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Entrepreneurship with Purpose

Entrepreneurship with Purpose: Your Why, How & What

by David Klemt

Black-and-gray, AI-generated image of a ram's skull covered partially by a shroud, with the word "death" underneath it

Don’t freak out! This is subtext, and a nod to the Death & Co. brand and their Big Horn Sheep cocktail mug.

Not every operator can transform their vision for owning a bar into building a hotel, so when someone who does just that wants to talk, it’s wise to listen.

I can’t be sure if the Death & Co. team knew they were building an empire when they opened their first cocktail bar. After listening to David Kaplan’s keynote at the 2024 Flyover Conference, I do believe the team laid the foundation to ensure their success before ever greeting their first guests.

Further, I like to think that opening in NYC on NYE and ushering in 2007 with a brand-new concept embodies the Death & Co. ethos. Literally, the bar and its first patrons marked the passage of time from one year to the next. Figuratively, death symbolizes change, and Death & Co. as a brand is certainly a metaphor for revolution and metamorphosis.

As a bar, Death & Co. is noteworthy for the significant contributions it made to the modern Cocktail Revival. Among the craft cocktail bar’s New York scene peers were Pegu Club, Milk & Honey, and Employees Only.

According to Kaplan, six years went by before the team even considered taking on a new location. In 2018, Death & Co. Denver opened inside The Ramble Hotel. A year later came Death & Co. Los Angeles. Four years after opening in LA, in 2023, the craft cocktail brand entered the Washington, DC, market. Announced a couple of weeks ago, there will be a fifth outpost in Seattle.

And those are just the Death & Co. locations.

Why, How & What

The type of unrelenting success achieved by the Death & Co. team doesn’t happen overnight. It takes drive and clarity, and a ruthless dedication to understanding purpose, process, and outcome.

Expanding on the point of clarity, Death & Co. falls under the Gin & Luck umbrella, of which Kaplan is the CEO.

During his keynote, titled “Crafting Success: The Journey of Purpose-Driven Entrepreneurship,” he shared his personal and professional approaches to business. Along with being engaging and informative, Kaplan is also transparent.

For example, he shared his personal core values and those of the Death & Co. brand. Kaplan’s are the pursuit of excellence, meaningful work, relationships, challenges, and creativity. As a brand, Death & Co. core values are curiosity, pursuit of excellence, Always Be Knowing (ABK), contagious joy, and connection.

But, I get ahead of myself. To start his keynote, Kaplan explained a few key terms and how they relate to one another. A person’s why, personal or professional, is their purpose for doing something. On a grander scale, their why can be the purpose that drives their entire life.

How is process, the systems and procedures that will move one forward. What, in this context, is outcome, or the result that a person is working to achieve.

As Kaplan explained, when one comes to understand their purpose, that leads them down the path of understanding and developing their process. Ultimately, understanding the why and how leads to an understanding of their what.

Do the Work

Among the excellent points made by Kaplan was this: None of us are born with an understanding of entrepreneurship (including those who make being an entrepreneur look so easy).

Rather, in Kaplan’s opinion, we’re all faking it until we make it. This goes for business partners and investors, as well. Basically, people who are faking it until they make it are walking into rooms with people who are doing the same, or have done so to get into a particular room themselves.

That doesn’t mean that every new business owner is being disingenuous. Nor does it mean that every partner is being deceitful about what they bring to the table.

In my interpretation of what Kaplan shared during his keynote, every entrepreneuruntil they’ve achieved their desired outcomeis an unknown quantity. They need to develop the confidence to share their vision clearly to their future leadership team, front- and back-of-house teams, partners, investors, and guests.

So, how does an entrepreneur develop an optimistic view of the challenges they’re about to face? And how do they gain the confidence to inspire others to buy into their ideas?

There are a number of exercises that will help a person understand their identity, path, and another “why.” Another way to state this is that one can find their true calling, take psychological ownership of their journey, and develop the entrepreneurial passion to make their dream a reality.

However, to gain this understanding, people need to put in the work.

Effective Exercises

If one works hard now, they can develop the psychological capital necessary to take on difficult challenges in the future.

