After spending so many years building my business, Brooklyn Taco Co., it became difficult for me to recall the difficulties I had faced when I was catering for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Sadly, all my achievements were in vain, and the feeling of success had slowly started to fade away when Brooklyn Taco closed down in February 2015.
Immediately, I found myself going down a tunnel of self-doubt and misery as I could not help but obsess over the whys and the what-ifs. After five years in the food business, I have learnt some important lessons. Sadly, I learnt those lessons a little too late. Perhaps if I had learnt these lessons a little earlier, Brooklyn Taco could have grown beyond a local business. Here’s what I have learnt:
1. Swallow Your Pride
My pride kept me from sharing ownership of Brooklyn Taco with an outside investor. Right at the start, Brooklyn Taco received an offer of $400,000 for 80%. During that time, I couldn’t help but think that I was selling off everything my partner and I had built. Today, Brooklyn Taco is known as a dormant brand. If you would ask me whether I would like to own 10% of a successful business or half ownership of a failed business, I would have gladly chosen the former. I have realized giving up equity comes with its own risks, but you need to look at the bigger picture. Sometimes keeping your company entirely in your own hands is not the best decision.
2. Starting Too Small May Not Be the Best Idea
Starting with a $30,000 investment seemed a rational decision. Our plan was that the company would ultimately grow and we would use our earnings to fund the company. We thought our small space would give us a chance to grow, but unfortunately it was too late when we realized we lacked sufficient cooking capacity and seating that would help us generate enough profits for expansion. Though we had consistent business, we lacked the opportunity to grow or increase production capacity. This doomed us from the beginning.
3. Choose Your Location Carefully
Like everybody else, we came to the conclusion that New York City would be the best place to start our business. The city offers a high volume of people, tons of tourist traffic, and access to the biggest press outlets. We were sure our new food concept would be a success there. Sadly, what we didn’t realize is that rents in NYC would be sky-high and so is the level of competition from leading food businesses, which would hinder our growth. Starbucks too found it difficult to first operate in NYC, having to change its location to a more quiet and efficient area.
Rent was not only the hurdle that hindered our prosperity. Soon enough, hiring became a problem too. In time, we learnt that opening a business in a major metropolitan area actually led us to our doom. Had we operated from a small town, we could have been earning and saving up much more money.
4. Explore New Ways to Boost Your Bottom-line
When we first started Brooklyn Taco, we were keen on our food concept; hence Brooklyn Taco did not have a beer, wine, or liquor license. How bad could that have been? It was not until later that we realized having alcohol could have actually significantly increased our profits. The truth is that alcohol is treated as a staple in most food businesses and not having a license to sell significantly decreased our profit margin. As a business owner, we then learned the importance of having a strong base.
5. On Building a Business That Needs You to Grow But Can Still Run Without You
It was at the beginning of June 2015 that Brooklyn Taco made a huge breakthrough when we were accepted into Broadway Bites, a two-month outdoor summer market located in Herald Square. Even though the rent was enormously high, we thought it was a great opportunity to test our tacos in the Midtown demographic. With two 96-hour workweeks, I learnt my lesson the hard way. My shoulder muscles had become completely paralyzed and surgery was the only option left. Brooklyn Taco was then left to function without me. Sadly, without me, the company seemed to have collapsed. It took me a long time to realize I should have built a company strong enough to survive without me.
6. On Starting a Business with Your Significant Other
Let me tell you straight out that a fight at home will carry into your business. Eventually, when my girlfriend and I separated, we were still forced to work with each other, and it was toxic. Neither of us was keen on running the business on our own and unfortunately by then, Brooklyn Taco had no investors willing to take over. That was the end of Brooklyn Taco.
Despite all the challenges I faced, I do not regret my journey. Brooklyn Taco gave me the chance to evolve. I started off as a gawky amateur cook who knew little about running a business. I have certainly learnt a lot along the way and perhaps that in itself is the beauty of making mistakes.