In this episode, we sit down with Zach Feinstein, the owner of The Feinstein Group. Zach started his ownership journey with his wife Christina when they purchased a small local restaurant in the heart of Dunedin, Florida. That restaurant is The Black Pearl, located in Dunedin’s vibrant downtown area. Since then, Zach and Christina have established The Feinstein Group as one of the most well respected restaurant groups in the Tampa Bay area. Some of their other restaurants include The Living Room on Main, Sounder Social, and a new concept for weekly meal delivery, Eat Feast Local.
Zach and Christina have spent many long days and long nights growing their business into what it is today. From the beginning, they knew what they were looking for, so much so that they visited 75 different restaurants across the state of Florida before finding the perfect one in Dunedin, Florida. Listen in as Zach shares his story of building The Feinstein Group and what they have on the horizon for 2021!
The Feinstein Group resources: http://www.tfg.ventures/
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Zach Feinstein | The Feinstein Group
We’re here with Zach Feinstein, Owner of The Feinstein Group, who runs three different restaurants here in Dunedin, Florida. If you haven’t been to The Black Pearl, The Living Room and Sonder Social Club, I highly recommend them. Not only food but there are best experiences you’re going to have here in the Dunedin area. Go check them out. I’m excited to talk with Zach, learn more about how they became The Feinstein Group and what they have on the horizon. Let’s go.
I appreciate you jumping on a show with me. I’m excited to chat with you to learn more about your business, what you guys are doing at The Feinstein Group and explore that a little bit more. For those people reading that don’t know anything about your restaurant or haven’t been to any of your establishments, can you tell us a little bit about it?
My wife and I founded The Feinstein Group in 2014, we acquired The Black Pearl, which is a French-American fine-dining restaurant in Downtown Dunedin. Since then, we’ve acquired The Living Room, which is another restaurant downtown. It’s like an upscale casual new American restaurant. We also opened in 2021 Sonder Social Club, an upscale craft cocktail bar. We also used to have a barbecue restaurant in Palm Harbor, which you’re familiar with. You love the wings there but we had to close due to COVID. We’re still a relatively young company but trying to grow and do good things. We’ve been fortunate with Coronavirus to not be decimated because of it but have had to add some casualties, for sure.
2020 has been a crazy year. There are a lot of other businesses that had to shut down. You were fortunate to have some variety there and were able to keep the others afloat, which was good. Take us back. Before you purchased The Black Pearl, where did all this start and come from?
For myself, I went to the Rosen College of Hospitality Management. I’ve always been in restaurants in pretty much every job I’ve ever had. I worked at Target once, which wasn’t fun but besides that, I’ve always worked in restaurants. I ended up going to College at Rosen, worked my way as a general manager of a restaurant through college. I worked at Bon Appetit out of college here in Dunedin and then decided I wanted to take a corporate track and started working for Burger King corporate out of Miami.
That’s where I met my wife, Christina. Christina has her Law degree and MBA. We make a good double threat because she’s good with everything I’m not good at. She’s also good at the stuff I am good at. We were both making great money for Burger King. It was St Patrick’s Day, the year before we bought The Black Pearl. She looked over at me and was like, “Are you happy at work?” We’re both working 100-plus hours in 1 week. I was like, “If we’re going to be working as much, I’d rather do it for ourselves.” We traveled all over the state of Florida. I looked at 75 different restaurants with our broker and ended up buying The Black Pearl. It’s ironic because I did grow up in Dunedin. I went to high school, San Jose Elementary, middle. It was ironic that it was the restaurant that we ended up going with.
I left my job with Burger King and got a job with all the locals as a multistore manager to pay our bills. The Black Pearl can’t support both of us. Christina stayed on with Burger King and was driving from Tampa to Orlando every morning for work, which is crazy. She ended up getting a job with HSN. For years, she grew up in the company there and then we ended up buying The Living Room. We’re able to support ourselves. We both left our corporate jobs and have continually grown the company since then. We’ve been fortunate and it’s been a pretty fun experience, especially since your wife is awesome. A lot of people say they can’t have their wife as their business partner. I couldn’t do it without her. It’s been nice to be able to have that experience with her and continue to grow. We have plenty of time left. That’s the goal at least.
