Community//

Tim Spiegelglass: The single attribute that would bring the most good in the world to the most amount of people, is “listening”

If I had to put my finger on the single attribute that I believe would bring the most good in the world to the most amount of people, it would be “listening”. It seems so simple but it’s really astounding the difference you can make in business and in life just by being a great […]


If I had to put my finger on the single attribute that I believe would bring the most good in the world to the most amount of people, it would be “listening”. It seems so simple but it’s really astounding the difference you can make in business and in life just by being a great listener. By that I mean really paying attention when someone is talking, and then responding appropriately — that could be doing something kind the recipient would really appreciate, answering a client’s request to a T, or negotiating a tough situation with a win-win. We can all learn a lot from putting our personal agenda aside and just listening closely to what someone is saying. In politics, in client service, in relationships…. If we can all focus on listening, our communities would be more pleasant to live in, our country could progress on a united front and we’d all be better citizens of our world.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Spiegelglass, the fourth-generation owner of Spiegelglass Construction Company — a commercial general contractor based in St. Louis. Tim oversees all aspects of construction from site selection to project completion and has proudly continued his family’s focus on restaurants. He builds for both national concepts including Panera Bread, Shake Shack, First Watch and Rock & Brews as well as independently owned restaurants including Wasabi Sushi Bar, Six North and The Slider House.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What inspired you to get into the business of building restaurants?

I’ve been going to restaurant openings for as long as I can remember. As a child, when I’d go with my father, I remember feeling like I was walking in with a celebrity — everyone knew him, and he always had answers to any question the restauranteur had. I loved going to the back of the house; I was amazed watching the crew move throughout the kitchen. The chefs would thank my father for getting them open and building the space out the way they envisioned it. The mood was always joyful and the openings were festive. The experiences left me with positive memories that have stayed with me through the years.

What has your journey been like since first stepping foot on the job site for a restaurant?

I’ve been learning about restaurant construction my whole life. Early on when I visited job sites with my father he would ask me questions about what step needed to come next. In high school, I spent most summers driving the company truck around picking up and delivering materials. It was before the days of cell phones so I would meet my father at the breakfast table at 6 a.m. where he would hand me a list of my responsibilities for the day. Slowly and steadily over the past 20+ years my responsibilities increased, and along with a lot of help from our subs, employees, and partners we’ve built thousands of restaurants.

What are your favorite types of restaurants to build?

We do ground-up and interior finishes for national concepts and independently-owned restaurants and both are equally rewarding. Our national partners rely on us to maintain consistency across all their locations, so for us it’s about working within new spaces to ensure the same look, feel and quality. We love working with local owners as well because we get to watch their eyes really pop as their vision unfolds. Both types of restaurants are also fun to talk about around town — they’re always an exciting new addition to the neighborhood.

Tell us the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you in the building business?

We once had a subcontractor who thought it was a good idea to pour his leftover concrete into a dumpster. Needless to say when the concrete set, the dumpster itself became a very heavy trash container. We haven’t worked with that sub since.

What is your definition of success?

I’m responsible for carrying the torch as a fourth-generation business owner, and that’s a responsibility I take very seriously. To me, success is building upon the values that my great grandfather established, and moving our 115 year old business forward. I feel most successful when I spend my working hours doing right by my family’s legacy — and that might come to life through a new project call with a repeat client, taking my daughter to a job site, working with a subcontractor that also worked with my grandfather, bringing my wife and kids to a restaurant opening or getting an unsolicited referral from an architect.

What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?

The potential difficulties associated with transitioning a family business to the next generation — especially the fourth generation — are well-documented. When I was nearing the end of school, our family sought outside counsel to determine the best entry path for me into the business. Philosophically, I was really aligned with the third generation but we all recognized that “you don’t know what you don’t know”. The advice we received was for me to gain some experience outside of the company (and the city) and bring that knowledge back when the time was right. So, I picked up and moved to California to learn about different aspects of the industry. I started at the very bottom and spent a lot of time observing different styles and figuring out what I liked, and what I didn’t. I failed over and over in those early years, and found I didn’t like how those failures were managed. In my family’s business, relationships are everything and often span decades and even generations. But that’s not the case everywhere and I found some businesses value short-term gains over long-term relationships. It taught me a lot about what I didn’t want to do when I returned to our family business, and those learnings have guided my management style to this day.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

I love this question and it’s usually the first one I get at parties. Everyone wants to know what new restaurants are popping up. And we’re always working on something fun- it’s what makes our business so interesting. We just completed two locations for Shake Shack. It’s something that makes us exceptionally proud because the founder, Danny Meyer, is from St. Louis and we had done a restaurant for his father many moons ago. We also were thrilled to build The Arch Café — the first-ever restaurant at the iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Our founder, my great grandfather, opened shop in 1904 near the Arch in downtown St. Louis, so being a small part of the newly expanded Arch grounds was especially meaningful for us. We’re also working on a second, 9,000 square-foot location for Fitz’s Root Beer, a popular St. Louis-based restaurant and bottling company that opened in 1947 and another long-time client. Finally, we just completed a 7,000 square-foot event space for Ces & Judy’s Catering called The Venue at Maison du Lac. They’re a long-time client, and they wanted to expand outside the city to service clients that were asking for a “destination-style” wedding without the hassle of air travel. It’s a gorgeous, contemporary building set on 25 acres of lush countryside.

What advice do you have for aspiring chefs?

We always tell aspiring chefs to do a whole lot of research before opening their own restaurant. Unfortunately, we’ve seen many well-intentioned chefs fail, and often it’s due to jumping into something too fast. Get experience working for other people — it’s always helpful to know what works and what doesn’t. Surround yourself with advisors in a variety of areas, and choose partners with restaurant experience. The right real estate agent, architect, general contractor, suppliers, vendors and more can make your life easier or harder. Ask around, and choose wisely.

