Vincent P. Bommarito | Crain's St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Vincent P. Bommarito

Background:  

Tony's is an institution in St. Louis' downtown fine dining scene, opening in its earliest incarnation in 1946 and occupying its current location at the corner of Market Street and South Broadway since 1992. Tony's was named a 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards semifinalist for "Outstanding Service," a nationwide category.

The Mistake:

Trying to rely on memory to track too many details.

In the restaurant business, you have a lot of people coming at you every day about day-to-day things. Let's say, being the chef, you have seven cooks with everyone needing something. Someone is short on chicken stock. Someone needs beef tenderloin. Another might say their cooler is not running as cold as it should. So all those people are coming at you from all different directions with different requests.

When I was younger, I used to just rely on my memory. And, of course, you can't remember all these things. My dad (Tony's CEO Vincent J. Bommarito) always used to say, again and again, “Write everything down. Write everything down." For years, I never would, and I was pretty good at remembering. But there would always be one thing that slipped through.

One day, this cook had reminded me twice about something. I would usually never forget the second time but, this time, I did. And I remember him talking about me. He didn't realize I heard him. But I heard him say to a co-worker, “I told him twice. I don't know what else I could do.”

No one should have to tell the boss twice.

The Lesson:

A bell went off for me. No one should have to tell the boss twice. And, from that day forward, I started writing everything down. Of course, I can't say that I never forget anything, but I'm a thousand times better at things like that now. Then, once I started writing things down, when I would have conversations with people about ideas – maybe about a point-of-service or an idea for a dish – things just became so much easier. More was getting done quicker and things just started happening.

When you're trying to run a business, you can't remember every little conversation, even when it's about a good idea. You might remember, “Oh yeah, we talked about that a couple weeks ago.” But, if you actually put it on paper, while you're sitting there at your desk and going over your notes, you can make things happen by following up on it or implementing a procedure faster.

Being a chef is like being a chief operating officer of sorts. So, when you're writing all this down, you're making sure that all operations are being handled. There are a ton of details. Are all the refrigerators working? Ordering food, ordering liquor, communication with the day crew and night crew, figuring out ingredients for specials in the coming weeks. So we're always talking about what we're doing next week and what we're doing this week to prepare for next week. And there's what we're doing every single week to keep the place running. So, when you actually do write things down and do make notes, you follow up on them on a day-to-day basis. You just run the place better.

You’ve got to make sure the communication lines are open. So you're going to make sure that when anybody wants or needs anything, they can communicate with you and get results. That really helps run the business and it helps get you more organized. I would definitely tell anyone, any new executive chef, that open communication helps keep everything going and it keeps everything moving forward. When you're the kind of person who makes things happen, people will keep coming to you with good ideas and more just gets accomplished that way.

Tony's is on Twitter at @TonysSTL.

Photo courtesy of Tony's.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email cberman@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's St. Louis.