3 min read

The Heart of Charlottesville - Courtenay Tyler

Don't chase the part of the public that doesn't get what you do. Lean into the guests who appreciate you, and make sure they are happy.
The Heart of Charlottesville - Courtenay Tyler

Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Courtenay Tyler, Owner of Tonic & Tilman's, located in Charlottesville, VA, USA.

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

I own two restaurants, Tonic and Tilman's, both in Charlottesville, Virginia. The people that really get what I do appreciate creative food in a casual atmosphere.

Tell us about yourself

I've been in the specialty food industry in one way or another since I was a teenager. I've worn many hats within that realm: pastry chef, cheese and wine buyer, VP of Specialty Foods for a major grocery chain, and VP of Merchandising for a start-up that focused on local and natural grocery delivery. I'm very motivated by the creative side of the food industry, the makers, the craftsmen, and the visionaries. I like being in the thick of it with everyone who wakes up every day and wants to make something better.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

In the beginning, I would say just the fact that I started. It's such a huge mental leap off the cliff from the stability of a job and paycheck to being the person that creates it. Now, I would say my biggest accomplishment is employing over 50 people and making my restaurants a rewarding place to work. I spend a lot of time and energy making sure that Tonic and Tilman's don't have the "toxic traits" of restaurants. I encourage creativity and input from my team in the menu and the guest experience. We work as a collective with full-team tip-out because I believe everyone contributes to the dining experience. This really does away with the friction between the back and front of the house. And I'm proud that we offer health, dental, and vision insurance to our staff. I want my team to want to come to work every day.

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

Probably the idea that ultimately it's all up to you. You are your own manager from day to day, so sometimes you make the wrong choices or spend your time foolishly. There's no one to blame but yourself and no one to fit in but you. It's a never-ending session of self-awareness. You've got to get yourself right to get the business right.

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

There's no book, blog, or list that will prepare you completely, so just go ahead and start! Take one day at a time, and build from there. If you don't have people you trust to make good decisions working with you, you have nothing. Hire smart people, and respect their perspective. You and your business will not appeal to everyone. Don't chase the part of the public that doesn't get what you do. Lean into the guests who appreciate you, and make sure they are happy.

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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