Simple Restaurant Concepts lead to Success for West Palm Beach Businessman
Todd Herbst, head of the company that owns Rocco’s Tacos and other concepts, says a tight labor market is his biggest challenge: “There’s a lot of restaurants out there, maybe too many, and we’re all competing for the same high-quality labor.”
Ask restaurateur Todd Herbst about the longevity of Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila Bar on Clematis Street, and he offers an explanation that makes it sound as if any competently managed eatery could thrive on West Palm Beach’s downtown strip.
“It’s tacos,” Herbst says. “It’s very simple. It’s very straightforward. Everybody loves tacos. There’s a big bar component. We’ve learned from experience that people like to drink, and they like to eat fresh food that’s moderately priced.”
Of course, many a restaurant has come and gone from Clematis Street since Rocco’s Tacos opened 12 years ago, so success requires something beyond fresh tacos and a wide selection of tequila. Herbst heads Big Time Restaurant Group, a company with a growing number of Rocco’s Tacos locations throughout Florida, and one in Brooklyn. Big Time Restaurant Group also operates City Cellar Wine Bar & Grille in West Palm Beach, City Oyster & Sushi Bar in Delray Beach and Grease in West Palm Beach. Meanwhile, Herbst is expanding two Italian concepts. Louie Bossi’s Ristorante Bar & Pizzeria has an eatery in Boca Raton, and Elisabetta’s is in Delray Beach and is coming to downtown West Palm Beach.
“Everything is made in house from scratch, no exceptions,” Herbst says.
Herbst co-owns the company with Bill Watson and Lisabet Summa.
Hometown: Originally, I’m from Greenlawn, New York. Now I live in Palm Beach.
First job: Pot washer at an Armenian restaurant in Greenlawn, New York. I realized how difficult the business was, but I also saw how rewarding it could be for the owners of the restaurant. Rewarding in the sense of pride you get in designing, building and operating something, and then watching it succeed. You see people come in and enjoy something you created.
Big break in the business: There have been many. I love the expression, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” We opened John Bull English Pub in West Palm Beach in 1993, at a time when West Palm Beach was a small town. We’ve grown along with the city.
Biggest challenge: Labor. Finding qualified people. Every businessman you talk to will say the same thing. There’s a lot of restaurants out there, maybe too many, and we’re all competing for the same high-quality labor. You try to retain the staff by treating people as well as you can and by making their jobs as easy as you can.
Best business advice you’ve received: Treat people the way you want to be treated. That goes a long way. Behave as if that’s you on the other side of the equation — or your mother.
Best business book you’ve read: Outliers by Maclolm Gladwell. It just made a lot of sense to me as to why certain people achieve more than others. Sometimes it’s hard work, sometimes it’s luck, sometimes it’s a combination of both.
Biggest mistake you’ve made in business: Keeping a failing restaurant open longer than I should have. You’ve invested an enormous amount of money and time into something. It’s hard to just say goodbye to all that, even though you know you should. You’re hoping, just maybe, if we hold on for another a couple months, we’ll survive. That rarely happens.
Most important trait you look for when hiring: Enthusiasm. Everybody probably says it, but it’s true. You can’t teach somebody how to be enthusiastic. You can teach somebody how to be a waiter. You can tell when you talk to people — how they describe past jobs, their body language, the look in their eye.
What you see ahead for Palm Beach County: More of the same. It’s going gangbusters. Downtown West Palm Beach is doing great. The Ben [the hotel that opened in February] is already changing downtown. We’re going to open Elisabetta’s there. It’s going to be a 10,000-square-foot Italian restaurant and playground. We’ll have a bocce ball court.
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