02:12:09] What’s the bare minimum I can do to call myself a college student.
Patrick Barrett: [02:12:12] Not something that we are formally endorsing, but it is a certain mindset.
Mike Barrett: [02:12:16] But it is interesting, you had to be actively engaged in thinking about how to solve this problem, and you did find a solution.
Eric Bialik: [02:12:25] That was all my own. I didn’t outsource to anybody.
Patrick Barrett: [02:12:27] It’s an interesting tactical laziness.
Eric Bialik: [02:12:30] Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Mike Barrett: [02:12:30] Tactical laziness is a good phrase for it.
Patrick Barrett: [02:12:33] And again, not endorsing it, but you had this plan,
Eric Bialik: [02:12:35] I had this plan. And the one class I remained faithful to was a music theory class or something like that. I don’t even remember; it was something that had to do with music. I don’t know what it was. Because that was the one class that had all of the cute girls in it. And at the time that was what was driving me. I’m very faithfully married now but at the time that’s what was driving me. And so I was like I’ll take this class—and you still have to go to the class to get the A. I remember going at first I was like oh, here’s the syllabus. And then I was like, here are the test dates. Boom, boom, boom. So I’ll just go in for those tests and I’ll do it just like I did in high school and make friends with somebody that will help me out, whatever. I remember going into that first test day, and it was, what, school started in September. So the first test was probably early October, late September. Three weeks in, four weeks in or something. And I remember going into that class and looking at this test and I was like, I have no idea what I’m even looking at right now. I don’t even know, I shouldn’t have done this. Well, I got about two more months here. At that point, I knew that it was like — so I had this guilt with me for two months. I had all of this — so I was like what am I gonna do to help me distract me from this guilt? Because already at that time I told myself, I don’t know how I am going to break this to my parents. I don’t know how this is gonna work. I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Mike Barrett: [02:14:01] So at this point you were, it sounds like already viewing college as just a failed—this isn’t going to work for me.
Eric Bialik: [02:14:09] Yeah. I was going to go back home.
Mike Barrett: [02:14:11] Did you ever think maybe I’ll try again in a couple of years?
Eric Bialik: [02:14:14] Well, I did. I’ll get to that. I did—actually ended up getting my AA, that was many years later.
Mike Barrett: [02:14:21] But at this point when you were carrying this guilt around, you thought the world is over.
Eric Bialik: [02:14:24] It’s over because I knew that my dad — my parents always said, if you get good grades, you can—have not many people have this opportunity, and I’m very fortunate, but I remember them telling me, you get good grades, you can choose — what do you wanna drive? What car do you want? What computer do you want? They were gifting me this.
Mike Barrett: [02:14:44] Incentivizing you.
Eric Bialik: [02:14:45] Ah, I’m good. I’ll figure it out. So I remember walking around with all this guilt and I was like, what can I do to distract me from this guilt. And that’s when I started working at Lazy Moon Pizza. So I just worked as many hours a week as I could work.
Patrick Barrett: [02:15:01] Sort of like displacing your guilt from [crosstalk].
Eric Bialik: [02:15:05] And I saved up a bunch of money and I did everything I could. And I was like, if I’m not gonna do school, then I’m gonna do this. I’m going to be as good at this is possible. But it was all guilt driven.
Patrick Barrett: [02:15:17] So your parents thought you were going to classes and you were actually working at Lazy Moon Pizza. Is that accurate for a while?
Eric Bialik: [02:15:22] I was not going to classes.
Patrick Barrett: [02:15:24] So they thought you were—
Eric Bialik: [02:15:24] They knew I was working at Lazy Moon. They didn’t know I was working as much as I was working. I was working a lot. The guy that would write, there was no email schedule or HotSchedule—HotSchedules is like an app for scheduling. There was nothing like that. It was posted on the board and it was like, “call me for shifts.”
Mike Barrett: [02:15:48] So did you think to yourself while you were working in the restaurant, if I had just spent this much energy on school—
Eric Bialik: [02:15:56] Oh, yeah. And that’s what made me dig the guilt grave even more. So I was working a lot to save money to give to my parents for school, [crosstalk]. Yes. So we’re in California. That’s where I’m originally from. That’s where my family, a lot of my mom’s side of the family is. And we go out there every year. We go out there for the holidays. And I remember “while I’m out here, there’s going to be a letter, a regular mail letter sent to my house to tell my parents that I’m no longer a student and being kicked out.” So it was the worst trip of my life. And so we go home. They get the letter. I run away for like three days. I ran away, went to a friend’s house. This is my life now. I’m just going to sit on this couch, look at the ceiling for the rest of my life. So I call up the guys at Lazy Moon. I’m like, hey, I just need to take some time off. So during that time, my parents were so frustrated with me because I had every opportunity in the world to, one, do better. Two, communicate what was going on. I could have handled it so much better, so much better. I’m glad this happened, though. But so then I had to move back home, couldn’t live on campus anymore. They took all my bar mitzvah money for the school, and that still wasn’t enough to pay for the cost. I didn’t know — they had the same bill came in the mail for Bright Futures too.
Patrick Barrett: [02:17:32] So they’d been holding on to the bar mitzvah money, for when you were—
Eric Bialik: [02:17:35] Sure, to give it to me. Hopefully invest it in something, they’re smart enough, but no, they invested in paying them. So I’m glad they did. So at this point—and finally my dad and I reconcile and you know I straight up told him, I was in college for all the wrong reasons. I did the whole fraternity thing and I did it for everything, I wanted the prize before the work and that wasn’t going to fly.
Mike Barrett: [02:18:02] So sitting here, you’re clearly a very intelligent person. You graduated from a high school that’s not the easiest high school to graduate from. I know you downplayed your role as a student, but still you had to [crosstalk]. You had to do some stuff. While you were at college and failing, for lack of a better phrase.
Eric Bialik: [02:18:29] There’s no better phrase.
