Blair Warsham is the founder of Bay Area Restaurant Consulting LLC. He is a leader in the hospitality industry and a consultant for well-known restaurant groups across the United States. His resume includes Michelin-starred restaurants such as The Restaurant at Meadowood and Campton Place.
Blair Warsham is also the executive chef of Wildseed, a critically acclaimed plant-based restaurant and bar in San Francisco. In a glowing review of Wildseed, the SF Chronicle remarked, “If you want a glimpse of one possible restaurant future, go to Wildseed on Union Street.”
Blair Warsham brings rich experience and deep expertise to help restaurants, catering businesses, and other small businesses. His professional skills include operations strategy, project management, concept development, developing recipes and menus for fine and casual dining restaurants, and more.
Blair’s interests outside work include surfing, hiking, free diving, building furniture, learning about the origins of humanity, and spending time with his family.
Where did the idea for Bay Area Restaurant Consulting come from?
I began working in kitchens, and I worked in fine dining for a long time. Moreover, I have done a lot of work in this industry—even owning a catering business at an events company. Moreover, in the early 2000s, I owned and partnered with several restaurants. So I have seen almost all sides of this business.
How did I get into consulting? Someone in my circle asked for help with a project; they were running a business that was losing about $20,000 a month. For the size of their restaurant, it was a large sum of money since they were a small cafe. However, within a few months, I helped turn around the business, helping them achieve a profit of $50,000 a month—a tremendous swing. Moving on, I stayed with them as a consultant, and we built on what we had achieved. Since I had enough connections within the industry, more people asked me to help with their projects.
Once I settled into the day-to-day of the restaurant business, I liked the complexity of the different problems thrown at me—building restaurants from scratch, renovating them, or re-concepting one.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I spend about six to eight hours on a regular working day managing my consultancy.
It’s worth noting that I come from an industry where people brag about putting in 100-hour and 90-hour weeks, which is insane.
However, I’ve slowly worked to balance my life, hobbies, and everything else. I ensure to spend ample quality time with my family and myself.
Practicing this habit has helped me consistently build a good work-life balance.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Oh, divine intervention, I think! However, I try to stay creative. Creativity is a lifestyle for me.
Being creative and bringing ideas to life requires getting specific details right. There are creative and organizational aspects to being creative—I learned early about the importance of getting certain things correct.
Diet, exercise, and sleep are all attributed to mental health. Moreover, they run parallel with creativity. I am also going to beat the drum around meditation as well because it is vital. I meditate daily except when I can’t.
Balancing these variables is critical for me when it comes to creativity.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am going to get flack for this, but robotics!
Many companies are developing robots that work in the kitchen. For example, Miso Robotics sells a robotic arm that automates the process of deep frying potatoes. Although I have not seen it in person, I have seen several demo videos. Additionally, Moley Robotics has created and put the first robotic kitchen on the market – designing at-home robotic kitchens. I am excited about it all because it’s creating efficiency.
These developments are creating efficiency within the labor market. There are many jobs in the restaurant industry that people don’t necessarily want to work. They are hard jobs. Employees sometimes work in a fryer station for eight to twelve hours daily. It could be more exciting, but it is not! Your face is greasy as you walk away at the end of your shift. Moreover, it’s hot, sweaty, and exhausting.
If we create efficiencies around these roles and give someone a job within the restaurant space they prefer, such as serving and interacting with guests, instead of spending so much time on a fryer, they can better help curate the customer experience.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I work towards having an optimum work-life balance.
With family, it’s vital! You must be involved and engaged, at least from where I’m sitting.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to swing for the fences. I was somewhat conservative in my ambition as a young entrepreneur. I wish I took more risks. Also invest more in savings, retirement, etc. As a cook, there’s isn’t much to spread around, but every $1 counts.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I love having cheap food stuffed with artificial flavors—it’s my guilty pleasure.
I am in an industry where I am frequently surrounded by exceptional coffees, and while I appreciate them, every once in a while, I enjoy indulging in a cheaper, artificially-flavored coffee with a hint of guilt.
