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Building a Restaurant Business

Owner of LaParrilla in Oswego also owns Brandon’s Pub and Grill in Fair Haven and Brandon’s Bayfront in Wolcott. He works at growing his business while also holding down a full-time job at Novelis

By Stefan Yablonski

“It’s always been kind of like a bucket list of something that I’ve always wanted to do. I wanted to own just a little pub and grill. There’s a story behind all of this,” Brandon Lagoe laughed.

“My first restaurant, I bought in 2018, out in Fair Haven, Brandon’s Pub and Grill. It used to be O’Connor’s on Main Street,” he said. “I bought it in January of 2018. Never had any experience running a restaurant. I was fortunate enough; I was able to go to school, back to school for business and Novelis helped me pay for it. I used that knowledge to help me open up my first restaurant.”

Fast forward to a year later.

“I started talking with Ray [Jock] who was the owner of LaParrilla when it was located over on [West] Second Street. The stress of the business and him just wanting to focus on food, being an executive chef — it landed an opportunity for us to work out a deal to where I would own the business, run the business and he would work for me doing what he loves,” Lagoe recalled.

It was kind of like a great marriage, Lagoe explained.

Brandon Lagoe at his La Parrilla On the Water in Oswego. In the new location — where Oswego River meets Lake Ontario — the restaurant has been an instant success.

“Ray got to do something he loved and I got to now enjoy another restaurant that was different than a pub,” Lagoe said. “The pub is much different than LaParrilla. In the fact, that one is a pub and one is a bistro.”

That was in February of 2020 — they were open about eight weeks and then COVID-19 hit and shut down everything.

“We played the whole COVID rules for much of 2020. During 2020, I still kept everybody employed. Never laid off anybody during that time — at either place,” he said. “I felt that, not knowing what the pandemic was going to bring, when you lay off people, you don’t necessarily know if you are going to get them back. We had a great team at both places, so I didn’t want to lose that.”

Being employed at Novelis allowed him to be able to support the payroll at both places during that time, he said, adding, “That was a plus.”

“Shortly after the pandemic in 2021, I opened, in September of 2021, the Bayfront, which is Brandon’s Bayfront, out in Wolcott, right on Port Bay [West Port Bay Road] and that was interesting,” he said. “I had a gentleman approach me. He had bought the property, but did not want to run a restaurant. He had heard that I was the owner of two successful restaurants and said that he’d like me to run it. I pondered on to it and finally decided that I would go for it.”

So, that brought three restaurants on at that point.

“Shortly after that, going into the spring of 2022, Broadwell Hospitality Group approached me — specifically Shane and Buddy — and asked me if I would want to take over Alex’s on the Water,” he said.

“So at that time, I had already promised my wife now, who was then my fiancé, that I would not take on a fourth restaurant. However, she did not say that I couldn’t move one.”

While she was away at a horse show in Kentucky, Lagoe struck a deal and “we decided to move LaParrilla from West Second Street to 24 E. First St.,” he explained.

It was a blessing in disguise, he added.

“This down here has been absolutely amazing. Being on the water, Broadwells have been fantastic with the transition and helping us when we need something,” he said. “I believe, from a local standpoint, we added value by committing to our strong service and our strong menu.”

When asked how he finds the time to do the things that he does, he says it’s all a matter of good teamwork.

“It’s setting expectations — building a foundation of trust, building a good team that falls into that foundation of trust and allowing them to make decisions, monitoring numbers by trend charting and watching historical averages,” he said. “Also, maintaining industry averages and working around those percentages. I am very transparent with all three of my leadership groups in order to be able to set that foundational stuff.”

Net sales, food costs, liquor costs; those types of things, if you are not transparent with those numbers, you can’t lead, he explained.

“I’m not one who micro-manages. I like to be able to give them a sandbox to play in. Sometimes they step outside that sandbox. But we talk about those decisions that were made, good or bad and we learn from them,” he said. “I truly believe that at all three of my places, I have the absolute best staff. They work very hard for my wife and I.”

Brandon’s Pub and Grill in Fair Haven. He acquired the business — his first restaurant — in January of 2018.

Lagoe has been married for six weeks, he said at the end of September, adding, “We’ve been together for more than five years. It was Deanna Ingerson prior to, it’s Deanna Lagoe now. The key to all of that, right, is Deanna. Deanna runs the foundation of all three of my businesses. That allows me to focus in my roles and responsibility at Novelis,” he said. “We’re in a really good place right now. I not only have those three businesses, but I also own two apartment buildings.”