Mike Barrett: [02:18:33] Did you feel — so we mentioned this guilt and everything, but did you feel — “I’m just not smart enough” or “my brain doesn’t work this way?” I’m not saying any of that’s the case but was any of that in your head?
Eric Bialik: [02:18:44] No, that’s what gave me the most guilt. I knew that I was fully capable. Everything that happened was a decision of mine. It wasn’t like I needed to go see a therapist because I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this.” There was no impostor syndrome or anything. Maybe there was, but there was nothing, I wasn’t consciously telling myself — all I was telling myself was, that class, music theory, I could have totally aced that class. And then you started thinking about all the times, “was that three months worth like an extra three years I could have had with a lot of these people?” And so during—in those next, through that next semester I was kicked out of school, no longer in Orlando, I was living back in Jacksonville, where I went to high school, living in my parents, living in the room I grew up in, but paying rent in the room that I was growing up in. I had two jobs working at Abercrombie and Fitch and Firehouse Subs at the same time.
Patrick Barrett: [02:19:45] So you were at Lazy Moon Pizza and then you left that.
Eric Bialik: [02:19:48] I left for three months and they’re like, it’s all good. They were from Jacksonville to, the guys. And so we actually, we had a few times, they were young at the time and it wasn’t a deal breaker for the business, right. So I came back and I told them that I was going to come back and if there was anything — I wish I was more transparent, I was as transparent with my parents as I was with them. All the shifts I picked up probably is what paid off during that guilt trip I had. So they’re like, “It’s all good, man. It’s all good, good vibes only. If you do plan on coming back, let us know, yada, yada.” Great guys. And so I worked at a Firehouse and Abercrombie for those four months and I was determined to get back and go to Orlando. So I went to Valencia for two years at a community college in Orlando. I wanted to be back with my good friends that I had made in Orlando, back in my circle. But I got right back into Lazy Moon and was working there thirty, forty hours a week, paying rent. And my parents were like “We’ll pay your school, but you have to pay for your books.” And so that was the deal that we had at the time.
Patrick Barrett: [02:21:06] That was the compromise ultimately you came to was, community college, you paid for a portion of it, they paid for a portion of it.
Mike Barrett: [02:21:11] Do you think that they were hoping that the community college would lead back to a more traditional path?
Eric Bialik: [02:21:16] Oh, yeah. I got put on a dean’s list there too. This is how I knew that I was fully capable of doing this, it was just about being present. And that’s something that just, and it doesn’t matter what I do, it’s just being present. And so I went back and got all the way, got my AA and was ready to get back in UCF. And I was like no, I don’t feel doing it. I think at that point it was just affirmation for me, I’m fully capable of doing anything that I really want to do. I really wanted to get that to put this — really it was never really for me, it was for my parents, at least at the time.
Patrick Barrett: [02:22:02] So you’d come home and visit them on holidays.
Eric Bialik: [02:22:09] Before all this, I was a golden child, the oldest in my family, my extended family. The oldest cousin, the first grandchild, the first everything so for like, Eric to not, whoa. Still to this day when I go back to Orlando and I go back toward campus as much as I love it and I was never in the military or anything, believe me, they don’t want me. But there still is a little PTSD when I go back, I don’t wanna remember that part of what the decisions I made. I’m thankful that I went through that. Did I have to go through all that? Definitely didn’t have to but looking back on it, I think that it happened for a reason. But I try to not make those decisions anymore. So I think that’s why when we — I say we — my wife and I, we get into a new project. If it’s something like this restaurant, then we say, okay, we’re gonna deplete our entire savings account for this restaurant, it’s one of those things, I go full force into it, because I don’t want the same thing to happen that happened at UCF. And I’m still a loyal Knight.
Mike Barrett: [02:23:23] The Knights are, that’s the mascot of UCF, for people that don’t know.
Eric Bialik: [02:23:29] I just get a little PTSD when I go back into the area every time, every time.
Patrick Barrett: [02:23:37] You feel it.
Mike Barrett: [02:23:39] That’s such an interesting thing. Do you think if you — I’m not trying to talk you back into going to college or anything, I’m just curious.
Eric Bialik: [02:23:45] We’ve talked about it many times. It’s something that I definitely want to do. I don’t care when I do it. And I had all these, you get into your own head and I had all these, I had a few opportunities where I think I could have just, let me go to these night classes. And I was “I don’t wanna be the 27 seven year old with these 18-year-olds.” [crosstalk]. But it’s definitely something. And Alex, my wife, we’ve talked about it many times and it’s something that when the time is right, it’s definitely 100 percent. I think now, for me, I would get so much more out of it now. Back then, there was a maturity level that I hadn’t met yet.
Patrick Barrett: [02:24:27] And that would be your choice as well as opposed to “this is just the next thing I have to do.”
Eric Bialik: [02:24:32] No, it would totally be a choice. Totally.
Mike Barrett: [02:24:35] Part of what I wanted to ask is if you had chosen different classes that first time around, classes that were more geared towards things you were interested in, would that have made any difference?
Eric Bialik: [02:24:44] Unless there was a PE class or a basketball class or something like that, I don’t think that—I think at the time, looking at it, now, if you were to take me now and knowing what I know now and going back, sure, I would have taken, I would have been like “give me a fifth class.” But at the time I don’t think that anything would have been any different. And it was all me getting by, how I got by, up until then and just having this family brand about me, “Oh, I can do no wrong, I’m invincible.” And then boom, paying rent [crosstalk] it’s one of those things. And it doesn’t help having my sister, when she got a 4-something GPA, she got a scholarship to a Division I school to play soccer. Went to Chile for school for a year. That didn’t really help out. Okay, I’m gonna remember this, I’m gonna remember this.
Patrick Barrett: [02:25:52] We are a bit over time. Is there any question you think we didn’t ask that we should have or any blanket advice you would give if there’s some—if there’s any teenager who wants to get into [crosstalk]?