In the context of Kaplan’s keynote, this means if a person works toward self-awareness today, they’ll put themselves in a better position to be a successful operator before they open their doors for the first time.

There are all manner of self-defining activities and questions that can help a person understand who they are. As importantly, they can give a person an idea of their true aspirations. A few examples are completing the University of Pennsylvania’s Values in Action Strength Test, practicing mindfulness (being present in the moment), journaling, and meditation.

As far as self-defining questions, here are a few examples:

  • What are my dreams and goals?
  • What’s my biggest strength?
  • What’s my biggest weakness?
  • Am I the type of person who makes decisions based on intuition or logic?

Again, that’s barely a handful of the questions one can ask themselves to gain self-awareness.

Another important exercise is to identify personal and professional core values. Kaplan recommends people do this in a setting outside of their normal routine. So, not at home, their current workplace, a cafe one frequents regularly, etc.

Core Values

When a client signs on with KRG Hospitality, part of the process includes identifying core values, as well as creating a mission statement. This important exercise is known as Napkinomics.

Questions and prompts include:

  • How important is growth to you, professionally and personally?
  • Where do you want to see the brand within the next five years?
  • Describe a similar brand, and why you’re drawn to it.

Helpfully, Kaplan shared his approach to identifying core values during his Flyover keynote.

First, he considers peak experiences. Then, crucially, he flips that on its head and recalls negative experiences. Another key step is considering important aspects to experiencing fulfillment. Ask yourself what feels essential, adding context to each answer. At the end of this exercise, one should have a list of personal core values. (As a reminder, Kaplan’s and Death & Co.’s core values are shared at the top of this article.)

There is, however, another step that Kaplan shared during his presentation: Revisiting core values.

As he said, a person canand I’ll add absolutely shouldrevisit their personal core values. They’ll likely change throughout the years. So, a person should update them from time to time.

Also, Kaplan advises people to give themselves grace; one should realize that they may not live their core values every day of the week. That’s perfectly acceptable. However, if someone finds that they’re routinely not living their core values, it’s time to revisit and update them.

The Mission

During his keynote Kaplan explained that a mission statement should encompass several key components. These are one’s skills and abilities, personality traits (a.k.a. how they operate), values, dreams, and passions.

A mission statement is a declaration of purpose, which is why it’s such a powerful tool. Again, we walk KRG Hospitality clients through this process utilizing Napkinomics.

During his keynote, Kaplan shared the following fill-in-the blanks-style sentence. It should provide someone with an idea of how to identify a personal or brand mission statement.

“I will [action] for [audience] by [skills] to [desired result].”

From there, one can polish and restructure the sentence to craft a non-negotiable declaration of purpose that fits them or their brand. For example, Kaplan shared Death & Co.’s mission statement:

“Creating experiences and connecting people through cocktail-anchored hospitality.”

Providing context, Kaplan shared a long-form version of the above: “We create experiences to foster and allow for deeper human connection through cocktail anchored hospitality.”

With the mission statement in place, Kaplan, his partners, and the Death & Co. team have been able to identify and work toward a key goal:

“To become the most established cocktail-anchored hospitality company in the world by December 31, 2028.” For the eagle-eyed, that’s a deadline of 20 years after the NYC bar’s grand opening.

Now, “most established” can be seen as somewhat nebulous. So, the Death & Co. team has identified metrics to ensure their lofty goal is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound):

  • A great place to work.
  • The thought leader in the space (being part of the overall hospitality conversation, and helping lead others).
  • A healthy, profitable business.
  • Regionally and globally recognized.

Tie it Together

Considering the symbolism of death as change, you and your team are undergoing a metamorphosis.

Taking the steps to pull your concept out of your imagination and bring it to life involves change. Changing your personal relationships, your position within the hospitality industry, your relationship with risk… Changing your life, and significantly so.

Furtherno pressureyou’re also transforming the lives of everyone who buys into your dream and decides to work with you. You’re asking people to bet on you as a leader, and buy into your vision. Whoever accepts that challenge is risking a lot, and this cannot be overstated.

Keeping your business alive and moving forward also requires change. It will have to evolve with the times and guest expectations. And should you scale your business you’ll once again face significant changes.

