How long did it take you to figure out the Umami burger recipe?
About five minutes. I was trying to start a business around umami, a savory flavor that's found in every country's cuisine. Basically, I Googled the foods highest in umami and took out my cast-iron pan and improvised a recipe with some ground beef. The concept of the restaurant was also quick. I just wanted to make Umami Burger gourmet, an adult place that had waiters and served alcohol.
How does your life change when you go from running one location to 15 of them?
I found out pretty quickly I don't have any interest in operating restaurants. Customers would suggest new burger ideas, and instead of being professional and listening, I'd just say, "No, that's stupid." We had people who came in and wanted to fight me. I remember this one guy with a newborn strapped to his chest, wanting to start a fistfight, all because I didn't like his ideas.
Did you change how you managed your staff?
I learned that the manager you hire at restaurant number two is not going to be the manager who oversees five locations. I had one guy who was great, but he had absolutely no systems or organization. One day, there was a rat, and he volunteered to sleep in the restaurant with a BB gun to shoot it. How's that going to scale?
How did you handle paying for the expansion?
Today, most people have this dot-com mentality--they're worrying about how to raise money before they have a business. To me, that's completely backward. Start the business by any means possible, in your garage, the way Steve Jobs did, for example. When there are people who are interested in buying your product, then raise money, but only from people who aren't making business decisions for your company. Once you get to a certain scale--for Umami Burger, it was after five stores, when we had $11 million in sales--you can go ahead and make a real deal with an investor that allows you to retain some control and some ownership of the brand.