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What it takes to open & run a successful restaurant

Posted by Chad O'Connor  November 5, 2012 11:00 AM

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Have you ever thought about opening your own restaurant and want to know what is involved? Perhaps you are a foodie and are curious to know what goes on behind the scenes. I interviewed Paul Turano, Chef/Owner of Tryst, to learn the real deal!

How did you get Tryst started?
I took a major risk opening Tryst. I had owned a 30-seat restaurant at the time and leveraged the equity from my condo, lines of credit, and personal loans with interest to fund it. I put all the money I had into the restaurant and lived very modestly until I was able to pay off all my debt.

One thing that was in my favor was that I had excellent credit and understood the importance of paying vendors and staff on time.

How did you come up with the name of your restaurant -- Tryst? Your website references the definition as being "1. An agreement to meet at a certain time or place; 2. A meeting or meeting place that has been agreed upon; 3. To us, a love affair with food and wine."
My friend who had worked for me part time at my other restaurant also owned an advertising agency came up with the name. I thought it was a perfect fit for what we were trying to do.

Why did you choose Arlington as a location?
Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington is a great location -- it's easily accessible and surrounded by affluent towns such as Winchester, Lexington, and Belmont, and there is parking on the street and in a nearby lot.

What type of food and drinks do you serve?
Contemporary American cuisine -- I like to keep the menu approachable, and it changes frequently. Offerings range from salads with chicken or salmon to fish tacos, house made pasta, striped bass, and steak tips. Fresh products from local sources are always used to the extent possible, and everything is made from scratch. We also serve wine, cocktails, and dessert and have a kids menu.

How do you know how much food to purchase for a given day or week?
It really is trial and error. You run out of something one week, you order more of it the next. If you go overboard, you have waste. After 2 years, you can start to look at trends in ordering.

What is it like to own a restaurant?
It is very difficult and there are different ways to do it. 1) You can open a restaurant on your own as a sole proprietor; or 2) you can open a restaurant with partners. Both can be rewarding. Option number two is the least risky way to do it, as there is often salary and benefits up front, and you don't have to raise as much capital on your own. I chose to do it on my own, and it was a very stressful option.

What challenges are involved in starting and running a restaurant?


Tryst Restaurant's dining room

Owning a restaurant is a 24-hour a day job. You have to always be available in case issues arise -- and they do. So many things can go wrong from the dishwasher breaking to food not being cooked properly, and there are so many decisions to make, such as which computer system or dishware you should purchase and hiring the right staff. It is key to find the right people, and there's lots of training involved.

There are also financial challenges -- there are many things in addition to food and staff that you have to pay for such as rent, chemicals, and dumpster fees, which all really add up. Overall, it is very challenging opening a new restaurant, and the first year is a battle. It took me 5 years to get the restaurant running smoothly, get return on investment, and be able to breathe. The debt was huge, and any money that came in went towards paying down the debt.

I have heard that getting a liquor license is challenging, was it for you?
It was a very difficult and expensive process. In Arlington, if you purchase a restaurant from a previous owner, the liquor license is not transferred. Once you get one, you don’t own the liquor license either like in some other locations, so there’s no cash value.

How do you stay current and successful in the restaurant business?
I always look to improve things and put myself in the customers' shoes. The kitchen team at Tryst constantly challenges each other to come up with a better presentation design, improve existing recipes, and develop new dishes. I am always trying to come up with the next cool item. I have also re-designed and renovated the restaurant several times since it first opened. Overall, I have to stay involved and keep a tight, tight eye on everything.

One may think opening and running a restaurant could be a very exciting thing, but there is clearly a huge amount of time, effort, and money involved. Therefore, be realistic and be prepared before engaging in an entrepreneurial venture such as opening a restaurant. Of course, the rewards can be great if you do it right!

Ellen Keiley is President of the MBA Women International Boston Chapter Board of Directors and is a Boston World Partnerships Connector. She can be contacted at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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