Andy Ganick knows a thing or two about restaurants. He owns two (The Berkshire, The Pig & The Sprout), and loves trying out new spots whenever he gets a night off (which he admits hasn’t been too often since opening The Pig & The Sprout last year). I snagged him during a lull between lunch and dinner service and peppered him with questions about his favorite menu item, the hardest thing about owning a restaurant and that time he saved a customer’s life.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in restaurants?
Well my college degree is in political science with a minor in women’s studies, so it was only natural that I become a restaurant owner…
Ha! So I take it you didn’t always know that you wanted to get into the restaurant business.
I fell into the restaurant life after graduation when I was trying to figure out what the hell to do with that poly sci degree. As it turns out, restaurants are a great fit for a guy like me who has ADD and had a hard time in a classroom or office environment because of it. Plus, I loved the energy, loved always being on my feet and the friends I made doing it.
You own two restaurants: The Berkshire in Stapleton, which you opened in 2007, and the Pig & the Sprout in the Union Station neighborhood, which opened in June of last year. How did you decide to open your first place?
I’d been bartending and managing restaurants for a few years and thought I knew how to run a restaurant. I was wrong, of course. But I’d had the concept for a “bacon restaurant” knocking around my head for awhile, and while I was living in Philadelphia I decided to take some classes to help me create a business plan. I told my professor that the tag line for my restaurant was going to be “Swine, Wine and a Good Time;” he told me the tag line sucked and would never work, so of course I had to prove him wrong.
If I’m not mistaken The Berkshire’s tag line is “Swine, Wine and a Good Time.”
Yep. Ten years and counting! I should really write to that professor, maybe he'll invite me to be a guest speaker in his class!
That’s a big accomplishment since the failure rate in the restaurant business is notoriously high. What’s the recipe for success?
I wish I knew. Even in our 10th successful year with The Berk I’m still worried that we’re “not going to make it.” The Berkshire had a tough couple of early years before taking off and the Pig & The Sprout is really starting to take off after about a year, which is faster than I had hoped. I think I was able to make it work so far via a combination of luck, choosing a great location, being flexible and working with good people who are smarter than me. Plus, you have to be willing to do the non-fun stuff – scrutinize the numbers, negotiate with vendors, deal with tough customers, clean toilets…
What gets people in the door and keeps them coming back?
The Berk was the only non-chain restaurant in that part of town when we opened so the locals were immediately curious about us because of that. I know our food is good and consistent, but our regulars tell us that it’s the staff that keeps them coming back; they take time to get to know our customers, so it’s sort of like a “Cheers” atmosphere. For the P&S, we’re still new and we aim to become the neighborhood hangout for the surrounding apartment buildings and for restaurant industry people. People are drawn to the P&S because our space is striking and because we have a unique concept (the “Pig” side of the menu is meat-focused and the “Sprout” side is vegetarian, vegan and pescatarian). We’re going to prove our mettle to the neighborhood over time by providing consistently excellent food and cultivating the same customer-focused culture that we have at The Berk.
You were featured in a Denver Business Journal article in which you talked about the citywide shortage of qualified front- and back-of-house restaurant workers. What can you share about the difficulties of hiring and keeping good people?
Finding and keeping good people is an ongoing challenge, but it’s been particularly tough in the past year or so because Denver is growing so rapidly. There are simply too many new restaurants and not enough qualified people to go around, so if you’re not creating incentives for staff to stay with you they quickly move on to the trendy new restaurant down the street. To get and keep top talent, we have to create an environment where people want to work by treating our staff well, constantly creating a buzz so our seats stay full and the tips stay plentiful, hiring people that are smart, fun, interesting and reliable and letting people go quickly who aren’t pulling their weight.
What advice do you have for someone thinking about opening their first restaurant?
I’d recommend sitting down with a few restaurant owners and having them tell you their stories to really get a good picture of the challenges of this business. If you want to open a restaurant simply because you want to hobnob with customers at the bar all night and tell people that you own a restaurant, don’t do it; it’s a lot of work. Be prepared to lose money at first. Listen to feedback from your customers. Hire a phenomenal bookkeeper who has experience working with restaurants and implement their advice; the numbers are a roadmap for your success or failure, and a professional can help you head off disaster by deciphering the trends for you before it’s too late.
Favorite dish on The Pig & The Sprout menu?
That’s tough because it won’t make it on the menu if I don’t love it! I will say I’ve been ordering the Jaeger Schnitzel a lot lately – Chef Ed always executes it perfectly, and the black pepper spaetzle and butternut squash sides are to die for.
Most memorable restaurant moments?
I’ve experienced so many crazy, funny, scary, memorable moments! I saved a customer’s life once by jumping over the bar to give him the Heimlich and mouth-to-mouth – I think he gave me a $20 handshake on the way out. One of my line cooks held a knife to our bartender’s throat because he thought the guy had hooked up with his girlfriend. Knowing the bartender he probably did hook up with the guy’s girlfriend, but they cooled down, shook hands and we all finished the shift! Just last month a couple members of my staff chased down and detained a purse-snatcher until the cops arrived. We’ve served the mayor, the governor, famous athletes and celebrities; we had a former NBA star try to dine and dash just a few months ago. I met my wife and some of my best friends while working in restaurants. Most of my adult life has happened while on the job, and I love seeing my staff create the same sorts of memories for themselves.