For those of us in Generation X, it’s become fairly normal to switch careers, often making a dramatic change at a time when our parents would have been planning for retirement. Entrepreneur Lloyd Rosenman and his business partners went through this very thing last year when they opened Mexican restaurant Tocolo Cantina in Garden City, New York.
A graduate of UPenn’s esteemed Wharton School, Rosenman’s career went from zero to sixty in trading equities, and later with a role as Vice President at his family’s fuel company. He eventually transitioned to a finance gig at First New York Securities, trading with the best of the best for over 13 years. But in 2014, Rosenman saw the realization of a dream as Tocolo Cantina opened its doors.
So why would a well-educated man with the world at his feet decide to take a gamble on such a risky venture? We had to find out more about Lloyd Rosenman’s unique career choices, so we got all in his business with this UrbLife exclusive! Read on…
Tell us about the decisions you made to go from working in fuel, to securities, to owning a restaurant. What inspired each career move?
Lloyd Rosenman: Right out of college I wanted to make my own way and I got into trading equities. Years later, my father asked me to join the family business in heating oil. After we sold the business, I went back to trading – but it wasn’t my passion. I had always wanted to open a Mexican restaurant, and when the pieces fell into place, I jumped at the opportunity.
You could have opted for any kind of restaurant, so why did you decide on getting involved with Mexican cuisine? What is it about the food, culture, etc. that excites you?
LR: I really love Mexican food. It makes people happy. People come to Tocolo to celebrate, to laugh and to have a great time. My partners and I felt Mexican food on Long Island wasn’t at the level that in the best places in Mexico and California, which is a big influence in the food we serve here.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge in opening the restaurant? How did you overcome or how are you working to overcome that?
LR: Wow, there have been so many! But, once we put the right team together I knew that we could do it. From the chef, the architect to finding the right GM, we chose a great team and together we have created something amazing.
I think my biggest challenge has been managing our people, especially at the beginning. We thought we were going to be ready to open in October, but construction delays and problems with the approvals pushed us into a December opening. We had to string along 40 people who were waiting to work for us. We lost some good candidates along the way. It also made us lose credibility with our future employees before they even knew us well.
Ultimately, we got a great core group and we were able to pick up good people in the early days of being open. Honest and smart communication with the staff let them trust us even though we were missing deadlines.
How does your partnership with with your team? How do you all delegate to keep things going smoothly?
LR: My partners are Jacob Rejwan, Todd Birnbaum and Chef Alexis Samayoa. Jacob is my brother-in-law. The key was that we clearly defined our roles at the start of the partnership. Todd has been in the industry for many years and has been the voice of experience. I run the day to day and Jacob keeps a watchful eye on the finances.
What is your favorite thing about your job? What do you look forward to most each day?
LR: That is an easy one! Watching people enjoying Tocolo is the best part. When our patrons tell me at the end of the meal that “Long Island needed a place like this”, it brings a huge smile to my face.
How do you balance your personal life and your work? Restaurants can have you working extra long days…
LR: This goes back to having a great team. Todd, Jacob and I have a rotating schedule for the weekend dinners, so we all get to spend time with our families and we all have our own insights into where we can improve. We strive to constantly get better. My wife and kids have been very supportive throughout. And my five-year-old, Sophie, is my best PR person! She tells everyone she meets about Tocolo.
What do you like most about your customers thus far? Do you have any good stories?
LR: I have one anecdote about one of our regular customers – he works nearby and over a two-day period he was here for lunch, dinner and then lunch again. I shook his hand warmly and told him he is our MVP. Our customers have really come from a wide geographic area. We get people from Queens, the North Shore and the South Shore. It is really great hearing people tell you they traveled 25 minutes just to eat at Tocolo and that they can’t wait to come back!
How do you go about deciding on the menu? Assuming Chef Alexis creates most items, do you then get a vote on what stays and what goes?
LR: When we first met Chef Alexis, we showed him a sample menu of what we were thinking about. He took it and ran with it. Then we did several tastings before any food was served to customers. We had a couple of comments and refinements, but overall, this is his menu and his food and it is great.
If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps to open a restaurant, what would your number one piece of advice be for them?
LR: Have a clear vision of what you are creating, who your customer is, and where they live.
What do you want people to know most about you at this stage of your life and career?
LR: I walked away from finance to build something – a business with ties to the community. I am really excited about that. To me, building a business, especially a hospitality business, means forging a lasting relationship with our customers and community. Of course, we are a for profit enterprise, but it also feels good to put a smile on people’s faces.
Personally, I feel this is the beginning of something big for me. I feel like I have been pushing my sled up the hill for a while now, and I am ready to jump on and take a great ride.