Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with John Brennan, Co-Founder of Fork Hospitality, located in New Haven, CT, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I own and operate a restaurant/hospitality group, Fork Hospitality, with five restaurants and a catering company under its wings. My customers range in ages and backgrounds depending on which particular establishment you are visiting. For example, my first restaurant, Elm City Social, is located in downtown New Haven, CT, and has a younger energy, my second restaurant, Olives and Oil, is right down the street, also in New Haven, but captures a wider demographic and has a more vintage vibe to it. We opened another Olives and Oil in the suburbs of Seymour, CT, and that concept shares some menu items and decor with the original location but also focuses on pizzas, takeout, and more of a family demographic, so we branded it as Olives and Oil "Pizzeria." Our two restaurants in Hartford County in CT, Mamma Lukes and Tomato Joes, also focus on a similar family demographic with a focus on dine-in and takeout meals. Lastly, my catering company, Shaken & Stirred Catered Events, really encompasses a wide demographic; we do everything from luncheons to high-end weddings/events and everything in between.
Tell us about yourself
I am a chef by trade and have always wanted to own and operate my own restaurant. After years of running other peoples' bars & restaurants, I took the leap and partnered with two former co-workers to open Elm City Social in New Haven, CT. Shortly after the success we had there, we opened up my second restaurant concept, Olives and Oil, and then kept going from there. I really enjoy the opportunity to be a restaurateur and small business owner. Though it really is nonstop, I enjoy the lifestyle, the challenges it brings, and the ability to be my own boss. What motivates me every day is the opportunity to be successful and, through that goal providing the best food, service, and experience possible on many different fronts.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I would say my biggest accomplishment has been weathering the storm that was/is the pandemic. We have always had to adapt to new trends, service models, etc., but navigating our businesses and, honestly, my own mental health through the last several years was incredibly daunting, physically and emotionally demanding. So though it might not seem like much from an outsider's perspective, it really was a day-to-day battle, above and beyond the regular trials and tribulations of running a small business. I am proud to say that we are still standing today and doing what we love.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
The hardest thing that comes with being a business owner is that it is like a marriage. Your business is something that is always on your mind, it takes a tremendous amount of commitment, dedication and it is not something you can't just leave behind at any point in the day, week, month, year, etc. Like a marriage, it can be very rewarding, but it takes a tremendous amount of work, oversight, and dedication to maintain standards, profitability and retain your employees.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Take the time to create a proper plan. Stick to your plan but don't be afraid to adapt as you proceed. It's a fine line of maintaining the identity of what you envisioned your brand to be while adapting to the times and whatever might get in your way.
- Respect and treat your staff well. Without a good team, your business is nothing. You can't do it all alone, but you can guide and appreciate your crew.
- Be introspective when it comes to your business and its operations, and write everything down at all hours of the day. Overthinking, though it may be daunting at times, leads to creative solutions and can prevent problems before they occur. It's good to have a host of ideas in your playbook for when things get tough... and they do!
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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