Welcome to Behind the Brand—where Influenster editors sit down and chat with some of the men and women behind the companies that inspire us the most.
David Hitchner is no stranger to the restaurant business. He started out small in high school working at a sandwich shop to gain experience and worked his way up to mogul status. He's built two companies—ABC Beer Co. and Alphabet City Wine Co.—and continues to co-run two other hot spots in Lower Manhattan—Lois Bar and In Vino wine bar and restaurant. The key to Hitchner's success? Staying motivated and passionate about your work and keeping things adventurous. Read on to find out more about how this connoisseur made Alphabet City the home of his expanding empire.
What is the worst job you've ever had?
"My worst job was selling Cutco knives the summer after I graduated high school. I did my presentation to my friends' parents and sold some knives, but I didn't really pursue the warm leads that we were supposed to generate from these initial sales presentations. Funny enough, I try to sell friends of mine on them now when I cook because I've used my same sample set for years and they really are awesome! It shows that once you believe in a product, it shouldn't feel like sales."
What is the best job you've ever had?
"My work right now is the best job I've ever had—it's definitely more work, but the independence and autonomy is hard to beat. There's definitely a ton of pressure and at times, I wish I could just "clock out" for some time, but it comes with the territory. Outside running my own businesses, bussing tables down at Rhumblines in St. John, US Virgin Islands, wasn't too bad!"
How did you land your first job in the industry?
"Nothing too exciting here—just submitted an application to the local Blimpie's sub shop a couple blocks from my house. I was a freshman in high school and working the weekends to make a few extra dollars."
How did you land your current job?
"I got started out on running my own businesses when In Vino, the restaurant where I was working at when I moved to NYC, went up for sale. Two other waiters and I were already in the midst of trying to open a wine store in the area, wanted to keep our jobs, and were able to raise enough money to take over the restaurant. Though we were running many aspects of the restaurant before we bought it, we were still flying by the seat of our pants by the time we took over complete control."
Is your career what you expected it to be? (What you saw yourself doing in college/early years?)
"I was an English Literature major at McGill University in Montreal, and I had ambitions to become a writer. In the first couple years of running the restaurant and the wine store, I carved out some time to write, but it's been a while since I've sat down with a pen and paper (or a laptop)."
To prep for an interview, someone should always....
"I've definitely been the interviewer more than the interviewee, and I would say that someone should be themselves and be honest about why they want to be considered for the position. If someone says they'd like to open a wine shop and they want to learn the business from the bottom on up, it doesn't send a threatening message to me. Rather, it suggests that they will be self-motivated and a hard worker who will not be counting the minutes until his/her shift is over. I've had several employees open up their own businesses, and I'm very happy for them!"
What is your favorite part about your job?
"Tasting wine, particularly at winemaker lunches. It's a great (and free!) way to try new wines at new restaurants with the person who actually made the wine."
Any words of advice for millennials who want to start their own company?
"In the food and beverage sector, labor and cost of goods are the two most important factors that one can control. On the labor side, make sure to pay yourself appropriately. I've seen people who drastically overvalue and undervalue themselves, particularly at the outset of a new venture. What would you pay someone to do your job? If you look at your pay that way, you put yourself in a good position to grow as you can outsource some of your more rudimentary tasks as you grow to focus on bigger, more important issues. If you're paying yourself too much at the outset though, it's going to be hard to grow (and hard to get investors)."
How do you handle setbacks—whether it be a missed opportunity, something not turning out your way, or disagreeing with a co-worker.
"This is probably something that I could do a better job handling. At the least, I don't dwell on them very long—best to just keep moving forward."
What was the biggest win or accomplishment you've had in your career? Anything you're most proud of?
"I can't point to one exact achievement. I think the feeling of walking into one of the businesses and feeling the vibe that we set out to accomplish. In the case of Alphabet City Beer Co., it's sitting on one of the couches with a beer in hand, and see people drinking great craft beer, playing cards at the communal table, and good tunes playing overhead."
What inspires you?
"I take inspiration from all around—sometimes from a particularly good wine, sometimes from the staff, often from the neighborhood itself."
Is there anything we should be watching out for?
"I think in the restaurant industry, the no-tipping/living wage issues are something that people will see more and more. At Lois Bar, we have already instituted it and have found that both employees and customers like it."