The American Dream remains the opportunity to own a business, be your own boss, and bring an idea to fruition. For generations, this is what has made our country a destination for young people with a passion, a concept, and the willingness to put in the effort – an effort that can lead to success or failure, but an effort that for many can only be possible in this country.
What drives people to want this opportunity so strongly that they are willing to take the leap, make the sacrifices, and stay the course? The entrepreneurial spirit is hard for some to comprehend – an itch that needs to be scratched, a relentless longing to be the owner of the next great concept, and the willingness to become one with the business and see it through. This spirit is what has helped to make America the land of entrepreneurs and the great economic power that it is.
The restaurant business has always been one of those magnets that is attractive to people of all ages, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and education levels. This business is, for most people, something that is easy to wrap their arms around, very personal, and enticing because it allows a person to be a businessperson and a community centerpiece at the same time.
The neighborhood restaurant is a special place. From the beginnings of this industry, it has been this mecca that truly defined a community. The restaurant was a place where locals could gather, break bread, share stories, talk about the challenges of the day, clink glasses and share a hearty laugh. The restaurateur was the orchestrator, the ringmaster, and the person who made it possible for those in the community to become one over a great meal and bottle of wine. Those entrepreneurs who decide to open a restaurant are typically passionate about providing this environment. As much as they may be business people they are also facilitators of everything that is good in a neighborhood.
So, what are the skills of the neighborhood restaurateur?
- A great listener
- A first class communicator
- A master of choosing the right concept
- A trustworthy peddler of consistency
- A sincere greeter and friend to all
- A person with whom others want to work
- An individual with a wealth of knowledge about food and beverage
This restaurateur was separate and unique from other workers in a restaurant until early in the 1980’s when he or she became the chef – the person whose signature was on every plate of food that left the kitchen.
In 1998 such a community restaurant was born in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The chef/owner – Nick Farrell, was a young, high-energy cook who had worked in many operations for other restaurant folks. He struggled with the need to do things his own way and the frustration that goes with an inability to convince an owner to take that leap. He attended culinary school inspired by his love of Italian cuisine and culture. Hoping to spend a semester working in Tuscany, he was disappointed to learn that his internship could not be approved. Struck with visions of a small Tuscan community called Sovana, Nick finished his education and began working for his brother in a diner located in Malvern, PA. After two years he felt that he had the knowledge and skills to go off on his own – Sovana Bistro was born. Together with his wife and partner – Linda Farrell, Nick has built an iconic neighborhood establishment with the staying power to last 20 years – so far.
THE “HOW TO” OF GETTING TO 20 YEARS IN BUSINESS:
- BUILDING A RESTAURANT
Starting a business is never easy and starting a restaurant can be significantly more difficult. The impetus of an idea is the easy part, this is what helps the soon-to-be entrepreneur jump out of bed in the morning; this idea is the spark that starts to whole process. From the idea comes the need to convince others to believe in the idea and the person: a bank willing to take a chance, building a reputation that attracts great employees, designing a space to match the concept, establishing credit with vendors, building relationships with farmers, defining a marketing strategy, testing and improving recipes and creating food that brings people back time and again, and accepting the fact that a restaurant can never be complacent – keeping an open mind to change is always the best approach.
“I learned early on that change was the only constant and that I should embrace the idea of change and incorporate it into all aspects of the business – thus opening the idea of constant, continual improvement.”
-Nick Farrell – owner/chef of Sovana Bistro
Of equal importance is the ability to create a personal partnership in life, build a family, and create a balance that allows an entrepreneur to enjoy the work and effort required to be successful. Linda Farrell admits that in the early days she was not sure that owning a restaurant would be the best thing for their relationship – “But, now I couldn’t imagine not being a part of it and working with Nick. We have both grown professionally over the past 20 years – we have definitely figured out each other’s strengths and who is best suited for certain aspects of the business. We really do listen to each other – we collaborate, work through different scenarios, and make decisions that we can agree on.”
- WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO THRIVE
Many restaurants seem content with survival, but a few have an expressed desire to thrive – always. Thriving in this industry requires the operation to create a level of trust among staff members and guests. Employees must trust that the restaurateur has their best interests at heart – after all the quality of the restaurant team defines the quality of the guest experience. Guests must trust that the great experience they had on a Friday will be the same great experience next Tuesday and every day thereafter. Secondly, the restaurant must focus on the whole experience of dining – great food is essential but so is caring service, consistency, the ambience of the operation, cleanliness, the sincerity of hospitality, and the relationships that are built between the team and the guest. Without this formula in place a restaurant will simply become a commodity, a place to eat that could be replaced with many other places to eat.
