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Experience EPIC by Agave & Rye

Go Solo Entrepreneur Exclusive by Team Subkit

Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Yavonne Sarber, Founder, and CEO of Agave & Rye, located in Covington, KY.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

We are in the restaurant business, but more importantly, we’re in the business of delivering epic experiences in all we do. We also pride ourselves on pulling aesthetic inspiration from the city in which each and every Agave & Rye location is opened. All of our restaurants are unique. The restaurant’s eclectic and beloved concept walks an intriguing line between fine art and street art, which gives it an “urban grunge” feel with a mix of music that spans everything from 80’s pop hits to today’s essential tracks.

Guests enjoying our food might notice that the Agave & Rye menu is rooted in classic French techniques. That includes your “mother sauces,” how you treat your proteins, and enlisting proper cuts. Everything you can appreciate in the menus found in fine dining settings has always driven me and what we put into each taco at Agave & Rye.

Tell us about yourself

In leaving the restaurant industry in 2001, I thought what I wanted was to delve solely into interior design, but I quickly found that the food industry was pulling me back. The time I spent with my mentor, Chef Hartmut Handke, was encouraging and inspiring. He was a constant every day and always strived for excellence. Beyond that, he truly cared about what he was serving his guests. And we wanted to recreate that for ourselves and for others.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

When we first started in the restaurant industry, we didn’t yet know what we didn’t know. A lot of new restaurateurs are in the same boat, where you’re doing everything you can to get your food and environment right, all while realizing it’s hard to run a proper restaurant, even with those elements in place.

We got to a point a few years into our journey when we realized we knew enough to see what we didn’t know – we had fewer blind spots. It has taken a lot of hard work, but once you figure out the formula for yourself – the formula that spells success for your restaurant, it’s easy to grow and move forward. The challenge then becomes pivoting when you need to.

Our team embraces our story and the story behind Agave & Rye. In fact, it’s one we talk about at the opening of each restaurant. When we operated our first restaurants in Columbus, Ohio, our intentions were always pure. We thought we were giving team members the tools they needed, but in reality, we weren’t. Part of giving them the right tools is the capital that’s needed to invest in the right tools so they can effectively do the job in front of them. When we fell down, we essentially had to start over and do a lot of self-growth. We closed our doors in Columbus and left the city with very little – really just the beginning concept of what is today Agave & Rye. We just knew we wanted to get back to the basics of what we loved: taking care of our team members.

The story has naturally and almost magically unfolded from that point. Just a few months into operating our first Agave & Rye location, we were approached by someone who wanted to help us grow the business. All of our growth to date has stemmed from our belief that we put our team members first and the restaurants second. Today, we’re proud to let people know we’ve been self-funded since our fourth location, and we’re virtually a debt-free company. Our team members embrace the heart behind Agave & Rye, as well. They work hard with the focus of bettering one another’s lives.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

It’s challenging to consistently remember that what got us here will not get us there. We do not have managers; we are managers. We are leaders and must carry full responsibility for that every day.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. There’s so much advice to share with fellow restaurateurs. Firstly, before you invest a penny, ensure you have the proper long-term plan for your business. Don’t wait for the P&L statement at the end of the month. Especially as a ‘mom and pop’ restaurant, you have to diligently account for every dollar and know the true numbers to be profitable. Following the structure of your business plan, think about your people. Consider what types of team members you want to attract, as well as how you’ll continue to coach and develop them.

  2. Once you’ve considered your people, then comes time to develop your concept. Your concept should serve your community, not indulge in your own wants for the restaurant.

  3. If you’re already in the restaurant industry, know that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself or pivot. If you’re struggling, systematically pick out your biggest challenge and fix it. Then repeat. That could mean reconsidering your menu, your culture, your staff, or that the concept isn’t being well received by your particular community.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

We get to be a part of our own movement for good every day. Within our group, we put so much effort into bettering each other, between mentoring and coaching, as well as offering financial counseling and giving recovered addicts opportunities they wouldn’t normally have.

We’re changing the world one taco (and now, one steak) at a time. Our hope is that we change the way team members view working in a restaurant. Working in a restaurant is hard work and can require long hours – the addiction rate among restaurant employees is alarmingly high. We want to change that within our own industry and make work something employees look forward to spending their time doing. Agave & Rye is proud to now offer health care and can say we’re at the top of the pay scale… and it’s only going to get better.

About Yavonne Sarber:

Yavonne Sarber is a passionate restaurateur who has pioneered the way for Agave & Rye, a modern Tequila and Bourbon Hall, as well as a couple of new Epic concepts, including SOB Steakhouse and, coming soon, Paris Misfits. Led by Yavonne’s vision for the brand, Agave & Rye is designed to create EPIC experiences – from the menu to the service, from the way the team treats each other to the way they treat their guests. She brings fresh, made-from-scratch recipes with only the best ingredients available to offer inventive ways for guests to enjoy expertly crafted food, bite-by-bite, and sip-by-sip.


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