Skyler Reeves: “Listen to People That Aren’t Your Age”

If you love what you do and are genuinely excited about it each and every day. It’s possible in business to be fueled by money, and lose track of what you love doing. You need to ask yourself, “Would I still be doing this if I didn’t make as much money?”. If the answer is […]

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If you love what you do and are genuinely excited about it each and every day. It’s possible in business to be fueled by money, and lose track of what you love doing. You need to ask yourself, “Would I still be doing this if I didn’t make as much money?”. If the answer is no, you’re going to burnout fast.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Skyler Reeves, proprietor of Vivili Hospitality Group.

As a proprietor of Vivili Hospitality Group, Skyler Reeves came onto the Prescott restaurant scene in 2014 with small-town midwestern roots and more than 10 years of big-city experience after opening dozens of venues and managing hundreds of employees in major markets like Los Angeles.

Fast forward to today, Reeves is now the largest restauranteur in the area with three thriving restaurants including The Barley Hound, Rosa’s Pizzeria, Taco Don’s, plus a full-service catering and events company, Hawk & Hound. With an eye towards putting Prescott on the culinary map, Vivili is not only committed to executing exciting new concepts that deliver big-city appeal, but also breathing new life into celebrated staples while maintaining the quality and charm locals and travelers have grown accustomed to.

When not buzzing around his restaurants, Reeves enjoys mountain biking, hiking, CrossFit and playing flag football with other local business owners and friends in Prescott. Reeves is also the father of two children, Liam and Vivian, and spends his free time coaching their soccer and basketball teams, and volunteering his time to various charities and school functions around Prescott.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Prior to moving to Prescott, I spent 10 years working in the Los Angeles nightlife scene where I landed a job as a barback before accepting an offer as one of the first employees of SBE Entertainment Group, the global, lifestyle hospitality company responsible for the emergence of major brands like SLS Hotels and Hyde. My strong work ethic and aptitude for business spurred a series of promotions within the company leading me to become the general manager of a number of acclaimed nightlife destinations within the city including The Lobby on Santa Monica Blvd. and Privilege, located along Sunset Blvd.

Looking for the next big thing, I took a position as operations manager for 213 Hospitality (now Pouring With Heart), the company credited with bringing the “mixology” scene to Los Angeles. There, I oversaw all aspects of the company and was instrumental in the expansion from seven venues to over a dozen throughout his tenure.

After ten years in the city, I was feeling the tug of a different lifestyle. I missed the small-town warmth I remembered from my childhood and the fresh mountain air I fell in love with as a young mountain biking professional and college student at CU Boulder. With close family ties in Prescott, I happily left the city life behind and moved to Arizona to start my career as a restaurateur.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

By taking a big-city approach in order to operate my small-town restaurants, I’m usually first within the market to bring new, creative ideas to the table which allows for Vivili Restaurant Group to be a leader in the industry. I constantly find myself researching what other people are doing around the world whether it be from hospitality or cultural perspective and reimaging these ideas to fit within my restaurant group.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of the most interesting things for me was how I got hired at SBE, before the company became a big deal. I had just moved to Los Angeles and I was bar backing at a small bar in the Valley. I heard about a new nightclub opening and showed up to the hiring event.

At the start of the interview, each bartender had to participate in a bartending contest where we were tested on the spot about what ingredients were in all the most popular drinks at the time (think Surfer on Acid and Purple Hooters), as well as the accuracy of our pours. At the end of the contest and interviews, the owners lined us all up and had each person step forward one at a time while the 3 owners whispered to each other and took notes. It was very intimidating to say the least and didn’t have your typical job interview feel. Being from a small town, this was something totally new for me.

I ended up getting the job at Shelter, which quickly became infamous for being a celebrity hotspot and also one of the first to bring bottle service to the west coast. This blossomed into a six-year relationship with the company.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was managing a brand-new nightclub in Los Angeles, there were a ton of high-profile people that used to come in. One, in particular, was Phil Ivey, the professional poker player.