Becoming an entrepreneur requires the “death” of your previous life. In the infancy of this process, you’re going to feel discomfort. You may feel fear, and you’ll feel uncertainty. A deep understanding of why, how, and what are crucial to navigate the process and work through those feelings.

After all, if you don’t know what you’re working toward, why would you endure this challenge? How will you achieve your “what” if you haven’t developed the process to get there? And without a “why,” no entrepreneur’s vision becomes reality.

There’s no reason to fear the death of your life prior to the beginning of your journey as an entrepreneur and operator. The only things to fear are never taking the first step, and not starting off in the strongest position possible.

Sit down today to identify your why, your how, and your what. If you need help, we’re here for you.

Image: Shutterstock. Disclaimer: This image was generated by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system.

Interested in checking out the Death & Co. Big Horn Sheep cocktail mug? Click here.

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Relationship Advice: Your Food Purveyors

Relationship Advice: Your Food Purveyors

by David Klemt

An AI-generated image of a restaurant receiving their food delivery through the front

“When visiting City, stop by Food Comipany for a food.”

Operators are facing challenges when it comes to their food purveyors, and as Chef Brian Duffy says, the issues don’t all boil down to rising costs.

By now, Chef Duffy needs no introduction. However, he contributes so much to the hospitality industry that I’m going to boast a bit on his behalf.

As the founder and principal of Duffified Experience Group, Chef Duffy has opened more than 100 restaurants. In fact, I believe he passed the 110-restaurant mark this year during the National Restaurant Association show.

Speaking of that show, he has presented multiple sessions at industry events over the past several years. Further, Chef Duffy leads the F&B Innovation Center at the annual Bar & Restaurant Expo in Las Vegas.

On the topic of presentations and education, he recently spoke at the inaugural Flyover Conference. You can check out more of our coverage of this brand-new show here and here.

This is all, of course, to say nothing of his television appearances.

Now, if you’re a regular consumer of KRG Hospitality articles, you know I love a Chef Duffy live menu read. I firmly believe that the asides he throws out while addressing even a single menu offer more value than most dedicated menu webinars or menu-engineering conference sessions.

Chef Duffy’s Flyover session, however, represented a departure from his menu reads. Due in part to the frustration he, operators, and kitchen teams across North America are facing in terms of inventory, Chef Duffy addressed the relationship between operators and their food purveyors.

Repairing a Toxic Relationship

Allow me a couple caveats before we jump in. If you’re happy with your food purveyors, awesome. Should you truly feel you’re getting the most out of the relationships with your food supplier partners, not all of this advice is for you. Additionally, Chef Duffy’s Flyover session wasn’t an attack on national food suppliers. At risk of speaking for him, it appears his issues have arisen from specific reps, not the major companies themselves.

That said, I have a suspicion that if you really sit down and review your supplier relationshipsencouraging feedback from your leadership and kitchen teamsyou’ll find that things could be better.

Chef Duffy reviews a lot of menus. Whether reviewing one for a client or performing a live reads, he’s seen some things. And one of those things is that it appears national food purveyors have been handed too much control.

This is unfortunate, because this relationship should be a partnership, not a dictatorship. Further, if every operator is buying the same ingredients, it makes sense that most menus will be similar.

“If we’re all being sold the same products, we’re being told what to put on our menus,” said Chef Duffy at Flyover. “And we’re all doing the same thing.”

So, how do we turn this situation around? We stop being dependent or co-dependent, and we start developing reciprocal relationships.

Your food purveyor reps need to come into your restaurant on your schedule. Too many operators are only seeing reps when something has gone wrong with an order.

In other words, if your rep expects to earn your business, they need to meet your expectations: that they’ll actually work with you in a mutually beneficial way.

Let the Healing Begin

Okay, I’m being a bit cheeky with this topic. That doesn’t mean I’m not serious about helping operators improve their relationships with their food purveyors.

To that end, here’s how Chef Duffy works with his reps. He has a rep who comes into one of his venues every Tuesday from 2 to 2:30 pm. This arrangement is, again, mutually beneficial: the rep comes in at noon for lunch, completes his other work, then meets with Duffy at the arranged time.

