The Tira Factor
Nine out of 10 restaurants close their doors within the first three years. Scary statistics. So why would someone choose to go into this business? “Because you have a passion for food and believe you can be in the small percentage that succeeds.” shares Julia Hanna, owner of Julia’s Ristorante.
Not only has Julia been in the restaurant business for over twenty-three years, she’s owned and operated three successful restaurants in that time. So what’s her secret to success?
Julia believes it is the “tira factor.” Tira is the Italian word for pull, she explains. “It’s intangible. It’s the draw that pulls people through your door. It’s the relationship and the emotional connection you create with your customers, your guests and your staff.” And it’s the piece that every successful small business has and large corporations spend millions trying to create it, she observes.
She opened her first restaurant in 1983. “I was 26 years old and had $328 in the bank. I had been the manager at the hottest restaurant in Toronto – celebrities walked through our doors daily – it was a very “chi chi” place.” she shares.
“But along the way the owner forgot it was about the guests, not him. I never felt he connected with everyone, only those he thought were worthy. I wanted a place where everyone who walked through the doors knew they mattered – a place I would feel at home.”
It was that feeling of home, that led to one of Julia’s greatest successes. One night, a couple who had just finished their meal and were leaving the restaurant asked if she would consider hosting the Juno Party.
“I looked at this gentleman and his wife who sat at our best table on a Friday night and had two cranberry juices, a bowl of pasta and a pizza. He was wearing a fish t-shirt, and said he was the President of Sony. “
I just couldn’t believe our good luck – it was the server who treated them as if they had ordered the finest bottle of wine and a chef who made the pizza that reminded them of Italy. They were made to feel welcome and they wanted 150 people – many of Canada’s finest recording artists to have the same experience.
They held the Juno Party three years in a row until it moved to Halifax. But Julia is pragmatic about the change. “That’s what business is – opportunities gained and opportunities lost. If we had not had the Tira factor that night, we would have never known what we would have lost.”
But it hasn’t all been smooth-sailing for the restaurant owner. After four years of her secondd restaurant running successfully Julia had the opportunity to expand and she took over additional space and opened a take-home food shop.
“Customers loved the reasonably priced good food to eat in or take out. However, I ignored one very important rule of business – location, location, location.” she confessed. “ Customers needed to be able to get in, pick up their food, and get out quickly. Anyone tried doing that in a busy, downtown core?” she asks.
She learned much from that experience and has come to recognize that failure is a part of doing business and we learn from our mistakes. She later turned the shop into a cooking school and started their Corporate Team Building program which she continues today.
When asked how she measured success in business, she was quick to respond that it isn’t just about the money. “I’m not naïve. If it isn’t a monetary success, you won’t be doing it for long.” To me, it’s about your quality of life.”
“It’s about the incredible cast of characters you work with. It’s about the people you meet – not just the celebrities. It’s about the young girl with the purple hair that worked with us when no one else would hire her, and who comes to see you every year and is now a marine biologist in Hawaii.”
“It’s the joy you feel when a young man you know gets out of hospital and the first place he wants to go is to your restaurant and have a bowl of Fettucine Alfredo. It’s watching his mother’s face light up watching her son eat.”
That for Julia is when being in business is really sweet.
The small business world is more competitive today than ever before. It means you have to enter better and stronger. It means you must do your homework. It means you pick everyone’s brain – lawyers, accountants, friends. It’s like pieces of a puzzle and the pieces have to fit.
When you have strong relationships with your customers, they will come back and tell their friends about your service.
The most effective way to grow your business is to focus on servicing your existing customers better.
Take care for your staff, as they are your front line ambassadors.
Recognize that fear of failure and fear of change are an inevitable fact of life. Learn from these experiences. Try to see challenges as opportunities for growth and change.
If your business is making money but at the cost of your family, friends and your health, that is too big an investment for any business.
Give back to the community. Share the abundance. It comes back to you in many ways.
Julia Hanna is the owner of Julia’s Ristorante in Oakville, Ontario. She can be reached at email@example.com or check her website at www.juliasristorante.com