Eric Bialik: [02:26:04] To bring it all back, there are a few things that, when someone asks what do you — first off, by no means am I successful. Let’s first say that. Success is measured in many ways. I’m not where I want to be yet. But I think that having the ability to adapt—and that could be professionally, that could be personally, but most importantly, with your relationships—being able to adapt, listening and then acting. And as long as your actions match what you say, then everything for me would be okay. But the ability to adapt, the ability to listen and then always knowing what you can’t do.
Mike Barrett: [02:26:54] In terms of your own personal limitations?
Eric Bialik: [02:26:57] Exactly. A guy like me, I’m not gonna go in and bench press 350 pounds. So I’m not going to do it when I go to the gym. So there should be no reason why I’m going to be the one to read through a 75 page lease when it comes to the restaurant. That’s not what I do. But when someone tells me it’s all good and it’s all ready to go, then I’ll be okay, well now, here’s a plan for operations. So knowing—and that’s what’s great about our business relationship with my partners is that we all know what we can’t do. There’s a division of responsibilities. Are there overlap? Absolutely. But the ability to adapt to the overlapping and let someone else take the wheel for that moment is something that’s paramount to the success of the brand. That would be, in a roundabout, big way, my best advice is your ability to adapt, knowing your weaknesses, which will allow you to strengthen your strengths. And, listening and acting on what you say is pretty much that would be my biggest tool of advice.
Mike Barrett: [02:27:58] And that to me is good advice—
Patrick Barrett: [02:28:00] It’s not limited, too—it’s like any group endeavor thing if you’re working, interacting with other people and they’re depending on you and you’re depending on them.
Mike Barrett: [02:28:10] Well and the communication piece that you mentioned, a couple of different ways, at different times in your personal evolution, I think it goes with everything you said and is super important to make sure that everyone’s working on the same [crosstalk].
Eric Bialik: [02:28:22] And another thing is, just don’t put so much pressure on yourself. I see—my partners both have children. Now you look at what it takes to get — I don’t remember my GPA, so I can assume I got 75%. I think it was a weighted 3.01 or something like that. So unweighted it was a C. Hard C. And you look back and I look at the acceptance rates right now at UCF.
Mike Barrett: [02:28:53] It gets harder all the time.
Eric Bialik: [02:28:56] It’s like a 4.4 GPA with a 1330. The pressure that a student—I couldn’t imagine me, if I see that when I’m a sophomore in high school, I’m writing everything off. At my brain at the time, I’m like, if I don’t make it to the NBA, that’s it. It’s over. Not going to college.
Patrick Barrett: [02:29:11] Back to my childhood room.
Eric Bialik: [02:29:12] Yeah, exactly. That I’m paying rent on, watch the same Silly Putty stain I had there when I was 6. But there’s so much pressure. And again, I guess this goes back to knowing what your weaknesses are and knowing what your strengths are, it’s finding your strength and just hone it. And not everyone’s strength—now, like both my partners, I’m not putting any pressure on my children to go to school. If they wanna go to school, great. But there’s something for them if they don’t. And Eric’s a prime example [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [02:29:49] But it is true. And I think it also goes back and helps to explain what you were saying before about working with kids that age, adults, young adults that age. They grew up in that level of pressure. And that, I think explains a lot of the differences that you were pointing out between how you think you would have been then and how they are now.
Patrick Barrett: [02:30:12] Thank you so much.
Eric Bialik: [02:30:12] Good stuff.
Patrick Barrett: [02:30:14] This was really interesting and fascinating.
Eric Bialik: [02:30:15] This is probably one of the more interesting ones that you’ve done.
Patrick Barrett: [02:30:18] Number one, absolutely.
Eric Bialik: [02:30:18] No masters program [crosstalk].
Mike Barrett: [02:30:29] One of the things that I have really enjoyed and I wasn’t expecting this when we started doing these interviews, but is delving a little bit into just the day to day business plan — not business plan, but the way that the business actually runs. And I think a lot of people, especially as a culture, Americans, are eating out more and more. It’s becoming more and more of a common thing to do. I don’t think people realize how a restaurant works. How does the food get in front of you, all of that stuff.
Eric Bialik: [02:30:59] The forces behind everything to just getting that one piece of salmon or that one piece of tuna in your bowl, exactly.
Mike Barrett: [02:31:06] And there’s also simultaneously, there’s a romanticisation—romanticism? Romanti-something [crosstalk]. There’s a romantic view of chefs and kitchens and stuff like movies like Ratatouille and Anthony Bourdain and all that stuff. And so that’s also super-useful then for people who are maybe thinking along those lines to hear your experience.
Eric Bialik: [02:31:31] Oh, yeah, it takes more than just cursing in a kitchen and telling people that this is dog poop or whatever to be successful. There are chefs, there are kitchen managers, and then there are just business people that happen to be good at what they do, which is breaking down a fish. Alex and I, my wife and I are in a fortunate situation to have partnered with a few of these guys and their wives where they understand that as well. And there’s more to it than just a personality.
Mike Barrett: [02:31:57] Super-useful. Interesting. The take on college and everything is, it’s very realistic and important to hear that that happens. And I know just from experience with my own clients, who in a few cases that I can think of specifically, that I helped them at the end of high school, getting into college and then heard from them a little bit the first few months or years after college started, and that’s why I was probing some of your thought processes, like did you feel you weren’t up to it? And I was asking those kinds of questions. It’s pretty common that people do feel that way. Even people who get into extremely competitive, the highest schools in terms of public perception. A lot of those people in year one or year two are like “Oh, my God, I can’t do this. This is not what I thought it was gonna be. I don’t really want to,” etc., etc. And for the most part, I think a lot of people, I don’t wanna say grow out of that but they evolve out of it. They get past it. But a lot of people don’t. And so, yeah, I think your experience now to be able to say I’m a business owner, very successful, people love my restaurant, I have employees. You’re a real person, you’re out there really doing it. And college just wasn’t your thing. And that’s fine.
