Some people ask me for financial advice, so they can turn their passion for something -- maybe books, music or cooking -- into a career. I believe a career you love is the foundation for a successful financial future. That's why I include it as a financial planning topic. I've already written about how to change your career without ruining your financial life.
But there's a bigger question: How do you make your passion work financially once you're in it? Following a passion often means becoming an entrepreneur. I spoke with David Lee, the celebrity chef and owner of Nota Bene, about the sacrifices he's made to make it work.
You've talked about growing up around food. But did you absorb a lot of the business side of restaurants?
I grew up around a family-run business in Hertforshire, England. The food was always the centre. The business wasn't. It wasn't until I came to Canada that I started to realize what running a restaurant entails. In 1994, I decided to come to Canada. In between, I was in London. When you're young, you don't think of money in the sense of what it could buy long-term. You live from paycheck to paycheck.
That's when you went to work at Centro?
Yes. I worked there for six years. I was lucky enough to meet Michael Wekerle. I think of him as like the Wayne Gretzky of the stock market. He was my business mentor and became one of my partners when a group of us opened Splendido. Partnerships can be difficult, but he helped me learn a lot about compromising with partners and managing risk. And he taught me to recognize and enjoy success. Funnily enough, some people don't know how to enjoy success.
How much does it cost to open a restaurant in Toronto? I've seen the costs estimated at as much as $500,000.
It's much more in Toronto. I would estimate $2-3 million. You have to understand your numbers if you want to go into the restaurant industry.
Now you're in Nota Bene without partners?
It seemed the next step, to own my own place. I spent 15 years with partners and we learned from each other.
What's the difference between an artist who is a success as an entrepreneur and one who isn't?
One thing is the customer satisfaction. I want to be humble. We're very humble at the restaurant. People have needs and we want to accommodate them. But not all chefs do that. For instance, you had the choice five or six years ago when people started coming in with dietary restrictions. You could say no, or you could accommodate.
We accommodate. For instance, we had a tuna dish when we first opened that's been off the menu for a long time. It was cooked in wine, had avocado chutney and soy sauce. I still have people coming in asking for that first tuna dish. It takes about an hour, but we make it for them.
So it's about serving the customer first, before your own ego.