Though he is only in his early 30's, Matt Levine had already made quite a name for himself. In that time, Levine went from working in nightclubs and bars throughout high school and college to starting his own clothing line to opening a number of successful restaurants and nightclubs around New York City. The latest addition to that portfolio, The Rowhouse Inn, is set to open in the coming months. Levine recently spoke with BusinessNewsDaily to discuss his many ventures, what others can learn from his journey and what businesses can learn from him about hiring the right people.
BusinessNewsDaily: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Matt Levine: Basketball was a big part of my youth. I think every young athlete always wants to go pro, but then you realize fast - that's not going to happen.
BND: What did your parents do for a living?
ML: My mother is a retired teacher, and my father is a clothing manufacturer.
BND: Can you talk a little about your businesses and how you got your start?
ML: I was always involved in the hospitality business, throughout high school and bartending in college. That sparked my interest in the restaurant and nightlife world. I dabbled in fashion for a little, started a clothing line called Steelo' right out of college. I traveled doing that for four years, but was directed back to nightlife when I found this small bar and lounge on Eldridge Street for sale. I later named that The Eldridge and ran it from 2008 until I sold it in late 2011. I grew out of the intimate space and met my business partner, Michael Shah. He had purchased a commercial property at 133 Essex Street, and we partnered up to build and create Sons of Essex and then most recently we partnered up on creating Cocktail Bodega, #HOOKxNAIL and the soon to open The Rowhouse. We also just formed indieFORK, a full service food and beverage and operations management company.
BND: What's the best part of owning your own business?
ML: Seeing my and my business' partner's shared vision come to life through the hard work of our team. It's gratifying to see guests enjoying their meals and celebrating special occasions in the atmosphere and environment your mind created, and your team executed.
BND: What's the biggest mistake you've made as an entrepreneur?
ML: You can never let your guard down in the hospitality business. The quality of product and services always need on point since it's always someone's first experience. Now with the boom of social media, everyone has a platform and voice, every guest has a review and you need to make sure you're always on your A game! Truly you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.
BND: What was your main motivation in starting this business?
ML: Creating, accomplishing, and delivering results are my main motivation daily. I always say "think outside the circle, not the box," I am motivated by making a creative impact in the hospitality and restaurant field, from not only a marketing perspective - but in detailed and precise operations as well. I guess I call it 'making a difference, by doing it different.'
BND: What previous experiences helped you in that journey?
ML: Every encounter and experience molds you to be the individual you are, from cutting limes in high school to going store to store with my clothing line. Those things make you appreciate and value the journey. You can relate to not only your guests requests being a consumer, but also to your staff concerns - by once being in their shoes.
BND: What was the biggest challenge you encountered and how did you overcome it?
ML: As you grow, it's important to build the team around you and it's hard to find team members that share the same work ethic and goals. Yes, a lot of people are looking for work, but one of my biggest challenges starting up was finding the right management team and staff to fit the brand and concept. I like to hire ambition and creative enthusiasm, it's not what you've accomplished yesterday, it's what you want to accomplish tomorrow. Don't hire to fill job descriptions and voids, hire added value.
BND: What is the best bit of advice you have for other entrepreneurs?
ML: I think it's important to stay true to your mission statement, don't be motivated by cents and dollars (it should make sense for the future, not cents for you right now). Be motivated by staying true to the brand you set to create and that will eventually lead to rewards.
Also, it's the attention to details which separates one operation to another when building a brand and a business. It's important to create the company culture and brand identity in the beginning stages, from there, once the foundation is built and strong, management can deliver a shared vision.