Simon Guobadia: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restauranteur
You should also always lead by example, be intentional in your leadership, and cultivate a safe work environment where the principle of work-life balance is always upheld.
As part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restaurateur”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Simon Goubadia.
Simon Guobadia, star of Porsha’s Family Matters on Bravo, is an entrepreneur, restauranteur, and entertainment industry investor. Guobadia is the founder and CEO of SIMCOL Group, a major player in the fuel supply sector of the Southeast. Simon is also CEO for the freight shipping company KLC Petroleum. Currently, Simon holds investments in several Atlanta-area restaurants including The Republic, DAS BBQ II, and LDV Hospitality subsidiary American Cut Steakhouse. He has also been involved in a number of past joint partnerships including Twelve Music and Publishing, KES Entertainment Group with music mogul Akon, and Simon Paige Productions. A man of many interests, Simon has ventured into the film industry, with executive producer credits on Jail House Dogs (2012), Ken Ford Live from the Buckhead Theatre (2013), Kill (2019), and Son of the South alongside Academy Award winner Spike Lee (2020).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restaurateur?
I consider food to be a work of art. While it nourishes our bodies, it also serves as a source of inspiration and connection, and I wanted to help bring that sense of creativity and community through food to my own city. For me, dining at a restaurant is all about the overall experience, from the chefs who express themselves and their artistic ability through their food, to the bonding of patrons who share those meals together.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
I love seafood gumbo; it’s a hearty, comfort food for all seasons. My first restaurant concept, Buckhead Bottle Bar in Atlanta, served what was — in my humble opinion — THE best seafood gumbo at the time. A bowl of it awaited me every time I showed up at the restaurant, and every cook on our staff learned how to replicate our original chef’s recipe to perfection.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a restaurateur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Our restaurant and lounge concept at the time attracted several A-Listers in entertainment. I recall one Sunday brunch I will never forget. At around 9 AM, I got a call from an attorney friend of mine, asking if he could stop by with a friend for some tea and coffee. Of cause, I said yes. He pulled up 10 minutes later, walked in, and right behind him was Denzel Washington. I sat and chopped it up with Denzel for a whole hour prior to opening for brunch. To this day, it is one of my fondest memories and most cherished experiences in the restaurant business. That was the day I learned you never know who you might meet!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
Like so many other business owners, I quickly learned that the restaurant industry can serve you many humbling experiences. It will also teach you about yourself. For instance, I did not come into the restaurant business with operating experience, much less a personal love for cooking. The idea of serving hundreds or thousands of people annually seemed like a farfetched dream, but still, I plunged in headfirst.
After two years in the business, two bankruptcies, and the major blow of the Covid-19 pandemic, I finally realized that I needed to get out of the restaurant business, or at least rethink my approach. I’ve since discovered that I am much better suited as an investor, where I can lend my expertise at supporting passionate chefs and talented operators in fulfilling their dreams. While Simon’s Restaurant has closed its doors, I am incredibly honored to be able to invest in other restaurant concepts bringing innovation and ingenuity to the community.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
The key to creating a restaurant that customers are crazy about is providing an experience well beyond the food. Of course, flavor and quality are important, but in my opinion, the best restaurants are those that speak to all the senses. Atmosphere, hospitality, and some level of entertainment will all elevate the dining experience beyond the meal itself.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
A perfect meal for me would include entertainment, good company, and a beautiful atmosphere to fully round out the experience for any guest who enters the restaurant.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
I am a researcher by trade, and so the key to my creativity resides in curiosity. Staying curious about the best locations, flavor profiles and combinations, the best talent — all of this helps me to keep looking at the industry with fresh eyes. The more my soul and mind crave to learn, the more new outlets I find for my creativity.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
I’m always looking into new projects that excite me whether it’s a new oil and gas project, a real estate development venture, or a new restaurant. The most important factor for me is whether a specific project will have a positive and lasting impact on my community.
What advice would you give to other restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
I would advise new or aspiring restaurateurs to build a strong team. When you surround yourself with inspired, capable talent, you can better delegate, allow others to take charge, and empower them in their individual roles. The anchor of any restaurant is the chef; once you find a chef who is passionate, driven, and knowledgeable in running a kitchen, the rest will fall into place. You should also always lead by example, be intentional in your leadership, and cultivate a safe work environment where the principle of work-life balance is always upheld.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restaurateur” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
The five things I wish someone told me when I first started out are:
- There are multiple moving parts of a restaurant — It’s not just about great food. Ensure that you have excellent leadership and systems in place so that your systems will run smoothly.
- Restaurants have a high failure rate — Just like any industry, restaurants come with a great deal of risk. It shouldn’t be a deterrent if you’re passionate, but it’s important to acknowledge the potential obstacles to your success.
- High turnover with staff — Be prepared to see good talent come and go.
- Low profit margins — It may be a while before you can call your restaurant a true success, and every good business invests back into itself.
- The importance of experience and collaboration — If, like me, you lack restaurant experience yourself, it’s critical that you find a strong operational lead or partner to help carry the experience and navigate the ever-changing market.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
That’s like choosing which child I love best. It’s too hard to choose, so try them all!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could inspire others, I’d hope to impress upon them the importance of learning, whether through success or failure. Every person that I admire from Barack Obama to Warren Buffett and Bill Gates has reached amazing heights not only through their victories, but through their hardships as well. I want more people to understand that nothing comes easily, and to grow, we must always be open and willing to learn.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!