During the scheduled weekly meeting, Chef Duffy tells this rep what he’s thinking of doing that week. He asks what the rep can do for him, then asks what the rep what he needs to sell. It’s important that you make your rep work for you, but also that you talk to them and see where you can be helpful.

Of course, you’d think this would be the approach every rep prefers. Well, in Chef Duffy’s experience, this just isn’t the case.

Recently, he asked a different rep from a different food purveyor to find him a specific product. Put simply, Chef Duffy didn’t want the products this rep was trying to unload on him. This was apparently too much work because this rep has gone radio silent ever since. Because of this, this food supplier no longer has this account.

Had the rep been interested in an actual professional relationship rather than just focusing on what he “needed” to sell, he’d still be servicing the restaurant.

Be the Change

If that anecdote feels familiar, it’s time to find new partners. Luckily, Chef Duffy has a suggestion you can use today.

Look at the smaller, regional purveyors who service your market. See what they can offer you, and compare their prices to those of your current, national suppliers.

You’ll likely find an impressive portfolio with appealing pricing. Moreover, these smaller companies want to land new accounts and work with you.

Remember, it’s your restaurant. You brought your concept into the real world. You’ve done the work to build your business, and it’s your menu.

Review your food purveyor relationship today, schedule time to sit down with your reps this week (or month), and develop the relationships your business needs.

Image generator: Microsoft Designer

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Welcome: Start the Experience Right

Welcome: How to Begin the Guest Experience Like a Pro

by David Klemt

Restaurant host or manager holding menus and leading guests to their table

When you think about the guest experience you and your team deliver, how much consideration do you give the welcome?

I don’t mean just the greeting your front-of-house team gives guests. That’s an important part of the equation, but it’s only one element.

Rather, I’m talking about developing SOPs for welcoming guests into your venue. As importantly, I’m also suggesting that you develop specific onboarding and training for anyone who will greet guests and lead them to their seats.

Luckily, one of the best front-of-house trainers in hospitality spoke at the 2024 Flyover Conference in Cincinnati about this topic. Bethany Lucas, director of operations for Maverick Theory, shared her best tips for startingand endingthe guest experience in a memorable way.

The tips Lucas shared during her Flyover session “Untapped Potential: How to Transform Your Front of House” will indeed transform your business and guest experience.

Now, a word of warning before I begin. Once you read these tips, you’ll likely find yourself analyzing your next few restaurant visits. Ever since sitting in on Lucas’ session, I’ve been unable to avoid paying more attention to how my restaurant visits have begun.

This has included sharing what I’ve noticed with the people in my group. Some of these friends will also pay more attention to the greeting they receive when walking into a restaurant now.

If you’re an operator or front-of-house leader, you’ll probably benefit from checking out restaurants in your area for their welcome procedures.

Invest in Your Door

Operators need to invest in their doors, because “it really is the brain of your restaurant,” says Lucas.

Therefore, it’s crucial that owners and operators understand what’s going on at their doors. Assuming your front-of-house team knows how to greet guests rather than training them on a procedure is a mistake.

Most operators know that hiring the right leaders, kitchen team, servers, and bartenders is imperative to the success of their business. However, the same attention must be paid to finding the right hosts and hostesses.

As Lucas says, “There is no ‘just a hostess.'” Bluntly put, the person running the door is the gatekeeper of the business. They’ll interact with just about every single guest since they serve as the first touchpoint.

So, Lucas encourages operators to ask a number of questions before initiating the hiring process:

  • Are the ideal candidates formal and proper, or friendly and casual? (Or something else entirely.)
  • Will the ideal hosts and hostesses need to be thick-skinned?
  • When considering the appearance of the host team, what does that look like to you? Lucas seeks out people who are polished and professional when building her teams.

These questions should inspire even more considerations, helping an operator identify who they want to run their door.


During her presentation, Lucas provided an example of a less-than-ideal welcome. I think we’ve all experienced what she described.

How often have each of us walked into a restaurant, been greeted, and then led to a table by someone who just takes off? The host or hostess grabs menus, starts walking away toward a table, doesn’t speak to you, and doesn’t even look over their shoulder to see if you’re still following them closely.

