When Jackson high school buddies Jeff Good and Dan Blumenthal cook something up it’s usually in the kitchen. Not this time.
Dollars & Sense Creative Consulting is the restaurant duo’s first venture without a kitchen and both hope it will be a new way for them to share their more than 20 years of food industry experience with Mississippi’s next crop of entrepreneurs.
Best-known as the extroverted, fast-talking face of such dining destinations as Bravo! Italian Restaurant, Broad Street Baking Company and Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza, Good will be the keynote breakfast speaker at the April 5 Business and Technology EXPO sponsored by the Mississippi Business Journal.
Good told the MBJ he is proud to be woven into the fabric of the Greater Jackson community and excited about his new business.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spent in a meeting at Broad Street over coffee or at lunch at Bravo! or an afternoon ice cream cone at Sal & Mookie’s talking to individuals that are trying to open a restaurant, trying to open a business,” Good said.
Good has served as a mentor to small businesses, non-profits and business leaders for many years and over time he said he recognized a common theme: the gratitude that many entrepreneurs expressed for his advice and the success that was spawned from those many conversations.
“One of the strengths that Jeff has is the ability to actually raise money, to do capital fundraising for a new startup venture,” said Blumenthal. “People may have ideas, plans drawn up and written out. They may even have financials done but a lot of them don’t have the money.”
It was Good’s own professional relationships with Mississippi petroleum businessmen that led to his first restaurant investments.
He and Blumenthal raised $450,000 and opened Bravo! in 1994 after two years of private placement limited partnerships. “We had no money, we had no credibility. You can’t borrow money unless you have it,” Good said. “We had to articulate a business plan that would engage people to want to invest.”
Bravo! was opened through these arrangements and Good and Blumenthal still manage the popular Highland Village restaurant as well as Broad Street and Sal & Mookie’s. They have also spun their hiring and culinary skills off into the successful catering company Mangia Bene Inc.
While Good stands ready to help clients match their vision with healthy financial goals, Blumenthal will be available to help troubleshoot the more behind-the-scenes, nuts-and-bolts operational issues that small businesses often face. Blumenthal said many restaurant owners — for example — need help learning the “whole nine yards” process of sourcing food, equipment, kitchen design, and hiring.
The grandson of New Jersey immigrant bakers, Blumenthal got his start as a Wendy’s grill cook and completed his training at the California Culinary Academy before moving back to Jackson.
More from 2012 MBJ EXPO …
Blumenthal said a kitchen has to be managed just like any other business from the pennies on up to the dollars. “If you don’t do that you fail,” he said. “I’ve been living and breathing this for some 20-odd years.” Blumenthal advises small business owners, especially those in the food and beverage industry, to value teamwork and to learn to love working with people. “It’s very rarely a solo, heads-down, do-your-job kind of thing,” he said.
“I think the entrepreneur spirit is still alive and well in America and certainly here in Mississippi,” Good said. “I think that maybe the recession might even spark more desires to be entrepreneurial because if your world at work is kind of contracting you might be looking to do something else. Necessity is the mother of all invention.”
Good and Blumenthal aren’t alone in their new venture. Rounding out the team is restaurant service veteran Danielle Davis and “marketing maven” Liz Lancaster.
Like Good, Davis is confident in the country’s entrepreneurial spirit and says that more and more women are catching it. “Women need an avenue as well,” Davis said. “It’s not just staying at home and taking care of the kids. Once the kids get grown they want to go do their own thing and have their little boutique or their salon or open their own restaurant. I think it’s fantastic.”
As operations manager for Mangia Bene and a partner in the Dawg House Sports Grill in Ruston, La., Davis has experience in restaurant management and will help Dollars & Sense clients develop business tactics and specific processes and procedures.
Credit card processing, for example, is just one part of a restaurant’s budget that has to be looked at. “I’m very knowledgeable in point-of-sales security and what you have to do to maintain a secure environment for taking credit cards,” Davis said.
Davis tells companies interested in accepting plastic for purchases to be careful, to read their documentation and find honest and professional processors to work with. “The credit card processing world is a very difficult one to understand,” she said. “You have to understand it though to make sure that you are getting the good rates and getting the best deal and not being taken to the cleaners.”
As digital marketing continues to grow in importance and more people trade in laptops for tablets and websites for smartphones, small businesses that don’t want to be left behind are looking for sound business strategies to keep them going.
“You have to learn how to play the game,” said Lancaster. “The restaurant business here in Jackson is so huge right now, it’s very competitive. I think that’s something that Jeff and myself can really help people with — how to create that personality, how to create that branding through the social media world.”
Lancaster said many small business owners are scared to get into social media. “They don’t know how to do Facebook. They don’t know how to do Twitter. They don’t know what Urbanspoon is,” she said. In addition to helping them create and manage many of these networking accounts, Lancaster will cover everything from QR codes to mobile apps to promote events and menus.
“I think that the gift that we can give after 18 years of this is one of two things,” Good said. “It is to help people make the decision that they don’t need to do that. Secondly, if they do have a good fit and a good idea then maybe we can help them fast-track through a lot of the work.”
“This is a great thing for Dan and I as we are reaching the tail-end of our forties. This is something that engages our intellect and emotions and gives us a chance to look at somebody else,” Good said. “I can tell you exactly what to do. I can give you that million dollar idea but I don’t have to roll that rock up the hill.”