Interview with Mason and Curt Revelette, Co-Owners and Partners of Jonathan’s Grille
What led you to the restaurant business?
We are really in the real estate business. Our parents, a builder and a realtor, taught us that you operate businesses on top of the land. They also owned a small restaurant in Cool Springs and we had a vision for making it bigger. When we took over the business it was at $4.2 million and now it has reached 5 locations and $14 million.
Restaurants are tough to run. How do you make it work?
First, we had a vision for creating a Cheers-like atmosphere where everybody knows your name. We want them to be welcoming, friendly and have a local feel. (Margaret—I can attest to the fact when I walk in my local Jonathan’s Grille in Nashville which I visit a few times a month, they know what I drink and eat. That doesn’t happen to me anywhere else!) We took what was essentially a bar and added quality of food and service. Second, that takes great people. We enable our servers to make more money with larger sections and we treat everyone with respect. We want our people to like working here and be financially rewarded. That means the best people want to work for us and it makes hiring great people much easier. Our turnover is half of the industry norm. Third, we pay attention to our costs—especially rent and food costs. If the basics aren’t right, the rest won’t work. Finally, as we learned the business we built systems and protocols to ensure consistent standards throughout the business.
What is your formula for success?
We shy away from formulas like bankers use. We rely a lot on what we are passionate about and being sure we can recoup financially on the front end. We don’t see ourselves in a box—we are always thinking through lots of other business options that don’t have anything to do with restaurants. We have been involved in other businesses already like senior living. We like to own the “real estate” literally and digitally and then put businesses on top of them that can make money. Restaurants are hard to scale and we would like to get to a place where we can make money while we are sleeping.
Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit and approach?
Definitely from our parents. They instilled a strong work ethic from a young age. Also, we read constantly and try to learn from other successful business people.
Mason: I admire JP Morgan Chase CEO James Dimon for his ability to calm a room. I watched him work through the recession and come roaring back. Curt has that same ability. I also worked for Rick Pitino at Louisville, putting myself through college as a basketball team manager. He is so focused with an amazing potential for detail. There is no substitute for putting in the time.
Curt: Marcus Lemonis from The Profit has the ability to come in, roll up his shirt sleeves and understand the business quickly top to bottom. I learned it is important to be able to understand each facet of the business and Mason and I work in our business all the time alongside the hostess, servers and dishwashers—whatever we need to do. We had the chance once to ask Lemonis why he works with the down and out entrepreneurs instead of more successful ones and he said,” Because they need me and you don’t”. I admire that he is working to help people that need it most.
What do you do to give back?
We try to take our young staff under our wing and coach them the way our parents coached us. It was eye-opening to realize not everyone grew up with basic information about running their lives and taking care of their money. We have even taken an employee to set up their 401K so they were comfortable enough to step outside their comfort zone and get it done.
What is your leadership style?
Curt: I take responsibility for the real estate, and construction as well as working with the banks and Mason is in charge of operations so we have clear division of duties. With the banks it is not easy to get their respect right away as young entrepreneurs with a shorter track record but Mom and Dad did business the right way and so far we have showed that we will follow their footsteps.
Mason: I am serious and Curt is more outgoing. We earned respect by being willing to do every job—nothing was below us. We worked hard, asked our staff lots of questions and respect everybody. We found we earn their respect because we are in the row boat with them and not standing on the shore and barking orders. Going through things together creates team work and comradery.
What is the toughest thing you have had to face so far?
We owned two assisted living facilities which we bought just before the housing market crashed. Since most folks sell their home to finance their transition, the market really dried up because houses weren’t selling. It forced us to lay off really good people. We focused on giving the best care we could and using the same Cheers approach so that people knew we genuinely cared about our residents. We regard both senior care and restaurants to be in the hospitality business. Eventually we turned it around and sold them to a Florida investor.
What keeps you up at night?
Curt: Financial failure. I learned that I need to know my numbers better from our experience with senior living. I never want to feel like that again.
Mason: Making sure every customer has the right experience when they walk through the doors. We have to stay on our toes. We rotate between all 5 restaurants and pop in and check everything from the ticket window for wait times to the cleanliness of the bathrooms.
What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs?
Curt: Know your numbers and think bigger. Make money while you sleep—recurring revenue.
Mason: Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. People are usually willing to mentor and so use their help. Be learning constantly.
So, what is next for you two serial entrepreneurs?
We are taking on digital real estate with a new app called Vet On Demand. It was born from our own experience with an older dog that hated the vet. So this pet tele-medicine app is available in soft launch and has 20 affiliated vets. Our goal is to get to 50 vets. We are real excited that this will allow us to scale.
Mason Revelette and Curt Revelette are co-owners of Jonathan’s Grille, an upscale sports bars with 5 locations in the Nashville, Tn. area and named as one of CNN’s Top 101 Sports Bars in America. Curt focuses on building the brand by securing financing for expansion, selecting new restaurant sites and assembling construction teams. Mason runs the daily operation. More recently they are founders of Vet On Demand, a video conferencing platform to connect veterinarians and pet owners.