I know it’s happened to me more times than I can count. Although, I’m happy to report that this hasn’t happened to me since attending Flyover. Maybe what Lucas put out into the world has had a greater impact than she expected.

A polished and professional host or hostess, per Lucas, will not take off when leading guests to their seats. Additionally, they won’t be silent, failing to engage with the guest verbally. Further, a polished, professional host or hostess doesn’t drop menus on a table and rush back to the door.

In fact, Lucas requires each member of her host teams to ask at least one question of guests being led to their seats. This can be as simple, she explained at Flyover, as the host or hostess turning and asking “How are you today?”

It’s important to note that this attention to the door team isn’t reserved for upscale or fine-dining venues. The beginning and end of a guest’s visit are too important to fail to plan them properly. Regardless of concept and category of venue, guests must feel welcome and valued.


According to Lucas, the farewell can absolutely impact how a guest perceives their visit, and the brand overall. While the server or bartender who served the guest should thank them at the end of their visit, so should the person who first welcomed them.

A simple “thank you for visiting us” can go a long way and serve as a cherry on top of the entire experience.

However, there’s another tip Lucas shared that has really stuck with me. A truly a savvy host team will add a question after they thank a guest for their visit: “Can I make a reservation for you for your next visit?”

Doing so requires the ability to read a guest and their satisfaction with their visit. However, if executed well this is a brilliant way to increase your guest retention rate and convert a first-time guest into a repeat guest, and eventually a regular.

If you’ve read this far, I encourage you to consider your welcome SOPs and door team today. You and leadership team should observe the door and note how guests are being welcomed.

If the procedure doesn’t impress you, it’s not impressing your guests. And if it isn’t impressing your guests, ask yourself why they’d return.

Your door isn’t “just a door,” and your hosts aren’t “just hosts.” Remember that, and plan accordingly.

Image: Shutterstock. Disclaimer: This image was generated by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system.

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Cheers to the Flyover Conference!

Cheers to the Flyover Conference and Cincy!

by David Klemt

The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River, heading toward Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, Ohio

Just pretend the temporary SkyStar Wheel isn’t in this picture.

The successful and exciting launch of the Flyover Conference makes it clear that co-founders Sarah Engstrand and Greg Newman are onto something big.

Big, yet intimate. There’s a real feeling of community when a small-but-driven group gathers with purpose. That’s exactly what Flyover embodies.

Now, I know some people who live between the east and west coasts in the US find the term “flyover” irritating, if not outright offensive. As someone born and raised in the Midwest, I understand the frustration. However, I can assure anyone raising a skeptical eyebrow or frowning at the name of the conference that it isn’t meant as a pejorative.

Rather, Engstrand and Newman are giving a cheeky middle finger (likely two, really) to those who dismiss “secondary” and “tertiary” markets. In fact, their intention is to shine a spotlight onand servecities that don’t receive the same attention as “primary” markets.

By primary, I think you know main culprits: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and Miami. In contrast, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Cincinnati, and Detroit carry the “secondary” label (as do many other cities).

So, a core element of the conference is featuring speakers who have, up until now, mostly spoken at highly visible trade shows that take place in major host cities. For example, the National Restaurant Association in Chicago.

For the inaugural Flyover, the co-founders put in the work to provide Cincinnati with a powerhouse lineup of hospitality industry speakers. Additionally, this year’s F&B sponsors delivered an awesome array of sips and bites.

Killer Kickoff Keynote

Truly, Flyover’s mission is to deliver maximum impact over the course of just two days. The 2024 speaker lineup serves as a testament to their dedication.

So, too, is how the 2024 show utilized the two speaker stages, provided by Rhinegeist Brewery. Flyover attendees and speakers were close to one another, not separated by the vast expanse of a ballroom or elevation of a platform.

David Kaplan, CEO of Gin & Luck, the parent company of the world’s first cocktail bar chain (for lack of a better term, really) kicked off the event. Perhaps multi-location craft concept is a better phrase to explain Death & Co. in five words or less.

