Learning and leading the restaurant business
June 8, 2012By Meredith Burns
Lou Moshakos is the owner and president of LM Restaurants, Inc. He owns 25 restaurants along the east coast, including Bluewater, Oceanic, Eddie Romanelli’s and Carolina Ale House. When Moshakos isn’t traveling for business, he and his wife, Joy, divide their time between Cary and Wrightsville Beach. Here's an edited version of the conversation he had with the Greater Wilmington Business Journal's Meredith Burns at Oceanic in Wrightsville Beach.
I was born and raised in a small farm community outside of Sparta in Greece. When I finished grade six, in order to go to high school I had to go to another town. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to a different town because they didn’t have the money, so I went to work on a farm. That’s what made me determined to do something different than just being a farmer.
I came to Canada because there was better opportunity. I was 18 years old when I went into Montreal with $200 in my pocket and a lot of will to work. I started working in a restaurant and fell in love with it. I was a dishwasher and then I tied chickens in a barbecue place, then I went on to wait tables.
I left restaurants and went into the commercial cleaning business. I sold that business to get seed money for my first restaurant. My wife, Joy, and I moved to Florida in 1978 where we opened our first restaurant, Seafood Shanty. My wife was in the kitchen cooking and I was in the front, shucking clams and oysters. It was a seven day a week job and it didn’t come easy. But I look back now and I don’t regret it because I was having fun.
We were doing very well in Florida but we had three little kids and were looking to relocate. We were looking for a good education for the kids, a good area to raise a family and a good place to do business. Fortunately, we found all three of those in North Carolina and moved to Raleigh in 1992.
The Carolina Ale House is what we’re really expanding now. I came up with the idea when we were in London at Gatwick Airport. We had three young kids and a four hour layover. My wife and the kids went to a McDonalds, but I went into the Shakespeare Ale House right by the airport. A few beers later, I came out with the idea of opening one in Raleigh.
We opened our first Carolina Ale House in 1999. We had a very hard time getting along at first -- we had picked the wrong location. Every time you open a restaurant there’s a risk. You try to minimize risk and you try to pick the best location and sometimes you’re wrong, which can be very painful. We had to tweak, make adjustments and lose a lot of money for two years. Everyone was after me to get out, but I had a gut feeling that it was going to work. Then we opened the second one and it was a home run. Now there are Carolina Ale Houses in four states and we’re going into Texas.
I remember when we opened the Ale House in Cary. Before we started, I went and sat at a bench there. The weeds on the land were up to my knees and I pictured an Ale House there. On opening night we opened very strong. Around 9 p.m. I grabbed myself a cold drink and I went and sat on that same bench. I thought back to the weeds and the land. It had turned out the way I had envisioned. That feeling you get, you cannot buy.
Over the years I have seen all kinds of people get in the restaurant business for some reason or another. I don’t know what drives them into it. They think it will be easy, that you will open up, start ringing the register and collect money. It’s a lot more than that. You’ve got to be willing to work when others are off. You’ve got to enjoy serving people.
People always ask me, ‘When are you going to quit?’ and my answer is always, ‘When I drop dead in one of the restaurants.’ There is not a job in this world I would want to do more than what I’m doing.