Coffee Break: Isidore Kharasch, president of Hospitality Works, Inc.
Q: Describe your company.
A: Hospitality Works, Inc. was founded in 1987 and is one of the first U.S. restaurant/hospitality consulting companies. We specialize in:
• Helping startups plan for success, from concept and design to menu and hiring/training.
• Helping failing businesses turn things around by creating and then implementing a customized turnaround plan.
• Helping all businesses operate more profitably and efficiently.
We work closely with bars, restaurants, hotels, casinos and other food service operations.
Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?
A: The bulk of our staff is made up of what is known as 1099 employees. These are specialists who have worked with Hospitality Works for the past 20 years and know how to implement our unique programs. Our team includes interior designers, architects, executive chefs, cost control experts and bar training specialists.
One significant capital investment is that we are bringing on a celebrity chef to develop new concepts with us, working hand-in-hand with our clients' culinary teams.
Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?
A: Our company's current greatest challenge is coming up with new ideas and technologies to address our clients' biggest challenge: the labor shortage. We will continue to address this issue by redesigning kitchens and dining rooms, updating menus, incorporating new technologies -- and of course, lots of staff training to make them more productive.
Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?
A: Restaurants of all types are beginning to implement sous vide -- a cooking technique that involves precise temperature control to achieve consistent, optimum results every time. Once a technique for fine dining operations, it's now finding a home in casual and even fast-food restaurants. Many home cooks are adopting sous vide in their kitchens as well. The other trend which will soon be a staple in the industry is the introduction of robots in restaurants and hotels.
Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie executive, what would it be?
A: Respect your staff. Do this by taking the time to look at each employee mistake as a training opportunity. Be a good teacher and take the time to develop the skills of new employee and hone the skills of the team that has been with you a long time.
Q: Do you have a business mantra?
A: Our mantra is listen, listen, listen. For example, when clients or their employees want to meet with us, we don't say anything until we've really heard what they have to say. My intent is to focus my response on what they've communicated and successfully address their issues and/or ideas.
I always tell my clients to listen to their customers -- both their complaints and compliments. Respond directly to the issue; make sure you understood them -- and then, if you're responding to a complaint, make sure they buy in to your action plan.
Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?
A: There are two people who I look up to. The first is Rich Melman, the founder Lettuce Entertain You. His creativity, level of consistent quality, and his ability to train, develop and then keep a great staff is unequaled.
The other is Jon Taffer of Taffer Dynamics and Bar Rescue. Jon is a phenomenal industry leader who has that rare ability to use his vast experience to positively affect the entire business from product innovation and profits to personnel.
Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?
A: People are often surprised to find out that I have that I offer hospitality consulting and training services to the legal and medical industries. I do this because the basics of great service are the same across any industry.
Q: Was there a moment in your career that didn't go as you had planned? What lesson did you learn from it?
A: Remember my mantra, listen, listen, listen? It stemmed from a disagreement I had with a client that ended badly. I was flying home from Phoenix to Chicago, when I realized I was so busy trying to make my point, I didn't really hear what the client wanted.
So, after landing at 1 a.m., I got on a 6 a.m. flight back to Phoenix and sat in the client's office for four hours until he had time to see me. Once we met, I was able to apologize and speak directly to his ideas -- and together we worked out a fantastic plan. That company remained a client for another five years until they sold the business.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I travel extensively for business, so free time to me is precious. I spend my time at home enjoying my family or helping my wife, who is a coffee roaster, come up with new and innovative items for her shop, The Wild Roaster in Deerfield. It's a unique fun family operation that my daughters work in when they are home from school.
Q: What book is on your nightstand?
A: Colson Whitehead, "The Noble Hustle."
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: First, I am blessed in that I love what I do and my family is healthy. However, when you own your own business there is no punching out. I find that a few nights a month I am literally unable to sleep because I feel the need to complete tomorrow's project immediately.
Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?
A: I'd probably be a doctor, like my brothers.
Q: What was your first paying job?
A: Barnaby's pizza in Chicago Heights. $1.90 per hour.
Q: If you could put your company name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?
A: I would put it on what I still consider Comiskey Park. That is where I saw my first baseball game. Chicago White Sox vs. Detroit Tigers (summer of fifth grade).
Q: Two people to follow on Twitter and why. (besides your company)
A: I follow Chef Jose' Andres, whom I really admire. And I follow all of my clients because I monitor their social media programs.
Hospitality Works, Inc.
Number of employees: 4
Family information: Wife Kaye, Daughters Eliana and Ariella