What is the key to creating the perfect dish?

We leave the creations up to the chefs, but what we see on the construction side is that the intricacies of kitchen design make a world of difference. We encourage our clients to think about the flow for the dishes they’re creating, while leaving space for future innovations. Is the kitchen organized for each step in the process? Are the necessary tools readily available? Can the team comfortably move around the kitchen? Are the surfaces easy to clean? Are the finishes adding value to the process?

It is said that food is a common ground that brings people together. As someone who works with chefs and restaurant owners for a living, what does this saying mean to you?

You know, I get a lot of questions about how the digital world has impacted my business. People tell me all the time that no one is building anymore because everything can be done online. We love technology and use it a lot to streamline our work, but there is nothing — absolutely nothing — that can replace going to a restaurant for a night out and having a face-to-face conversation over a delicious meal.

In your opinion, what makes a restaurant stand out above the rest?

That’s a question my friends would love to answer. They laugh when we go to new restaurants together because I notice everything. The first thing I do is look behind the counters and in the restrooms — if those two areas aren’t clean that’s not a good sign for me. I’ve seen some really dirty restaurants I’ll never eat in again, and those two areas speak volumes about the cleanliness of the space. This is especially true if the restaurant is new- it’s never going to look better than it does in those first few weeks, so if it’s already dirty there’s a problem. I’m going to be looking at the finishes — are the tiles lining up properly, is the floor laid out evenly, and also the flow of the restaurant. As a customer, service is extraordinarily important to me — I like to be greeted, served in a timely fashion and treated fairly if something’s not right. Great food is a crucial foundation, but restaurateurs know there’s a whole lot more to it.

What are your “5 Things To Know Before Building A Restaurant” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

A. Plan, plan, plan: We’ve seen eager and ambitious restaurateurs jump into something based on the spark of an idea. For a few lucky ones, that works… but for most, it doesn’t. Thinking through every step of your concept will pay off in spades. Identify the concept completely and spell out each detail — from the atmosphere to the food to the flow of the kitchen. Write a business plan that includes the cost of materials and labor, expected revenue, profit margins and more.

B. Surround Yourself: The restaurant industry is unique and finding people who have “been there, done that” can easily make the difference between success and failure. Embrace insights from others, while injecting your own flair and flavor. Take advantage of the expertise from chefs/owners, architects, kitchen designers, real estate agents and general contractors that have been down this road. Ask around for recommendations, and select partners that know this industry.

C. Acknowledge Your Strengths and Weaknesses: When opening a new restaurant, there’s a lot of hands-on work that you can do yourself to save a lot of money. But there are some things that need to be turned over to experts. Outsourcing unfamiliar areas of the business will more often then not save you time, heartache and money. We’ve been called in more times than we can count to fix DIY restaurant projects that didn’t turn out too well or took way too long. Time down = revenue lost, and even closing for a day can throw off your customers’ routine and send them elsewhere. Know your strengths, and call the professionals when you need it.

D. Don’t Sign Yet. Before you sign a lease, I implore you… bring a general contractor that specializes in restaurants to look at the space. This shouldn’t cost you a dime, and trust me when I say it will give a whole new meaning to ‘location, location, location’. On more than one occasion, we’ve seen restauranteurs sign on that dotted line, and then they found the space wasn’t set up for a restaurant — maybe the utilities weren’t built into the space or there are columns that can’t be moved. Often these conversations are part of the negotiation process with the landlord, but sometimes it could mean walking away from the space.

E. It Comes Full Circle… Plan, Plan and Plan Some More — This is where we see a lot of our clients fall short. We’ll have the place built and complete but the client ordered the furniture late so the space is empty. Toward the end of the build, we’ll remind our clients to order small wares, apply for their business/liquor license, identify vendors for ongoing needs post-opening (i.e. who’s maintaining the HVAC unit) and much more. Everyone is excited to open the doors but take the extra time to do it right — you never get a second chance at a first impression.

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? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If I had to put my finger on the single attribute that I believe would bring the most good in the world to the most amount of people, it would be “listening”. It seems so simple but it’s really astounding the difference you can make in business and in life just by being a great listener. By that I mean really paying attention when someone is talking, and then responding appropriately — that could be doing something kind the recipient would really appreciate, answering a client’s request to a T, or negotiating a tough situation with a win-win. We can all learn a lot from putting our personal agenda aside and just listening closely to what someone is saying. In politics, in client service, in relationships…. If we can all focus on listening, our communities would be more pleasant to live in, our country could progress on a united front and we’d all be better citizens of our world.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to cook for and why?

I’ll leave the cooking to the chefs, but I would love to build something with Kevin Hart. I laugh out loud like a little kid every time I hear that man talk. I always love working with clients who have a sense of humor — it’s a healthy trait to have in the construction business — and I’d just laugh the whole time. We built a restaurant/comedy club in St. Louis, and I just think it would be a hilarious experience to build something similar for Kevin Hart.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Rising Star Ben Hazlewood: “Everyone is self-conscious in some way; We could all learn a lot if we started listening with our ears instead of judging with our eyes”

by Yitzi Weiner
Community//

“Author Don Brown: Just learning how to listen, and to do so respectfully, would be one of the greatest things that could help solve a lot of problems we have in this country, and the world”

by Yitzi Weiner
Community//

“Let’s start a movement to drag every entrepreneur out of their space and connect them with someone with a totally different perspective” With Beth Kuchar

by Yitzi Weiner

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.