You work two jobs. You grew The Black Pearl when you first bought it and still kept your day job while you’re growing that.
When we first bought it, Burger King was like, “Don’t worry.” We were both fairly high up in the company. “Zack, we’ll move you to Tampa and can oversee a restaurant while you’re working with us.” They promised Christina the same thing and didn’t fulfill that promise. Christina and I both woke up at 3:00 in the morning. I kiss her goodbye. She drives to Orlando for the day. I leave the house by 4:00 AM and be driving between all these in Tampa. Once we’d be done with work at 5:00, 6:00, we both get on nice clothes, go to The Black Pearl and work there all night.
We did that for a little over a year. Christina did it longer. We bought The Black Pearl and then the following year, we bought The Living Room. When we bought The Living Room, I ended up leaving and doing full-time. Christina still worked two jobs until about a year after that. Not without labor, that’s a phrase I like to use but we’ve worked our butts off to where we’re at, for sure.
That’s one thing that people have to do to have any success. If you want to open up or run your own business, it takes a lot of work. A lot of people, especially with social media and stuff think it can be done a lot faster or quicker. They see examples and think it’s done that way. It’s a lot of hours.
It’s hard work, a little bit of luck too. All in all, though, using our corporate experience to help grow our company has been good and we’ve learned a ton along the way. I would be lying to you if I told you I haven’t lost a crapload of money doing stupid stuff. That’s what you learn. Education is expensive. It depends on how you pay for it. It’s all sorts of ways.
I got a couple of questions about getting started and opening your business but have you always wanted to have your business? Is this a passion you’ve always had?
Look at your business from an analytical standpoint, not an emotional standpoint.
I think so. Are you from the area originally?
Yeah, I grew up here as well.
My father owned a company called Internet Junction locally. It was an internet service provider in the ‘90s and early 2000s and his parents were entrepreneurs. I’ve always seen that growing up. It wasn’t something I focused on but it wasn’t out of the realm. It was when Christina asked me, I’m like, “I would like to do that,” but it never frightened me or anything. It’s still wild that it’s gotten to where it’s been but in the beginning, it was like, “Jumping off the cliff initially was terrifying because we both had great trajectories at Burger King.” If I could go back to that day, I would never change anything. It’s been great.
Instead of your restaurant from your concept, why purchase a couple of restaurants, to begin with?
I will let you know especially in the restaurant, I’m the first person to say that Christina and I are not chefs. I like to cook. It was finding an established brand that had a good reputation and an opportunity for growth. When we bought The Black Pearl, the couple that owned it were wonderful people but they were in the retirement phase of their life. They were not looking to expand it or do anything else. It was perfect to come in and revitalize a little bit. When we took over The Black Pearl, the executive chef was the former owner’s son and he ended up leaving.
The sous chef there, his name’s Christopher Artrip. He’s our chief culinary officer. He did all of Iron Oaks menu, The Living Room’s menus and The Black Pearl. It’s been neat because we’re seeing people that started with us at the very beginning when we had six employees grow to a little bit bigger company. We sat down and ate dinner at all these 75 different restaurants. We were at The Black Pearl. Christina and I looked at each other like, “This is the place.” In hindsight, it doesn’t make a whole lot of money. Even say a little higher volume would’ve made sense but it ended up working out beautifully for us.
Were you looking for something like The Black Pearl, a fine dining place?
From our corporate experience, I honestly was looking for a restaurant that was healthy financially and had a brand that was known. It was by far the best that we had looked at. We saw the opportunity for growth there. That was the biggest thing. With our corporate experience, we understand looking at financial statements for a restaurant, how it’s doing and get a full sense. After seeing the way that it was run and the small improvements we could make to up sales pretty easily, we were like, “Let’s go with it.” I’m very happy. It’s still my and Christina’s favorite restaurant.
