By Debra Wallace
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 12/22/21 – As restaurants struggle to keep afloat amid declining recovery nationwide, Strictly Restaurants™ offers its top-tier accounting and consulting services to restaurants nationwide in a bid to revive one of the largest industries in the United States.
Jeff Lavelle, the CEO of Strictly Restaurants™. has spent 24 years in the hospitality industry as a Restaurant Controller prior to opening Strictly Restaurants™.
His immense success is attributed in part to his detailed work experiences in various positions within the restaurant industry and his strong financial background. He and his family previously owned and operated their own restaurant/deli for several years.
Lavelle’s last full-time position as CFO/Controller was with French Chef David Bouley which led them to start Strictly Restaurants™. By being an industry insider, Lavelle has come to understand what each position and individual brings to the success or failure of a restaurant.
Jeff, what is your connection to the Restaurant Business in the L.A. area?
California was my stepping stone into management level in the restaurant industry I worked from Cosa Mesa to La to Napa Valley, I was the controller for Gladstone Universal City walk, married in California, my first son was born in La and I purchased my first home there in Burbank.
Please tell us about your 24 years in the hospitality industry and the lessons you have learned.
To be successful in this industry you must have full knowledge of all positions, you must have worked them and understand them. The restaurant industry is all about timing, and the best way to learn “timing” is by working in all positions. You must have confidence in yourself because you are a salesperson, to grow from Washing Dishes to becoming a Controller/CFO you must always show those above you that you can hustle and that by investing in you they will see an RTO. Other lessons are listening to what the consumer is saying about your restaurant, knowing the vibe, the energy this is key to longevity.
How is the Supply/Demand chain that has been affected by COVID-19 impacting restaurants’ ingredients and ultimately the menu and how can restaurants adapt to this?
Restaurants can adapt by working with ownership and management to access what sells and what doesn’t, create a daily menu to offset supply shortages, and tweak the Menu.
Can you name the restaurants you’ve worked with in California?
Morimoto Napa, Jon Waxman San Francisco, rest in San Diego Costa Mesa and La. I have a pending opportunity currently with a restaurant group in Napa Valley to establish a restaurant accounting office in California.
What kind of trends do you see in restaurants in LA and the surrounding area?
I see that low to medium-end restaurants are seeing a decline in foot traffic while the high-end restaurants are coming back to pre-COVID levels, the goal here is to help lower-end restaurants with branding, money management, and setting them apart from their neighboring restaurant or competitors.
What is timely now about what Strictly Restaurants is doing for the industry?
Keeping things real. We at times have dropped the ball or we thought we would tell the consumer what He/She/They want or should have. I like to always keep it real, meaning look at what one is offering in terms of their menu, concept, decor, people the total package “what is it that you are offering that makes you stand out?” I would have to thank my blessing and our clients that we all worked together during the pandemic as it was here in reality that you must stay real. Stay to your core principles, by just being there and giving what is expected at the price point that is acceptable. Push them to think outside the box and adjust to survive, put on your owners’ pants, and get out there. Look at the financials and understand where they are going guiding them when needed and sometimes telling facts (real) that changes need to be made.
What services does Strictly Restaurants® provide?
We are the client’s full back office, for those who realize that they are stronger in the FOH and not the BO (back office), we manage all the accounting functions from A-Z. Restaurant accounting, payroll, Profit and loss spreadsheets, Bank reconciliations, Sales Taxes, Daily Sales, overall finance management.
I also provide insight from a customer’s point of view, meaning when you work in a place every day you lose sight of the details that a customer would catch, it happens to all of us. Well, I never go in as an employee I always walk through the door as if I never stepped in their restaurant before. Instead of going in like Nicole Kidman’s “Eye Wide Shut”, I go in with my Eyes Wide Open and see everything. I share these findings with my clients (Management team) and to help keep it real. So much to talk about here.
How do we access your YouTube channel?
Take us through the process of working with clients.
I have a phone call with the client to get a feel of what they want, which is followed by a face-to-face meeting to get a feel of where the company is and what’s needed to help them grow or get back on track if they fell off a little for whatever reasons. From there I would draft up a proposal on what Strictly Restaurants can do to assist them. If accepted, my team and I will get to work on what was agreed upon with the client.
What does Strictly Restaurants® bring to the table that no other service can offer?
I have worked in every position, worked in every setting, I worked late nights by myself, ran dining rooms by myself, cooked all day by myself, opened not just one business but two (deli/restaurants and now this a Boutique Restaurant Accounting company, with 8 years thus far under my belt. To be Strictly Restaurants you must know all the ins/out the do’s & the dont’s and lastly, we will customize our services to fit the customers’ needs/wants.
What led you to launch Strictly Restaurants™?
When I was young and needed to work to help with the family matter (during the ’70s) the restaurant industry was the only one where I could have gotten a part-time job. My Mom said I was 16 which was the min age, however, I was 12. I worked washing pots & pans first, and sometimes during my work, I would be hungry and asked if I can eat something. I realized then that this is the field for me. It is a place that always would be there (work) and for me being from a family of 8 kids there was food for me to eat. So, I vested my time in working from the dish sink to salad prepping, to grilling station, to Kitchen Manager (when I was in 10th grade, I was the Kitchen Manager for My Mother Chicken & Ribs in Levittown NY, I realize there was more in life, and I needed to expand out.