One night, he was hanging out with the owner while the club was closing and he and I had become pretty friendly. While we were cleaning up, Phil wanted to buy a round of LOUIS XIII Cognac for everyone, which at the time, ran around 2,000 dollars per bottle as each one is handmade of crystal. I remembered this trick the distributor had shown me, so I said, “Hey Phil, did you know that you can do this cool trick with the crystal top?”

Everyone there watched as I went behind the bar. I held the bottle up by the top only after putting the top in tightly as I had been shown. The bottle was supposed to just hang there suspended and of course, it didn’t work, and two-seconds later the bottle falls, hits the marble countertop and the crystal shattered all over the place. Needless to say, everyone was laughing. The next day I came in for my shift and the owner made me buy the 2,000 dollars bottle to replace the one I broke.

From then on, I learned to always stay humble and don’t show off — even when you think you can.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

I think a thought leader is someone who is willing to take a risk and think differently about what people are doing in their market. Being a thought leader is something I aspire to be because you have to lean on your experience and keep your mind out of the routine you’re used to.

When I think of a typical leader, I think of a military leader or a quarterback who is responsible for rallying the troops or pumping up the team before a big game. I think as a thought leader, I’m not trying to influencer anyone’s behavior, I influence someone by leading the way, and hopefully in a creative way.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

I think thought leaders are often first-to-market with new ideas. First is often best. Although uncharted territories can be more dangerous, this is where you become the most successful. I usually equate this to the stock market. When things are going down, and most people are talking negatively about it, a thought leader will find a new opportunity to be lucrative. Day-to-day business isn’t far from that.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

How we survived the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of how thought leadership can offer lucrative opportunities and help a business grow. It seems like everything was changing hour-by-hour and it’s given me a chance to try things I would have never thought of under normal circumstances.

At the onset of the pandemic in March, I made tough decisions to consolidate my three Prescott-area restaurants (The Barley Hound, Rosa’s Pizzeria & Taco Don’s), pause my catering company, stop construction on my newest restaurant (and the city’s largest) that was set to open in April and lay off more than half of my 100-person staff. As a popular getaway destination with restaurants, shops and historical landmarks that rely heavily on tourists, the small town of Prescott was been hit hard with the sudden lack of travel.

Over the past four months, I’ve honed in my decade-long experiences working within the fast-paced, Los Angeles hospitality industry and have taken a big-city approach in order to keep my restaurants afloat by hunkering down, bolstering takeout sales and setting my sights on outdoor dining models that require little interaction between staff and guests, among others.

Once it became clear that outdoor dining was going to be the trend to keep guests safe, within a couple of weeks, I restructured my signature restaurant, The Barley Hound, to double the restaurant’s capacity by adding a “backyard” expansion to the Victorian’-style home that houses the gastropub. The restaurant is already known as the undisputed best patio in Prescott in the “front yard”, so I wanted to further stake this claim with the addition of 1,800 square foot outdoor area.

Knowing that Prescott was in a tough situation with a lack of travelers, I also proactively reached out to the tourism board in order to push a new idea across the board that would be mutually beneficial. As a result, I’m now working with the City of Prescott to debut a semi-permanent structure within the city-owned parking spaces in front of Rosa’s Pizzeria, one of the most beloved Italian restaurants in the city, that will allow me to move the indoor capacity outdoors. Complete with tables, umbrellas and large real trees and plants to encourage social distancing, the city is looking to take cues from this initiative and eventually roll out similar models to better accommodate incoming tourists. With the state’s new order to reduce capacity to less than 50 percent, I’ve been able to add about 30 percent of seating to the new patio, bringing the restaurant near its original seat count, all while increasing the safety of dining by adding outdoor space.