I was looking at your website. You also do consulting services for other restaurants or businesses as well. Where does this come from? Why do you do this as well?
We operate restaurants but the previous job that both Christina and I had with Burger King, mine was international, hers was domestic but Burger King send me to get my Six Sigma, which is a problem-solving technique. It’s a very symbolized way of saying it. They send us away and our jobs were to take these large-scale franchisees and help them improve their businesses. I don’t mean sales.
Is your CEO treating your other executives the right way? From top to bottom in an organization, how to improve the organization, profitability, employee retention, you name it, that’s what the job was. What we’ve realized after owning a small business and seeing a lot of other small business owners, a lot of the things that come second nature to us, we’ve been doing them for so long.
I realized that a lot of people don’t have access to or don’t understand. All of our consulting clients we sign NDAs for. I can’t speak about a certain business. We are working on a couple of different projects. I’m happy to say that for every person we’re working with we’ve increased profitability for increased sales, not working with them for a long time. It’s showing people how to run a business the right way, how to look at your business from an analytical standpoint, not an emotional standpoint to make decisions that don’t degrade your brand but that can help improve your profitability, sales, so on and so forth.
It’s what I prefer to do. I love running restaurants but I love looking for businesses and being able to help. It’s cool. We have a client I’m working with. There’s a small change we made with them and their labor forecasting, saving this guy $30,000, $40,000 a year. It was a small little change. For me, little stuff like that is so rewarding. The bank accounts are a little fuller for every month and it feels good.
As small business owners, that’s their livelihood. That’s how they feed their family and stuff. That has a huge impact on them.
It’s nice to be able to help people with that. Put food on the table for their family and not like putting money in the pockets of shareholders.
That’s your background. That’s why you got into the consulting thing. Is that something new that you have done?
It happened naturally but before we opened Sonder, restaurant owners came to us like, “Can you help me with this?” After working with 2 or 3 of them, I’m like, “We could offer some value to people.” We’ve been doing it for years. It’s not just restaurants. It’s any business. It doesn’t matter. We do consult, operations, sales, building, marketing, whatever. We also offer bookkeeping services as well and financial services. We can do all your books, checks, sales tax, anything you need. It’s a complete suite that we’re doing and that’s new. It’s been fun.
That’s quite the story to go from years ago, you guys buying the first restaurant. You have three of them and the consulting side of it as well. That’s pretty incredible to do that in a few years.
You were one of our test subjects for our newest concept. It was a little pivot for us for this local thing but it is a whole other piece.
From my perspective, what I gather is you’re helping support the other local businesses as well because they’re able to use their facilities to prepare these dishes for people.
It’s like freshly meal prep. Factor 75 is another big one. We have our intellectual property and our recipes that have all the nutrition facts. We give that recipe to a restaurant and train them how to cook it. They cook it, package it and you pick it up. The opportunity is huge for it. We see that with the economy, environment and selection. Getting it out has been a little bit more difficult than we had thought but it’s worked and starting traction. That’s good.
You touched on a lot of different parts of the restaurant business being owners, consulting and doing the meal prep service. Have you always had this big vision for the company? Is this added on as you felt?
I’ve always wanted to have it. As far as how we get there and you need to be, it’s more of a day-to-day and figuring out when things come available and opportunities arise. Our five-year strategic plan is ebbs and flows of what’s happening. We’re always pushing to do something else and something new. My wife is good at slowing me down a little bit. We always wanted to have a large portfolio of restaurants but it’s evolving and I’m learning more things about myself. My wife would say the same. There are other things we like as well. It’s nice. Anyone that wants to start their own business, do it because it’s the best thing I’ve ever done aside from getting married and having a beautiful daughter. That’s numbers 1 and 2. Number three would be starting on something.
I can relate to that as well. I’ve been in real estate for years. I look back and I’m glad I pulled the trigger and did it when I decided to do it. I can’t ever imagine whether I stay in real estate or not. I can’t imagine going back and working a corporate job or 9:00 to 5:00. It’s not going to happen. Once you take that plunge, it opens up a new way of thinking and you can’t go back.
