Leaving A Corporate Job To Start A Restaurant
Eva of Snowy Village, Seattle, WA
Nate: Hello and welcome. You’ve found “The Savory Secret” where we talk to and learn lessons from founders on starting and growing a thriving restaurant. I’m your host, Nate Ver Burg. Our guest on the show today is Eva of Snowy Village Cafe located in Seattle, Washington. Eva didn’t have a restaurant background, nor experience in owning a business yet she gave up the security of a comfortable corporate job in tech to open a restaurant. Learn how she overcame delays and setbacks along the way, along with her secret to what it takes to launch and operate a successful restaurant. Welcome, Eva. It’s great to have you on the show today.
Eva: Thanks for having me, Nate.
Nate: Absolutely. So we’re gonna start right at the top. Tell us a little bit about yourself before you ever got into the restaurant business.
Eva: So I’m actually from Oregon, and I came up to Seattle for school and I decided to stay in Seattle just because I wanted to be away from my parents. When I’m at home, I tend to get a little more lazy. My mom does a lot of things for me. So I decided the distance will be good for me. So I decided to stay in Seattle. And I also found a job here. And so that’s where I’m at right now.
Nate: That’s good. And how long have you been in Seattle?
Eva: Since 2011 so like, that’s about 9 years now.
Nate: When you were growing up, did you ever see yourself getting into the restaurant business?
Eva: No, but when I was younger, I’ve always wanted to do something. Like, I just know that there’s something greater out there for me than really just working from like a corporate job. As much as I really wanted to work in corporate, I just felt that it wasn’t as satisfying for me. I felt like I needed to do something more. And I’m also the type of person that likes to keep myself busy. And so after I graduated, and then I got a really stable job, it just felt…even though I was like, making like money, right, it just didn’t feel as satisfying compared to like, if I want to do something on my own. And so since I was young, I knew like I wanted to do something, but like, I just didn’t know what to do. And I think Snowy Village just happened to happen and it just happened at the right time.
Nate: That’s good.
Nate: So you did get into corporate though. Was that because you wanted to, or is it something that the school system or your parents maybe wanted you to do? Like how did you get into corporate in the first place?
Eva: Well, definitely I went to school so I went to school and I’ve been told by my parents to get a job and start, get a stable life. Definitely my mom is more uptight on stability. She was not a fan of the idea of me starting a business with my boyfriend, but I mean, it happened. But yeah, corporate was good. It wasn’t the type of life for me. And I think the reason why is because I feel that I would constantly like…I almost felt like I was like a robot just because every day you have to be in the office between like this amount of time and you have to be…and then when you leave, it’s around this time, but like, nonetheless, it’s just not the lifestyle for me. I just don’t think it was for me, but you know, people have their own decisions.
Nate: Yeah. And was this really quickly that you recognized, like, “I’ve got to do something different?” Or did you enjoy it for quite some time and then make that decision to make a move?
Eva: I definitely in college, I already knew I wanted to do something but like it’s not like we can just think of an idea. Like I wanna open a business but it just doesn’t come right away. And I’ve got my own bills to pay, you know? Like, I have an apartment. You know what? I have to like pay my bills. I have like a lot of things like student loans and everything so like I need to get a job so that’s why I decided to go into the tech industry just because tech begin…like when you first start off, it tends to pay a little bit more in general. So I decided to go into that area and then while I was working there, it’s not like I didn’t enjoy. I definitely did enjoy the people that I met there, but it’s just like, every time when I go home, it was like something was just missing. Like, I needed to do something more, that’s the feeling I got. But it’s not bad just because you get stability like what my mom always says, “You get health insurance. Health insurance and like a 401(k).” So it’s not bad. It almost felt like I was bound to like this is like the level that I can be. I know I can be way beyond this. Like, I felt that in corporate I was just like tied to like, this is like how you are. And I’m being evaluated based off of like x, y, and z. And I’m like, but I know I can do so much more. But like I think also, like I said, corporate has its own struggles nowadays, just because for us young people, it’s like, even if you can do it, you don’t have the number of years to do it. So like the seniors wouldn’t allow you to do it, because you don’t have that experience. But it’s also hard. It’s like a cycle because well, how do you get experience if you don’t give me the opportunity?