Sometimes I choose to have a 7-Eleven coffee with fake creamer, sugar, and artificial flavors over a bourgeois, high-end $5 coffee.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
In the restaurant industry (likely everywhere), I see a mistake that is often repeated. It is letting the ego drive become the driving force.
Hospitality is a very passionate, artistic, and creative industry. However, sometimes people let only their creativity, ego, and passion take over the wheel without business sense.
I see this time and again. A restaurant might have the most creative menu and the most happening outlet in town, but it’s not even going to last a year.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I have put zero effort into marketing. The growth of my business has always been through word of mouth. Moreover, I have always jumped from project to project; I have been lucky to go this way.
People have put in references whenever they appreciated my work. My hands were always pulled in the required direction.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My first restaurant in San Francisco, Tinderbox, opened in an area that was hit hard by the 08′ housing crash. Luckily, my business partner was following the market closely prior to the crash. The restaurant was finally getting to a place where we were stable financially, but the crash was going to hit us hard, and we were at a crossroads. We could sink more money into the project to sustain its longevity, but recouping those costs would be a huge risk given the capacity and dynamics of the business. So we decided to put the restaurant on the market. It was a gut-wrenching decision with a lot of fall out. In the end, we broke even on the deal, which was better than could have been expected. It was the learning experience of a lifetime!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think the current business model for restaurants is fundamentally broken. Whether you’re looking at it from a food cost perspective, sales, or labor, it’s all flawed.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen mom-and-pop shops struggling to keep up. But, with new technologies and platforms like order-ahead apps, even small businesses have had to adapt. Everyone has an app, but that’s not the only solution.
Embracing and exploring technology is what’s going to overhaul and save the industry. Platforms like Zarya, DoorDash, and others are trying to look at your numbers and help you control your numbers, automate systems, and take the guesswork out of it.
There’s so much human error in the restaurant business, and it’s complex.
An example is a closing manager who is eager to leave and see his girlfriend, who forgets to order toilet paper before leaving. The following day you get in, there’s no toilet paper, and your toilet paper delivery company only delivers one day a week. It costs 25% more to buy from someone else, which is just one example of many.
Whoever can automate such processes is going to help restaurant businesses tremendously.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Like I said before, I spent half my life working and not having any hobbies.
One of my hobbies is surfing. I recently spent $100 to purchase wet boots, a wetsuit, and a new leash.
I like being out in the water. And doing that is a meditative experience for me and brings me a lot of peace.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
DashThis, a live analytics platform.
DashThis helps you track spending and compare it to other restaurants. Moreover, a lot of the data is anonymized. DashThis tracks data and lets other restaurants understand what’s going on – here are the top five price changes that happened this week, and so on. This feature is a moving target that restaurant owners must constantly watch. This data is precious.
The purpose is to help save every little bit of time, energy, and efficiency that users can get in the restaurant space.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Honestly, I don’t sit down and read a lot. However, I prefer listening to a lot of books on Audible. I prefer listening more to business books.
Additionally, I love exploring titles in science fiction, listening, and fantasizing about the world in the distant future. Reading such books gives me many ideas and inspiration about the coming times.
I recently went through the audio version of a book called “Domain.”
It is a trilogy by Steven Robert Alten, an American science-fiction author. The series is about a hypothetical world in which the ancient Mayan predictions come true. It was a fun read (or fun listen, rather)!
What is your favorite quote?
“You don’t get anything you can’t handle.” It’s an effortful paraphrase, yet it’s wonderful.
It has come up time and time again for me when I am up against something difficult. It is a situation where you must “eat the frog.”
I believe in fate and the powers beyond me, which leads me to agree that you don’t get anything you can’t handle.
I look at it in the following manner. We chose a situation because, with each moment in time, we made a series of choices that led us there. The combination of the choices can be good or bad.
But remember, you chose this.
- It is vital to have a healthy work-life balance. Experiences outside work help in bringing fresh perspectives.
- Diet, meditation, exercise, and sleep are a must to become a creative individual.
- It is crucial to distinguish between creativity and business acumen. Ignoring one in favor of another can cause potential business failures.
- All your decisions have led you to your existing circumstances. However, it’s important to remember that “you don’t get anything you can’t handle.”
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.