Brian Malarkey | Crain's Los Angeles

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

Brian Malarkey


Brian Malarkey has created 15 restaurants across the U.S., including eateries in Southern California, Las Vegas and Austin, Texas. His newest concept in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood, Herb & Wood, has been lauded by the likes of Zagat and USA Today. Currently a judge on Food Network’s “Guy’s Grocery Games,” Malarkey has also appeared on “Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off,” “Chopped All-Stars” and “Cutthroat Kitchen.”

The Mistake:

When I opened my first restaurant, Searsucker, in San Diego to great fanfare and excitement seven years ago, I quickly became full of myself and got very excited about opening more restaurants. Over the course of three years, I opened five different concepts.

As San Diego knows, I closed three out of the five — Gingham, Gabardine and Burlap. I actually reconceived one and closed down the other two. They came up short for different reasons.

Burlap became too much of a nightclub; people were spending more time drinking and partying than actually enjoying the restaurant. As a result, we were really busy on Friday and Saturday, but super slow the rest of the week.

Gingham was in the up-and-coming neighborhood of La Mesa, and I think we were there too early, too soon. Now, that community is very active and doing great with amazing restaurants.

Gabardine was in a pretty quiet town, and while it never really lost money, it never made money. For my style, it was just too small to survive.

I spent too much time thinking about tomorrow, and not enough about today and yesterday.

The Lesson:

I didn’t do my due diligence on each project to make sure they would be long-term successes. I think all three of those restaurants were amazing concepts that would have survived if I had been slower to hire and quicker to fire, and spent more time and energy at each location to make sure my vision was being met. I spent too much time thinking about tomorrow, and not enough about today and yesterday.

When I look back now, I should have researched each location and the surrounding communities. The person who later bought the location in La Mesa, for example, put a kids playground out on the patio — so that people could have a beer while their kids play and have fun — that I had designed for a bar. That means I didn’t understand that the community was mainly family-based, and not a fit for the downtown San Diego concept I had done before.

It’s also very important that you partner with people with whom you are very much in line and in sync. I learned that lesson while opening my new restaurant, Herb & Wood, with my partners Christopher Puffer and Shane McIntyre. We spent time doing things right, taking care of every single guest and every single dish night in and night out, and really building something that was very special. We didn’t rush it.

Restaurants are like little babies that never grow up: They need to be changed and fed every day, they need constant supervision and coddling, and they need love. If you don’t have the time, energy, or the right staff in place to do that, it will all eventually unravel and fail.

Brian Malarkey is on Twitter at @BrianMalarkey and some of his restaurants are @HerringboneEats, @searsucker and @SDGreenAcre.

Photo courtesy of Becca Batista.

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