Our journey has only just begun. 17 Summer Restaurant is nestled at the quaint corner of Summer and Autumn. My brother and partner, Joseph, and I began our journey in 2009 when we decided to open our street fair business, Come Fry W/ Me. Our intention was to highlight classic street fare from all over the world. Come Fry W/ Me taught us that making good food can be done anywhere at any price-for us it was a 10 ft by 10 ft bright orange tent. We discussed transitioning from vagabond street fairs to brick and mortar. We searched for an entire year for the "perfect" location. Leases were signed and leases were lost; but we did not get discouraged. Our father found a commercial space in our hometown of Lodi, New Jersey; here, at the corner of Summer and Autumn. We were not in the market to open a full service restaurant and there is absolutely zero walking traffic which would be detrimental to a quick service concept such as Come Fry W/ Me. Our gears were forced to shift. In 2012, after many renovations-solely completed by us, we opened our catering company, Joseph Cuccia Catering, Inc. We knew we had to market ourselves and market ourselves intently. We wanted to remove the stigma that is associated with catered events. Let me preface, we do not have investors and we did not have a marketing budget that would aid in bringing us clients. Joseph and I began hosting bi-monthly Chef's Tastings to promote our catering services. I remember hosting our first sold out event and every Chef's Tasting from that point on would be sold out. We continued to cater, hold private events, and host Chef's Tastings for three years. In 2015, it was time to take a leap of faith. We began our search again to find the "perfect" location for a full service restaurant and to little or no avail the search quickly ended. The lack of funds and honestly through foresight lack of life experience; Joseph at this point was 26 and I, 28. We sat together, discouraged yet hopeful, at the corner of Summer and Autumn, in our open kitchen overlooking a 400 square ft dining room, looked out the window at our address and said, "17 Summer. 17 Summer Restaurant-what a great name. We have this space, we have a wonderful client base, and if we fail at least we can always go back to Chef's Tastings and catering." In November, we had this conversation and in February of 2015 we opened the doors of 17 Summer Restaurant. This journey has been one of great successes, great failures, highs and lows; we have grown together and with our team we have gained the knowledge and understanding that our journey is only beginning and for that we are grateful.
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business? How did the idea for your business come about?
Our clients were the driving force to switch from caterers to restaurateurs. Their utmost encouragement and genuine excitement led us to take the next steps. Joseph and I have big dreams of becoming restaurateurs and through our family, our staff, and our guests we were able to gain that confidence to open 17 Summer Restaurant. With that being said, we have grown exponentially as people and as a company.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
The restaurant business is difficult even for the most successful. The most significant impediment that we had to overcome was finding a balance between being true to ourselves and the story we wanted to tell verses meeting the market's expectation. We went back to our roots and started Chef's Tastings once a week where we could be as creative and as fine dining as we wanted. This is were we push the envelop and over time our hyper-seasonal menus have also evolved.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
We are incredibly lucky to have a family that supports our business and our pursuits. Our first year of business was a very trying time and we struggled with finding our voice and telling our story. We doubted ourselves, we doubted our talent, and there were many days we wanted to throw in the towel; but we never wavered from the goals we set for ourselves. There will always be people in your life that think their "advice" is the advice you need to be successful or the advice that is going to make you second guess your decisions. Is this really what I should be doing? Am I good enough? Did I take a step to far? If you are not asking yourself these questions daily then you are one step behind. We are our worst critics and our greatest supporters.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
If we knew everything we know now we would have never learned - we would have never pushed through the rough times. We try to be as present as possible and not get ahead of ourselves. When we fill our minds with the should haves, could haves, would haves we loose sight of reality. We are constantly looking deeper and deeper into ourselves and the business and upon these reflections we can lead our team better and serve our guests better.
What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally? Success does not come to those who dream. Success comes to those who work.