How The Iron Oven Proves Perfection Takes PatienceAngel
Fast Capital 360 loves everything about small business – even companies who aren’t our clients. With The Small Business Spotlight Series, we want to share the stories of small business success, struggles, and strategies from business owners just like you.
When it comes to owning a business, some develop a passion for entrepreneurship later in life; but others knew it was what they were destined for as soon as they were old enough to, say, toss a disk of dough in mid-air.
For Alex Nalbandian, owner of The Iron Oven – located in Fast Capital 360’s backyard of Southampton – that’s exactly what happened.
Growing up, Alex spent most of his time at Rising Sun Pizza located in Northeast Philadelphia, the restaurant his father Samuel founded in 1983. It was at this family pizzeria that Alex discovered his passion for the food industry and learned the tricks of the trade that would help him start up a business of his own.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Alex last week, where he openly discussed the struggles of being a new restaurant owner, as well as what makes it all worth it. Alex also shared the gratification that comes along with providing the community with great food, a wonderful dining experience, and incredible memories.
The most important takeaway I got from my conversation with Alex was that perfection takes patience. That and a whole lot of hard work – and that’s something every business can learn from.
How did you get your start and find your passion?
I’ve been around the pizzeria throughout my whole life. Rising Sun has been open for 35 years now, and it’s still up and running. I did that since I was a little kid, so I grew up in it and really loved working on it, so I wanted to open up The Iron Oven as it would be closer to my home.
When and how did you decide to found your business?
Probably about 2 or 3 years ago. It took a little bit to get here, but I knew for a while it’s what I wanted to do. We finally started pushing for it about a year and a half ago.
What’s the best aspect of being a restaurant owner and how does your business help others?
The best thing I especially enjoy right now is just hearing when customers have a really great experience.
I just really love hearing about how they had a great time or created some memories here and enjoyed the food and drinks, and that’s why I’m doing this. And, every time I hear them say that it just makes me feel great because I’m working night and day to get this perfect – so it’s a lot of work, but that makes it all worth it.
What would you say has been the toughest business challenge you’ve faced so far?
Right now it’s just finding the right people to work here. That’s my toughest challenge because it’s trickling down to the customers just not being happy and when they’re not happy, I’m not happy. It’s really hard to find the right people for your business; not just because they’re wrong or anything, but because they have to be a good fit.
It’s just really hard to find the right people that fit your style and fit your restaurant. Over here, we expect perfection, and we want everything to come out perfect – such as all the ingredients and recipes, and you know when people can’t live up to that, it’s hard. It really is hard. So, we’re getting there one step at a time, and it’s improving every single day.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a fellow business owner?
It was actually multiple people who said this – a lot of people told me in the beginning (even my father), the first year is going to be very hard because you’re going through turnover and you’re trying to find the right people when you don’t know who’s working for you and who you can trust.
It’s getting all the recipes correct and learning the whole business itself and just taking the good with the bad. These people expect to come out and have a great time, and if anything bad happens, it’s really hard. But you know, all you can do is put your head down and keep working and fix the problems that come up and keep going from there.
Now that you’ve been in the restaurant game for a little bit, what piece of advice would you share with aspiring business owners?
Probably the same thing – it’s going to be tough in the beginning. Keep going until you find the right people, and once you find the right people just hold onto them. Don’t let them go – reward them and make them happy because they’re going to make you happy.
What role does money play in your business?
Well, it keeps my business alive.
But right now, it’s not even about the money – I mean, it always is – but I make sure all of my bills are paid off, so I can continue and keep doing it. But if the customers are not happy, the money’s not going to be there.
So, you can’t really worry too much about the money, you have to make sure that everything is in order, and you’re not overspending or wasting food. But, you can’t really focus on that too much either – you have to focus on the product or service that you’re putting out and making sure the customers are happy, and then the money’s going to follow.
If you start worrying about money too much, and not putting your attention on the customers and all your energy into that, you’re going to lose anyway.
Please finish this sentence: “For me, growth is….”
Getting better. It means improving every single day – if you’re continuing to improve, and everyone’s becoming happier, and all the problems that are coming up are being fixed, that’s growth. That’s how you’re getting bigger.
And when everything is perfect, then you move onto the next stage. For instance, if you want to expand or open a second restaurant; you do the same things that you did at the first, and you just keep going from there. But, it all starts with addressing one problem at a time and just taking one thing at a time until you get there.
You know, you’re going to have angry people along the way, people are going to be upset, people are going to write reviews about you – but you have to keep going. You have to keep doing it, you have to keep going through until you fix it all – and I do want to fix it all. That’s what I’m working towards. We’ll get there one day.
If you had $10,000 to better your business, right now, what would you do with it?
It’s not enough to do the big changes that I want, but I’d probably put it into the stuff that people don’t see. That includes the roof, the pipes, make sure all the machines are working properly – and better the kitchen. Buy a piece of equipment, or make something better – fix a few things at a time. That’s probably what I would use it on – you just want your employees to work in a great environment and give them everything they need, and you also want to make sure the building’s not falling apart.
We put a lot of money into new air conditioning, new pipes, and everything – and we’re not finished. But we can’t afford it all in one shot, so we’re getting there.
Any final words?
To the locals, just be patient with us – we’re working toward all our problems. I learned that you can’t rush into making decisions on who’s going to work here, I need to actually take my time and know who’s coming in. And with doing that, I know we’re going to be fine in the long run.
I keep making mistakes on hiring, and it is killing my business. So, people are upset; drinks are not getting there quick enough, the food’s not getting out on time. I just need to get more organized, but I will – I’m working night and day. Ask anyone – they see me here 24/7, so I’m working every single day trying to fix all the problems, and we will soon.
We’re getting there one step at a time.