Eric Bialik: [02:33:12] College is just a recommended route. I just decided to take the path that Google gives you that says this might take an hour and a half longer. [crosstalk]
Mike Barrett: [02:33:26] But it’s so interesting too how during that time—and this isn’t the reason that you gave for this, so I’m not trying to put words in your mouth—but as an outside observer, it’s interesting that in this time of confusion and guilt and all of those negative emotions, for whatever reason, your solution to that was “let me go work in a restaurant, let me go—”
Patrick Barrett: [02:33:49] Like a safe space.
Eric Bialik: [02:33:50] That’s exactly what I treated it as.
Mike Barrett: [02:33:51] It really shows that that really is what you want. That’s your inclination. That’s really, really interesting and cool.
Eric Bialik: [02:33:59] I never thought about it like that.
Mike Barrett: [02:34:01] Glad I can help. Well no, but, you didn’t go to a bar every night and get out of your mind. There’s a lot of things you could have turned to [crosstalk]. You could have just holed up with a video game or something and only played the video game and not thought about it, but you didn’t do any of that. You went out and found a job serving food to people and making them happy and working with people that you liked and all those things.
Eric Bialik: [02:34:29] It was a safe space.
Mike Barrett: [02:34:32] Well, look at that. I feel like that’s a decent ending.
Patrick Barrett: [02:34:37] Thanks. Thanks very much. Thank you for lunch.
Mike Barrett: [02:34:39] And also for the food. So before we sign off, as always, I would like to point out a few things that I thought were particularly interesting and relevant, possibly also surprising, if you are someone who is thinking about starting a career, whether it’s a career in this field we just spoke to Eric about or really any career. And also, restaurants are cool right now.
Patrick Barrett: [02:35:05] Yeah, I like them.
Mike Barrett: [02:35:07] They’re fun. So even if you don’t think of yourself as someone who would probably pursue that as a career path, maybe you found it interesting to learn about how restaurants work.
Patrick Barrett: [02:35:18] Also, a lot of people work in restaurants while they’re figuring out whatever else they want to do. This gives you a ton of insight into what that experience can be like.
Mike Barrett: [02:35:28] One of the really big things that I thought was interesting and surprising—and this may be something you were not aware of, no matter which side of this particular divide you find yourself on. But when Eric was talking about the difference between, what he sees as the difference between people his age and people of the age who are mostly staffing his restaurants—how he has to speak to them—
Patrick Barrett: [02:35:51] Teenagers, early twenties.
Mike Barrett: [02:35:54] It’s interesting for a lot of reasons. So one of the things is you often hear—I’ll say older people than that young high school college age group—you often hear older people complaining that they, what they’re really complaining about is that the younger people work differently. The way it comes out is by saying they’re lazy or they don’t really know how to do anything.
Patrick Barrett: [02:36:16] Expectations are unreasonable.
Mike Barrett: [02:36:17] Their expectations, all of this kind of stuff, which personally has not been my experience. But that’s what you hear out there, is people often complaining about that kind of thing. And I found it very interesting that Eric said, what also actually a lot of people who run successful businesses that have workforces who are on the younger side, but he mentioned this idea that, if you give the people of that generation the tools that they need to do a good job and succeed, they will go above and beyond.
Patrick Barrett: [02:36:46] And engage with them.
Mike Barrett: [02:36:48] Right. And engage with them, treat them like real people.
Patrick Barrett: [02:36:50] How he wrote that handbook and they were quoting the handbook.
Mike Barrett: [02:36:52] Right, exactly. And I will say I was a pretty solid employee in a lot of jobs; I never quoted a handbook to anybody.
Patrick Barrett: [02:36:59] And I went to his restaurant not long after, and you could tell, all the stuff that Eric was saying in the interview about the way they train the staff and how they’re supposed to greet you and the information they have. I was asking about the salmon, “what can you tell me about the salmon?” He goes, “Oh, it’s line-caught in glacier waters.” In Manitoba Bay or some bay in Canada. It was just, the kid was so enthusiastic, he nailed it. It was everything that I thought it would be based on how enthusiastic Eric was and the way he described that kind of training. It was just all right there when I walked in. And the food was so good too, the whole thing was awesome. But the staff was very impressive.
Mike Barrett: [02:37:36] And so if you’re an older person, who may be wondering “why is the news always telling me that these younger people are lazy?” and whatever—this helps to explain why that is. In general, when you have older managers, supervisors, whatever, they don’t make the effort to actually think about the person they’re training.
Patrick Barrett: [02:37:54] Their style might not be that way. It might be — some people, you can’t make a 100% broad statement, but that dynamic absolutely exists.
Mike Barrett: [02:38:03] And if you’re on the younger side of that and you’re thinking, well, why don’t older people know that they should to talk to us as people? I will just say, speaking on behalf of everyone who’s my age or older, which obviously I can’t really do, but in my experience and I think broadly this applies, no one ever trained me that way. No one ever tried to—
Patrick Barrett: [02:38:23] You’re just kind of turning around and doing what, when you’re on the other end of that, that’s how it was.
Mike Barrett: [02:38:29] Kind of like pieces in a factory, right. And so when you turn around, you expect that someone — so it’s not, I’m not saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing or either side is right or wrong, or there aren’t even really sides—
Patrick Barrett: [02:38:38] It’s just two different sets of experiences that don’t really connect well, unless somebody makes the effort to think, the other person on the other side probably had this other type of experience that was not like mine.
Mike Barrett: [02:38:49] And I would like to go a little bit further even and say, is that Eric is not really that much older than the people that he’s talking about training. He’s certainly, in most cases, not old enough to be their parent, which is often how you think about generational differences. Someone’s twenty, thirty years older or whatever. I think what we are seeing and this is just me opining really based on my own personal experience and nothing more than that, but I think we are seeing a more rapid turnover in what you would consider to be a generation. And what I mean by that is—
Patrick Barrett: [02:39:29] The rate of change is faster.
