Bar owners share advice on how to open a bar of your own

Gaëlle Laforest

09 October 2015

The past 10 years have seen Paris grow an innovative and quality bar scene from the ground up, and yesterday some of the entrepreneurs behind the city's best bars shared their experiences going from bartender to bar owner.

It took Carina Soto Velasquez, one of three owners of Candelaria, Glass, Le Mary Celeste and Hero, several years to realise owning a bar isn't about being independent, having recognition or making money. 'You don't become independent, you become a slave to your place,' she said. 'Recognition sounds great and it's amazing that it exists in this industry, but I'm not changing the world or feeding the poor. And you can make money with a bar, but the margins are really fine. This industry is about passion and love.'

She was speaking, along with Sullivan Doh of Le Syndicat and Mido Yahi, at a talk during London Cocktail Week. All agreed that opening a venue relies on three key points. First is location and culture. 'You're not opening a bar for yourself, but for your guests. Think about your public and understand your neighbourhood,' Soto Velasquez said. 'I will not impose anything to the city that doesn't belong there.' Doh said being close to transport, in a good neighbourhood, and a place that is already popular and happening were the most important aspects to him. As for finding an actual space, he suggested looking at areas you like, and starting talking to locals to find out if any units are going for sale — he found his space by chatting to a barber.

Then there's the concept, naturally — the hardest part being to sell it to others so they believe in it, too.

And finally, the team. Soto Velasquez advised against trying to do it by yourself, but rather having business partners, and learning to delegate when the business expands. 'Train your team not just as bartenders but as bar owners too,' added Yahi, while Doh was adamant that the crucial part of hiring staff is finding people who are willing to learn.

All of them agreed that the Brits' eagerness to heavily PR bars ahead of a launch isn't necessarily wise — you don't want to be really busy as soon as you open, or you might not be able to cope, nor fine-tune your menu.

Overall, they all recommended patience. If you're up for the challenge, keep Soto Velasquez's words in mind: 'Nobody opens a bar in a week.'

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