I typically rely on a few people that are very knowledgeable and usually probe them to see if there’s anything I should know.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Seymour.
John Seymour is the CEO and restaurateur of beloved Brooklyn-born restaurant Sweet Chick and lil’ Sweet Chick, the new quick service concept born out of Sweet Chick with locations in New York and Los Angeles.
Born and raised in Manhattan, John grew up working in an Irish Pub alongside his father, who instilled a passion for hospitality and value of community. John spent upwards of a decade working in NYC’s nightlife scene and partnered with his wife in 2007 to open Pop’s, a burger joint in Williamsburg. John opened Sweet Chick in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2013 with the vision of creating a new dining experience with a unique vibe that blended great food with new music and creative talent. While the restaurant quickly became a destination for its signature Chicken & Waffles, Sweet Chick also became a gathering place for a diverse community of artists, musicians and other creatives. Over the years, Sweet Chick has partnered with creators and brands like NYC-based photographer Ricky Powell, musician Joey Badass, LA’s iconic donut shop Randy’s, Odd Fellows, Vans, Stance and more. Building on the success and popularity of the original Williamsburg location, John opened additional Sweet Chick restaurants around New York, including a location in Long Island City, Queens in partnership with award-winning rapper and musician Nas, and also opened the first Sweet Chick in Los Angeles. In 2020, John evolved Sweet Chick into lil’ Sweet Chick, and launched official community initiatives as part of the new restaurant.
John has been featured in outlets like The New York Times, The Today Show, CBS The Talk, Newsweek, Complex, Paper Magazine, BBC Radio, and many others. When he’s not working, John enjoys being at home in Williamsburg with his wife and three daughters.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born and raised in NYC. My parents immigrated to NY from Ireland. My father was a bartender and my mother was a nurse. They were both extremely hard-working, and as I naturally gravitated towards my father, I started working at the bar at a young age. The bar was where I first was introduced to hospitality and got my passion for people and community.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” M.Aurelius
Actions speak louder than words, and although I could list 1000 quotes, this does the trick. Although, I would replace ‘Good’ with ‘Great’.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Just read both of Ben Horowitz’s books recently. It’s hard to pinpoint a specific book, but I like to read about how other people have navigated business and organizations, and see how situations apply to my circumstances. They were definitely helpful while making decisions during our covid pivot.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Since 2013, I have been CEO & Founder of Sweet Chick, a 7 unit restaurant concept based out of New York with locations around NYC, Los Angeles & London. As other companies, we had big plans and no signs of slowing down until COVID-19 hit the U.S. Closing our restaurants was one of the hardest, but swiftest, decisions I have ever had to make.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Reimagined our full service restaurant and moved to a fast casual (QSR) streamlined menu to control costs in a no-seating, COVID-19 window operation, and take this opportunity to potentially prove a new QSR model.
In 2018, we opened a fast casual kiosk version of Sweet Chick at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. We dubbed the new concept Lil’ Sweet Chick, for its limited menu, and quickly saw how excited people were about it. I have always wanted an opportunity to open our Lil’ Sweet Chick concept in a brick and mortar and now was our chance by default.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
After staring at the empty and shuttered original store on Bedford Ave, Brooklyn for a few weeks, I thought to myself, I bet we can open that window up, put up some plywood and sell some sandwiches. I drew it up on a piece of paper, ordered wood and that was it. I now had found an opportunity to test our Quick Service concept as we reopen the stores, keep a low overhead and create some jobs. Aha!
How are things going with this new initiative?
It has been a wild ride. We have created a completely new system and an opportunity to rebuild the business from the ground up. It has not come without its growing pains and ALOT of hard work. I have big plans for 2021 and am excited for the future.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The whole team. People really pull together when everything is on the line, and you really see what people are made of. Too hard to single out one person… so I will say my wife to be safe… hey Fallon!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
The most interesting thing I’ve seen through this process is how much people enjoy our brand. It’s because of them and their support that has enabled us to stay alive and flourish as we come out of this pandemic.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
I tap in and out and do not let the news consume me. I typically rely on a few people that are very knowledgeable and usually probe them to see if there’s anything I should know.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
A vehicle for negativity to transform into positively.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Dr Anthony Fauci. Cause Sway don’t have all the answers
A coffee and a cannoli would do also .
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!