Small Business Owners Failing in RI? Gen X & Y are still breaking that mold.November 17, 2014 12:00 am
This is the second in a recurring series for our blog. We plan to spotlight and interview small business owners in the generation X and Y age range over the next coming months. Feel free to nominate a company for future consideration by emailing us at email@example.com. Whether these interviews inspire or give you a happy read on your lunch break, I think us Rhode Islanders could use a little ray of hope to overshadow the negative reputation!
We found the next small business just around the corner from me. My father remembers going in when it used to be an old Irish pub but new owner Kara Neisinger has transformed this space into a cozy, welcoming neighborhood restaurant near the Warwick/ East Greenwich line. Kara shares with us her inspiring story of opening this local gem.
What triggered you to take the plunge and open your own business?
I’ve always wanted to open my own restaurant; it’s been a dream of mine since I was 14 or 15. After working in many restaurants, over time I realized that as much as I enjoyed learning from new management positions, it was time to take on a new challenge. Every position that I have taken in my career has been a new challenge and I felt confident that I was prepared to run a successful business. My mom actually always wanted to open her own restaurant and she helped start two before I was born. The owner, John Hail, ended up opening 16 of them around the country. When my mom passed away he hung a neon “C” in every one of the restaurants in commemoration of her. When my friends found out that I was opening my own restaurant, they searched for the neon “C” that I had told them about and got in touch with John. I now have the original hanging on the wall of The Shanty. My mother passed away when she was 30 and I opened this when I was 30 so it’s just kind of wild how things turn out.
Did you take any courses on opening a small business?
Not necessarily courses, but I did graduate from Johnson and Wales in restaurant management. It’s there where I learned to have structure but most of what I’ve learned has been through the experience of working in the restaurant industry. I’ve also been lucky enough to have great bosses over the years and have taken away great management traits from each one of them.
How did you transition from what you were previously doing?
I’ve had a whirl wind background. Like I said previously, I’ve managed quite a few restaurants before. I worked in a very busy seasonal restaurant here in RI before working in a 500 seat, fine dining restaurant in Foxboro. I had an unbelievable general manager there that taught me to follow through with ideas that you have. It’s one thing to have a great idea, but implementing and constantly reviewing it makes you a better manager. After working in that type of restaurant for a while, I realized that I prefer the more intimate feel of a smaller restaurant. That’s when I knew I needed a change; I called my brother who convinced me to move to Alaska with him. After living there for two years and managing another restaurant, I became homesick and knew I wanted a restaurant of my own. Once I moved back to RI, a friend of mine called and said that he heard that deal had fallen through with a place in Warwick so I drove by it that night, looked in the windows and fell in love with the space. From that moment on, I just went for it. We renovated the whole space while trying to keep as much of the original pieces as possible. We were open within 3 months, which was March this year.
By what avenues are you currently marketing? What social media tools do you find effective?
Facebook has been the best avenue for us. If I think we might have a quiet night on a beautiful summer night then I can post a few pictures and boost the post. For instance, we were doing a deal on oysters and then had people “like” the post which then spread the news. We posted a new dessert last weekend and a few people came in because they saw a picture of the dish we were promoting that night. The other has been word of mouth. We have been trying to have a beer dinner or something different like that every few months which both brings people in and offers something new to the locals as well. We’ve also had new customers come in because their friends had enjoyed the evening that we hosted here.
How has owning the business impacted your personal life?
What personal life? It’s not easy to balance them both. My energy and time is so focused on my business but I also wouldn’t change it for anything. We have been busier than I anticipated this past year so I’ve actually been able to hire a general manager who will hopefully help create some time for me. I’d love the time to explore opening another business as well as fine-tune things here. I currently have one day off which can quickly change if one of my staff is sick or has a wedding to go to. At the end of the day, I feel personally responsible for this place, my 16 employees and their livelihood so it’s not a role that I take lightly.
What are the biggest issues you face in running this business?
I have been extremely fortunate in having amazing staff. I’ve had two incredible back to back chefs, which never happens. Not only does my staff come to work on time every day, but they enjoy being here and go above and beyond. I feel like every business goes through waves of staffing issues but up until this point, I’ve been very lucky and can say with confidence that a lot of the success that we’ve had over the past 7 months can be attributed to their hard work.
What is the future vision for The Shanty? Do you see a possible gap in the market for more neighborhood restaurants in RI?
Even though we’ve been really busy lately, there is still room for The Shanty to grow. We’ve really enjoyed being part of the local community here; whether it is supporting the local fire department or shopping on Main Street to try and support their businesses, it has built good relationships where we help and promote each other. We also use Narragansett Creamery, have at least 4 RI brews on tap at all times and we use other local produce when we can which is another way we try and give back to our community.
What do you think is the biggest threat to the success of small businesses in RI today?
As a society, I feel as though we’re quicker to give big companies tax breaks. I know that having 16 employees may not seem like a lot, but it is to a small business owner like me. I feel that every time you turn around there’s another tax to be paid rather than being incentivized to open a new business. You pay the toll here and feel the toll.
What advice would you give to other generation y and millennial who might be thinking of owning a business of their own some day?
Don’t take the idea lightly especially if it’s a business where you need to hire employees. If it is something that you’ve thought through, I say go for it as it can be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do. Even though there are times when something goes wrong and you’re the only there to fix it, being part of a community and giving back make those stressful times worthwhile.
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