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Entrepreneur Paper Interview

Panino Restaurant The entrepreneur that I interviewed was Lydia Patterson. In 1989, Lydia and her husband, Lou, decided to start planning to open up a new Italian restaurant in Virginia. The restaurant industry, especially in the Washington DC area is very competitive. It is highly competitive with respect to price, value and promotions, service, location, and food quality. There are a substantial number of restaurant operations that compete for customer traffic, some of which have significantly greater resources to aggressively market to consumers, which could result in losing market share.

Consumers are highly focused on value and if other restaurants are able to promote and deliver a higher degree of value, guest traffic levels may suffer, impacting revenues. When Lou and Lydia decided to take the risk and enter the restaurant industry, they knew that they would be taking the previously stated risks. To conduct my research, I went to the current restaurants that the Patterson family opened, met with the owner whom in which I interviewed with, spoke with a customer, and researched opening a restaurant business.

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I also looked into why certain restaurant businesses fail. The remainder of the report discusses the opportunities that Lydia saw before opening the restaurants as well as her influences, the steps that she took in order to start the business as well as the set backs that occurred throughout the way. Lydia knew that she had to hire a staff in order to help her succeed in achieving her dreams of opening her own business; this will also be discussed later on in the report. In order for a business to grow, an entrepreneur needs to have future plans and a growth strategy.

Lydia did all of this throughout her current venture and she is continuously trying to improve her business. Lydia met her husband, Lou, at the Culinary Institute of America. Both husband and wife knew how to cook very well and always dreamed of opening up a restaurant together. Lou wanted to work in the kitchen as head chef and Lydia wanted to manage the restaurant as well as work in the dining room. The in 1990, the couple moved from New York to Virginia to make their vision come true. They saw opportunity in the up and coming Northern Virginia area.

Many businesses were starting up and the area was becoming very popular. Most towns and cities were becoming very upscale, which was the clientele that they wanted to appeal to. Lydia was working for the Hyatt Hotel as the dining room manager and was in charge of public relations. Her outgoing and upbeat personality was very appealing to people and she knew the business very well. Lydia stated that one day, her and Lou were driving past the town of Maynardville, about 30 minutes from their home. They saw a quaint little building available for sale on one of the main shopping streets.

The couple knew that the area was growing fast and that they had the chance to buy the property for a great and affordable price. Both Lou and Lydia knew that the opportunities were great and they felt as though they should pursue starting the business. When first finding the property in which they wanted to open their restaurant in November of 1990, Lydia knew that she needed to make a formal plan before taking further action. She met with a financial advisor to discuss how much money the whole process would take and how much money opening the business would actually cost.

They also determined how long it would take to break even and start making money based on projected earnings per year. Later that month, she also met with an architect to discuss planning the inside of the restaurant. Luckily, not much work needed to be done to the inside other than building a few booths for people to sit and building a bar area and kitchen. These costs were included while planning with the financial advisor. Lydia and Lou were prepared to spend this money and felt as though this was a smart idea.

In January of 1991, Lou and Lydia purchased the building and started the process in order to turn it into the restaurant of their dreams. The actual building of the inside of the restaurant took place first. This took approximately two months to complete and in the meantime, Lydia and Lou were planning menus, marketing plans, and thinking about how they wanted to conduct their business. This included the types of benefits they wanted to give their employees, how many people they wanted to hire, how they wanted to run their business, what foods would be served, and which types of people they wanted to appeal to.

In March 1991, the building of the restaurant was completed and Lydia finally was able to design the inside of the restaurant and decorate according to her personal taste. She gave the restaurant a simple, Italian-style feel that would appeal to the area that the restaurant was located in. Paintings by her brother-in-law would hang on every wall along with having hand-painted antiques throughout the restaurant. The set-up of the restaurant took about a month. In late April of 1991, Lydia and Lou decided to take the planning process to the next level and decided to start executing some of their plans.

