The Mindset of a Future Entrepreneur: Chef Geoff Tracy at TEDxMidAtlantic 2012 (Transcript)

Chef Geoff Tracy – TRANSCRIPT

Good afternoon. This is a photo of the most important day of my career. It was the day I became an entrepreneur. It was opening day. June 2nd, 2000 and I was 27 years old. That’s me in the tie. That was the last day I wore a tie in my restaurant. Opening the doors to my first restaurant, has brought me a great deal of happiness and joy. I love my career so much, that I don’t even consider it work. It’s my identity, it’s who I am, it’s in my soul and it’s really, really awesome.

Having an entrepreneurial career, has let me do all the things that I love to do over the last 12 years. I get to lead. I get to crate things from absolutely nothing. Build restaurants from scratch, make dishes. I get to wear jeans to work. This is good stuff.

But how did I get to there – to my June 2nd, 2000? I mean hard work and preparation, yeah, that’s a given. But the mind of an inspiring entrepreneur has to be twisted just right to have the fortitude to jump off that entrepreneurial cliff. Because, if you don’t have your June 2nd, 2000, your opening day, you can’t enjoy the entrepreneurial career.

So today, I’ve tried to think back and tried to figure out what it was that was going through my mind in the years leading up to June 2nd, 2000 that enabled me to get a business, in this case a restaurant, not to become successful but rather just to the starting line. So, people always ask, how did I find my passion. I think that’s the wrong way to think about it. Is too passive. I mean, I was 17 years old and I was a busboy in a restaurant. I was refilling waters and resetting tables. This was not an exclusive experience.

But I saw a lot of fun, I saw a lot of excitement. I saw cooks cooking, chefs yelling, I saw servers taking care of guests who were eating, drinking and having fun. And so, I got excited about it. People having a great time. There could’ve been other fields that I could’ve chosen to become passionate about, but my experience was a restaurant and that’s what I choose to become excited about. It wasn’t love at first sight, It wasn’t something that I stumbled upon, it doesn’t just happen.

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The future entrepreneur has experiences, has experiences and evaluates them not for what they are, but for what they could be. They find something that has potential for them, and then they choose to become passionate about it.

[Do the road not taken thing]

The worst thing a future entrepreneur can do is follow that normal path. As a Georgetown University student back there in 1995, I graduated then – the normal thing for me to do would’ve been to go to law school and become just another lawyer. But instead, I met a family friend who is in the restaurant business, I sat down with them and I asked him, what it would take to make a great career in that industry. And so for me, the road not taken was turning that very expensive diploma into an 8 dollar an hour restaurant job.

And then converting that experience into two years at Culinary School, where a typical day might involve tasting wine, stuffing sausages, and taking a chainsaw to a 500 pound block of ice and turning it into a swan. You know – fun stuff. The road I took raised a few eyebrows amongst my family and my friends, but for me it truly has made all the difference.

[Get uncomfortable]

If your goal is to climb a ladder, not because you want to become the vice president of a certain department but rather because someday you want to own a ladder. Comfort equals complacency. I can still remember how stressed I would be – In my early twenties, every time I was working in a new restaurant, because there was so much to learn. And I like to say that, you know, if you are starting on sauté station for the first time in a restaurant on a particular evening, the guest really doesn’t care whether it’s one day or day one hundred. And there was so much to learn.

But what I realized was, that was a good thing, that I was uncomfortable, because as long as I could be uncomfortable I knew I was just learning a ton. Now, this would drive my boss crazy, because I kept asking to be in new positions all the time.

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So, when I first started out, I was a host and there I was plating desserts, and then I was frying calamari and this is all within about 6-month period. And then, I get a second job waiting tables, just so I could learn it. Then I started working on a grill station, then sauté station, and then I went to Culinary School, where everyday was new and different and there was so much to learn. Then I graduated and I got a job as a sous-chef. And soon as I became even descent at that – I quit and become a dining room manager. I mastered none of it. But it was the experience, it was the experiences I was after. I mean, after all I was only 26 years old at this time. For the future entrepreneur, once something starts to feel comfortable, that is the sign that it’s time to seek out new challenges and opportunity.

[Embrace imperfection when seeking opportunity]

If you really want to accomplish nothing in life, then just wait around for the perfect opportunity. I was 27 years old, I was 27 years old when I walked into the space that would soon become my first restaurant. The place had been abandoned by the previous tenant, and I mean literally abandoned. There were uniforms and napkins just strewn on the bar and over here in the dinning room there were dirty plates with dirty glass wear still on the table. And in the kitchen – every faucet in the whole place was dripping and leaking. Half the equipment didn’t even work.

I was in there with flashlights, because 6 months prior the electricity had been cut off, but still there was a ton of food in all the walk-in refrigerators. The smell was so bad. It was awful. The stench – vile. But to me, to me, all of it – was a dream come true, because it was my opportunity. And so, when I signed a lease, we and cleaned the whole place out. And I actually tried to hire a company to go in there and actually clean it all up. But, nobody wanted to do it. So, I did it myself.

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And the point is that an opportunity that’s held together with duct tape is still an opportunity. A future entrepreneur picks one, picks an opportunity and just gets to work. To me life is an amazing, wonderful and awesome thing. But in the history of mankind, over one billion people have lived. And without exception, their lives have resulted in their deaths. Life is a terminal experience. There is no knighting come back. The game just ends at a certain point.

The opportunity to win, or more importantly to even just play – that time is now. So I grasped this, even is a 20-something-year old and I understood that life was not something to be coddled nor frivolously wasted. A future entrepreneur understands that life is meant to be lived. You have to go after it. Because life is not forever. And for me, that was the ultimate incentive, to make it to my opening day. And I hope all the future entrepreneurs in this room, or anybody else they are able to make it to theirs. Thank you very much.

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