“At the end of the day, she manages the people side of everything. Her and I manage the numbers side together. My role in all of this is spend time at the tables asking how we can improve, talking with people, networking, learning the numbers and understanding the numbers, making adjustments when needed,” he continued. “I take that information, I pass it through her, she passes it through the staff and executes. She is the rock in between all of the moving parts.”

There haven’t been any surprises, but they are still dealing with the fallout of the pandemic; of people not wanting to work.

“But we’re very fortunate in that it hasn’t affected us too much. We’ve had a couple bumps in the road at this restaurant [LaParrilla] and the pub  —but it was just transitional stuff. It took time for some people to leave other positions and come in here,” he said. 

The thing that people are experiencing, not being able to find people who want to work is a real thing, it’s a real thing, he said.

“We pay very well. More importantly, I feel that the people when they start to work for us they don’t leave because I create an atmosphere of a family. I’m not their employer; yes, at the end of the day I do make some decisions on whether you’re here or you’re not here, but ultimately I expect nothing more than I would do,” he said.

There have been times when he’s had to cook, dish wash, even times where he had to bar tend.

“I try to set that expectation, because I am not above doing any one of those things. As a matter of fact, I actually enjoy it. Tend bar — that’s one of my all-time best things that I like to do. Although my bartenders will tell me they don’t want me behind the bar,” he quipped. “Because we’re not making money if I’m behind the bar. I’m usually giving it out.”

Lagoe enjoys being around people.

“I’ve always wanted to be in a position where I could go up to people and ask them, ‘how are you doing? Welcome to my place and how can we do better?’ For me, those are easy conversations to have. But I also get to meet a lot of really nice people, too. People I never would have met, networks I never would have met otherwise if I didn’t expand outside of my portfolio,” he said.

“When we moved over here [LaParrilla On the Water], we inherited the river. The river is a draw for people just wanting to sit and be on the water. This is the only restaurant in Oswego right now where you can sit on the water. We get a lot of boaters out of Sodus, out of Rochester. We get some that come down through Alex Bay. We also get those who are pushing up the channel as you can see just right out here,” he said gesturing to a boat bobbing in the river outside the window.

“Ray is amazing. He has turned into, for us, more of an executive chef. He is training at my other places; he is our quality control right now,” Lagoe said. “It gets him out of the kitchen, allows him to maintain his freshness and come up with good new ideas and train more. He is right where this organization needs him to be.”

The two have a really good bond together and communicate very well.

“He understands the business side of things even though he’s not in the business side. He just wants to do his thing as a chef. He knows what he is good at,” he added.

Even though it’s LaParrilla On the Water, “it’s still LaParrilla and he created that here! So for me, I get the benefits of all that went along with that plus bringing my business sense to it and my networking to allow us to expand to where we are now,” Lagoe said.

The Novelis factor

“I hang my hat on the fact that if I didn’t have Novelis to take care of a problem here, I probably would have lost it during the pandemic. But having a salary there was fortunate enough to be able to keep us afloat both from a home perspective as well as managing the downfalls of the business,” said Lagoe.

He said he enjoys what he does at Novelis right now.

“I’m in a position that helps maintain our certifications and it allows me to audit at different plants across the region. I am able to really enjoy what I’m doing,” he said. “Up until the time comes when I don’t enjoy it any more and I don’t like going to work — then that will be a time when I think about retiring.”

“I pay a lot of people to do things that I could be doing from a management perspective. But I’m not ready to make that separation yet. I don’t think I’m there yet,” he added.

They have seen a “huge elevation in revenue,” moving from West Second Street to on the water —simply because of the number of people that they can serve at a time. “Over there, we served around 70 or 80 people. We can serve up to 300 in here.  So, when you look at expanding your tables by 300, your customer base, obviously your revenue is going to increase as well,” he said.

“I look at myself as an entrepreneur. At the same time, still maintaining my professional job at Novelis where it all started. It actually started at Alcan,” he said. “Do I spend a lot of time at my places? I spend a fair amount of time at all three of them. I like to spend more time at the tables. When you do spot checks at different places you get an idea of where you are at.”

It’s building that foundation, he explained. Just like the foundation of a house — “you have to have a good foundation. I’ve learned those goals from being at Novelis and I’ve transferred the knowledge and education they’ve taught me to be able to apply it to where I’m at now,” he explained.

Born and raised in Oswego, he’s been at Novelis for 20 years [as of May 2022] as operations leader responsible for cold mill.