What Does Hall of Fame Chef Louis Perrotte Have to Say About Culinary Entrepreneurship?

by | Jul 26, 2016 | Interviews | 0 comments

Introducing Louis Perrotte

In 1988, the American Academy of Chefs established its Culinary Hall of Fame. In 2013, Chef Louis Perrotte was inducted. During that time period, roughly 80 chefs had been honored with this designation.

Chef Perrotte’s list of accomplishments are nothing short than spectacular. To include serving as the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) Continental Director for the Americas, President and Vice President for ACF Central Florida Chapter, owning & operating a top rated restaurant in the country (Le Coq au Vin), and receiving numerous awards through the ACF, such as several President’s Medallions, Hermann G. Rusch Chef’s Achievement Award, and the Southeast Chef Professionalism Award.

In his career, he’s constantly pushed the profession forward and has generously given back “to the profession that has treated him well over the years.”

Our questions for Chef Perrotte ranged from his first experience as a chef entrepreneur, challenges he faced in his journey, advice for aspiring chef owners & operators, and more.

Let’s see what Chef Perrotte has to say to our various question!

Louis Story & Best Advice

Success Principles

The level of success I’ve reached was in part because I was never satisfied. Some people say I changed my mind too much, and that’s fine. It’s because I’m never satisfied with where I am.

I’m always learning; and to this day, I’m still learning.

Another thing is I always stay up to date with things – trends, people, you name it. I keep up by reading a lot.

I’ve traveled the world and that’s helped me open my horizons. I did this because I was always wanting to learn new things.

Finally, when I go somewhere I don’t impose my knowledge. I’m always asking questions before I begin helping people. It allows me to help based on what they need and not just what I think they need – this is a big difference.

Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur

It takes setting a realistic goal. For instance, you can’t expect to become an Emeril Lagasse or Wolfgang Puck overnight. Most people are successful because they paid their dues and had a realistic goal.

If you decide to become chef entrepreneur, you have to pick an idol. Look at how they became successful and follow their history and example.

“You must have personality to attract people and keep them returning. Food will not attract people alone.”

Louis Perrotte

Potential Entrepreneurial Challenges

Working for Marriott I learned not to let your ego take over. One mistake people make is they do what “they” like in the beginning and not what the people like. And for people starting out, they should realize personality is more important.

You can find good food anywhere these days. Personality is what makes the difference.

When you look at all the great chefs these days, they have very good personalities – Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, or Jacques Pepin.

Food alone is not enough and that’s what people have challenges with these days. Restaurants must have a sense of personality to them. If it’s not the entrepreneur, then it must be someone that’s a part of the business.

An Entrepreneurial “Recipe for Success”

You only need to know enough to get started. You will always be learning in life. Don’t try to learn it all before you begin.

Experience is important but people have a tendency to learn too much. For most people, once they know their goal and they have a basic level of experience, they can go for it.

And what you find is you learn more from mistakes. I learned much more from mistakes than my successes.

Owning & Operating a Top-Rated Restaurant

There were many things to contribute to the success of Le Coq au Vin, but I would say the friendliness of the place was a very important part of the success. My wife did an excellent job with this part.

We were top-rated in the country because we had good food quality, fair prices, and consistency. And we always hired friendly people.

When hiring, a person’s background is important, but the most important to me was if they were a happy person. 

We had our staff for close to 20 years, so customers became very familiar with our restaurant.

Even if I wasn’t there with my wife working, we had the same staff there and patrons appreciated knowing all the staff.

If you package a good product with friendly people and consistency, you’ll have a good restaurant.

Advice for Opening a Restaurant

Know your style, that’s very important. Then, know what you want. Once you have those, I would personally recommend a smaller restaurant to start. Roughly 45 seats, which is similar to European restaurant models.

If you look at restaurants in France, some are just 45 seats and they are only prepped for this amount. They only take reservations and are open for a specific time period. They serve based upon their budget and there’s a reason for this – it works.

Even though it’s very hard to be simple; simplicity is key. People complicate things too much and it really can be simple.

Don’t be afraid to start the restaurant anywhere, but be prepared to suffer for at least 3 years.

Really put your head down and work hard. And don’t let your lifestyle dictate how you will run your business. You cannot squeeze your people because you need to afford a certain lifestyle.

For one year, my wife and I didn’t take a day off and we only had one car. We put our heads down and worked very hard.

If I were to recommend something today, I would say to open a 35-45 seat restaurant with no more than 2-3 people in the kitchen and start there.

“Once you acquire your knowledge, set a realistic goal, pick an idol, choose the area you want to become successful and go for it.”

Louis Perrotte

Advice for Partnering in Business

It’s very straightforward – proceed with caution.

Why?

Because oftentimes people don’t have a realistic goal. Without a realistic goal, a partnership can go south very quickly.

Though many great chefs have business partners.

Some have their spouses who run the business while they work with the food. This can be a good option.

Above all, I would say proceed with caution.

Advice to Entrepreneurs

It’s the most satisfying job you can have – being in the food business. And even as an entrepreneur in the industry.

You can make people happy and they show you right away. You can make a very big impact without having to make big changes with yourself or style, and that’s gratifying.

Food is so much a part of life. It’s a constant. You have food the day you’re born and the day you die. To me, it’s the best business. You can reinvent yourself time and time again. There are so many opportunities in food and directions you can do.

I would say go explore!

Final Thoughts

There were so many great takeaways from Chef Perrotte. From setting realistic goals, not letting ego cloud your progress, keeping things simple and starting small and growing from there.

In my conversations with aspiring culinary entrepreneurs, there are several continual challenges – getting started, making time and finding funds.

Using the advice from Chef Perrotte, I would say to aspiring entrepreneurs, avoid trying to learn “everything” before launching. Get enough information to launch, and go for it. I’d encourage to create a business plan and keep things as simple as possible from the start. And finally, just start. Start today, start now and build from there!

Thanks for taking the time to read and I look forward to any comments or thoughts you may have!

Also, grab a copy of the “10 Rules of Entrepreneurship” below to help with your entrepreneurial journey!

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