• Alist Nation

Restaurateur / Women Entrepreneur



Tell us a little about yourself and your childhood.

I was born in El Paso, Texas and grew up there

with and older brother and younger sister.

I honestly had a pretty great childhood there,

but was determined to leave Texas as soon

as possible so applied to a few colleges in

Colorado as well, and ended up going to

school in Boulder, CO.

Lauren Passero Brooks, owner of three San Diego restaurants,

The Haven Pizzeria, Del Sur Mexican Cantina and Kensington Cafe,

all owned by female business partners Lauren Passero Brooks and Kate Grimes.

When did you decide you wanted to start your own company?

I worked in marketing and advertising for a bit after college and eventually realized how much I missed the restaurant industry...the interactions, the relationships, the feel of the hustle and bustle. I got a job managing a cafe to learn as much as possible about that side of the industry. I had experience as a hostess and waitress in restaurants since I was 14, but wanted to know about running a restaurant. I realized how much I loved it, and soon set out to open one of my own.

When did you decide you wanted to start your own company?

I worked in marketing and advertising for a bit after college and eventually realized how much I missed the restaurant industry...the interactions, the relationships, the feel of the hustle and bustle. I got a job managing a cafe to learn as much as possible about that side of the industry. I had experience as a hostess and waitress in restaurants since I was 14, but wanted to know about running a restaurant. I realized how much I loved it, and soon set out to open one of my own.

Was there a specific moment when you knew this was what you wanted to do?

Ha! Actually, I remember sitting in my office at the advertising agency and watching the woman who came in to take care of the plants. I was so jealous of how she was always on the move, visiting different people and enjoying the variety of every day. I knew that I had to leave my job and go back to restaurants.

After you made the decisions, what steps did you take?

I quit that next day and went to visit a woman that I had met when I was waiting tables. She ran a restaurant down the street and we used to chat quite a bit. She and the owner offered me a job a few times, so I went to see if this was still a possibility. I remember acting like I was just going in for a coffee and hoping that I would run into her and I did! I told her what I was looking for and luckily they were expanding and needed someone. I worked there under her for about 6 months and then she ended up leaving so I took over her job. The owner was extremely hands off so I had to learn a lot on my own. I asked a lot of questions, read some books on management, took a couple of accounting classes to get caught up in area, and I really loved it! At this point I hired Kate (my current business partner) to work with me while I started looking for a place of my own. She was amazing! We worked really well together and while I obviously didn't know at the time that we would work together years later, she helped me a ton. I finally found a place and was able to purchase it. I could barely even pay myself, but she was still willing to come on her days off and help work with me so I could get a break.

How did you fund this project?

Actually got very, very lucky. The previous owners were selling to concentrate on coffee roasting and other retail products, and they wanted out. They were willing to carry a loan for me as long as I agreed to continue carrying some of their goods. It is pretty unheard of and I often thing about how fortunate I got.

What were the hardest hurdles?

They change all the time. Taking over a business that I wanted to completely change was difficult. Breaking bad habits of the staff, getting to know the customers and convincing them that I would do something good there.

What advise do you wish someone would have given you?

Just to hang in there. I bought the place in 2008, so the economy was in a bad state. People always seem shocked and concerned about my decision so always made me second guess myself. Except my family....and Kate.


www.kensingtoncafesd.com

Did you have a mentor?

I had worked at a restaurant in town for a few years when I first moved to San Diego and the woman that owned it ended up living right down the street from the cafe. She was so kind to me and super helpful answering all my questions. She really took the time to chat with me, show me some of the spreadsheets etc that she had made over the years. I will always be grateful for her.

At any point did you want to give up? So many times....

What made you keep going?

I made a decision early on not to think about really failing...and I didn't. Things got difficult, but I knew that I had to hang in there and I never thought that giving up was an option.

How long did it take to become profitable?

We managed to do it in the first year, but I was definitely now being paid well. It was before I had a family. I was able to pay my staff and my personal bills so I was happy.

What was the best thing you did to grow your business?

I constantly stressed customer service and became involved in the community. We opened a neighborhood cafe so I really spent time getting to know our customers (because I really enjoyed it), but I think it helped a lot.

Do you feel it was more difficult because you are a women?

Sometimes yes. Even now after we've been there for 10 years and have two more places, people will walk right past Kate and I towards whatever man in the room when they need something. We have a gentleman who has done maintenance for us for a long time and people always assume he is the decision maker. Now I just laugh...it gets me out of so many awful sales calls, but it is frustrating in principal.

Do you think social media is important?

Absolutely! Think it is a way to really brand yourself and hopefully expand your audience.


www.thehavenpizzeria.com

Was there any life lessons you learned along the way?

As cheesy as it sounds, to really follow what you’re passionate about and to love what you do. It makes such a difference what you will put into a business and in turn create if you are happy there.

What is the happiest memory from this journey?

I honesty have had so many. When we celebrate an anniversary, I always take a minute to reflect. We get so caught up in the day to day to that we don’t often take a step back and look at where we’ve come so far. It feels really good.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

Possibly another restaurant? Or just really fine tuning the ones we have so far. We have difference ideas weekly, so who knows!


www.Delsurmexicancantina.com


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