Mike Barrett: [02:39:31] Absolutely.
Patrick Barrett: [02:39:32] Culturally.
Mike Barrett: [02:39:32] If you could go back, your great, great, great grandparents and your one great less than that grandparents had basically the same life experience growing up.
Patrick Barrett: [02:39:41] But now if you’re born five years later than somebody else, it’s very, very different.
Mike Barrett: [02:39:45] Absolutely. Politically, culturally, financially, everything.
Patrick Barrett: [02:39:50] I think I was at the very tail end in school where you didn’t turn stuff in online. And now that’s, of course, that’s what you do now. Everybody does.
Mike Barrett: [02:39:59] And that’s a huge divide.
Patrick Barrett: [02:40:00] Yeah, exactly. I was also, because Facebook was just a big thing, just as I was in college. So I just missed it where I got all the way through high school without anything at all like that. And now obviously there’s been years and years of people who had that type of thing from—
Mike Barrett: [02:40:14] Social media of every kind—
Patrick Barrett: [02:40:14] —from elementary school, which is a massive difference.
Mike Barrett: [02:40:18] And so you may be listening to this thinking, I’m on the cutting edge of that, I’m in high school or college now. I would bet that people who are even only five or ten years younger than you will view—
Patrick Barrett: [02:40:28] —are having a whole different experience.
Mike Barrett: [02:40:29] Absolutely.
Patrick Barrett: [02:40:30] And think that you’re Grandpa.
Mike Barrett: [02:40:31] A dinosaur. So it’s just something to keep in mind, because when you get out there into the world, you will generally need to interact in a positive, productive way with people of all kinds of different—.
Patrick Barrett: [02:40:43] —a little older than you or a little younger than you. Or a lot older or younger.
Mike Barrett: [02:40:46] And you can’t assume that they know the same cultural references that you know. You can’t assume that they have the same styles of communication, that they can be talked to in the same way by teachers and that sort of thing. People, younger people now than me certainly are way more used to the idea of receiving instruction via videos and screens.
Patrick Barrett: [02:41:06] Or text.
Mike Barrett: [02:41:07] Yeah, right. Which is a thing that—I’ve become used to that now. But people my age and older are certainly not. You didn’t grow up doing that.
Patrick Barrett: [02:41:13] Yeah, I saw some show recently where someone was conducting an interview and no — it was us. That was us, I mixed up two things. “I saw a fascinating show…” Another interview we talk about with someone else, the job interview process and one of the parts of it is via text.
Mike Barrett: [02:41:34] You have to do it over chat.
Patrick Barrett: [02:41:35] That’s how you’re going to have to communicate with the person if you work for them.
Mike Barrett: [02:41:39] And that’s the kind of thing, if you’re an older person who probably doesn’t even necessarily use chat ever, for anything to imagine that there’s an interview process. Phone interviews would be a huge shock to you and now there’s a process where you type to people and they type back.
Patrick Barrett: [02:41:52] You don’t even hear the person’s voice.
Mike Barrett: [02:41:53] So anyway, I just wanted to point that out. I think Eric set out a really good model for how you communicate with people.
Patrick Barrett: [02:42:00] He’s obviously navigating it very well.
Mike Barrett: [02:42:02] And clearly the people that he is working with and leading, the younger people, from the way that you described it [crosstalk] they are also making an effort to engage with him.
Patrick Barrett: [02:42:13] The whole energy in there was just so positive.
Mike Barrett: [02:42:15] And that’s a thing. Good teachers can do that, good professors do it. It’s not that it doesn’t exist anywhere. But I really like that Eric spelled out some key ideas.
Patrick Barrett: [02:42:26] Yes. So much of his approach to all that was just clearly so intentional and not — it sounded like he was combining some things that he learned elsewhere, but it was definitely his own mix. It seemed like and he seemed — it’s always awesome to me to talk to somebody about what they do or why they do something and to just immediately be able to tell they have really solid reasons for everything they’re doing in their approach. And you can hear them, you hear it in the way they talk, and everything they’re saying adds up and makes sense. And it’s so cool to encounter that, I feel like. And then to go and see it in action.
Mike Barrett: [02:42:57] And that also goes back to this thing — which I didn’t know this was going to come up in every interview that we did before we did it, but it has every single time — is how interested are you in what you’re doing. And the more interested you are, the more you try to learn from your mistakes and improve, it comes across and it generally translates to a higher degree of success. And that was something else I wanted to point out actually from this talk, Eric specifically mentioned that he began with what would be considered very low level entry jobs in the food service industry. Dishwashing, making ice cream in a chain store, those kinds — not being a chef or a manager, any kind of thing like that. He began with those jobs. He found what he was doing to be interesting, kept doing it, got a job with a small company, learned a lot and became a very trusted employee there. And all of that you can see, even from the beginning, he was just the kind of person who was interested in what he was doing and tried to do it really well.
Patrick Barrett: [02:43:54] He was in an environment that he liked being in.
Mike Barrett: [02:43:57] And I thought it was also very telling and interesting and again, not surprising if you’ve been in the restaurant industry, but it might be surprising if you haven’t, the fact that when he temporarily left the family pizza place, they were like, “whenever you want to come back, please come back.” That’s how valuable a valuable employee is. It is a really, really hard thing to find. And so, again, as we’ve said almost every episode now, if you are thinking to yourself, “Well, gosh, I don’t have much to recommend me. I don’t have all these cool experiences that other people have had my age,” and all these kinds of things—
Patrick Barrett: [02:44:33] —pretty much everybody feels that way.
Mike Barrett: [02:44:35] Yeah, absolutely. Everyone feels that way, first of all. And there are tons of businesses who really just need someone to show up on time, do a good job, ask interesting questions, notice when stuff seems not to be working, and think about how you could do it better. That’s hard to find. And if you can commit to being that sort of person, there’s a very high degree of likelihood that at some point that’s gonna pay off very well for you.
