Focus on the customer experience and product consistency. Sure, you can’t please everyone, but if you really have a passion for customer service and consistency, your customers will be able to tell, and will in turn, support your business.
As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Terri Sherman, a Business Intermediary who sells restaurants throughout Florida. Terri has been with Florida Business Exchange, Inc. since July 2011 operating under Terri D. Sherman, PA. She is a member of the Business Brokers of Florida (BBF). As a Business Intermediary, she specializes primarily in the sales of main street businesses and has assisted numerous Buyers both stateside and international. Terri has been the recipient of the BBF “Million Dollar Plus” Award, and she was voted Folio Weekly’s “Best Business Broker” in the publication’s annual “Best of Jax” awards.
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 restauranteur or chef?
Thank you for the opportunity! Though I am not a restauranteur or chef, I enjoy working with restauranteurs and chefs in my field of business brokerage. As a business intermediary, I love seeing how these experts in the culinary field can take a previous, or sometimes failing, concept and turn it around into something magnificent — it really is the merging of passion, business, and art to me.
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?
I focus on various industries, but I will say that restaurants are a constant here in Florida in terms of businesses being bought and sold. I’m sure many know how tough it is to launch a successful restaurant concept, and though we are seeing the landscape change due to COVID, there are still a lot of successful restaurant owners weathering the storm and doing so successfully. In some cases, purchasing an existing restaurant helps mitigate some of the risk involved with launching a “from-scratch” concept.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Though I’m not a chef or restauranteur, I have worked with many in my role as a business intermediary. The most interesting story that comes to mind is of two different chefs, each business owners, meeting many years ago when one moved to the city and was looking to apply with the other’s company for a job. That didn’t work out, and the one applying for the job didn’t have the greatest experience with the other; however, many years later, they met again because the one whom initially applied for the job was now the owner of his own business, which he was in the process of selling, and the other wanted to purchase the company. It really underscored the lesson and the need to keep in mind that, as cliché as it is, you never know what bridge you are going to have to cross again later in life. Those bridges can really make or break you in some cases.
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?
At the beginning of my career, I struggled with trying to combat feeling like I didn’t belong in the industry. I came from the music industry, and though I did graduate from college, my degree is in English. So, I had no previous experience in business brokerage (at least I thought that at the time) in dealing with businesses, financial statements, and the nuances of the business. Additionally, I was much younger than the majority of my colleagues, and I had no special certifications or titles. I just knew that I was a quick learner who loved entrepreneurship.
That feeling of not belonging would be compounded when I would go in to meet with different prospective buyers and sellers. I would see them pause as though they were surprised to see a young, black woman, especially those who would call from an ad where only my name was given. They would often assume I was a male. So, there were definitely hard times when I first started, and there are still hard times periodically now that I’m 9 years into it.
Thankfully, though, I have a great support system — family, friends, colleagues — that helped me overcome those challenges to my belief that I could do my job as a business intermediary and do it well. It’s like any entrepreneurial journey — you have to sometimes see the vision long before anyone else does, and you just have to stick it out. Grit takes you a long way!
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
I find that the key to any positive customer experience is to listen. Listen to what your customers tell you, and listen to what they don’t tell you.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
The perfect meal for me would be any meal spent with good, engaging company. I find great joy in spending time and connecting with people over a meal.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
My inspiration for creating comes from Creation itself. I absolutely love watching nature — the sky in particular. When I need a boost in creativity, I like to be surrounded by nature. It really helps me decompress, and I find that when I am relaxed, I tend to be more creative.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
I am working on some new seminar topics for 2021. I want to continue educating people on not only the know-how’s of using business acquisition as an entry to business ownership and entrepreneurship, but also the advantages of taking acquisition as a route instead of starting from scratch. I find that when I do events/seminars rooted in these concepts, there are always a few attendees who comment how impactful the information is to reframing their thinking about entrepreneurship in general. That’s exciting!
What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Set and manage realistic expectations of yourself, your business, and your employees.
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 Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Understand that owning a restaurant is a different scope of responsibility — you are typically “married” to the business. Inexperienced restauranteurs sometimes approach the restaurant business/ownership like other 9–5 businesses, but it just doesn’t work that way. So, I think it’s vital to set realistic expectations before they launch their concept so that they and/or their families aren’t overwhelmed and burned out.
- Know your numbers! It’s very important for a restauranteur to watch their cost of goods and their other variable expenses. Research and study what the average percentage of gross should be for COG’s and other costs for your menu and/or concept and try to stay within that average. This will hopefully help you maximize your profit margin.
- Don’t eat up your profits in unused or expensive square footage. Rent that is too high and/or spaces that are unnecessarily large can really hurt a restaurant. Really think about maximizing every square foot of your space, and try your best to not spend more than 10% of your gross revenue in rent.
- Focus on the customer experience and product consistency. Sure, you can’t please everyone, but if you really have a passion for customer service and consistency, your customers will be able to tell, and will in turn, support your business.
- Invest in your staff! The investment doesn’t have to be monetary — more than anything, invest in your key employees by training them and setting up good systems. The better your systems and the better trained your staff, the more resistant to burnout you will be. With a highly-trained staff, you will (hopefully) be able to step away from the business and recharge periodically, and you will more than likely be confident in delegating various tasks/responsibilities to your staff.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
When I think of visiting a restaurant establishment, I automatically think that everyone should try a dessert. I mean, what is a good meal if it isn’t topped off with a good dessert lol!
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.
I would say to be mindful of how we speak and treat one another. When everyone leads with respect, everything else naturally follows suit. I feel strongly that this simple task would greatly impact many of our societal issues in a positive way.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!