Interview with Paul Van Berkon of Santa Maria BBQ
Thank you for joining us! What is some of your background and why did you choose to go into the restaurant business?
Thank you for having me on New Theory Magazine. When we started Santa Maria BBQ grill, there was a need to fill a retail location in a property in Buena Park. We saw this as the perfect opportunity to get into the restaurant space. We knew of a delicious tri-tip that was being sold at the local farmers market at the time and partnered with him to provide a quality product at Santa Maria BBQ grill. As for my background as an entrepreneur, I have owned many different businesses in the past and present, including a farm in North Dakota, a real estate business, entertainment business and various contracting businesses. My family as well, has a deep history in the restaurant business, with generations having owned restaurants, such as my father and grandparents before me. I personally think that restaurants, especially mom and pop shops, are beneficial for building a positive community. These small restaurants help keep the community connected by providing great food, even better service, and an intimate environment. Not only that, but since there are fewer small businesses in our area, Santa Maria BBQ grill is a good place for all our neighbors to gather as well as provide a network of healthy competition that pushes us all to grow as businesses. I am also grateful for the “melting pot” of cultures in California. There are so many cultures in our area from which we can learn from and understand, and food is the perfect introductions to these “melting pot” cultures.
Can you tell us how your business is making a positive impact in the community?
Santa Maria BBQ Grill and myself are always interested in giving back to our community and helping it grow. Our restaurant is always willing to host nonprofit events and work with them to provide benefits to those in our community who are in need. Recently we have worked with CityNet to help get the homeless back on their feet. We always welcome nonprofit organizations to come to our restaurants to host events and have recently worked with organizations like: Pastries and Paws, CityNet, St. Jude’s Children Hospital, The Boy Scouts of America, and Fathers Matter. Providing a friendly environment to help connect our community is one of main priorities.
What are some successes and some challenges you’ve had as an entrepreneur thus far?
Recently we have been experiencing some great success with our catering department. Though it is a difficult task, as usually our catering days happen to coincide with our busiest restaurant days. However, we have been working hard to develop the right structure to our catering so that we can provide the same quality that you receive on a normal day at our restaurant without simultaneously taking a step back in the quality of service at our restaurant. Interacting with our customers on a personal level has always been one of the focuses of our business, and we have seen tremendous success on that front. Many people with whom we can have a conversation with leave us with glowing reviews and return to our restaurant due to our focus on customer satisfaction. There is a lot to be learned from your customers, as we do when it comes time to bring in entertainment for our events. Having an avenue of open dialogue with our customers allows us to listen to their suggestions and feedback on what sort of entertainment they enjoy the most.
One of the biggest struggles I had early on as an entrepreneur was consistent communication. People take for granted our ability to communicate coherent concepts, but clear communication is the key to a successful business. When there is a disconnect of communication in my restaurant, chaos ensues; and it usually stems from the tiniest oversight. When running a business, one miscommunicated word can trickle down as your message is passed along and when the message reaches its desired recipient, it can convey something else entirely. Something that helped me overcome this struggle of communication was to put proper systems and structures in place. This really helped me run my business, because with a set system in place, there is much less room for error or miscommunication; everyone knows the systems and it becomes second nature to follow it. Finding the right kind of help and partnerships are also very difficult. Sometimes you bring people on that you think are going to help you grow but things don’t work out, while some people who were meant to be temporary end up becoming integral to your business. Keeping an open mind and being flexible about this truly helps to build the right team. Advertising also seems very inconsistent, as some time we will run an advertisement and get very little people in our restaurant and some days we will have a flood of people come in when we have not run an advertisement. It seems that it is hard to control the ebb and flow of our customers with advertisements.
What has inspired your some of your success as an entrepreneur?
I draw on the desire to help our community as my inspiration as an entrepreneur. When we can give back to the community that supports us and provide support to our local nonprofit, is when we feel like we have done our best work. Building personal relationships with our customers is also something that inspires our business. We make sure that building these connections with our customers is not just a goal, but a way of being for our business. We strive to make our business a representation of ourselves by putting as much of yourself into the business as possible.
Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs out there?
Yes, I have so much advice to give! One of the most important things when you are just starting out is to find good partners who will support you. These partners will be in with you for a large majority of your business, so make sure that they are reliable and that you can all work well together. You should also discuss who with be liable amongst your partners and the others should back them up. It may be an uncomfortable conversation, but it is better to have it early on rather than figuring it out in a time of need. It is also a good idea to put your business under your name as soon as possible, whether that be under a corporation or an LLC. At this point, it is also good to build a backout plan, in case life rears its ugly head and throws a wrench in all your plans. However, perseverance is also key. Sometimes, it takes longer for a business to really build traction and take off. While you may not be able to pay all the bills in the beginning, maintaining a business is a long-term commitment and sometimes it just takes a little bit of patience and perseverance to see the fruits of your labor.
What is some advice that you wish you had been given when you first started?
Looking back at the early days of running a business, I wish I had been told to be more organized in developing the structures and systems that will support my business. Building in structure to allow for your downtime is also something that I wish I was advised on, as stepping away from your business from time to time not only gives you time to unwind, but also ensures that the business is not reliant on you. Being able to trust your team and being open to finding the right people who will help to support your business is also key. The one piece of advice that I wish I had received when I was starting Santa Maria BBQ Grill was that the first month was going to be all over the place; and having the perseverance to endure through that difficult first month is a must.
What is your vision for your business in the future?
We are hoping to expand after seeing the success of Santa Maria BBQ Grill. Having already seen success by branching out into catering, we are looking to open more locations in the near future. Hopefully, this means that we can open your favorite BBQ restaurant closer to where you are! Beyond just the expansion of our business, we enjoy putting back into the organizations that keep our community together. So, we want to continue to give back to our local nonprofits in any way that we can. Lastly, we want to keep helping to develop our community by strengthening the bond between mom and pop shops. We really are the backbone of our community and are pivotal to the continued development of our community.
Finally, where can we find you and how can we reach you?
You can find all our contact information on SantaMariaBBQShack.com or you can call us at (951)456-2271
Our address is: Santa Maria BBQ Grill, 8002 Orangethorpe Ave. Buena Park, CA 90621
We’re open Tues-Sun and we look forward to seeing you soon!