By Phil Bayly
On the 8th of May 2013, after 16 crazy years, Café Pacifico Sydney closed its doors to the public. Now some six months later we are almost finished the business of closing the company.
In late 1996 my business partner and I began the project, it took us eight months to secure a lease on a venue; just three weeks later we opened the doors. The day was June 6, 1997, I had been involved in opening 17 tequila-themed bars and restaurants in six countries but my experience was in setup, not the day to day operations.
My business partner had been the assistant general manager at the Pacifico in Paris. He took on the role of general manager and I became the bar manager. The relationship soon soured between us; I hadn’t done my homework thoroughly to know what sort of a character he was and it wasn’t long before we were disagreeing on many points, particularly on service and staff management. I also made the mistake of leaving the accounts to him.
I should have been more involved. We had two chefs, one from London and the other from Mexico City. We were all on high wages with very little sales in a tequila bar that was on a first floor in a dead end street. We were running in the red pretty much from day one. By the end of 1999 (and to add to the uncertainty of the Y2K bug), I had lost my partner, the two chefs and my bartenders and the company was close to being insolvent.
I had always believed in the concept so stayed with it. At this stage I was general manager, bar manager, head waitperson, kitchen manager, admin person, payroll officer, head shitkicker and boss of everything else.
I was doing courses in management, marketing, finance and anything else related to the industry. I learned to read a profit and loss statement and balance sheet and not just reading the bottom line; my wife Yim came in to do the books and help with the kitchen and together we rebuilt the business from well below zero.
We took a machete to the menu and made it simple: tacos, burritos, enchiladas and fajitas; I hired cooks not chefs to cook my recipes, headhunted some local Sydney talent for the floor and bar; I poured megalitres of tequila. My philosophy for my customers was: “Anyone could do anything they liked as long as no one else complained.” If someone did complain, then not everyone was having a good time.
And the rest is history.
Some of the key points to survival…
1 Know how you will get out, before you get into a business
2 Do your homework thoroughly, know who your partners and investors are, this includes your landlord as well as knowing your target market
3 Make a Business Plan that grows with your business
4 Understand your break even and have access to more money than you need
5 Know every part of your operation and how it works, you don’t have to be great at it, you just need to know what is going on and why
6 Hire the best Accountant and Solicitor you can afford, “you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”.
7 Hire the best staff you can afford and help them build skills and knowledge
8 Put good, strong, easy systems in place and let them grow and change with the business
9 Get your legals right from the start
10 Don’t do it for the money. Do it because you love the industry!
11 Be prepared to work 24/7 at least for the first couple of years
12 Do a SWOT analysis on all key personnel and learn to train and delegate.
13 Keep it simple, keep it SMART
14 Be different, be creative
15 Find ways to keep the business challenging and interesting so you can keep doing it and most of all enjoying it day after day