So I really didn’t like the fact that it was almost like, “Oh, like, I wanna give you the opportunity. But at the same time, you don’t have the years of experience.” So I did not like how, like in corporate it almost felt like I was tied down. Like I couldn’t go as far as I wanted to go. And like I know, I could do so much more, if that makes sense to you.
Nate: Yes. And I’m sure it relates to many. So you’re in this place, you’ve got this corporate job, and let’s just call it a cushy environment because of the security that it provides and the health insurance and all of that. How did you get the courage to venture out like that?
Eva: Yeah, that’s a really good question. Like what I said earlier, a business idea just doesn’t come like right away, right? Just because you wanna open a business it doesn’t just happen. So Snowy Village just happened to be that one opportunity that my boyfriend and I saw. And I think to answer your question is what you see at the end of the tunnel. It’s almost like yes, there could be a lot of people that say no, reject you on the way but if you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I think like your vision of that goal then that’s what really made me push through like, “Oh, like this is what I wanna do.” Like this is like the courage that I saw just because I can see like the result. Like I had this vision in my head or with my boyfriend and I was like, “This is gonna work and like I can see.” And I think if you can like…whatever business idea that you can see it at the end, like that light, it’s like that light, I can’t explain it, but that light, if you can see it, then you will have…you will throw down everything just to go and grab that at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully that makes sense.
Nate: Yeah. So is your mom on board today with what you’re doing?
Eva: Definitely a lot more when she saw how a lot more popular than she expected it to be. She was like, “Wow.” And I was like, in my head I was like, “I told you, mom.” But at the end of the day still, especially with the virus going around right now, my mom definitely is more like, “Oh, you know, a corporate job is still the safe route,” which I mean, I can see that, but at the same time there’s also downsides as well.
Nate: Yeah. Do you feel like you maybe had in the back of your mind that, “Well, if I just go out and venture out and start this restaurant, I’m young, I could always go back into the corporate world again, if I wanted?” Did you feel like there was that safety to go back to or did you take that leap and say, “You know what, I’m just going forward?” Where were you at at that time?
Eva: That’s a really good question. I definitely did have thought about what you spoke on like I am still very young. So if worst case scenario if…and also I don’t have kids. I just felt that I don’t have anything bound to me that if this business like doesn’t work out at the end of the day, it’s just money that will be bound to me. Like, I will just have a bunch of debt. But I’m still young enough to be able to find a job to be able to maybe eventually pay this off or maybe start something else to pay that off.
Nate: That’s good. So now you’re gonna go into the restaurant business. How did you choose the restaurant business and the cuisine type and all of these things? Like how did the idea even come about in the first place?
Eva: Yeah. Okay, so this happened back in like 2016, yes, or 2017. Yeah. So I think yeah, 2017. And during that time, my boyfriend and I always wanted to do something, but we didn’t know what to do. We actually initially thought about opening up a bubble tea place because that just started booming. We actually did thought about that. But then we actually got rejected by several places with our business plan. And in the meantime we just still travel. And I went to Korea with my girlfriends and that was actually the first time I had Korean shaved ice bingsu. And it was in Korea and to be quite frank, I actually did not like it. I was like, “I don’t understand, like, what’s so good about it.” And then, months later, my girlfriends, they’re like, really into like Korean like stuff. So we went to Vancouver and then my girlfriend showed me a Snowy Village. And I tried it for first time. And I was like, “Whoa, like this is not some normal like shaved ice like the ones in Korea. It’s so good.” So then every time when I go back to Vancouver, like BC, in Canada with my boyfriend, I always show him.