Please tell me more about this.
I was hired by a professional cafeteria company named Whitcomb’s (they ran the F&B in College’s, Office complex, and even Factories). Here I even had to start out at the bottom and push a Hot Dog Cart on the grounds of Nassau Community College (where I was told I could only sell the dogs in certain locations) well people would ask for a Hot Dog along my route to the destination so I would stop and sell them. I always sold out and just kept returning during my shift to replenish my stock. Again, I was able to eat. This really is where I got the full picture of the restaurant industry, as I proved myself, I was moved to an office complex in Garden City NY, and it was here where I learned about timing.
You remember this very clearly.
Yes. I would go to school for a few hours every morning, then a school bus would pick me up and take me to my job and I would arrive in time to help for the lunch rush and prepare for the afternoon coffee rush. It is funny to think backward as no matter where we go in life as we are young, we always must prove our worthiness here as well I had to show I can do the task at hand, so as usual, I was prepping. washing pots & pans breaking down the salad bar etc., but I ate lunch and even ate something before going home. When I was off from school, I would put in full-time hours, and was promoted to Line Cook, where now I was out Front & Center dealing with the guest. I learned how to make Eggs (any style) Burgers, and even work on the Deli side making sandwiches, it was so much fun. I prove myself so well that the company transferred me to a Factory in Farmingdale NY to work in the cafeteria.
Please continue your story.
This was so easy for me because I have already been through the rush of Breakfast/Lunch in Garden City that here it was Dinner Time. I worked/managed and even closed by myself. But like the hot dog cart, the office cafeteria I sold and sold, that I decided to stay open late upon approval to be there for the factory Swing Shift to get a second chance of purchasing products and make more money for the company. Working for the Whitcomb’s in their various settings made me who I am today. I learned so much from pushing the boundaries and pushing myself, as my family needs this income (in fact I worked a full summer full-time and paid for my younger brother and sister’s school clothing and all I got was 2 outfits) to help put food on the table. It made me mature, strong, and able to withstand whatever is thrown my way. Plus, I always had food in my stomach.
After four years in the Navy, I stayed in Philadelphia (my last station) and just worked in many various restaurants even worked for Denny’s (in Wayne PA), here I also worked my way from the BOH to the FOH, running the Kitchen by myself on a Saturday morning/afternoon and even worked the overnight shifts. I also worked in a Dinner running the floor here as well by myself (the funny thing here is “I was fired 10 times from them but never went anywhere because of how I worked, no one could compare). The job that landed me in the office was an Accounts Payable position for Sfuzzi’s in New York City. There I told the Controller that I knew all about invoices as I would be the one doing the receiving and ensuring that the company was getting what was billed (in my previous positions), I was hired. It is this same company that I was working for not even a year and asked to go to California to open one of their restaurants in San Diego. Again, due to my work ethic and my ability to handle the task at hand and then some, I was moved to CA.
While in San Diego we were expanding to Costa Mesa, so I started to think, how can I expand myself here further as I am now a staff accountant (junior general ledger work), so I proposed and created a position call regional staff accountant, as Sfuzzi has individuals in each store, I felt that if we broke them up into groups (having one person be responsible for multiple locations, this would save the company money). So, I wrote out the proposal and was told if I can prove it works in my region then the company would apply it countrywide. I became the Regional Staff Accountant for (San Diego, Scottsdale/Glendale AZ, and even Denver CO), and then it was implemented across the company. Side note, one of the GMs in NYC (when I was Accounts Payable) was moving to CA, and he and I worked well together that I asked him to take me with him, he said ‘go ask the owners.’
To this day this man and I still work together 31 years later as he is and has been a client since 2014. Sfuzzi liked what I did out west that they asked me to move to Dallas (new office location) my wife said, ‘Babe you will not like Dallas heat,’ so, I seek employment in CA and found a job for Gladstone’s Universal location at City Walk in Universal Studio’s as their Controller. From there I just kept on growing to become the CFO for a chain up/down the East Coast (who moved me back) and for a while had my own deli/restaurant — my last full-time job which was with David Bouley.
After my experience with David, it was time to get out and do my own business as Strictly Restaurants Accounting, I felt that with all my years working in every position. every concept (even a French Chef in Philadelphia), that I should get out on my own. One of my first clients is Iron Chef Morimoto, then Kajistu Michelin Star the Cagen Japanese and just continue to expand to now have clients in NY, NJ, PA, DC, VA, NC, GA, KY, and TN.
What else can you share about the California restaurant industry and the future?
California is like NY is always going through a renaissance period launching new restaurants and concepts. the goal is to help them establish long-term growth, not here today and gone tomorrow, not to rush to open new restaurants, etc To work smarter for longevity. Teach them not to chase celebrities but the people who live in the community that will truly help the restaurant grow.
Please share your plans for 2022.
I would like to have a Strictly Restaurants office in 4 of the 5 regions throughout the United States. There are many restaurants out there that feel there is no way out, I want us to be there for them and show them that they don’t need a TV show to survive, all they need is us doing their accounting and helping them get back/startup or even revive for a better future.
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