At Navy Federal we’re excited to celebrate our members. So naturally on Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED), we’re pleased to spotlight one of our own female business owners, Jackie Grzebin. This proud mom and former mortgage manager founded West Comes East Inc., owner and operator of The Flame Broiler The Rice Bowl King locations in Jacksonville, Fla.
WED is meant to “Empower, Support and Celebrate Women Entrepreneurs Worldwide,” and Jackie is definitely a dynamic woman! She abruptly left the mortgage industry to tackle a new industry she knew nothing about with the support of her family. That in itself is empowering and inspiring, and should be celebrated.
Jim Salmon: Please tell the readers a little about yourself and why you started your own business, West Comes East, Inc.
Jackie Grzebin: I was raised in a small (population 104) farming community in Northern Wisconsin. We had a challenged upbringing due to a car accident my father was in which left him severely brain damaged. My mother made the best she could of the situation; raising 3 young children (4, 6, and 9) and caring for my father. At one point in her life she had two full time jobs and two part time jobs. It made me realize at an early age that hard work, dedication and loyalty pays off – in every aspect of life. By seeing how hard she worked each day just to survive, I knew I wanted more. I wanted to succeed and give other people who have had challenges an opportunity for success. I paid my way through college, graduated, and progressed from a sales profession to high-level management in the mortgage industry. I have been happily married to my husband Mark for eight years and was blessed with a son, Bodie, who is now 2.
I started my business West Comes East, Inc. (The Flame Broiler The Rice Bowl King) because my husband convinced me I should! I’m not sure if it is a blessing or a curse that he thinks I can do anything, regardless of my skill or experience! He and I were both in the mortgage industry, which is very cyclical. We both worked extremely long hours and did not have the work/life balance we felt we should. In effort to balance our life together, he convinced me that the place he ate lunch at daily (The Flame Broiler) while we lived in Orange County, Calif., would be a great restaurant to open in Jacksonville, Fla., where we had previously lived. About two months after telling me this, the company I worked for announced we were closing our office. We took this news as a sign from God telling us the time was right for me to venture into entrepreneurship. We moved back in April of 2010, and my first location opened eight months later!
Jim: What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you first started your own business?
Jackie: I wish I knew who to call when something broke! As a business owner, YOU are the person people call and tell when something breaks. I have no experience in maintaining commercial kitchen equipment, air conditioning and heating, plumbing or electricity. Though, because you are the owner, your staff looks at you to fix the issue. I mean, why would I know how much ton of A/C I have? Why is this important? Often times throughout the years, things would break, or go wrong and after trying to fix it myself to save money, I would often have to call a professional for assistance. Like most business owners, I would try to avoid this as much as possible due to the unexpected cost of repairs and maintenance. I’ll never forget when my first location had been open for about six months, I was closing the kitchen with my manager (who is a family member), and her husband. We were draining the 3-compartment sinks and all of the sudden, there is water everywhere. We were all in such shock that the kitchen was full of water, none of us thought to actually plug the drain, so the water continued to flow out of the kitchen into the dining room! We thought the best person to call was a plumber so that he/she could fix the issue, but it didn’t end up being plumbing issue. Restaurants have grease traps, and ours is very small, which requires it to be emptied every three months. We were well beyond this timeframe, so our grease trap was overflowing! Who even knew there people who emptied grease traps? Heck, who even knew what a grease trap was?
Of course, I am certain at some point while opening my first location, I may have been informed about these things by my architect or contractor, but hearing those people talk is like trying to understand a foreign language. I knew nothing about the equipment I was using, what things restaurants needed to do for upkeep, etc. Looking back, it may have been a good idea to actually work in a small kitchen and understanding what is done on a daily basis just to operate!
Jim: What’s the biggest challenge as an owner of two franchises?
Jackie: Delegation is the biggest challenge for me. Like most small business owners, I am hands-on in my business. I work full-time on staff at both of my locations; I do my own promotional events and my daily and monthly accounting! Because I want to be “in the know” of everything happening in my business, it is difficult for me to give up tasks for others to manage and complete. I feel like God knew this was going to be a challenge for me, so about the same time I started scouting out a 2nd location, I found out I was pregnant with my son Bodie. No matter how hard you try, once you go into labor, it is completely impossible to be at your business! My store manager took over running the first location, and completed the build out and hiring process for my second location. I wanted to help where I could, but as a new mother with needs from an infant, there wasn’t much time I had to offer. On two separate occasions, my business banking representative from Navy Federal Business Services, Tracy, actually dropped off the coin change we needed for our cash register because I was unable to make it to the bank! When I came back to work full-time after maternity leave, I realized things ran just fine without me there. With enough resources, like my banker, manager, and supporting husband (who often worked shifts for me on the weekends), delegating tasks has become much easier for me.
Jim: What’s the first thing you did when deciding to open your own franchise?
Jackie: After I signed the franchise agreement, I got a business coach and put a business plan together. From the earnings my husband and I made throughout our years in the workforce we were able to self-fund our first location, but it left us with very little to live off of, considering we were going to one income. We decided to secure a small loan through Navy Federal to help supplement the start up process. There are always unexpected costs that come up when building a restaurant, so we wanted to be prepared.
Jim: What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into the restaurant business?
Jackie: Like all business, be prepared to live, eat, and breathe your business! Get a business coach, prepare a business plan and follow it. Having a written plan in place will help keep you on track and give you a point of reference for where you should be. Start networking with other restaurant owners so you have resources available to you in all times of need. Even if your resources are direct competition, all business owners seem to want to help each other succeed. It is highly likely most of us started from the bottom and worked our way up – so know that we’ve all been where ‘you’ are. Understand you don’t even know all the things you don’t know!