And it was on my birthday where we went up, and we were just eating and we were like, “We always talk about like different businesses and stuff,” and we looked at each other and was like, “Wait, like right now in Seattle,” back in like 2017, “there was no Korean shaved ice.” And there was barely any like dessert places that were even in Seattle. Like the only place that we had here was probably like Blackballs. But that was about it. And I was like, “We’re missing like a really good dessert place.” So then we looked at each other we we’re like, “Let’s do Snowy Village.” Then the next day we just spoke with the founders of Snowy Village. And then I mean, not like it just happened right away but there was a lot of stuff that happened in between and it just kind of like…it was like a rock that went down the hill, it just doesn’t stop. Just kind of keep going. And then that’s how it got started.
Nate: Wow. So you saw the opportunity and then that made it pretty clear that you were both in that place. Like let’s start this?
Eva: Yeah, we were like let’s do it. Like that light at the end of the tunnel, like we can see it. And like I told my boyfriend like kind of the vision that I had with like the whole place just because also like I said, that year I just came back from Korea. And in Korea, there’s a lot of really cute cafes around. It’s very like Instagrammable, and it’s very pretty. And so I was like I wanted to open something like that. So that’s why like, if you’ve been to Snowy Village, it’s a place that’s like very Instagrammable, or at least we’ve tried to make it Instagrammable and like a really fun place to hang out. So that’s kind of the vision I got from like Korea. And then natural of like because I really care about my product, and to be quite frank when I was in Canada, like I really liked the Snowy Village dessert, but the location I went to was really old and rundown and I was like, “They need to like package this better. Like this is a good product.” So then also I was a business marketing major so maybe that also helped. But I was like, “We gotta like package this better. This is gonna sell.” And it just turned out to be a brand that worked well with us because in Canada it’s an official franchise but in the U.S. it’s not. And so I was able to envision my like vision and then like working with the founder in the U.S. to just kind of like put it together.
Nate: Now because it wasn’t necessarily a franchise in the U.S. at that point, did you have a lot more flexibility of what you were able to do from a creative standpoint, given that usually franchises have it pretty laid out, like you can and cannot do this and that?
Eva: Yes, definitely. But there’s also a lot of hardships because of that. Like if it was a franchise I think if we were to run something more like an official like let’s say Sharetea, that’s a popular brand, right? Everything like the ingredients, supplies, everything is already set for you. But because it’s not really an official franchise, we had a lot more opportunities to explore like different ideas that we want. For example, if you actually really look into Snowy Village, if you look at our location versus like, Canada it’s actually very different, but fruit and everything is the same. It’s just the marketing, like the package is a little different. So it just worked out because my boyfriend and I we’re not like chefs. So like, we don’t know how to cook, and we wanted to open something that tastes good, but we know it’s gonna sell. So it just ended up working.
Nate: Yeah, so do you feel like it’s not been a setback at all the fact that you maybe aren’t a chef or this culinary expert that’s coming into the field, but you’re just someone who’s passionate about good food and sees the opportunity?
Eva: Personally, I feel that as a business owner, it’s more important to know I would say, like the business perspective, just because yes, you could be really passionate about making the food. But if you have no business sense, your business could run out of business. So I personally deem that would I choose myself to be more of a chef? Probably not. Just because at the end of the day, I’m gonna have people make the dessert. And to be quite frank with you, most of my employees make the dessert better than I do. But like I said, like I went to training and like I said, there’s a setback because when we first opened, that was probably the hardest part because I had no culinary experience or anything. It was really hard for me to like, learn. I was given a lot of pressure just because I have to learn this in order for me to teach my employees and so it was really, really, really hard. And to be quite frank, even up to this day, I still have to give gratitude to all my employees right now who stayed with me from the first day because they really helped me find out what’s the quickest way for me to like train them? Or like even for them, like how do they decorate it? Is there actually a more efficient way that they decorate it? It’s like stuff like that. And definitely I wanna talk about… I actually did get trained on. So it’s not like the franchise completely like, “Whoa,” dropped the ball on you. They do allow me to get training from them. But at the same time training does cost money. And we didn’t open this business with like a lot of money. So like training was very scarce for us.
Nate: That’s good.
