• Julia Helton

The Best Scariest Person

Updated: Jan 11, 2020

Who asks you the questions you are afraid to answer?

One summer day many years ago I sat in a lawyers office asking what I had to do to buy a small restaurant/music venue from the guy who opened it and chose not to pay his taxes. While my future business partner sat on the floor playing with his infant son questioning out loud how we could pull this off; I was seeing a wonderful business opportunity, a place that the community needed, a dope restaurant and music venue that I wanted to be a part of. 

My attorney, who came from a well known Nashville family, began asking me questions that scared the shit out of me:

  • How much money did I have to pay for this?

  • How was I gonna pay all the back taxes?

  • Did I have a business plan?

  • How was I going to grow sales? 

  • Was I prepared to forgo my salary if sales remained low?

If there was this large of a tax liability ($40k), how many more bills attached to the restaurant were out there that we didn't know about? We'd be on the hook for those as well.

It was terrifying listening to this man tell me my dream job, the opportunity to own my own business, had potentially negative consequences. If the guys who owned it then couldn't make a go of the restaurant what made me think I could do it?

I'll tell you what: I had been in the restaurant industry for 15 years at that point. I got my first restaurant job at 16 as a hostess at a chain restaurant in a small town in South Carolina. There was no position I hadn't worked front or back of house. I had seen what worked, what failed, and how a small single store front had more power to shift with the desires of their clients than almost any other type of hospitality business.

I am a woman who watches, collects data, asks questions, and forms a plan based on that data rather than hubris. Whats more, the neighborhood wanted us to succeed. They showed up, they had dinner, they stayed for the shows. On our end we made some significant shifts in our business plan to ensure that success. We moved from mostly sandwiches to full main courses, we changed the wine list frequently to keep interest up, we brought in local craft beers at the very beginning of that movement, we started the week night shows earlier so that our guests could enjoy the music on a school night.

I am a fan of the best scariest person in my life. They force me to confront the uncomfortable realities coming down the road. They keep me honest and aware of my role in my own life and business. They throw the worst case scenario up for discussion to game plan before it ever comes to fruition. They are who make me a better business woman.

I am now that scary person. Since that fateful day I have been asked to take over the helm of many distressed properties. One thing I tell my clients is "I'm going to ask you some uncomfortable questions. You cannot dodge the answers. Some of these qs are gonna piss you off but they're all in an effort to keep the doors open." People don't like to be uncomfortable. I say- have some hard convos, take a look at whats happening with fresh eyes then make the changes needed to not only keep the doors open but also make the venture profitable.

#restaurant #consulting

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