During his informative and inspiring keynote, he detailed he and his team’s approach to entrepreneurship. As Kaplan explains, when someone understands their purpose (why), they come to an understanding that helps develop their process (how). In turn, that gives an entrepreneur an understanding of the outcome they’re working toward, or their “what.”

I’ll dive much deeper into his keynote in a future article, because Kaplan’s approach goes much further than why, how, and what. In fact, in keeping with his status as one of the most transparent people in hospitality, Kaplan shares his personal core values, along with those of Death & Co.

Engaging Education

Bartender-cum-licensed psychotherapist (and soon-to-be organizational psychologist) Laura Louise Green took on a topic afflicting all of hospitality: burnout. The founder of Healthy Pour, Green explained that burnout is not only different than stress, it’s certainly not a sign of weakness to take the time to address it.

One of my favorites, Chef Brian Duffy, took a different approach to the topic of menus. Instead of reviewing a handful of submissions, Duffy took questions and addressed issues with food purveyors directly in a frank and open discussion.

Encouraging operators to take greater risks, Michael Tipps, co-founder of Maverick Theory, drove home a compelling point. Oftentimes, operators are fearless when developing their concepts. However, something curious often happens when it’s time to welcome the public into the space: second guessing, and blunting the sharpness of the original vision.

Oh, and I shared the KRG Hospitality approach to systems, starting, stabilizing, and scaling, my second time every presenting at a conference. Most people assume that because I host a podcast I’m comfortable talking to anyone, anywhere. That’s mostly true. However, I, like millions of other people, find public speaking anxiety-inducing. So, a huge thanks to the Flyover team, fellow speakers, and mostly the attendees for setting me at ease.

The above are but a handful of the education sessions that Flyover provided for attendees. Other topics ranged from the need for fully realized non-alcohol bar programs, building events in house, and operators handling their own PR campaigns, to leadership skills and leveraging the power of an effective door team.

Bang for Buck

Anyone who has attended one of the big hospitality industry conferences has probably been subjected to the experience below.

You file into a session featuring a topic of particular interest to you and your business. Even better, the speaker is someone you’re excited to see and hear. The presentation ends and…awkward silence. Almost everyone is too afraid to ask a question that they feel may make them look “stupid,” or like they’re not a good operator. Finally, someone asks a question, and that leads to a few more questions.

Unfortunately, the presentation was 45 to 50 minutes long, and with the awkward pause after its conclusion, there are barely ten minutes left for the speaker to answer questions. When they’re shooed off the stage, they’re swarmed in the hallway. You think they may be overwhelmed, you don’t want to add to that or inconvenience someone you admire, and you never get to meet them, ask them an important question, and exchange business cards.

That’s not an indictment of the large, more mainstream conferences. It’s just how it is when you pack dozens upon dozens of speakers, and thousands of attendees, into a conference hall. Further, schedules tend to be so loaded in order to attract attendees and boost ticket sales that people are forced to make difficult choices and miss out on some awesome sessions.

In contrast, Flyover intends to limit their ticket sales. And while there will always be a choice to make at a conference, they seek to mitigate that prevalent issue. Was this year’s show perfect? No, there were growing pains, as expected. Will this team learn and improve the show to maximize the impact for attendees? I have every confidence that the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Future Flyovers

I have to say, I’m deeply interested in the future of Flyover Conference. In fact, schedule permitting, I would attend even if I weren’t asked to speak at future shows.

It was an honor to be part of something of so impactful.

The entire point of this industryhospitalitycan sometimes fall to the wayside at conferences, trade shows, and expos. Another way of saying that is that while we all speak the same language, we often forget to take the time to connect with one another.

While there’s work to do, Flyover addresses this issue. The show is set up so that attendees, speakers, and sponsors are sharing the same spaces; there’s an actual sense of community. When it comes the host city, there’s a real sense of place, and that’s important.

Speaking of the host city…the next Flyover will take place in a city I mentioned at the top of this article. The most populous city in Michigan, DetroitMotor City itself—will host the second Flyover Conference. Looking forward to it, Hockeytown.

Be sure to connect with Flyover for updates and announcements.


Image: Jake Blucker on Unsplash

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