Nate: So let’s take just a moment and introduce our sponsor. Today’s show is brought to you by TableTop. Are you tired of all the hidden fees, contracts and commitments required to simply operate the tech side of your restaurant? TableTop is leading in the restaurant industry as the low cost, easy to use, all in one front of house and back of house solution. It includes everything from POS, to inventory management, supply chain, smart AI forecasting, automated ordering, and now mobile ordering with TableTop ToGo. So whether your restaurant needs a commission free mobile ordering platform that’s completely turnkey and can be set up quickly, or you just wanna become more profitable, TableTop empowers you to take back control of your brand and the customer experience from beginning to end.
In fact, right now TableTop is offering a 60-day trial of their mobile ordering platform so you can start accepting orders online directly, all commission free. There’s no more need for all the delivery tablets. Put those commissions back into your own pocket. No contracts, no hidden fees, no commitments, just low cost, easy to use smart restaurant management tools to make your life easier. Visit TryTableTop.com and see for yourself.
So you’ve had this idea to start this restaurant, you’ve got this corporate job. Did you just quit your job one day and said, “Let’s do it,” or did you decide… How did you navigate that next step?
Eva: Oh, no, no, no, definitely not. It was hard. So we, both my partner and I, were working full-time. And we would break basically, after our full-time job, we would usually actually swing by our local favorite. You know, CoCo, the milk tea place? That has like a special place in our heart. So we would go to that place. And we always work on this project. Most the time we try not to stay at home just because when we’re at home, there’s just a lot of stuff to do. Let’s say like, “Oh, there’s laundry, oh, let’s go do laundry.” So we can’t really focus. So we tried our best to just kind of meet up at CoCo and we just worked on this project. And yeah, and then we basically managed our full-time job along with this project. And like I said, it was really… I can’t even explain how hard it is in like, one sentence. It was really hard because it’s not that… I’m sure you know, construction is a lot of money. And so we’re…like my partner and I we have very, very tight budget. And so during construction, a lot of it we were actually on hands with, with a lot of management with like where things are at. Then there was just a lot of issues that came up. And I mean, that could be another topic but there’s a lot of issues that does come up so we were very on hands with a lot of stuff. So it was like managing our full-time job and working on Snowy Village and then like just back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Nate: So you were both working full-time. Was there ever a moment when you thought, “This is too much, let’s not do this. So let’s throw in the towel?” Were there any of those moments before you got started? Or maybe even right after you got started?
Eva: No. I mean, like we talked about when one of us is gonna quit. So obviously, because I think by nature I’m just a little bit better at making the dessert, so I was the one that’s chosen to basically manage the shop at least for the first year. So we decided that once construction hits to this x like point, that’s when I’ll quit because I would have to be at the shop like to at least manage some of where the construction progress is going. So definitely we know when like, would be like that one sweet spot to just like for me to like leave the corporate job. And also like, I like to be responsible so I wanna make sure all my projects are finished. So like, I kind of like made sure I balanced both sides. And then like I told like my manager beforehand and he was really supportive too. It was just like, we’ll just find that one sweet spot when my projects are like done and then I’m like, “Okay, the construction is like getting towards there. Okay, this is a good time to quit.”
Nate: So looking back, you mentioned there were some difficulties in the beginning. What would you say was one of the hardest things that you remember of just kind of getting going?
Eva: Gosh, oh, man, there’s so many. I think the hardest part if I had to sum it up, I think the hardest part is due to our lack of experience. I know that sounds really vague. But like I said, when we started this business, there isn’t anything out there. It’s not like you know, when you go to school, right? There’s a math problem, you Google it. And then there you go. Like someone may have asked a similar question, right? But when you start a business, it’s like all over the place. You don’t really know where to start. And so there’s a lot of ambiguous question that you don’t even know who to ask for. But the biggest struggle that we had was actually, due to our inexperience, we had our architecture messed up on a permit. And this permit, it’s a very simple mistake that they did. But due to this mistake, it cost us almost six to seven months in delay of construction. And this delay cost us a lot of money because we basically had to pay rent without operating. And it was really hard because at the same time, our landlord wasn’t working with us to maybe extend the lease to a later time or maybe be able to at least, like give us like a discount of 50% off. And even if we’d explain the situation, it was like, well… We understand it’s our responsibility because we contracted the architecture, right? So like, their work is our responsibility.
