If anyone knows the value of a penny, it is the owner of a restaurant.
The restaurant business is a notoriously difficult place to thrive, with almost all ventures going bust within a few years. Success is certainly possible, but you have to be a financial virtuoso, coaxing nickels and dimes out of every possible nook and cranny.
That is something restaurateur Joe Bastianich, 47, learned at the feet of dad Felice, a talented restaurateur himself, and mom Lidia, who rose to fame with her own televised cooking shows.
Bastianich is the force (along with famed chef Mario Batali) behind New York institutions like Babbo, Becco and Del Posto. His next project: Opening a new location of Italian food emporium Eataly at New York’s World Trade Center.
For the latest installment of Reuters’ “Life Lessons” series, Bastianich talks about how to cook up a successful life.
Q: As someone with such successful parents, what did you learn by watching them?
A: The necessity and value of hard work. What my parents achieved is actually the classic storybook example of the American dream. They worked six to seven days a week for years running the restaurant in Queens.
It took hard work and sacrifice to build Felidia, which is finally when we saw a little money as a family. My sister Tanya and I were practically raised in restaurants, so we saw first hand everyday what it took for my parents to achieve success.
Q: What did the restaurant business teach you about finances?
A: This industry is rife with opportunities to bleed money – you have to watch every nickel.
The profit margin is notoriously low, and your whole management strategy needs to center around saving money and shaving down costs.
Q: Apart from toiling in kitchens, what was your first job?
A: I had a paper route in Bayside, Queens when I was 10. My nonna would get up early with me and help me roll the newspapers.
Q: How did you get the right team in place around you, for helping achieve your financial goals?
A: I think it really helps to employ like-minded people. People who see their job and their role in our restaurant group as much more than a paycheck are pretty essential at this point. Certain positions are offered incentive programs that involve profit-sharing.
I think giving the right person a stake in what they toil over every day is not only the right thing to do, but helps to ensure success for all. People who understand the concept that your allocated cash flow – aka your paycheck – needs to be continuously earned to justify it.
Q: Any role models you aspired to, who put you on the right path when you started achieving some success?
A: In the early days after I opened up Becco, Drew Nieporent was real mentor to me. Drew was always very generous with his knowledge and experience, and treated me with respect even when I was 22 and had no clue what I was doing.
Q: You must get approached for donations all the time, so how do you decide where to allocate your charitable money?
A: A few years ago my mother Lidia and I started the Bastianich Scholarship Fund for my alma mater, the Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx. Over three years, our goal was to raise four fully endowed scholarships to deserving students who otherwise could not afford to attend. I’m very proud to say we reached that goal this past March.
My education had a profound effect on me, and what I thought myself capable of at a young age. The recipients are truly great, smart kids, and I’m grateful to be in a position to give back.
Q: What money lessons do you pass down to your own kids?
A: My two oldest kids are just starting to work summer and part-time jobs. I think kids should experience work as soon as they are allowed to. There is no better way to teach them the value of money, than to have them experience just what it takes to earn it.