It’s a cliché. You do only get to live once. Do the things that you want to do and be a good person when you do them. You’ll be successful if you do that.
Talk to me about what’s been the hardest thing about starting your own business.
You only get to live once and you only get one family, so spend more time with them.
Especially in our space, the work-life balance, we’re finally getting to a point that’s almost like Coronavirus made me reevaluate how much I was working. Working and being successful is great. The reward is your family and the time you get to spend. That has been the most difficult thing. The work-life balance, spending quality time with our daughter and my wife. My big project for 2020 has been to revitalize my time and organize myself so that I can spend more time with my family. You only get to live once and only get one family.
That’s common. You’re reading this, own a business and working 100 hours a week. You’re not doing something right because you should never be working that much. There’s never a reason to have to work 100 hours. Unless you’re building something that has to be built by a date. You’re unorganized, not spending your time in the right places but that’s been a fun thing in lowering our workload and being more efficient.
Owning your business, there’s always a list of things to do or get done. The list never ends. It’s not like you can clock out and say, “I’m done for the day.” That stuff is always on your mind. How do you try to tweak that to have more free time? Any techniques?
A big part of it is time management. Having a good talent and sticking to your calendar and routine is a big thing. I was never a morning person, which is ironic but having a daughter, it forces you to do it. Utilizing those early mornings to get things done. My daughter goes to sleep at 7:00. My wife and I started the bedtime routine. If I get a phone call about something at 7:00 and my daughter is asleep, it’s like, “Can this wait 25 minutes?” Usually, the answer is yes. One percent of the time, there’s something that’s you need to take care of. It’s prioritizing the level of urgency of what you’re hearing about, keeping a good routine and sticking to that every single day. After you do that for a while, you can fall into the groove and then it’s like, “I’m off. I don’t want to do it.”
We also had a daughter. We’re going through similar phases as well but with that whole nighttime routine and stuff, it allows you to check out of work and put the phone away. That’s something I’ve struggled with as well. I keep working if I didn’t have anything to do. My focus is from 6:00 to 8:00. I get home and I’m hanging out with my daughter. We do dinner and stuff like that. She goes to bed by 8:00. We put our phones down, step away from the business and spend that time together.
It’s one of the most rewarding things that I’ve done. I’d give up anything for my daughter but it’s rewarding to be able to spend that time.
I want to talk a little bit about Iron Oak. We like Iron Oak and that was one that you had to shut down because of COVID-19 and everything that happened there. Tell me a little bit about what happened there.
Iron Oak opened on Memorial Day of 2018. It was our newest step out of our first thing outside of the restaurants we had purchased. Honestly, an opportunity arose. Usually, we approach things so analytically and we didn’t do that. I didn’t do research and look at the businesses down there. It was a combination of things. In August 2018, my father passed away. I took several months of bereavement from that. We were away from the business, which is not good when you start a new business, especially a restaurant. We struggled to find the right staff there for a long time. Aside from that, Downtown Palm Harbor wasn’t our clientele for the most part.
I don’t know if would’ve done well somewhere else but COVID-19 was the nail for us. We were talking to our landlord before that about exiting and everything but it solidified it for us. We had planned on doing it but COVID drove it home for us. Another great example is I was being stubborn about, “We’re going to keep trying whatever,” but we’ve closed it. My stress and workload have been alleviated quite a bit. We get to focus on some other things that we’re doing, which is great.
I can imagine that’s going to be a difficult decision. It was a concept that you had developed to create it and branched out to do that. With that, you’ve had new things like feasts local and stuff that you’ve been able to focus on.
A lot of the staff that we have all got to get jobs elsewhere. At the end of the day, I feel like it was better for everybody. The landlords are a lot happier so everyone’s happy.
Is there anything else that you have come into work that you can share or chat about?