Linda stated: “Nick and I share the same need and passion to take care of everyone and make sure they are happy and enjoying the experience at Sovana. We both sense when we have “nailed it” and when we may not have. When we feel that we fell short then the entire team works to make it right. This is essential if a restaurant is to thrive. Doing it right the first time is always the goal, but recovering from mistakes and exceeding a guests expectations can even be more important.”
- STAKES IN THE GROUND
Great restaurants are built on a foundation of beliefs. Sovana Bistro is built on the intent to support local farmers and producers (long before this became press worthy), the use of great, fresh raw materials, making everything from scratch (including the pasta and mozzarella cheese), and doing all of this while connecting in a very personal way with guests. As a result, many guests return to the restaurant multiple times in a week and have done so for years.
“We have been eating at Sovana Bistro for 19 years, since we moved here. It has evolved from a pasta and BYOB to a fine dining, larger establishment, with outdoor seating. Wonderful food, with local products creative cooking. Still BYOB, but also has a liquor license now. Very popular, so get reservations!”
- A guest comment on Trip Advisor
- PROUDEST MOMENTS
There is a level of satisfaction that successful entrepreneurs experience that is difficult to describe unless you have been there. As a restaurateur it is being the last one to leave the operation at the end of a very long, busy night knowing that you and your staff gave it your all and that guests left with a smile on their face and a promise to return. As a restaurant owner contemplates all of this while turning off the lights he or she is usually filled with the emotion that accompanies a job well done. When asked about his proudest moment, Nick stated the following:
“Probably this moment right now..looking back over the last 20 years and seeing that it all had a purpose and that the restaurant has impacted so many lives and all of the relationships that I have gained gives me great joy.”
Linda also noted the opportunity that they had to cook for Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill for a Columbus Day celebration at the Biden’s residence. “Although this was a high profile event I am most proud of greeting the “day oners” (those folks who were there in year one and keep coming back) as they walk through the door 20 years later.”
- RESTAURANTS NEED TO BE PROFITABLE
The restaurateur can never lose sight of the fact that the business must be profitable if the experience for the guest is to be true and the employees are to benefit from involvement with the operation. Sovana has found the formula that allows a restaurant to charge what it must while providing the value that justifies the expense. In the end whatever experience a restaurant creates must be based on value – is this experience worth the cost? The answer with Sovana is YES!
- INVESTING IN PEOPLE
My involvement with Sovana Bistro and Nick Farrell began when we talked about his desire to continue to grow the restaurant while helping all of his employees do the same. He was totally committed to become a preferred employer where everyone knew that they were valued and that the restaurant was there to help them be what they were capable of becoming. Sovana is successful because of the team.
“I give a huge nod to Adam Junkins (General Manager) and what he has done to help make the Sovana team what it is today. Today, more than our food, I think people come into the restaurant for our people and the team that surrounds their experience. Honestly, they are my family and I enjoy coming in every day knowing each one in a different way and seeing how each one’s role has a very specific tie into our success.”
Adam Junkins – General Manager
It is also important to note how significant Linda Farrell, Nick’s better half, is to the success of the restaurant. Her connection to the building of staff, the design of the restaurant concept, and the moral support necessary to keep Sovana moving forward is invaluable. In addition, she manages to focus on raising the Farrell’s four children (maybe future restaurateurs).
- REFLECTING BACK ON 20 YEARS
Like most entrepreneurs – Nick can now reflect back on the past twenty years with mixed emotions. It wasn’t easy, and remains the same today. Being a restaurateur is an every day thing. The bills need to be paid, new staff members must be well trained, staying on top of vendors is a relentless process, equipment breaks down at the worst time, weather impacts on projected volume, and guests – even the ones who return frequently, are always expecting a little bit more than they received on their last visit. All this being said, Nick retains his passion.
“You must be consistent and lead your team by example. Restaurant owners (and managers) must push and grow, be transparent with the team of players that surround you, be humble and human and NEVER give up. I think Nick and I do this well.” She also pointed to how adept Adam, – Sovana’s General Manager is at leading the restaurant team, creating the environment of a unified mission, and setting an example for others to follow.
– Linda Farrell
The best way to look at Sovana Bistro is to review their Mission Statement – a statement that is felt deeply by Nick, Linda, Adam, and the entire staff at this successful restaurant:
“To Intentionally Enhance the Lives of the People we Encounter.”
The next time you are passing through Kennett Square, PA – stop in to Sovana Bistro, enjoy a great meal, and say hello to Nick Farrell – a consummate restaurateur and chef.
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