Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Pete Valavanis, Owner of Cary's Lounge, located in Chicago, IL, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Cary's Lounge is a true neighborhood bar. The great majority of our customers are regulars. The regulars get to know each other. We are part of the neighborhood. Also, we are really into pool here. Many pool players stop in. We sponsor pool teams, too.

Tell us about yourself

Cary's was founded by my parents in 1972. I grew up there. Cary's Lounge is such a deep-seated part of my identity. It's hard to imagine my life without Cary's. I'm motivated by pride. I want to be proud of what I have accomplished. I want it to reflect in the space I have created. I'm motivated by my true love and curiosity about people.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Just keeping this place going all these years is a big accomplishment for me.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

As much as I love people, they can be challenging. They will try your patience often. But being patient pays off every time.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. First, make sure this is something you truly want. This is not just a job. It's a whole lifestyle. Your work is a part of your life in ways that a 9 to 5 job will never be. Having said that, you must make space for yourself and your personal life outside the business. That can be tricky sometimes. People you make friends with at the bar want to be a part of your personal life. You have to be careful walking that tightrope.
  2. Second, don't expect to strike it rich. If that's your intention, you are in the wrong business. If you walk in with the attitude that you want to build something you are proud of, then you got it right. And make sure you can ride it out for a while without making much money. The money may come, and it may go, but the feeling of pride and accomplishment and the friendships and memories will stay with you.
  3. Third, make sure you have a spouse or partner that can provide you with health insurance through their job. This country needs national health care! Also, lease your ice machine! Buying mine was a huge mistake.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

This may go without saying, but my experience is unique to me. This is a family business. Not many people get this opportunity. I consider myself fortunate. I cannot, in all honesty, claim to know everything about this business, and there are many things I still don't know. There's always something new. Just be patient and go slow. If you try to run before you can walk, you will be face down on the pavement. And don't be afraid or embarrassed to ask for advice from fellow business owners! They have invaluable information. In the end, have fun and find joy in your work. That's what it's all about, after all.

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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