Patrick Barrett: [02:44:55] And it could certainly be that in the first situation where you decide to really attempt that approach, they might not appreciate you. And that’s why people get different jobs. But if you bring that attitude with you and you actively seek out the right environment, which we touched on in our very first episode about finding a company with a culture that matches your values. If you are determined to stick with that and to do your best and to be engaged in the work you’re doing and to care what the outcome is and all of that, if only just to see how well you can do something for your own sake, you might not be in the spot where you’re going to get the most out of that right now, but you can be somewhere else later on. And at some point, you’ve got a good shot at finding a fit.
Mike Barrett: [02:45:46] Absolutely. So one other thing that I just wanted to point out and then I will have pointed out all of my major takeaways—I don’t know if you have other ones—the general sense of hopelessness and guilt and I’ll even go as far as saying self-hatred that Eric seemed to be feeling at a very formative part of his life. I just want to say that that’s something a lot of people feel at that age. There’s a really good chance if you’re around that age now, you’re feeling it or you have felt it recently.
Patrick Barrett: [02:46:19] Or people around you are feeling it.
Mike Barrett: [02:46:21] Or people around you are feeling it. If you’re older than that, listening to this, you probably know that you felt it. It’s that common and it comes from a lot of things. But it’s an interesting thing to me to see, once more, we have another example of a person who really felt they were talented enough to do well at school. Objectively, as he said himself, the reason that he didn’t finish college was not because he couldn’t hack it. It was because he just on a very — this is my words — but he just, on a very visceral level, wasn’t into it. It wasn’t a good fit for him at that time anyway. And it’s interesting to see that you can go on to be a successful person no matter how you decide to measure success. You can be a leader of people, a mentor to young people. You can have a business that’s thriving. You can do all of those kinds of things, even if college is not the right fit for you. And that’s not to say that people shouldn’t try to go to college or you shouldn’t look into it or you shouldn’t want to go. The vast majority of successful adults have certainly, at least, tried to go to college at some point, probably right now. And I’m just guessing, probably that’s roughly the way it is. So no one is saying don’t go to college. But if you are feeling right now, “Oh, god this major that I picked, I thought it was what I wanted. But it’s really not what I was hoping to do,” which, by the way, is something almost everybody feels. Or if you’re feeling, “I’m just not smart enough to do this or I am smart enough, but I just can’t make myself write this paper.”
[02:47:47] All of those feelings are perfectly normal feelings and they don’t mean that you are a failure or that you don’t have anything good and valuable in yourself that someone else will want to interact with and be a part of at some later point. So again, you’re gonna hear us say this over and over again because it’s true and because nearly everybody we talk to has gone through some version of this, whether they mentioned it or not, but I just really wanna keep putting it out there because I’ve learned and seen that most of us need to hear it many, many, many times before it begins to sink in, that it’s really true that other people out there are having their own internal struggles. The academic, college-based path is not always the thing that lights everybody up. Nearly everybody has some level of difficulty with it. And it doesn’t mean anything bad about you. When — I was going to say if—almost inevitably when you go through some kind of thing like this, once more, this is just one more good example of how a person can overcome that or can still succeed in spite of it. However you want to look at.
Patrick Barrett: [02:48:47] Another more practical takeaway I thought that was really interesting was how Eric described holding different positions in different restaurants over the years. And ultimately any organization is a set of moving parts, and if you work in a bunch of restaurants, then you get a chance to be some of those moving parts and you have hands-on experience about how something can be done well or done poorly. He described being the manager, I think, of the Speakeasy and having so much money he’d spend each week and seeing the money that came back in. Just think how valuable that experience is. If I had a bunch of money fall in my lap right now and I was going to start a restaurant and I had the option of opening it tomorrow or working as a manager somewhere for five years and opening it five years from now, I would definitely be the manager somewhere else—it’s not like you can royally screw it up and that’s fine, but be in a position where you’re not spending your own money, every month. You’re doing it on behalf of someone else who has been doing it.
Mike Barrett: [02:49:48] And also, in this hypothetical, you would also have the support, for lack of a better way to put it, of the network or whatever of people in that established business.
Patrick Barrett: [02:49:55] You have other people guiding you and getting you started who have done it successfully. And then you can be right there in the thick of it and watching it happen and seeing what fails and what succeeds and everything else.
Mike Barrett: [02:50:07] And this goes for any business that you might start.
Patrick Barrett: [02:50:07] Yeah, absolutely. But it seems so clear because to me, restaurants are such an intriguing thing because they, the potential for success is, I think, pretty great or seems to be from the outside. If there’s a restaurant in your town that everybody loves, it’s an institution, it’s filled with people. It’s a social experience.
Mike Barrett: [02:50:30] And there’s also a certain level of perceived pride.
Patrick Barrett: [02:50:34] Oh, yeah, absolutely. Being part of a community. It’s such a big deal. And then there’s also restaurants you see, they show up and then they’re gone in a few months and you think, somebody put a lot of effort and emotion and a lot of themselves into this thing.
Mike Barrett: [02:50:48] And this again, this applies to all businesses, really. But restaurants are—.
Patrick Barrett: [02:50:51] Restaurant somehow seems a little more high profile. Maybe they’re a little more high risk. They seem to be, either way, they are risky, any business is. There’s just so much value in going and working at some different ones and seeing what that’s like. And even if you don’t end up doing that life yourself, long term, it’s such valuable hands on experience.
Mike Barrett: [02:51:12] Restaurants in general, I can’t remember if Eric said this or if this is just a thing I think, but restaurants in general are such a good way, especially if you’re a younger person without too much career experience, it’s such a great way to actually see a functioning business. See the guts of it and to interact with people, customers, managers, other employees.
Patrick Barrett: [02:51:32] If you’re a little uncomfortable talking to people you don’t know, you’re going to get over that pretty quickly because you have to.
Mike Barrett: [02:51:36] It’s also really good exercise, you are carrying and moving a lot of stuff. So yeah, absolutely. I fully agree.
