I was 14 when I got my first restaurant job. Enthralled with the idea that I could get paid to leave the house and hang out in the back of a restaurant, I washed dishes and loved every minute. From there, I discovered bartending. I got an early start and quickly became comfortable behind the bar—the guy with the blender full of daiquiris. By the time I turned 21, I had a long hospitality resume. I had worked in bowling alleys, bars, and restaurants, getting to know my way around as a prep cook, dishwasher, and grill cook. The more time I spent in the back-of-house, the more it felt like home.

Despite my natural fit in hospitality, I went to college to get a degree in education. I wanted to become a school teacher. I figured little kids and drunk adults aren’t that different. But, my plans were interrupted when I got the opportunity to become a caretaker for a movie property in Hawaii. I lived near a waterfall. Sylvester Stallone was my neighbor. It was an unreal interlude—I figured I’d return to Denver and start interviewing for teaching roles.

Not long into my search, my plans were derailed again. I found out a casino was opening, and they were looking for bartenders. I hadn’t bartended professionally, but my friends (the beneficiaries of the strawberry daiquiris) encouraged me to go for it. It was the right fit for me, and I became the Wednesday through Saturday bartender on the casino's main floor. I became friendly with the industry folks hanging out at the casino. They called me the “mayor of Blackhawk” because I was so connected. I started playing hockey and bowling, racking up 100 games a week and notching a career-ending injury doing the latter, ironically enough.

At Ladd's concept, Blackbird Public House, happy hour is no joke.

I saw the town evolve, shedding the small-town feel and becoming more corporate. I was content bartending. When a buddy of mine was opening a restaurant and asked me to be a system manager, I was hesitant. I’d never been a manager. Then, the GM backed out, and I found myself managing the whole restaurant. I was scared to death. But we increased annual sales by $500,000 over the next four years. I became district manager, with another five restaurants under my watch. Then, I was a Director of Marketing and taught general managers the importance of restaurant marketing. I was tasked with getting people through the door. When the newness wears off, you need to create the energy. To get the place busy, I built that loyalty one customer at a time.

I have always thought of restaurants as entertainment. My initial dream as a kid was to open a bowling alley. I opened my own concepts, Ritual Social House and Blackbird Public House, in 2019, a few months before the pandemic. We had little time to get a foothold before going into emergency mode.

I believe restaurants are, and always have been, the true center of a community. Part of the joy of running a restaurant is being able to help out schools, churches, and other community organizations in need.

Plus, restaurants make up a remarkable community of their own. According to the National Restaurant Association, 1 in 10 people work in the restaurant industry, making it the second largest employer in the private sector. It’s diverse by age, gender, sexual orientation. Everyone is represented in the restaurant industry. And it’s better than having a desk job (in my opinion).

I have been a member of the Colorado Restaurant Association for the past ten years. The education you can gain with a restaurant association is truly amazing. I always make it my duty to help out other restaurateurs, too. So, when it came to POS systems, I decided to learn everything. I invited all the suppliers to sell and educate me on their platforms. This means that when other restaurant owners call me, I can give thoughtful advice.

It’s a tough outlook for restaurants now—I can’t sugarcoat things. With the increasing cost of goods and labor, we’re still focused on survival. It’s a stressful time to run a restaurant. We have found the most success trying to keep it simple. Focus on what's important and give our guests a great value experience. I like to tell myself: “Just get back to throwing the party.”

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