Owners tell all: What it's really like to open your own restaurant
For budding restaurateurs and brothers, Danny and Robert Kronfli, a passion for hospitality is a shared bond. The Los Angeles natives flexed their entrepreneurial spirit early on – as college students and recent grads.
Robert, pictured right, launched an innovative supper club out of his apartment, while attending the University of Southern California. And, upon graduating that same university’s business school, Danny, pictured below, honed his knack and love for crunching numbers by managing expenses for thirty clients of his bookkeeping business.
The two became co-owners of Bacaro L.A., a fusion tapas and wine bar near the USC campus, later, Bacari PDR in Playa Del Rey. They launched their Kronfli Brothers sauces line in 2013, with the assistance of Chef/Partner, Lior Hillel, who serves as executive chef of all their concepts.
Most recently, last month, the brothers opened Bacari GDL at The Americana at Brand, a luxury lifestyle center with upscale culinary offerings.
In 2014, Robert Kronfli was honored among Zagat’s “30 Under 30,” and in 2016, he was included in Los Angeles Business Journal’s list of, “Twenty in Their 20’s.”
Hcareers: When did you first know you wanted to open a restaurant?
Danny: When I was in college studying business, we had to do tons of projects and business plans. It seemed that mine were always geared towards the service and hospitality industry, so once I graduated it seemed like a logical next step for me to open a restaurant.
Robert: In college, my friend and I started Paladar Underground, a secret pop-up dining club. It started with casual dinner parties and evolved into a regular series. As it became more popular and we actually started charging people to join, realizing it could be a real restaurant someday. My brother Danny had already opened up the original Bacaro LA in 2008, and I was really inspired by what he was doing there as well. When I graduated in 2011, I decided to join Danny at Bacaro LA, and we’ve now opened up three additional concepts together, most recently Bacari GDL in Glendale, CA.
HCareers: Is your background in restaurant management, culinary or hospitality?
Robert: No, I went to USC and studied the music business at Thornton School of Music. I had worked at Bacaro LA a couple times a week during college, but Paladar Underground was really my formal training in the hospitality industry.
Danny: I didn’t have much formal training either. I worked as a bartender for about six months prior to opening up Bacaro LA. I always knew I wanted to serve people and provide them with an optimal experience, and the rest just kind of fell into place.
HCareers: How did you raise the funding to execute your first restaurant venture?
Robert: We raised money from friends and family and are still a family run operation with no outside investors. I also had some money saved up from Paladar – once I graduated, it became a pop-up in places around Los Angeles (at Bacaro LA, in private homes and lofts, at a café in DTLA called Daily Dose, etc.).
HCareers: Were there unexpected hurdles in opening any of your restaurants? What hard lessons were learned from such challenges?
Robert: The ongoing hurdle is always budget. No matter how experienced you are, there are always unforeseen costs that arise unexpectedly. From building codes and permits, to finding good cooks and managers, there are always unknown variables that arise with each new location.
Danny: For me, many of the unexpected hurdles were city/state issues. Bacaro LA was a quick turnaround (2 weeks), whereas the other locations were bigger jobs and a longer process. With each new restaurant we open, we learn a lot of new things about what each city/neighborhood requires, which causes delays and headaches. We learn from it each time, in order to get better for the next one.
HCareers: Are there mistakes you frequently see others making when opening a place? What do they neglect to prepare for?
Robert: I see a lot of people who open their first restaurant and try to build it from scratch. The permitting process and regulatory framework that comes with building a restaurant in an empty box can be extremely taxing and expensive. I highly recommend finding a restaurant space that already exists with all the necessary equipment and open up there, especially for your first restaurant. It’s easily double the cost and time to open in an empty space.
Danny: It’s imperative that you as an owner are present at the restaurant, especially during the beginning, to make sure all aspects of your business are running as efficiently as possible.
HCareers: What do you wish you would have known when first starting out?
Robert: I wish I had known how many people you really have to hire, especially as you start to expand and can’t be there all the time to oversee things. You need people you trust and who are invested in your restaurants to maintain the quality and service when you’re not on-site. Labor is the biggest cost-driver of a restaurant, so it’s something you have to constantly be aware of.
Danny: I wish I knew how difficult it is to manage so many people! We love our people, and are emotionally invested in their work and personal lives. As you can imagine, the more people you have working for you, the more personal problems that arise that we have to help guide and provide emotional support to a certain extent. It’s something I had never thought about before opening restaurants.
HCareers: What considerations would you advise others to think about before deciding to open a restaurant? What advice do you wish you had received?
Robert: Don’t build a restaurant from scratch, and manage your labor and food costs well.
Danny: Be ready to put in over 16 hours a day, every day. Especially when first opening – it’s hard work!
HCareers: What are some of the habits, disciplines, routines, you've adapted as a restaurant owner to keep you on top of your game?
Robert: Attention to detail! It’s the type of person I am in my life – I like things that are clean, organized, and symmetrical. If you don’t have someone like this on your team, it’s essential to hire someone who can play this role.
Danny: Honestly, my main habit is making sure I’m awake by 8am every morning and ready for anything during the day. Things are constantly popping up that need our direct attention, and in this business you have to be flexible and ready to tackle any issue at the drop of a dime.