Monday, May 02, 2016
The Story of Trong
He cuts a dashing figure. I am visualizing a Vietnamese Errol Flynn. Swashbuckling from kitchen to dining area. Few would recognize him as one of the youngest and most successful entrepreneurs in San Diego. High Tech? Medical Device? Real Estate? No, no and NO! Trong is a foodie entrepreneur, a new kind of successful entrepreneur who recognizes a need and rushes to fill it. In this case the place was San Diego. The need was the sandwich. And if you have been fortunate to have a sandwich, any sandwich at The District, 1021 Market in the heart of San Diego's East Village, you have been treated to food perfection. And all this month I am writing about the story of Trong. So in case you aren't one of the over 30,000 who have come across my decade long Blog, now is your chance to BOOKMARK me today. I mean what have you been waiting for? ********************** Trong is a tough man to pin down for an interview. I had been fortunate enough to have an initial session with him when I asked him to mentor a friend who wanted to be like Trong and make a big splash in the food business. It was at that time that I recognized the sage, the old soul in this 30 year old man who has wisdom beyond his years. I am talking business school wisdom and as a Professor of Business, I know the classroom. When I was in grad school in the 70's I recall asking one of my professors--cut the BS---I am here to make money--tell me how to make money as an entrepreneur---tell me NOW! The professor turned red and cancelled class. Fact is he didn't have a clue, When I took my turn as a professor, I made a promise to entrepreneurial students that they wouldn't be disappointed. Today, kids can pay $50,000 or more for one year of schooling. I paid $4,000 in 1969. Becoming a successful entrepreneur will take hundreds of thousands of dollars in schooling and you will have to be lucky to come across an old mentor like me or a young entrepreneur like Trong. And all this month, I am going to bring you the personal story of the best sandwich shop in San Diego and the force behind. it. Ready to go to Business school 101? Tell your friends! If Trong and I were to host a Business 101 Class we would start out with this question. What is the most important thing you can do as an entrepreneur to succeed? Trong will tell you that he is by no means a finished product and his restaurant The District in San Diego isn't a smash hit. But I can tell you this. If you have a restaurant in downtown San Diego (Market Street) and it is going on its 5th year, you are a success. So, Trong, with respect to you, you have made it. As you will see in the course of this profile, I don't agree with Trong 100% of the time nor does he agree with the professor. But it's all good. So what does the savvy Trong think about that question. Trong feels that the most important thing you can do as an entrepreneur is to sense a need and then fill that need. In his opinion, too many people follow their passion and watch their passion deflate their entrepreneurial balloon. But if you follow a need in the marketplace and fill that need, you may, I repeat may have a shot. ************************ Trong takes a break to run in the kitchen and fix the a/c or the heater or the oven--I forget which--if he weighs 150 pounds I would make a great guesser at a carny. When he returns I am ready with another Business 101 question: Does an entrepreneur have to baby-sit their business. Trong looks at me like I asked a dumb question. I give him my straightest face. "I am going on my 5th year here at the District and I took a leave to run another entity. It was a big mistake that almost sunk us. Yes, an entrepreneur needs to be on site to build the brand. If they think that they are going to watch it grow while they are perfecting their game on the golf course they are going to watch it fly into bankruptcy!" Trong believes in training the staff in his image as well. Everything is fresh at the District and that is crucial to their brand as well. In the kitchen with him. Brandon and Tony model his every move. Alicia at the register is the first person a guest wills ee when they enter the eatery and Trong wants the experience to be special from that point forward. Keep in mind that Trong opened The District after coming to San Diego from Virginia. He knew not a single person in San Diego. He had $2,000 to his name. It reminded me of a young man of 32, about Trong's age who came to San Diego 35 years ago and he too did not know a single person in the state. That would be me. Do you have an entrepreneurial mind? If you do, you don't need a safety net to live your life. Entrepreneurs are a special breed! **************************** So back to the food! How many sandwiches have I had at the District? Well, Trong says there are 50 and I doubt I will ever get that far, Seems these days I am addicted to something called the Cold Turkey! More about that next time. When I was an undergrad at Hofstra in New York, I ordered a Turkey sub 7 nights a week. Yes, the dorm food was that bad. Don't tell my parents. Well, you can. They have been dead for 10 years plus and I doubt they will care. But I digress. I still recall the phone number for those great turkey snacks. Where did I get the money to buy them I ask. For the hell of me I have no idea. IV 6-9058 It was a 516 area code. Give them a call and tell them I referred them. Now if someone answers the phone in the deli business we really have a story. Now this turkey sandwich back in 1970 was mouth watering but guess what. Yes, The District Cold Turkey is better. And you still haven't visited this little shop on Market in San Diego? You say you would have to catch a plane to get here? Don't let that stop you! ********************************* So what shall we eat for lunch today? The District is a great place to eat the best sandwich in town and save a ton of money by keeping your wallet closed at high priced Petco. So if you take in a game stop first for eats at The District. My favorite as I have alluded to is the Cold Turkey. This is how the District describes this delicacy: Griddled sourdough, smoked turkey, sugar glazed bacon, smoked mozzarella, spinach tomato, avocado with our lemon thyme aioli. Now that's a turkey sandwich I can live with. I am also partial to the Petco Pastrami: Griddled rye bread, griddled pastrami, swiss cheese, sliced pickles with our spicy mustard aioli. ************************* Time to review. I find Trong a teacher as well as an entrepreneur. Like many entrepreneurs who have been in my class, he is a poor listener. Marketing suggestions such as integrating more social media and displaying East Coast wildfire items like Wise Potato Chips which would increase his business in the next 30 days double digits fall on deaf ears. For you see Trong knows all. That can be great--if it works. To his credit, so far it is working. So what should the student come away with from this session of Business 101 or Entrepreneurship 102? 1. You can make it anywhere but have a plan and enough capital to last a year. 2. Don't get sidetracked by following your passion--follow a need in the marketplace. In San Diego it was about sandwiches and the community The District would serve. 3. Become a social entrepreneur and get involved with the community. It will feed your business. 4. Have the best product in the market 5. Mind your business. 6. Train your staff to be an extension of you. One more cup of Trong! I told Trong that my new book will be called What is your Life Purpose and that he is in it! It takes a little to make Trong smile. Trong smiled. And that made me smile. But what I really liked as I complete this profile is how Trong responded to the question everyone must answer before getting into my book. What is your life purpose? "My purpose is to change and influence as many people as possible in helping believe that they can achieve anything they want in life. They just have to believe in themselves and dream big!" I have really learned to love this guy! Thanks, Trong! For everything!
Posted by Steve Tarde at 9:52 AM