Take Five: The roulette wheel of a new business

I am always surprised at the number of people who harbor the idea of owning a restaurant.

Take any conversation, preferably over dinner, and someone will muse, “Someday, I’m going to open a restaurant.” The eyes of the others at the table will glaze over and their minds will wander as they themselves in a chef’s apron, greeting people, cooking over the grill, or pouring the fine wine.

Right here on Foothill Boulevard, in La Cañada, sandwiched between Panda Express and Georgee’s Pizza, is Anthony’s Fine Food and Wine.

Anthony LaCasella is the managing partner and we can proudly say he’s a local. He was raised in La Crescenta, attended schools there and later graduated from Cal Poly Pomona.

He brings enthusiasm, spirit, hope and boundless energy to this fledging business. I was reminded how precious entrepreneurs are to our city — and to our country.

Opening a food and wine enterprise is far afield from Anthony’s major at college, botany. But he always liked cooking with his mom, and later thought about some kind of business with food. He enjoyed cooking with friends, and one night, while experimenting with several dishes, this sparked The Conversation — “Let’s Open a Restaurant.”

Thus, the birth of Anthony’s. Neither he nor his partners had the appropriate background, but this was considered a plus. The venture began with a clean slate. They built everything from the ground up.

“The result,” said Anthony, “is to offer a boutique experience to our customers.”

The partners researched several other smaller communities in and around Los Angeles, but finally decided on La Cañada. The physical set-up, the location on a wide boulevard and the city demographics were factors.

A complete makeover was not needed, as there was an existing kitchen in the vacated premises. The owner of the property has been helpful working with Anthony’s team, as has been the city of La Cañada Flintridge in handling the permits.

“The staff at City Hall couldn’t have been more helpful to us as we went through all the necessary steps to open up,” said Anthony. In fact, he thinks perhaps they even saved a few months on their timetable.

“My partners and I worked diligently for months to set up our business model and then our business plan. Much to our surprise, something we hadn’t planned on turned out to be a bonus,” says Anthony.

As more people found out about the restaurant, they decided to have events there. Some business groups like to meet over cheese and wine, for example. Other events may include celebration parties.

“You can plan it all on paper, but you don’t really know until the first customer walks in,” Anthony told me.

His business has been open for five months. And he says it is now easier to filter all that they have learned. Stocking a large and diverse inventory, such as imported cheeses and unusual wines, is important, but there is a balancing act between too much and not enough.

Not everything can be in a business plan.

“Shrink-wrapping cheese suffocates the life right out of the cheese,” he confided. Who knew that?

There will always be surprises for entrepreneurs. It doesn’t matter what chart, system or analytical method you use to evaluate and consider risk. The point is that you must face it every hour of your working day. Startups always are a gamble.

But hurray for anyone who is game enough to tackle a new business. This is what sparks the enthusiastic entrepreneur — the discovery of the unusual and the inspiration of the project. It’s a roulette wheel of chance and taking the journey is the biggest thrill.

GENE PEPPER is a published author and writer. Contact him by email at gpep@aol.com or phone (818) 790-1990.

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