So that was probably the hardest part I would say just because financially, especially during that time it’s been rough, and also like due to our lack of experience, we didn’t know what happened. And so we just had to go to the government and like, always talk to them. And then the hardest part was like the architect would push back and say, “No, like, this is not the issue.” And then it’s like, so hard to communicate with them, like, “Bro, like, they literally told me what you did wrong.” So it was really, really hard just like navigating through that time, just because like I said, If I had to redo this whole project with my partner and our experience, we could probably easily get this up in like, six months. But like before it took like, what? A year…it took from April of 2018 to 2019 of May. That’s like what, a year and a half, right? Yeah. So it was somewhere around there. But yeah, that was probably our biggest issue.
Nate: What would you suggest to someone else who might be in that place right now, they’ve got an architect and what could they do to safeguard themselves from having a similar thing occur?
Eva: Well, you could have run it by someone else if you have the money, right? But if you were like where I was in my shoe, you’re just basically trying to be as like cut costs wherever you can, I definitely what I would do is look at the plan and definitely go to the government to ask them what specifically permits they would need to get. And it’s not that intimidating to go to the government, like the city of Seattle, to just go to a building and ask them. Like the people are really nice. And they usually will explain the whole thing. And I would definitely recommend talking to them and making sure that your architectures are on line and doing what permit they’re doing. So basically, the issue was our architect applied for the wrong permit. So like, it’s not that hard to just go to the city of Seattle and ask them, “Hey, like what’s the permit to get started? This is where I’m at.” And the second thing is definitely look into the architectures plan because at the end of the day, these architectures, they’ll just design that space for you. But if you’re trying to make sure that everything is budget friendly, sometimes whatever the architecture put in there, it’s like, yeah, it’s nice, but it’s not needed.
And so for example, our architect put in like a $2,000 mop sink. And we were like, when we were actually building this space, we we’re like, “Why do we need a $2,000 mop sink?” Right? And then that’s when we realized, “Oh, we’re gonna change the plan. We’re just going to buy a $200 mop sink.” Like I think the most important is just take a look at the materials and ingredients that they put and laid out in that one specific section. I will definitely recommend that as well.
Nate: Yeah, I think you’re right, just taking the initiative to actually look at it yourself and not just trust that everyone’s done everything right for you along the way, even though you’ve paid them. I think that that’s really wise. It probably would have saved you a lot of time.
Eva: Yeah, I know, like, I hate to say it because like I said, naturally by nature, I do trust people. So like, that’s something when we first started this project like, I would trust that, “Oh, since you specialize in this, you would have the capability to complete it.” But little did I know just that not everyone is and especially if it’s just your first…for those who are listening if it’s your first project, and it’s your business and like at the end of day it’s your business, it’s not their business, so I recommend really just you yourself looking into all the details on what they’re doing.
Nate: Yes. So you’re now open for business. What was your plan to market it at that point? Was the franchise more willing to help with that or were you kind of on your own to do a lot of the marketing here in the U.S.?
Eva: Most of marketing I did by myself. They were mainly supportive in probably the recipe. So like, I was able to go to Canada and I got trained for it. And if there’s any like questions about like, let’s say like expect the sales or anything like that, we can basically talk to the founders of the Snowy Village to kind of talk about that, especially like, if there’s like…we noticed, like if we need to double check on like, “Oh, what exactly is like the ratio for this one recipe?” Like they’re very supportive in that, but in terms of everything else it’s been offhand. So most of it, we’ve been market…at least from my end, like, I was pretty confident in my product selling. And so just because like I know like, I’m a huge foodie, and I’m picky, really picky about my like food, and I liked it, and then most of my friends also really liked it as well, I was like, oh, I just…really? That’s actually where I met Tiffany. Like I was actually kind of looking for influencers online to kind of help spread the word because I know that word-of-mouth would just go out. And so most of it has been just word-of-mouth, at least in marketing.
