Cover story shot by Margaret Pattillo
What made you get into the Burger and Pizza industry?
Pizza and Burgers were never really a dream for me. It was more about getting into the hospitality industry. The quality level of food in Harlem is amazing. My background is in finance, I was an Emerging Markets Sales/Trader, I did this for about 23 years. The dynamics of our business changed dramatically after 2008 crisis and the improvement in technology in trading platforms meant there was little need for brokers/traders like myself. I saw many people losing their jobs. When I saw that happening I knew it was time to reinvent myself. Out of school, I started a few small restaurants. Why pizza and burgers? It’s a common denominator, nine out of ten people have had pizza and burgers.
What made you choose Harlem besides Midtown or Brooklyn?
There were not many options back then when we opened in terms of dining out options . I was fortunate to meet an Executive Chef Jonathan Shepard. We created a pizza where we saw eye to eye in how the crust should be made. I wanted something that would have a delivery life of 10 blocks to where when you get it the pizza crust still has a crunch.
What advice would you give an entrepreneur who wanted to start their own business?
The way the environment is set up you have to focus. Analyze your labor cost. Look at what the industry regulations are in your field. Make a plan for what you want to do and know what you are getting into. Understand your business model and margins. Do your homework and due diligence.
Are you planning to do a chain or keep it in Harlem?
Due to the market, you won’t survive unless you expand. If we can achieve 5-10 locations that would be ideal. From there we would look to franchise opportunities.
Do you have a specific market?
In the tri-state area you have options. When you start going national you need to have a solid business model/plan and finance options. It’s easy to open a location in DC or Atlanta, but how much control would you have.? Without proper management, it’s a set up for failure.
Is there anytime you thought to yourself that my business might not work?
Every day, it’s not a particular time. It’s every day. It’s what I live and breathe. I look at the numbers and focus on adjusting. There isn’t a day I don’t think about this.
How do you get over the hump?
Try to be ahead of what’s coming, be it Financial, labor, products and again trying to add locations. Scaling is the only way out. For me, the goal is to start duplicating what we are doing. That’s why we have Pizza and Burgers, we saw an opportunity in Harlem where we thought these two comfort foods weren’t available at the quality level south of 110th Street. I knew we could differentiate our selves from what was already here. The other differentiation was the service model, most restaurants in Harlem were table service, we thought making a high quality product and serving it in the fast casual model would give an alternative to those who just want to grab and go or just eat their meal in house for 10-15 mins yet still want a top notch Burger or Pizza.
Would you say you have the best burger in Harlem?
I would definitely say we have the best burger. We use Niman Ranch Beef, probably the highest standard in raising cattle from birth to slaughter, ALL Natural, No Hormones, No Anti-biotics EVER, grass fed.
As far as competition how do you handle it and make it special to where people would want to come to your business instead of someone else?
Serving quality at a good price point is what we focus on. Our dough and meat are of the best quality and we trust our food over anything else. Competition is good. We don’t get too confident with anything and stay humble. It keeps us on our toes.
Do you have a family?
Yes, I have a wife and 2 kids. It’s tough you know, but when I told people I’ve opened 2 restaurants they say it’s a tough business. My response is.. show me something easy and I’d love to do it. You have to work hard and do what you love. Hone your craft. I wish things fell into our lap, but it does not happen that way. It’s all about balance. I made my businesses close to my home so I can always check in when I need to.
How can we follow you online?
Instagram – @harlemburgerco and @harlempizzaco
Facebook – @harlemburgerco and @harlempizzaco
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