JB: Well, I’m a strategist while I’m lying in bed. As soon as you get out of the bed, you’re a manager, but I’ve always had a very simple method of management. Make a request for action and information, and hold people accountable for the results and getting the information back. That’s it. But it’s not so simple with 400 employees. When you ask someone to give you the timetable for a project and you don’t get it, what do you do?
RL: How do you keep track of all that with 400 employees?
JB: I assign [them] to other people, and then I have to keep those people accountable. I have an assistant who helps me. She notes on my computer when I should request certain things. It’s knowing what to ask for, and I ask for as little as I need: I don’t create extra paperwork for people. But we also learn from trial and error.
RL: So you now get other people to deal with various aspects of the business?
JB: It’s much more complicated now. Decisions are much more difficult to make now because the business is six times the size as compared to when I had one location. With one restaurant, I could do almost anything and get it done just by being there and making sure it got done.
Now, if we wanted to change an operating system, we have to rely on six general managers doing it, being overseen by a director of corporate training and a director of operations, and being in touch with the director of marketing and PR, and it requires a lot more communication. That’s one of the reasons that we’re moving into a corporate office — a move that I’ve been avoiding for years.
I wanted to make sure that all the people in management were in the stores every day because that’s where you see what goes on with the staff and with the guests. And once you lose touch with that, your survival is at stake. That’s why it took me months to find an office that’s literally right between three of my restaurants.
Perfecting the Product
RL: What kind of training program do you have to educate your staff?
JB: We have a pretty extensive beertraining program, and we’re in the process of bringing the food-training program up to that level. We have a 8-question test about beer that employees need to take. [Check out the 8-question test]. And there’s a Beer 101, 201 and 301 class that our servers take. We do daily shift meetings about beers, and we test people verbally and otherwise. And we’re also going to start to have our brewer be much more active with the servers and have much more beer and food pairings on the menu.
Taking a Spill
RL: What are some of the toughest challenges that you faced in launching the business, and how’d you deal with them?
JB: There were several over the course of the years. I never repeated the same stupid challenge twice. But originally, it’s just that I was so inexperienced and naïve as to what was involved in building a restaurant that I really didn’t understand what I was getting myself into. I really felt that I was involved in some beer manufacturing and retailing. And that was the challenge of the first Heartland, where we nailed a lot of the basics.
But in those days, there were so few brewpubs in the city, and nothing to really compare to Heartland, that people felt, “Well, this is what a brewpub is. It’s a place where it takes a long time to get food, which doesn’t matter, because we’re drinking beer,” and “The music’s too loud” or “There aren’t enough urinals.”
But over time, we really sharpened the operation.
RL: Any other big challenges or mistakes that come to mind?
JB: Well, there were mistakes about nottaking certain locations that, in retrospect, I should have. But everybody has those kinds of missed opportunities.
Robert Levin is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The New York Enterprise Report. Levin has extensive experience with midsize and small businesses, having previously held CEO, CFO, and COO positions with companies in several industries. He is also a contributor for The Huffington Post. Levin can be reached at email@example.com and (212) 307-6760.