A chef and NFIB/Idaho Leadership Council chairman discusses his small business experiences.
NFIB Member: Lou Aaron
Business: RILA Business Concepts and Westside Drive-In, Boise, Idaho
How did you become a small business owner, and why?
I always wanted to own my own business. I have a natural ability to be a leader and knew it was the right path for me. I bought my first restaurant—Westside Drive-In, a 1950s-style drive-in—when I was 32. I now own two restaurants.
What do you love the most about running a small business?
I like going home at the end of the day knowing whether I had a win or a loss. If it’s a win, I focus on how I won the game; if it’s a loss, I focus on what I can do better the next day to make it a win.
What does owning a business allow you to do that most folks do not get to enjoy?
I have a flexible schedule and can go on vacation when I want.
What is your biggest challenge right now, and how are you dealing with it?
My biggest challenge is food and paper cost; some prices have gone up 50 percent in the past year. I’ve had to be creative and work with my vendors to get the best prices possible.
What has been your proudest moment as a small business owner?
My proudest moment was when Guy Fieri from the Food Network visited to film a segment for “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Our sales went up 35 percent. Every time the network airs the episode, it drives more people to the drive-in.
What have you not yet achieved that you would like to?
I would like to be more financially stable for retirement in another eight to 10 years.
What is the best part of your day?
I get up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. and plan my day. It’s fun coming to work when it’s quiet and no one is there yet.
What do you read?
I read MyBusiness and whatever I can get my hands on that’s related to the restaurant industry. I also collect pre-Civil War history books.
What has been your biggest mistake?
My biggest mistake was thinking I could open another restaurant on the fly and not perform the due diligence. In 2007, I opened a little bistro downtown and lost about half a million dollars. I thought it was in a good location, but it wasn’t. Then the recession hit. We made the decision to pull the plug.
What is your favorite thing to do off the clock? How about on the clock?
I’m interested in genealogy. I traced my family lineage to the person who came over from Scotland in 1624. Thomas Jefferson signed a land deed to my great-great-great-great grandpa, and every time we go down South, we go all over the place trying to find our ancestors.
On the clock, I enjoy making sure everybody feels like they’re part of the team.
How do you define success?
Being in the restaurant business, consistency has to be No. 1, or you’re not going to be successful.