Tips for Successfully Running A Restaurant

John Maher:  Hi. I am John Maher. Today I am here with Steve Woodman, co‑CEO of Woodman’s of Essex in Essex on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Today we are talking about tips for successfully running a restaurant. Welcome, Steve.

Steve Woodman:  Hi, John. Glad to be here.

John:  So, Steve, what are some of the top tips for successfully running a restaurant?

Steve:  Well, you have your location, location, location. You have you product, what your theme is, whatever you are going to be serving, and your service that you are going to provide for your customer.

John:  Let’s talk about each one of those a little bit. As you said, it’s almost a cliche to say, “Location, location, location is the most important thing.” How important is that and what are some of the issues maybe that you deal with in terms of your location that you have, with Woodman’s of Essex, your restaurant?

Steve:  In terms of location, if you are going to be starting a restaurant, it’s something new. You have a big investment and you want to make sure that that investment is going to pay off.

If you get a place that is out of the way, hard for people to get to, it may take a while for you to get a clientele coming there. That could prevent you from being successful and it’s hurting you because you do not have the business right away to start paying back.

Having a good location where there’s people walking by and they are there all the time is of course a great thing for a new restaurant starting.

When it comes to us, we’ve been in business a hundred years and so, we’ve there a long time. Essex is a very small town out of the way. So why do people come to Essex?

Well, we do we have — I can’t count them right now off the top of my head — but why do we have 8, 10, 12 restaurants in a small town that only has about 3,000 people? Because the community has grown around restaurants for a long time. Like I said, we’ve been there a hundred years.

John:  And we should say that Woodman’s of Essex is on the North Shore of Massachusetts on Cape Ann. So there’s…Gloucester is right near by, and then Essex and Ipswich. There are a lot of nice communities on the North Shore Of Massachusetts — that is a real draw for people to come to from all over the place. Not just Massachusetts but from all over New England and all over the country.

Steve:  That’s right. We’re right on the Essex river. So, it’s a great place for restaurants to have, especially seafood restaurants, if you want to specialize in seafood.

During the summer of course, we are really busy. We have beaches right in Gloucester. You have Wingaersheek Beach and Good Harbor Beach and in Ipswich you have Crane’s Beach.

And we’re right in the middle of Crane’s Beach and Wingaersheek Beach. So if people are coming in for a nice day at the beach, we are right close‑by.

John:  They basically have to go past your restaurant to get between those two different places.

Steve:  Exactly. They do, if they are going from one to the other. The Essex River splits Wingaersheek Beach and Crane’s Beach. That’s where all the clams are dug, right inside that estuary down the Essex River, inside that little Essex Bay.

So we have the beaches. That is our location — it is the beaches. Being there a hundred years, we are almost a destination in itself. We have generations of families coming year after year, coming to the restaurant. It is part of their heritage and it’s part of our tradition and their tradition together.

John:  How does that work for you then in the spring, fall, maybe the winter? Certainly you get these huge crowds during the summer, of people lined up outside of the door to get in, and then Labor Day rolls around and now it’s the fall. Does it just completely dry up? You still have quite a number of people coming to the restaurant, I imagine, in the fall.

Steve:  Actually, it dries up pretty quick because in the fall everyone’s going back to school. Even though there’s summer left in September, they think Labor Day is the end of summer and it gets out of their mind.

You get your die‑hards and so forth that want to go boating and they are down there and so forth. But for the majority of people that are enjoying their summer time, Labor Day that’s it. They go back to work, the kids go back to school, they start getting in their routines and they don’t come to Essex as often.

John:  And again, by virtue of it being a destination for people to go to on vacation, you get a lot of people going on vacations in the summer, especially to the beach. And then after that, as you said, people are back in school, they are busy, and they may be not taking as many vacations at that time.

You get probably more of the local clientele? Do you see more of the local people coming in the fall and the winter?

Steve:  Exactly. It’s more local clientele. We have a great gluten free menu where you can actually have fried seafood that is gluten free. So people that have celiac disease, they’ll drive for a couple of hours to come here and have some seafood.

So that’s a destination for them. They will drive in and come and get that, because they can’t get it anywhere else, they say.

John:  Interesting. Talking about that, what about the product? You said that that’s another important thing when it comes to successfully running a restaurant, is having good products.

You just talked about having a gluten free menu. That’s a big draw for people. There are a lot of people who are eating gluten free now. What are some other things that are important in terms of having good product?

Steve:  Well, starting with the best product that you can. When you are buying for us, seafood or shell fish, you want to buy the best out there. You do not want it to be over‑washed or soaked in water or anything like that aspect of it.

You want to know where it is coming from. You want to make sure it is fresh. I make sure that everything that I buy, whether it is clams or fish, that it is either shucked or cut to my specifications, the way I like to buy it and the way I want to serve it. I want to serve the best.

John:  So then that takes us to the next one, which was service. What does service mean to you and to your customers?

Steve:  Well, we are actually a self‑serve restaurant where you come and place your order at a cashier and you go around to another window and you pick up. So we really don’t have the service that most people think.

John:  In terms of waiters and waitresses?

Steve:  In terms of waiters and waitresses and that type of stuff. But the idea coming in and being greeted with a smile, that people are pleasant to you, they are helpful to you. If you are not familiar, a lot of people don’t know how to eat a steamed clam.

So our employees, a brother or a sister or someone in the family — they hear that, they go and talk to them about it. They show them how it is done, and just interactive with your guests. They enjoy that and they appreciate it.

John:  That keeps them coming back time and time again.

Steve:  That’s right.

John:  Your business is a family‑run business. It’s been in your family for a hundred years now. The business was started by your grandfather, is that right?

Steve:  That’s right. My grandfather.

John:  As a family business, what are some of the pros and cons of having so many family members who work at the restaurant, both in season and out of season. How many family members do work at Woodman’s? Do you know?

Steve:  This summer we had 43 family members that that got a paycheck.

John:  From several different generations, too.

Steve:  That’s right. I’m third generation. We have a fifth generation also working in the business, so we have third, fourth and fifth working in the business.

John:  What are some of the pros and cons of having the family be so involved in the business? Is it all good. Is it all bad? Is there a mix there?

Steve:  Well, if you go some of these family business seminars or groups that get together that help family businesses — because it is a unique business with its own dynamic with family — they have these groups that you can go to, discuss things and work things out.

If you talk to the majority the family businesses that are there, they think it’s a curse. They have a hard time dealing and working with each other.

John:  Because I imagine it is hard to separate the love that you have for your family members and then maybe having to give them some direction, or some orders. Maybe I’m your boss and I have to tell you what to do and that’s difficult, because I am also your family member and I love you and I care about you. But that must create a hard dynamic sometimes.

Steve:  It can, but it doesn’t have to. You basically have your priorities and when you talk about family business, we take that and look at that and say, “Yes, that’s what it is.” It is a family, and it is a business. But the family is first.

Sometimes, yes, there are decisions there to be made for business reasons and sometimes these decisions have to be made for family reasons.

But you work them out, and if you work it out with communication and straight-forwardness and love and say, “This is the way it need to go,” it can work and it can work fine. There is no better loyalty than anyone working for you than your family.

John:  Well, I really hope that you guys continue on for another hundred years and that you end up with tenth generation Woodman’s working at Woodman’s of Essex someday.

Steve:  Thank you, John.

John:  Thanks again for speaking with me today, Steve. I appreciate that.

Steve:  My pleasure.

John:  For more information, you can visit the Woodman’s website at or call 978 768 6451.

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