I can’t give specifics but I can say that we are open to the idea and talking to a couple of different developers, possibly about a new Living Room elsewhere in Tampa Bay, which is exciting.
The Living Room is one of the coolest places in Dunedin.
We take a lot of pride in what we do. We revamped our menu with COVID. We put more burgers, which made it more approachable and not as expensive. People responded well to it, which has been interesting. It’s a brand we know we can do more of and we’re in the process of a little facelift there. You’ll see some nice changes in The Living Room.
Did you grow up in Dunedin?
I grew up on Michigan Boulevard.
You like the area and it made sense when you found The Black Pearl to come back.
We both lived in South Florida and my wife is from the Bronx in New York. She’s a big city girl. We went to The Black Pearl and walked around afterward. She’s like, “This is such a cool city.” We abandoned my mom’s house before that but never spent a bunch of time downtown. She fell in love with it and we’ve been here since we moved from Miami. I love it. It’s the coolest little city and the most underrated ZIP code in Tampa Bay, for sure.
It’s only getting better too. It continues to improve. It’s a great area. It’s helped other areas like Palm Harbor advance, grow and do other things.
It’s going to be anything thing to see. When I was younger, St. Pete was such a great example. You didn’t go to St. Pete. You didn’t know that. We were there walking around with our stroller. Pinellas and Tampa Bay in general are turning into such an art-driven, curated, food and drink. Everything is getting so much better. It’s awesome.
If there’s anybody reading who is thinking about starting a business or taking that plunge, whatever it is, do you have any tips or advice for them about doing that?
Have a plan and when I say a plan, it’s not like, “We’re going to rent a space here.” You need to have a plan. You’re opening a restaurant. How much does your paper garnish get it down to the T? If you have a plan, fewer surprises you. You went to business school or college. You had a project making a business plan and you hated it. No one likes writing business plans but it’s so important. Live by that. That’s something that people overlook. It’s not a project you do in college. It’s super important to be successful. Launch anything you’re doing. It could be a gym, a real estate office, having a good plan in place. Your outlook over the next five years in your business is super important.
That’s something that I’ve learned over years. I have a degree in Biology. The whole business concept wasn’t something that I had planned on doing. I’ve learned that having that plan is extremely important and sticking to the plan. You can do all the planning if you want but if you don’t live and breathe that plan and stick to it, it doesn’t matter. You’re wasting your time at that point.
Don’t close yourself off to anything. A perfect example is Feast Local. I would never in my life say, “I’m going to start a meal prep company,” but you have the idea. We’re open to and we tried it. It’s going to do fairly well. Don’t be afraid to try things. If you commit, commit 100%. Don’t put 1 foot in and 1 foot out. Believe in yourself. It’s also very important.
I appreciate you jumping on here with me talking about your business and what you have gone through. Thanks for your time. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do in the future.
Don’t be afraid to try things if you commit yourself 100%.
Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.
One of the things that stood out to me that I wanted to recap when talking with Zach is the fact that they’ve visited 75 different restaurants when they were making that first decision as to what restaurant to buy. That’s a huge point because, with social media and instant gratification that we’re all searching for, it can be challenging to be patient. Especially so when you’re starting a business and you want to get that first one, you may be excited to jump into the business or buy your first restaurant. They showed patience, did their homework, made sure that they visited 75 different ones, ran the numbers on each one and it all worked out in the end.
They found the one that they were supposed to find. It made sense from the vibe that they were looking for and the numbers perspective as well. It worked out for them. Patience is the key. Patience and trusting the process, I can’t emphasize that enough. If you’re wanting to learn more about The Feinstein Group and what they’re doing, you can visit them at TFG.Ventures.
If you heard us mention The Feast Local, the little meal delivery service that they are starting up, you can find them on Instagram as well. They are @EatFeastLocal. Check them out. If you haven’t visited any of the restaurants, I highly recommend them. The Living Room is a place to grab a great meal, sit out on their patio and enjoy the downtown dining and vibe. Thank you all for reading. We’ll see you next time.