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Advice on Opening a Restaurant from a Michelin-Starred Restaurateur

Advice on Opening a Restaurant from a Michelin-Starred Restaurateur

Food & People, Homepage Featured, Must-Read Features, Restaurant Road, Washington D.C.

It’s 2013, in the middle of one of the coldest winters on record in Washington D.C.

The city is asleep.

A young woman with dark hair sits in a frigid room. The space is bare. Piping snakes across the exposed walls.

She sits, her figure the very portrait of wakeful determination. The only movements she makes are to tighten blankets around the piping and occasionally reposition space heaters.

Aside from the occasional wheeze and groan of the pipes, her voice murmurs—I’m so royally fucked.

Rose Previte spent many bleak nights in 2013, taking deep breaths and employing visualization techniques to stem her fears. She had sold her engagement ring and added the money to the advance received by her husband’s book deal to establish the restaurant she envisioned.

photo of Rose Previte
Rose Previte | photo credit Jennifer Chase

She had borrowed money from every generous friend and family member. Her business partner also put his house on the line for a modest loan.

She was ignorant, terrified, and entirely determined.

Today, she’s the owner of two restaurants— Compass Rose and Maydan. Both have received national acclamation with Maydan having been named one of Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants in America in 2018 and receiving a Michelin Star in 2019.

Previte’s entire family has been involved in the food and beverage industry, with her Lebanese mother having run a catering operation out of their home and an Italian father who cooked at fairs and festivals part time from his regular 9 to 5 job as an attorney. Previte had pursued a career in Public Policy and had spent a few years traveling across Russia with her husband. When it came to restaurants, she consistently pushed the ‘later’ button until one day she determined to follow the path for which she was intended.

“It was a hard lease process. It was a hard license process. But I refused to give up. If you don’t believe in yourself, how is anyone else going to?”

And thus began one of the most rewarding conversations on entrepreneurship I’ve ever had.

Don’t Make Decisions Out of Fear. 

Previte makes one thing starkly clear—the fear will crush you. Your journey to overcome the fear is what rewards you with the power and confidence you need to succeed.

“You just have to believe,” she explains. “It’s all about faith and hard work.”

Rather than allowing the fear to sway you, harness it to drive you.

“The terror never goes away,” she confirms. “No matter how much success you have. So, you just have to close your eyes and jump. How terrible could it actually be?”

Previte is the living embodiment of the reminder that entrepreneurship—and restaurant ownership—is not for everyone. It’s devoid of structure and stability and tests the limits of your courage on an hourly basis.

“You can’t panic though,” she advises. “It’s a waste of time and energy. Entrepreneurship is terrifying every day, I can’t deny that. But you have to tell yourself that everything is fine.”

Even a moment’s worst-case failure might just be a turning point in your career. Consider it all part of a grand learning experience.

photo of Maydan
Maydan | photo credit Dixie D. Vereen/Vereen Photography)

You Don’t Know What You’re Made of Until You’re in It 

Despite the less-than-ideal financial and physical situation Previte found herself in, she always considered herself lucky to have the option to pursue her dream. It helped to maintain momentum.

Her daily reminder was, “Someone has done this before you and succeeded. So, I can be capable. I am capable.”

Don’t Succumb to Suffering.

Many entrepreneurs (or for that matter immigrants also) believe that suffering must be endured in order to deserve success. This is a fallacy.

The job of an entrepreneur and a restaurateur is challenging enough. Don’t expand the suffering just for the sake of earning the right to succeed.

“You’re fighting all these opinions and your own self-hate,” Previte says. “Then there’s the debilitating effect of a lack of confidence. All these things combined are terrible.”

Overcoming the difficulties that lay along the path to success will naturally earn you the respect of others. Do yourself the kindness of already paying yourself the respect you deserve for even embarking on this journey.

“Even when we opened, I was doing everything and not sleeping and it was not healthy,” Previte describes. “I really crashed. I asked for help, but, I should have asked for help before that.” 

Being Your Own Boss is Amazing. Make Sure You Compensate Yourself for It. 

Like many other budding restaurateurs, Previte fell into the trap of not paying herself for a year. Luckily, she was able to benefit from having a partner that was earning a steady income. Despite that, many sacrifices still had to be made.

For first couple of years of construction and opening Compass Rose, Previte lived directly above the restaurant to save on costs. While proximity was good, it was also harrowing because there was never a break from the grind.

“I do recommend creating an operational salary for yourself. It was a mistake that I didn’t budget for that. I should have been paying myself.”

It’s Okay to Be Vulnerable

One of the most popular pieces of advice from entrepreneurs is to surround yourself with people who believe in you.

“It helps to have someone around that believes you can do anything,” Previte verifies. “I was worried that I was going to lose all our money and be in debt forever but my husband told me to do it.”

Despite acquiring a strong support system, entrepreneurs often spiral into the “Oh my God, what have I done?” thought process. In those moments, Previte encourages one to discover what works.

“I had to find ways to calm myself down because I was so nervous.”

Previte tried acupuncture, meditation, and even employed visualization techniques. “It was so dark on some of those winter days,” she describes. “But I was determined to see my aunts and family sitting here [in Compass Rose] and eating.”

The greatest strength, she discovered, came from being vulnerable and asking for help.

“I hate asking for help. Asking for money was the single hardest thing I’ve ever done but it’s okay to ask for help. Any story I could find or any person with a similar struggle, I would ask them to grab a coffee and talk it out.”

Bedouin Tent at Compass Rose | photo credit: Kate Warren
Bedouin Tent at Compass Rose | photo credit: Kate Warren

If It’s for You, and You Make it Through, The Daily Struggles Are Worth It.

 Opening Compass Rose was an inspiring lesson in assembling; construction; community, financial management, and above all humility, courage and perseverance for Previte. In the end, it was and continues to be entirely worth it.

“Little things like the first birthday party someone had in here and celebrations held…it was as special to them as it was to me. People’s lives and memories become intertwined with your space. It’s really powerful.”

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