Patrick Barrett: [02:51:44] Yeah, that was really interesting.
Mike Barrett: [02:51:44] And I wanted to point out too, something you reminded me of, it was an interesting thing—this is probably something that you might not have thought of if you’re outside of this industry. But you’ll notice that Eric, he has this business now, this restaurant business. It’s not just about food, ingredients, training people. There’s also various legal things you have to consider. There’s permits for everything, there’s keeping on top of who’s gonna supply what to you. There’s all the legalities, and the real estate—
Patrick Barrett: [02:52:12] The strategic set-up, and the different suppliers. The rice exclusion on that lease where they had a rice exclusion [crosstalk].
Mike Barrett: [02:52:26] And it just goes to show, once more, another common theme of these interviews. There are so many jobs out there. There are so many aspects of every single human activity—you could be, for example, a real estate attorney or a real estate broker or a real estate agent and be involved in this business in some way, even though you’re not actually a restaurant person—
Patrick Barrett: [02:52:44] You’re dealing with restaurants.
Mike Barrett: [02:52:46] Similarly, you can be a restaurant person and have to learn how to read the basics of a lease, so there’s all of these different types of elements, all of these different types of ways that you can be involved in different industries. One thing that comes to mind, just briefly as an example of this: I’ve known a few people who are very into sports but didn’t feel that they were athletic enough to be professional athletes. But they go on to be things related to sports management or sports agents or sports medicine. And it’s a classic example of getting into an industry from the side. But there’s all kinds of ways to do whatever that might be.
Patrick Barrett: [02:53:20] Absolutely. If you want to work with professional athletes, there’s all kinds of staff and training people.
Mike Barrett: [02:53:24] Exactly. And you can be one of those people.
Patrick Barrett: [02:53:26] And even actually, Eric was—they supply meals for the Tampa Bay Rays, right? They’re literally selling at the stadium. They sell in the stadium, but then they provide food for a soccer team, I think, in Tampa, that’s what it was, so involved with multiple professional sports teams, which wasn’t even what you were talking about, but there’s the connection. Another thing that I want to bring up that—we’ve brought this up in a lot of the episodes because it’s super-relevant, and it’s both relevant to what we’re talking about in the episode and also relevant and true for many, many people out there. The idea that there are so many jobs, more jobs that you can think of, more jobs and you ever heard of. We’ve talked about that a lot. But one thing we haven’t really mentioned is everybody you see walking around, they also don’t know how many jobs there are. Not to toot our own horn or brag too much about the value of this podcast, but it’s not like everybody who’s 30 or 40 or 50 or has had a career consciously thinks, “Oh, there’s so many jobs out there that I—”. A lot of those people only really know too about the dozen or so jobs that touch on whatever they do or whatever they saw growing up.
Mike Barrett: [02:54:32] It’s just such a complex subject, if you don’t deliberately go out there and try to learn about it. And we have much more to learn ourselves.
Patrick Barrett: [02:54:39] Absolutely.
Mike Barrett: [02:54:40] It’s tons of things.
Patrick Barrett: [02:54:40] But don’t feel like you’re—
Mike Barrett: [02:54:44] —uniquely unaware.
Patrick Barrett: [02:54:46] Yeah. Because you don’t know about it, most people don’t really stop and think about this. And that’s a big part of why this podcast exists, because the information is out there. It’s not that hard to get. It’s just people don’t really stop to think about and especially people in that teenage to early 20s—or really any age, but most people will be in that range where you’re in a position where you’re trying to make decisions related to this. It’s extra important for us to get this information out there—or for somebody to, and we’re the ones doing it—to talk to people and to give you a sense of that so that when you’re in that point of your life where you’re making more decisions related to what path you’re gonna go down, that you just have a lot more information about it, because there’s really so much out there. And a lot of times, a lot of people don’t get that information until they already made their choices related to it. And it’s harder to adjust.
[02:55:34] That’s all for now. If you like this show, please take a moment to rate and review us on iTunes or the podcast player of your choice. And of course, if you want to hear more episodes, remember to subscribe as well. You can find our SAT Prep Black Book and ACT Prep Black Book on Amazon.com and you can find our online video courses on QuestPrep.com. Please tune in for our next episode coming up in a couple of weeks. And in the meantime, feel free to reach out to us on our Quest Prep Facebook page or the Quest Prep YouTube channel.
Mike Barrett: [02:56:07] This episode was hosted by myself, Michael Barrett, and my brother Patrick Barrett. Our guest was Eric Bialik. Every musical element was created and performed by Parker Haile Hastings. Cleopatra lives closer in time to the launch of the iPhone than to the construction of the pyramids.
So here’s that segment we promised you on the optional essays for the SAT and the ACT. Let’s start with a little background so you can understand the situation. For most of its history, the SAT didn’t even include an essay and neither did the ACT. Then in 2005, the College Board first added an essay section to the SAT, basically because educational leaders said they wanted the SAT to test writing ability more directly, and the ACT followed suit. But colleges quickly realized that the 2005 version of the SAT essay was a terrible test of actual writing ability. Here’s a direct quote on the topic from Dr. Les Perlman, who was the director of undergraduate writing at MIT at the time. He said that the SAT essay rewarded “exactly what we don’t want to teach our kids.” And similar problems plagued the ACT essay.
[02:57:16] Without getting into too many details here, the basic issue was that if a test taker just wrote a very long essay that was mostly coherent, then they could be pretty much guaranteed to get a high score on those essays. The grading process was basically designed from the beginning to ignore things like grammatical errors, weird diction, incorrect facts, faulty logic, and stuff like that. You know, stuff that’s generally considered to be essential to good academic writing did not factor in those tests. So back in 2005, it didn’t take too long for lots of colleges to just announce that they weren’t going to consider the essay portions of the SAT and the ACT in the application process, even though those essays had been added to those tests to satisfy the demands of some colleges and universities in the first place.
