Anthony Ackil | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Anthony Ackil

Background:  

CEO Anthony Ackil started restaurant chain b.good with his childhood best friend and business partner, Jon Olinto, in 2004. The Boston-based purveyors of "real food, fast" now have more than three dozen stores across the Northeast, as well as in Canada and Switzerland.

The Mistake:

One of the big mistakes we made is, we tried to be everything to everybody. When we started we were very worried about being able to get sales, so we sold everything you can imagine – turkey dinners, steak dinners, steak sandwiches, pita chips and dip, and we even talked at one point about selling pizza. We were just too worried about being able to make sales with a tight menu.

It was probably two months in and we literally couldn't open the restaurant. So come 11 o'clock we would have 15 things to do in terms of prep. The chef and I were about to kill each other. We were jumping all over each other, struggling so hard just to get the restaurant open. We were cooking whole turkeys in an oven every morning and we were cooking steak by the hundreds of pounds every day, and it just became too much. I think we realized pretty early on that if we were going to not kill each other and be able to actually open the restaurant, we had to pare back.

Once we got going, we pared back the menu within the first year by 50 percent. Literally, we took half the items off the menu. And what that did is, we started doing a better job with what we did sell. Profits went up, sales went up, things got so much better. I think that was one of the biggest mistakes we made when we started out, is we didn't trust our concept. We tried to be everything to everybody, and we served a menu that was so big it was almost impossible to really run the restaurant.

Try everything, but do it in a way that allows you to keep the concept tight.

The Lesson:

Experimenting is one of the most important things you can do. You have to take risks, but at the same time, they have to be calculated. You can't take risks that can't work. So you have to sort of know your business, you have to understand your operation, you have to understand your customer at some level.

We're constantly trying things, we're always trying to evolve, we're always trying new products, we're always testing things. But  first, we test it with the customer to make sure that it's going to sell. Then we work on it operationally, to make sure it can fit into our system, and then we roll it out. I think at the beginning we didn't have that process in place and we were just throwing everything we could at the customer. Over time we realized the way to do it is to figure out what you want to add slowly, figure out the process and systems to it and then sort of work your way through it.

I think the lesson is, trust your concept. When you open a new concept or a new business, trust your idea. Don't try to do more than the idea.

But once you open it, once you get working on this thing, try everything – but do it in a way that allows you to keep the concept tight, and keep the operations tight. Trying things is not the issue – you want to try everything you can – but trust the concept, trust yourself, trust the idea, and do that trying in a way that doesn't overextend the concept.

Follow b.good on Twitter at @b_good_.

Photo courtesy of b.good.

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