Nate: And it sounds like you focused on the product itself, on delivering a quality product. And if you knew if you liked it and your friends liked it, there’s a good chance that other people are gonna like it as well.
Eva: Yeah. And then like I wanted to package it in like a nice experience too. So I feel like, I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to capture 80% of the market. Obviously there’s 20% that, well, some people may not like it. You know, that’s normal. But I’m like confident that overall, people should like this.
Nate: So looking back now, so you’ve had this restaurant for a while. And what would you say, differs from today in owning and operating and running this restaurant that is different from when you were back at your corporate job? Do you like it more now than you did? Or is it just different than you ever anticipated it being? Like how is that?
Eva: Oh, it’s very different. First of all, back at my corporate job, I’m pretty much sitting all day almost. Maybe like my walk would be going to the office room to like, get in my meetings, but definitely being that Snowy Village is operating, we haven’t been one year yet, it’s been like about nine months now, but definitely a lot more standing, a lot of standing. I think there’s a lot more physical labor compared to corporate. Like at least at my old job I just had to get on my laptop. It’s a lot more like getting into my meetings. So it’s a little different in terms of like physical perspective, like one is more like physically like doing the stuff. The other one is more like just on the laptop doing stuff.
The other difference, I noticed is that in corporate, it’s more like you kind of follow like the set of rule, right? And like, you complete your job. But when it comes to especially operating a business, and also if you own it, I would say, whatever you do, the littlest tweak could really change your sales. And that part is very exciting. Just because, let’s say like, if you tweak even like adding more tables, it could change the amount of sales you could be running per hour, or like you change a certain procedure or process, like it has like a direct impact on you versus in corporate. It’s just like, “Oh, you follow this and there you go.” So I feel like there’s a lot more of that you don’t know what you’re doing, for business, you don’t know what you’re doing, but if you tweak something and that one tweak you made is right, then you will see the return like, quite like immediate.
Nate: Yes, that’s very wise. That’s really good. Tell us about your secret sauce. You know, you’ve been in business two and a half years. And what do you think it is that’s allowed you to not only survive, but to be thriving and continuing on even in the midst of the current situation and going forward from here?
Eva: Yeah, I would say actually, I’ve been thinking about that. And I think it would probably be persistence. No matter how many obstacles come through our way, we’ve always been very persistent. And like, “This isn’t gonna stop us. Like we’ll get through this.” And I think having a positive and persistent mindset really help us thrive in this business. Like even if any…like I said, any issues that come up, even during construction, we’ve just been like, we’re gonna…we just charge right through it. We’re like, “We’re gonna take it. We’re just gonna solve it ourselves.” Like we’re very like on hands like, persistent and like no, like, “Just because you said no doesn’t mean it’s a no.” So we’ve just been very like persistent. So that’s why I say, I always say, “The secret sauce to Snowy Village will be persistence.” Yeah.
Nate: Wow, that’s great Eva. Well, this has been really great just getting a chance to get to know you, and just to learn more about how you got started in the restaurant business. And for those of you that are in the Seattle area that would like to stop by and visit Eva at the Snowy Village Cafe, it’s located in Seattle near University of Washington and they are not only open now for takeout, but in the future as everything opens back up, definitely stop by and visit. And again for our sponsor today with TableTop, if you’re looking for a low cost, all in one solution to do both front of house and back of house and inventory management using AI to help drive more profits in your restaurant and achieve greater profitability, they are great to check out. And again you can get signed up for their online ordering platform. You can go to TryTableTop.com. That will allow you to do turnkey online ordering. Eva it’s been so great to have you on today.
Eva: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Nate. Thank you.
Nate: Thank you again for joining us today on “The Savory Secret.” I’m your host, Nate Ver Burg. We invite you to click subscribe to receive all of the latest interviews from founders as we discuss lessons they’ve learned on starting and growing a thriving restaurant. Until next time, enjoy some delicious food and we’ll talk to you again very soon.