Making it big in the food industry does not always follow a standard path, but according to four Massachusetts restaurant owners, a consistent given is a willingness to start anywhere—even Burger King.
At a panel event in Fong Auditorium Monday night hosted by the Leadership Institute at Harvard College, owners of four local restaurants in Massachusetts shared their stories of working from the bottom up and entering the food industry from unrelated fields.
For Ayr Muir, an MIT and Harvard Business School graduate, this meant leaving a career at McKinsey and Company to “toast frozen burgers at Burger King.”
“The only reason it was Burger King is because I had six McDonald’s turn me down,” said Muir.
Working at Burger King, however, was just a way for Muir to get experience in food service. He went on to establish Clover Food Lab, one of the first food trucks in the country. It has since expanded into restaurants throughout the state.
Jason Bond, who founded Bondir, a restaurant located in Cambridge, agreed that working one’s way up the ladder helps restaurateurs perfect their craft.
“As you go through career steps and change jobs, every job was geared towards learning a new skill,” said Bond, who worked in a variety of positions at many restaurants before starting his own.
Panelists added that starting their own restaurants required not only business acumen but also a unique vision. Muir, for example, founded Clover because he felt that not enough was being done to combat the fact that the livestock industry contributes more carbon dioxide to the environment than the entire transportation industry. The panelists unanimously agreed, however, that fulfilling a vision also demands leadership and a strong team.
“You need a psychology degree, you need to be a mother, you need to be hard as well, but it’s very difficult,” said Vicki Lee Boyajian, who founded Vicki Lee’s Bakeshop in Belmont, Mass., of the many traits that a leader must assume to manage different kinds of employees and situations.
The event was followed by a reception with samples from Vicki Lee’s Bakeshop, Clover, and Farmstead Table, a restaurant in Newton, Mass.
“I was just impressed that we had this event,” said attendee Rose Wang ’14. “It’s a niche interest ...and the fact that the Leadership Institute was willing to explore that interest is very cool.”
Alessandra M. Moscoso ’14, the main event coordinator and a committee member of LIHC, said that Harvard panel speakers are rarely from the restaurant industry.
“[Harvard students] don’t see [restaurant owners] as leaders immediately, even though they are leaders in their field,” Moscoso said.