Recently I had an opportunity to interview Marilyn Schlossbach for the Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series. The co-owner of Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park, NJ, and a handful of additional concepts on the Jersey Shore, she has been in the business for 30 years. She shared stories about everything from the cook quitting her brother’s restaurant on a July 4th weekend and her brother having to teach her to cook over the phone, to opening her first restaurant, to learning from several failed restaurants, to how she personally and professionally weathered Hurricane Sandy (which demolished her restaurants at the same time she and her husband had just brought beautiful twin girls into the world), to being a female owner in an industry dominated by men, to the challenges of being a business owner when you are a creative person by nature, to why it's so important to follow your passion, to her desire to create a positive atmosphere in her restaurants so that not only her customers, but also her daughters, will be in a happy place every time they visit.

Marilyn is a determined, self-taught chef and business woman who didn't get a college degree and didn't got to culinary school, but she understands the value of rigor, tinkering, learning from mistakes, humility, and always, always pushing forward, no matter what life throws at her. These philosophies have helped her build a $5 million business on the Jersey Shore, and I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for what she has accomplished. Here, she shares a few of the lessons she’s learned.

Mistakes are good

In my career, many failures have come my way. I was self-taught—a self-taught chef, a self-taught business owner. The first restaurant I owned was called Rosalee’s Kitchen, and that was a success for me. After that, they all got more challenging.

Any time you open a business there are lots of challenges. When I opened Rosalee’s my parents had both passed, so I had no parents as mentors to help me. My brothers had all moved out of the area as well, and I was kind of on my own. And I’m still a very driven, passionate person so I tend not to think about consequences all of the time, which is good and bad. I made a lot of leaps of faith to do things that I thought were great ideas or wonderful concepts or ways I thought I could feed people the food I love. And I’ve never had issues with the food end of my world, but on the business end when you’re creative your challenges don’t always get worked out in your mind very quickly.

So I’ve had to learn to be the scheduler, the accountant, the bookkeeper, the trainer, the design person, as well as the chef. I never went to hospitality school, I never went to culinary school, I never finished college, I never went to business school, so all of these things are learned day to day. Back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s we didn’t have the internet, so I couldn’t Google “How do I make a schedule” and so forth. I had to figure it all out. Sometimes it worked, and a lot of times it didn’t. I went through bad locations, or rent that was too high, or poorly negotiated leases.

That’s a huge problem in our industry…falling in love with a space and just getting passionate about what you can make out of it and not looking at the dollars and cents of what your overhead is going to be and how you’re going to manage that. That’s probably the biggest reason why I’ve had a lot of obstacles, but I think mistakes are good. They make your stronger.