Always keep the menu fresh. I’m currently looking for ways to upgrade our menu now. This never ever stops.
As part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restaurateur”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Brian Gruber.
Brian Gruber is a native to Carlsbad, California, but his family is from a small island in Indonesia. Food provided comfort and familiarity in a country that was unfamiliar to his hometown recipes. Brian’s childhood created his love for food today. Gruber knew early on that his passion was food which is what led him to open Notorious Burger in his hometown in 2012. Brian wanted a place in Carlsbad where you could watch a sports game paired with a glass of fine wine or craft beer. While Notorious is known for their burgers, the menu also boasts sizzling sandwiches, sizable salads and a plethora of other palate-pleasing plates that appeal to all ages. Gruber is family man that lives in Carlsbad with his wife and two daughters, and his childhood home is still footsteps from the restaurant.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restaurateur?
When I initially started cooking, it was just a hobby. I used to cook by myself and make elaborate Thanksgiving style meals just for the pure enjoyment of cooking. Once I met my wife, Julie, we started entertaining and our friends kept making generous comments which is what motivated me to begin my private chef career. This created more confidence and my desire to share my passion for food with the public.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
Indonesian food is still my first love. There are many Indonesian dishes that I will travel far to eat because it is so varied in its flavors, the boldness of its spices, and its warm happy memories that are evoked when I eat it still to this day. I wanted to bring my passion to whatever kind of food I made. I also saw a need for a neighborhood spot where one could bring their family, go on a date, or just hang with the guys and watch a football game. To accommodate all of that, I created a menu that would please anyone that came through our doors.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a restaurateur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Owning a restaurant has been an amazing experience. It has forced me to balance my time between my family, my business, and myself. It is easy to get sucked into being there every waking moment. Four years ago, one of my daughters came home with a picture from her school and she was asked to show something that her daddy likes to do, and she drew me working. That was a wakeup call for me. It opened my eyes to how much I was away. It forced me to restructure my schedule so that my family always felt like they were number one.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
Since this is my first restaurant, it has all been a learning curve for me. The hardest part initially was having the right bookkeeper. Our original one was not experienced enough with restaurants and because of that, she was not forecasting correctly. This may sound small, but it is everything in a restaurant. Lucky enough for us, we have always been profitable, but her lack of restaurant skills made it a very stressful time because her accounting did not correctly reflect that. I corrected that by hiring someone who had worked with restaurants for decades and had an amazing reputation, thank god!
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
Personally, it comes down to what is the ‘perfect meal for you’? Call me a mamma’s boy, but it will probably always be a meal my mom always made for us growing up. It is fresh corn, mashed potatoes with gravy, and ground beef. She would layer it and put it in a cup. Customers love a good dish with a story attached.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
I am constantly reading different cooking articles, using the freshest ingredients from local farmers, and trying out different ideas either at home or for some of our locals that come in.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
Yes, I am working on creating a new menu right now which will hopefully diversify our menu offerings even more than they do today. Also, we are adding a Birria football brunch this Fall. The impact this has on our customers is they know we are always giving them our best.
What advice would you give to other restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
For any restaurant to thrive, they must be knowledgeable about all of their costs (food cost, labor, etc.). That is one of the most important elements to any restaurant. Another piece of advice is that one must be open to feedback from their customers and not be married to a certain dish if it is not working. Retaining a great staff is fundamental. I don’t sweat the small stuff, I try to help and support and respect them, and in turn I have a loyal staff. We have been lucky and are able to retain staff for an average of four years per employee which in this industry, is very unusual. Lastly, one must use the best ingredients as it makes all the difference, even if it costs a bit more.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restaurateur” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- To hire a seasoned bookkeeper and CPA. Numbers are so important in the restaurant business. In the beginning, we were not forecasting our numbers correctly and it could have been a very bad situation had we not hired the right people to watch our numbers better.
- Retaining a great staff by respecting them. My staff is my work family. We look out for each other. I listen to them when they have ideas or feedback. I need them and I work very hard to keep them feeling appreciated.
- Always keep the menu fresh. I’m currently looking for ways to upgrade our menu now. This never ever stops.
- Know your customers. I really enjoy the people that come through our doors. I talk with them. I ask for feedback. They are the reason we are successful.
- Keep all your costs in line. There are a lot of relatively simple ways to cut costs when you own a restaurant, like reducing the amount of perishable inventory that you keep on hand. More complex decisions can help you save money over time.
What’s the one dish people must try if they visit your establishment?
Birria is a delicious special dish. The heart of the dish consists of shank, chuck, and cheek and they are all braised in roasted onions, chilies, and garlic for eight hours. It is our oldest daughters’ favorite dish, and she always says it is so flavorful that it makes her want more.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!