Hartford entrepreneur Jerry Fornarelli owns The Tavern Downtown, The Russian Lady, and Rocking Horse Saloon. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Jerry about his experience growing his businesses in Hartford.
NAN PRICE: Many business owners have taken COVID-19 as a time for reinvention and growth. How have your businesses adapted?
JERRY FORNARELLI: While we were closed during the pandemic, as business owners, we were obviously depressed. We kept thinking: How are we going to survive? How are we going to grow?
I had read an article that said one out of three restaurants or bars will close due to this pandemic. That made me determined to keep my three locations open and not become one of those three.
NAN: I appreciate that you acknowledged the melancholy feelings—and that determination and entrepreneurial spirit to push through.
JERRY: We had to push through. If I’m the leader of my team, I have to stay positive to keep all my staff positive, too. They take in my energy and passion, which makes them excited to come back to work.
This is a totally new situation and we’re going to have to think of ways to be smart about getting our product out there and maintaining a steady business.
NAN: Tell us a little about the evolution from bartender to business owner.
JERRY: When I first opened, I didn’t tap in the local businesses. I was on a really tight budget. I borrowed money and did a lot of the construction myself. There are a lot of things to learn when you go from being a bartender to opening a business and then getting a big impact. There are also things you have to learn as they come. You make mistakes, which is the only way you learn to operate well.
For example, I’ve been so engaged with my client base where maybe before I wasn’t when I was first opening the businesses. Now I’m focusing on every table, asking about their experience—and thanking everyone for coming out and supporting us during COVID-19.
I’ve learned that business ownership takes time. It’s a career. It’s a struggle to have your own business but I’ve learned how to grind it through and try to come out positive.
Also, you have to reinvent yourself every five years, because the trends change and what’s popular five years ago isn’t popular today. You have to learn how to make all those adjustments in your business and be willing to tweak things as you go.
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Rocking Horse Saloon