For Dan Stachura and his wife Anne, deciding to run their own restaurant took something of a leap of faith.
Dan spent more than 30 years in the corporate world, including starting an employee benefits company in 2002 in Hunt Valley called ConnectYourCare with several other partners. And Anne had a very busy career as a registered nurse.
But like most entrepreneurs, Dan had an epiphany one day that would dramatically change the track of both of their careers. ConnectYourCare was no longer a small business and had grown to more than 400 employees, with big name customers like Starbucks and Amazon.
“I needed to get back to my roots running a small business,” Dan said. “At that time, I didn’t know what the next step would be, but I knew I wanted to do something in the community.”
About two years ago, Dan began looking for a new venture, and learned that the popular farm-to-table restaurant Woodfire Kitchen along York Road in Parkton was looking for a new owner. The fact that neither Dan nor his wife had ever been in the restaurant business did not deter them, though Anne – who loves to cook – had always dreamed of owning a small café.
“Being in the corporate world, I did a lot of traveling all around the country and sat at a lot of tables and really came to appreciate good food, good service, and good atmosphere in restaurants,” Dan said. “I was always taking mental notes along the way…..what worked and what didn’t.”
And, once they brought in a partner with a long history in the hospitality business to help guide them, Dan and Anne felt they had a perfect fit.
“It was the right place at the right time,” Dan said. “Many people look back on their life and they regret the things they didn’t do and realizing that, I didn’t want to be in that position.“
In April 2017, Dan and Anne jumped headfirst into the business. With Anne in the kitchen preparing some of her homemade recipes, Dan said he did “every job there was – washed dishes, served, made pizzas and everything,” which helped him to get to know the restaurant, as well as the staff and the customers.
The past year, Dan said, has been an adventure, a challenge, and most of all, a learning experience that took drawing on his days in the corporate world.
“Once you are experienced and successful in one business, I think a lot of those skills can transfer over to another,” he said, adding that he and Anne have really enjoyed coaching their young staff in customer service, as well as being able to have control of their own future.
“Now, if we have a great idea, we can implement it in three days,” he said, talking about some of the changes they’ve made since taking over the business, including adding live music.
Among his favorites on the menu? The Seven Spice Woodfire Duck; the burgers, which are locally sourced from Roseda Farms; and the woodfire pizza.
“Everything on the menu is great, and everything we try to do with a little bit of a twist, a little bit of a flare,” he said.
Over the past year, Dan has started a journal to capture some of this thoughts on the new adventure.
“There are good days, and bad days, but you got to roll up your sleeves and fight through it,” he said.
So what Dan’s advice for other entrepreneurs thinking about taking their career in a completely different direction and owning a business?
- Go into a new business with “eyes wide open” understanding as much about it as you can and knowing what the pitfalls can be.
- Surround yourself with expertise in the area, as well as an all-star team.
- Plan some fun moments along the way, and motivate your team to enjoy what they do, whether it’s through sharing a nice review, or just taking time to talk about the day.
- Don’t forget to laugh!