This is when some of the setbacks started to take place. When starting this new business venture, technology wasn’t popular yet and they needed to market their new restaurant to the clients that they wanted to appeal to. They weren’t to see how to go about doing this. Their menu would be moderately priced and there were many surrounding businesses close by. They thought that it would be a common place for people to come for dinner after work and thought that they would hang signs for the grand opening in some of the office buildings.

They soon realized that this would not be enough and they decided to put ads in the local papers and wanted to have an event prior the grand opening. The event would be held in a nearby park where they would serve some of the food that they would be cooking at the restaurant. Lou’s cooking skills were phenomenal and he hoped that this would draw people to the restaurant. At the end of April when the event was being held, only 4 people showed up at the park. They knew that it was a failure and this only caused upset for Lou and Lydia.

They hoped that they would have greater success once the restaurant was actually opened. Prior to the restaurant opening, they knew they needed a name for the soon-to-be restaurant. They decided to call it “Panino”, meaning “Little Bread” in Italian. Both Lou and Lydia had a strong Italian influence growing up and agreed upon the name easily. In May of 1991, the couple was in search for their new Panino team. Throughout their venture, they gained a small staff. Their Financial Advisor soon became their company Accountant and a relative of theirs, Angelo, became the assistant chef.

They placed ads in the newspaper for an experienced wait staff. They hired two people through the newspaper after interviews and a training process. Lou had previously worked at a restaurant in Washington DC, Tiberio’s. He called some of the people that he used to work with and two of his coworkers decided to join his venture as well. This small yet semi-experienced team seemed very strong and they knew that they were all very capable of succeeding in this new restaurant.

With Lou’s delicious and well-prepared food in the kitchen, Lydia’s planning and organizing abilities, and the talented and friendly wait staff, they were quickly on the way to opening Panino. In June 1991, Panino opened and was a complete success. Each day, more and more people came into the restaurant once the word got out that the food was unbelievable. Each customer had such a great experience while dining there and the clientele quickly grew. Each night, the restaurant was packed and the Patterson’s were ecstatic with the positive results.

As Panino continually grows to this day, Lydia knew that she needed to “upgrade” her restaurant. She knew that technology would make her business more efficient. She began using online banking, computer systems to track orders at the register, and another system to send orders to the kitchen. This made the restaurant very proficient and she was happy with the quick progress. Panino was one of the few restaurants that lasted throughout the restaurant; this was due to the hard work and determination of the Panino team. They knew how to make their customers happy and the qualities of a good restaurant.

She also wants to start holding events such as wine tastings and big dinners for publicity. One event that she would like to hold in particular is an Italian Truffle dinner. She would have a truffle imported from Italy and would serve it over various dishes that Lou would cook. Although this would be expensive, she feels as though enough customers would be interested in attending. Lydia plans to open a new restaurant in the near future. Her plans are to use the same tactics she used to open Panino, but plans to change the location to the ritzy are of Alexandria, VA.

She wants to open an upscale restaurant with the same foods as Panino, just increase the prices and open up a homemade Gelateria, similar to an ice creamery) along side of it. There are many schools nearby and she feels as though it would attract many kids after school. Her plan is to open this new restaurant within the next 3-4 years once she has a concrete business plan and is financially stable. Lydia was very successful throughout the entire venture and still is until this day. Her strong work ethic and upbeat personality is very appealing to customers. Some of her very first customers still eat at the restaurant today.

She has formed friendships with many people there and the food is of high quality. Many people who appreciate food and true Italian cuisine come to Panino often because they know how great of a restaurant it is. Although there were obstacles along the way, Lou and Lydia always found ways around them and stayed determined. They were constantly coming up with new ideas on how to attract more customers and stay strong throughout the recession. Whether that was by lowering prices due to the economy or sending out coupons, they remained busy through the tough time.

The growth strategy for the venture was to keep clientele, even if they were not always gaining more people. As long as the same people were coming back, they would continue to make money. The success of Panino is also due to it being a family operated business. Instead of going to an Outback or Applebee’s, customers liked and appreciated the small business feel and wanted to support the happy couple. To this day, Panino’s success continues to grow due to Lydia’s big heart and Lou’s strong will to keep his company running strong.


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