Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Allison Welsh, Owner of 1417 French Bistro, located in Austin, TX, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
1417 French Bistro is a warm and friendly neighborhood restaurant that embraces the culture of dining at a true French bistro. The desirable restaurant space is designed to feel inviting yet elevated with modern artwork, mid-century furniture, and a lush array of plants. We rock some solid neighborhood vibes and have a lot of regulars that are fun and loyal. We are female owned and led - we serve everyone and anyone. It's amazing to look out on the floor and see a diverse crowd every night.
Tell us about yourself
I've been in the hospitality industry for well over a decade. In 2011, I moved to Austin from Philadelphia after I graduated from college - looking for some sunshine year-round and needed a change of pace. I legit had no game plan and no home lined up, but I knew this was the best time for me (quite possibly the only time) that I would be able to pull something like this off. After living in a Motel6 for three weeks, I scored a hostess gig with a notable restaurant group in Austin, where I worked my way from host to general manager to the corporate team within just three years. From there, I took a position as General Manager to orchestrate the opening and operations of a fine dining omakase restaurant in downtown Austin. While managing the restaurant, I became increasingly interested in the branding, messaging, design, and marketing aspects of the business and decided to take a turn in my career path.
I applied for an internship at Resplendent Hospitality, an Austin-based public relations firm with a focus on hospitality concepts, and quickly made my way to an Account Executive position in less than two years. During my time at the agency, I had the opportunity to work with and learn from some of Austin's brightest industry talent, including Aviary Wine & Kitchen, Austin Still Whiskey, Salt Traders Coastal Cooking, drink well, and more. Additionally, I took the lead at Resplendent on all event contracts and helped produce TRIBEZA style week in 2017 and Esby. Apparel's annual "esbyfest" fashion show for three years in a row.
In 2020, an opportunity arose for me to join forces with my husband, co-founder of The Far Out Lounge, and assisted with the PR and event planning for our concept. In October of 2021, our Far Out investor and friend purchased the original Sway restaurant, which is now 1417 French Bistro, and brought me on as a project manager to assist with the development of the new concept. Organically, I became part owner and operator of the business and took the lead on curating a space for Austinites that is stylish, warm, and welcoming from top to bottom - hand-selecting everything from the branding, signage, furniture, light fixtures, menu design, plants, glassware and more. Honestly - this industry is all I know. I love it and have a hard time imagining doing anything else.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I love the way that we naturally evolved into what we are today. We were a bunch of bozos opening up a restaurant during the peak of the pandemic, and it was not easy, to say the least. For the first five months, we were solely operating off of a back deck while the inside was just a gigantic construction zone. Come October - we had to scramble to get the inside functional for guests because of a torrential rain forecast during ACL when we were fully booked on the patio. In 48 hours, my husband, partner, and I cleared out the space and threw whatever furniture we could find to make the inside ready for guests. We essentially ended up moving away from the finalized interior design plan that we had been working on for months with ACTUAL professional interior designers. Even though I loved the interior plan we had - I'm happy we ended up the way we did because it is much more of a personal stamp on the restaurant, and I feel so connected to the space. I would also say the culture that we developed with our staff and becoming one of the busiest restaurants in Austin without having any notoriety/big name behind us feel real good - real proud.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
As soon as you feel like everything is in its place, and everyone is set up for success, and you think you can jet to Vegas for the weekend... something of note happens and you need to cancel your weekend trip :) BUT there is never a good time to leave town and it's challenging to recognize that my brain needs to disconnect from the restaurant and my staff for a bit. If I don't - then I become tired and less productive.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Hire a consultant from the beginning. I hired one a year and a half after we opened - it would have been hella tight to have that situated right off the bat.
- Take time off and ensure that your staff is also getting their two days off every week.
- Make sure that your staff feels listened to and heard.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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