Many people associate Greeks with diners or restaurants, but my Greek parents had no connection to it at all. In fact, my parents encouraged me not to go into the restaurant business. But that didn't stick.
My first job was at a Burger King when I was 14 years old. At 16, I worked in pizzerias and family owned Italian restaurants. Later, while enrolled in college at Rutgers University, I was as a bartender.
Over the years, I've worked in nearly every role of the restaurant industry: delivery driver, bus boy, server, cashier, cook, manager and now owner.
I knew I wanted to open my own restaurant. However, as a graduate fresh out of college, I didn't have the investment or blueprint to make my dream a reality. With a burning passion for good food and topnotch customer service, coupled with a heart for entrepreneurship, I refused to let the roadblocks stop me. I knew there had to be a way.
Taking the risk
I decided to work at my favorite college restaurant, Hansel N' Griddle, for free for six months with the intention to buy it from the owners. Originally based in a small 500-square-foot space with a menu of about 20 items, I knew that Hansel N' Griddle had potential. After a tremendous amount of hard work, and the support of my parents, I purchased the original Hansel N' Griddle.
Using the customer base and local recognition that Hansel N' Griddle already had, I applied my own blueprint to the restaurant and grew the menu to over 70 made-to-order meals and moved into a larger storefront.
The first few years of ownership consisted of seven-day work weeks between a short staff of six: myself, my mother, a chef, and a rotation of three friends who were not in class at the time. Thanks to my experience in the restaurant industry, I was a jack of all trades at the beginning. I worked double shifts from the moment we opened at 10 a.m. to the moment we closed at 11 p.m., delivering food in the morning and working the cash register at night.
My mom worked the register during the day for free and my chef Delfino, who still works at Hansel today, worked from open to close every day of the week. I'm not sure how I would have done it without the time and effort of my incredible friends, family and staff.
Opportunities for growth
We've come a long way from those days. Now we have five restaurants, each owned by previous Hansel employees. Each franchise owner started working for me as a cashier or delivery driver at the original location. They worked all through college, eventually moving up to management positions. When they graduated, instead of moving on like most employees do, they chose to stay with the company; and each opened their own or purchased an existing location.
Any restaurant owner knows that growing is a challenge; but by finding dedicated partners and pursuing a unique target strategy, we have been able to lay the foundation for more growth. We are looking to expand beyond the Garden State and have further opened our franchise opportunity to help facilitate growth in the Northeast region, targeting university markets.
Aside from location, we have also grown Hansel's menu. Many restaurants focus on finding a niche, and serving only that niche. Hansel N' Griddle is different; we offer the classic recipes that everyone knows and loves. We have something for everyone and seek to serve the masses. In a way, that's our own niche.
Purchasing a restaurant at young age and starting with a staff of six was an incredible risk. Yet, I would not have chosen another career path or vision for Hansel N' Griddle. I'm glad I made the leap to pursue entrepreneurship and follow my passion.
Several Rutgers's alumni and current students work at Hansel N' Griddle; and it's a great opportunity for me to show college students different routes to success. If you believe in yourself, nothing can stop you. I encourage everyone to pursue their passion, whatever it may be, and see where it takes you.
About the author: Nick Komandis is the owner of Hansel N' Griddle, a New Jersey-based fast casual restaurant franchise.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.