Fast forward to today, I’ve hired back 90 percent of my employee base, am up 5 percent from this time last year at my primary drive-thru Mexican food joint, Taco Don’s, and currently have the support of the city as we get ready to debut a beta-dining experience that allows my restaurants to utilize more outdoor space to offset recent indoor dining restrictions in Arizona.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

  1. Travel: I think travel is such a huge part of Vivili Hospitality Group’s success. Anytime I’m going to a new city or town, I’m constantly assessing how people are running their business. From taking photos of things like menus or how other restaurants organize their condiments on the table to talking with servers and staff, it’s a great way to understand what works, what doesn’t and how I can apply new ideas to my business.
  2. Listen to People That Aren’t Your Age: You can get a totally different perspective on a situation when you talk with someone that isn’t your age. Whether it’s my eight-year-old daughter who constantly picks things up on the bottom shelf of the grocery store or an 80-year-old that has been through multiple generations, you have to embrace that people have experienced things that you haven’t and learn from that whenever you can.
  3. Ask People Around You: By asking people around you for their opinion, it can give you a new outlook on a problem, person or strategy that you wouldn’t have thought of. For example, during the pandemic, The Barley Hound was doing really well offering to-go cocktails during the initial shutdown. I asked one of my managers how she thought we could keep this going and she came up with the idea of “bottle service” so a table can order a large-batched cocktail (or even a bottle of vodka if the group is big enough) and enjoy it at their table, without having to go back to the bar to re-order. Now, this is something that has been successful and we’ll offer moving forward.
  4. Seek Out People That Are Experts: I actively seek out friends that have become experts in their fields whether it be a doctor, accountant or sales associate and I try and spend as much time as I can absorbing their knowledge. Right now, I’m forming a partnership with a well-known doctor, very accomplished in his specific field. At first glance, this has nothing to do with hospitality, but I’m learning so much about how food affects health and I will soon be able to apply these new ideas to my business.
  5. Use Social Media In Ways that Are Positive: I find myself sometimes getting overwhelmed with Instagram and Facebook, but they really can be a useful tool to expand your business. When I’m looking for new ideas, I often dive into Instagram hashtags to find inspiration in what other people are doing. Instagram is also a great tool to easily reach your audience when you have something to say. I recently read 50 Cent’s new book and one thing that he said that really stuck with me was that he can fill an entire shopping mall at a moment’s notice with one post. That’s so powerful.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

I think my first boss, Cedd Moses of Pouring With Heart (formerly 213 Hospitality), is a great example of a thought leader. He is known as the godfather of the Downtown Los Angeles nightlife as he was one of the first people to bring the craft cocktail trend to the area.

Fifteen years ago, Cedd had the idea to revitalize Downtown Los Angeles and all of his friends thought he was crazy. He realized early on two key triggers that could make this area a brand-new neighborhood including a change in zoning that allowed for people to live and work in lofts and a dynamic shift in public transportation. Overtime, artists and creatives began moving to these new lofts in DTLA and it became a transportation hub in Los Angeles. Today, he has more than 10 renowned bars in the area including Golden Gopher, Seven Grand, The Varnish, Bar Clacson, Tony’s Saloon, Casey’s Irish Pub and Broadway Bar.

I think the biggest thing I learned from Cedd was not to recognize the bigger trends, not ignore them, and apply them to your business. These weren’t groundbreaking discoveries or tiny micro trends. He just understood what was right in front of him, and had the guts to make bold business decisions about them. It’s so inspiring to see everything he has done now.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I think the term thought leader isn’t overused as long as it’s being received by the correct audience. Everyone out there nowadays wants to proclaim themselves as an “influencer” or a thought leader, but to me, it really comes down to asking yourself, “What did that person do to be a leader.” If you can answer that question, then the term “thought leader” shouldn’t be avoided.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

If you love what you do and are genuinely excited about it each and every day. It’s possible in business to be fueled by money, and lose track of what you love doing. You need to ask yourself, “Would I still be doing this if I didn’t make as much money?”. If the answer is no, you’re going to burnout fast.

You are a person of enormous 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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could spark any kind of movement it would be for people to be kinder to one another. Everyone out there is fighting a fight that the next person knows nothing about. A little compassion and understanding can go a long way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Throughout my life, my dad would always tell me: “Think before you leap.” He repeated this all of the time. As simple as it is, I think about it often as I’m making key business decisions for my company. It’s taught me to make calculated moves whether it be for a new marketing strategy or expanding the restaurant group. It applies to almost everything I do.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d like to have lunch with 50 Cent. After reading his book, I realize that he brings so much more to the table than what other people giving him credit for. He’s a master of turning negative situations into something positive and he’s an expert in things I know nothing about.

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