[02:57:58] So then in 2015, both the SAT and the ACT updated their essay tests. To their credit, both companies tried to fix some of the more obvious issues in the 2005 versions of those essay tests by doing things like giving you sample evidence or opinions to work with and analyze in your response. There’s still a very formulaic way to crank out an essay that’s pretty much guaranteed to score high on the current versions of those essay tests, but it does require a little more effort than just writing a lot—although it’s still true that more essay length correlates very highly with a better score. And short essays never score high no matter how well written they are otherwise. For the current essay tests, we recommend you follow some small, formulaic steps to handle the provided material that now comes along with the essay prompts. But it’s still true that the current essay tests will allow you to get away with some bad grammar, faulty reasoning and factual inaccuracy because the grading system still doesn’t pay attention to that stuff.
[02:58:49] And by the way, if you’re familiar with the published scoring guides for those essays, you might be thinking, “hey, wait a second Mike, the scoring guides for both of those essay tests clearly state that things like grammar and factual accuracy are taken into account.” And you’re right, the guides do say that, but when you look at the essays that actually score high, you see that they don’t necessarily actually demonstrate all of the elements mentioned in the scoring guidelines, and it’s also true that lots of low scoring essays do incorporate elements that should get them higher scores, according to the published scoring guides. So this ends up being just another example of how the ACT and the SAT claim to be testing one set of skills, but most of the time they actually reward something else.
[02:59:26] Anyway, it’s not even really worth discussing all the steps that you should take to do well on these optional essay tests, because first of all, I’ve already been talking about this for a long time, and secondly, these optional essay tests are still seen as very bad tests of writing ability by pretty much everybody in the college admissions process. In fact, they’re so bad that lots of schools, including all Ivy League schools and most other top ranked colleges and universities, don’t even ask you to take the optional essay portion of the SAT or the ACT at all.
[02:59:55] But here’s a key thing most people overlook. Even when schools do require you to submit essay scores, those schools don’t report the essay scores that you submit along with other testing stats in their admissions data. In other words, when you look up the target scores on the SAT or the ACT for schools that do require you to submit an essay score, those schools still don’t bother to report a target essay score. They just tell you the target scores on the multiple choice portions of the tests. Or when you look up a profile of a school’s incoming freshman class, the school might report the range of SAT or ACT scores in the middle of 50% of their class, for example. That’s very common. But they never report the essay scores even when they require you to submit those essay scores.
[03:00:34] The reason for this is probably that those schools disregard the essay test scores just like everybody else does. Of course, if that’s the case, you might then ask why they require you to submit the essay scores in the first place if they’re just gonna ignore them. My guess is that those schools just don’t want it to look like they don’t care about writing ability. So if there’s an optional test out there that claims to measure writing ability, then they want to make sure that they require it. It just gives the right impression to the public, I think.
[03:00:59] Anyway, all of this boils down to the following piece of advice. Make a list of the target schools that you plan to apply to and check the admissions requirements of each school to find out whether you’re required to take the essay portion of the SAT or the ACT when you’re applying to that school. If none of your target schools require you to submit the optional essay test score, then of course don’t bother taking the essay portion of the ACT or the SAT. There’s literally no value to taking it in that scenario. You aren’t gonna impress an admissions officer with a high score on these optional essay tests because everybody knows that the essay tests are bad at measuring writing ability. And your application has plenty of other ways for you to demonstrate writing ability anyway. So spend your precious time and energy on the other parts of the test you’re taking: the multiple choice parts of that test. Those are the parts that have a direct impact on your chance of getting into a school or getting financial aid.
[03:01:47] Now, on the other hand, if you find out that one of your target schools does officially require you to submit an essay score with your SAT or ACT, then you will need to take the essay portion of the test in order to apply, of course. But it’s important to remember that the optional essay is almost certainly a formality, in every case. You shouldn’t spend your time and energy preparing for the optional essay section in the way that you might prepare for a big essay test in a high school or a college class, because—first of all—those essays aren’t designed or graded in a way that’s anything similar to how a high school or college essay is graded, and secondly, it’s almost a guarantee that your essay score on the SAT or the ACT won’t be the deciding factor in your application.
[03:02:27] So again, you should focus on improving your scores on the multiple choice parts of those tests, because that is what will definitely have a noticeable impact on your admissions chances and your financial aid chances. So let me say this again. Don’t spend any time preparing for the essay section, even if a school requires you to submit an essay score, until you’re happy with your performance on every other part of the test, because the multiple choice parts of the ACT and the SAT will actually impact your chances for admissions and scholarships, while your essay scores on those tests are practically guaranteed not to matter to anybody, even the schools that make you go through the process of submitting them. In short, if those optional essay scores mattered to those schools, then we would expect schools to track them and report them with the rest of their testing data, which they don’t do.
[03:03:08] Now, please don’t get me wrong with what I’m saying here. I am not saying that schools shouldn’t care about writing ability or that writing is not an important part of education or anything silly like that. Writing is an extremely important thing to care about and it’s a crucial part of education. That is not the issue. The issue is just that the optional essays on the SAT and the ACT don’t do a good job of testing writing ability under realistic conditions and pretty much everybody knows it.
[03:03:35] Now, of course, our Black Books and video courses for the ACT and the SAT do still give a full detailed explanation of how to do well on those optional essay tests, including detailed analyses of what really succeeds and what really fails on actual example essays graded by the real test makers. So if you’re still interested in scoring high on those optional essays, just so you can tell your grandkids about it someday, or something like that, then we’ve got you covered. We just don’t recommend focusing on the essays until you’re happy with your performance on the rest of the test, because, again, the multiple choice portion of the test is what can actually affect your results when it comes to admissions and financial aid. So I hope this segment provided some insight into the SAT essay and the ACT essay, and I hope it helps you to focus your time and energy where they’ll do you the most good. For more on our books and video courses, please head over to QuestPrep.com, or search for the SAT Prep Black Book and the ACT Prep Black Book on Amazon.com.