While attending the Small Business Master Class in Atlanta hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ASBN host Jim Fitzpatrick had the pleasure of chatting with Chef Hugh Acheson. Hugh is the chef/owner of 5&10 and The National located in Athens, GA, as well as Empire State South, Spiller Park Coffee, and Achie’s in Atlanta. Acheson was the keynote speaker for the small business-themed event and delighted attendees with a transparent, entertaining perspective on leadership and the small business landscape in Atlanta.
Check out our interview with Hugh above for great insight on retaining staff and leading a productive workforce at your small business.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Hugh Acheson, chef, restaurateur, entrepreneur and now author, right?
Hugh Acheson: Yup. That’s about it. Dishwasher, plumber, accountant, all those things.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Thanks for joining us at ASBN. You just gave an incredible presentation. Talk to us a little bit about what was in the presentation for those that weren’t able to make it out to today’s event.
Hugh Acheson: You know, I think it’s just my perspective. I mean all these things are my perspective, it’s very subjective, but it’s my perspective on the business landscape that we live in today. What we try and do to make sure we’re training and retaining people and showing them empathy and understanding a new generation that’s coming up that thinks a little bit differently.
Jim Fitzpatrick: You talked a little bit about trying to keep your staff, and I know it’s probably a young staff here in the restaurant business, for five to 10 years. For the business owners and the entrepreneurs that are listening to that, they say, “Wow, we’re challenged keeping them a year or two.” So tell us your secret and what the objective is with that.
Hugh Acheson: The secret, I think to anything like that is taking an industry that is notoriously low on retention rates and making sure that people are always learning, that they’re always cared for in some way, that they’re valued. We live in a very split labor market of a lot of labor. Employers just don’t value enough their people and then they wonder why they leave. In places that really value them, pay them well, offer them good benefits, figure things out, you see retention rates being a lot lower.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure, sure. You have three highly successful restaurants here in Atlanta, Empire State South, Spiller Park Coffee and Archie’s, or am I saying that-
Hugh Acheson: Achie’s.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Achie’s, which I’m sure it off of your name, right?
Hugh Acheson: It is my grandfather’s nickname.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Oh, that’s pretty cool. Why did you choose Atlanta to open up the restaurant?
Hugh Acheson: I’d been in Athens, Georgia for almost 25 years. I’m from Ottawa, Canada, but I moved to the south at a pretty young age and I love Atlanta. I lived here when I was very young for a couple of years and it felt like a good next iteration of what we’re doing. We’ve got to Athens and wanted to do some others, you know, we arranged good leases.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Any future plans for other restaurants here in Atlanta?
Hugh Acheson: There’s a lot of plant but busy right now. Kind of the Tasmanian Devil things right now, but that’s all good. Plans require me raising the talent that we need and isolating their skill sets and then opening up something that will endow that person with a sense of ownership and taking their ideas to the next level. So really it’s rarely now with new iterations of what I do. It’s really about me. It’s about finding people I want to invest in.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Do you like running the business, being a chef or being a book author now that you’re on the speaking tour? [crosstalk 00:02:38]
Hugh Acheson: It’s funny that people always say when they’re successful in chefdom and have a career path and a career arc like mine, mostly as chefs that say things like, “Well, I really like to just have a small bistro and live upstairs.” I don’t think that’s really true because that’s a lot of work. Cleaning floor mats at 2:00 in the morning before brunch is never fun. But I think all parts of it are great and my success has been a success for myself in a lot of ways and the people that surround me and I love all of it.
Jim Fitzpatrick: You mentioned during your talk today that you’ve got to sign that I believe you made that says, “If you’re not interested in making today better than yesterday then just keep going out the backdoor. Really don’t need you here.”
Hugh Acheson: Yeah.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Tell us a little bit about that philosophy and how that works.
Hugh Acheson: It’s a philosophy of … It’s not a quest for perfection, but it’s always a quest for betterment. Being a human, you can better yourself every day. In making a dish a certain way, you can better it each day. If you’re not getting better than you’re falling into a malaise and that’s not fun. We always need progress as humans and as business people.
Jim Fitzpatrick: You mentioned a little bit about the importance of entrepreneurs and business owners sharing among them themselves stories and leaning on one another for guidance. Talk to us about the importance that’s played in your life.
Hugh Acheson: Growing up as a chef, I’ve got a lot of mentors, some of which I didn’t even really work directly with, but just people who reached out because they thought that I was gifted in what I was doing it a certain age and they had more experience doing it. Frank Stitt is a very accoladed chef from Birmingham, Alabama and an amazing southern gentlemen, was one of those people reached out years ago and said, “Hugh, I’ll help you whenever you can.” In Mentorship in business, it’s good to understand this idea of sharing our knowledge and helping the other people help.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Everybody helps one another-
Hugh Acheson: We all get better.
Jim Fitzpatrick: We all get better. You mentioned from the stage that you didn’t finish college, so of the people, the business owners that are watching right now that perhaps either didn’t attend college or maybe dropped out of college, not a problem for you, right? You just kept moving along and realize- [crosstalk 00:04:42]
Hugh Acheson: I don’t have a degree. I’m relatively bright. I can make ends meet.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I think you’ve proven that.
Hugh Acheson: I think that college is not for everyone and we’ve been a really academically minded, skillset world in this country for a really long time. I think that that’s one of the reasons where we lack in the trades field is that I think that we need to nourish the trade side and the mechanic side of things to really raise this generation of, for all laborers, but that’s crafts, that’s arts and that’s a thing of beauty and it doesn’t necessarily have an MFA or an MA or a PhD after it.
Jim Fitzpatrick: It doesn’t always need to be, right?
Hugh Acheson: Yeah.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Hugh Acheson, chef, entrepreneurial author. Thank you so much for doing this on ASBN.
Hugh Acheson: Thanks you.
Jim Fitzpatrick: We really appreciate it.
Hugh Acheson: It’s great to be here.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Best of luck to you.
Hugh Acheson: Thank you much.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Thanks.