People to know in retail and restaurants: John Varanese

People to know in retail and restaurants: John Varanese

Years in industry: 30

Why did you get into the industry? Much like anyone I knew, I wanted to make a good living and support myself financially. At a very young age, I started cooking. It came naturally to me and I enjoyed it.

By the time I went to college, I had five years experience in the restaurant industry, and therefore, a huge advantage over others in the kitchen. Not only did I want to be creative in the kitchen, I was fascinated by the business of the restaurant industry. It was a great fit for me, and I’ve been pursuing it for over 30 years now.

What role did location play when opening your business(es)? Location played a huge part in all three of my restaurants. I had my eye on the River Road location since 2001 when it was just a boat storage warehouse. I signed an intent to lease that year and went so far as to commission architectural renderings in 2004. But the timing wasn’t right.

The down economy worked against my plans and the financing was not coming through. As a result, I scaled back my plans and opened my namesake restaurant in an old service station on Frankfort Avenue. For eight years, as I built that business, I kept my eye on the River Road property until I was able to develop investors and revisit my dream of opening a first-class riverfront restaurant. It was an ambitious undertaking, and took a strong team, but River House Restaurant and Raw Bar opened this year along with my third concept, Levee at the River House.

More than half of new business ventures fail within three years. How can business owners defy those odds and find success? I am as hands-on as I possibly can be. I think it is important to stay in touch with your business and especially your clientele. I always say if you’re not moving forward, you’re going backward. So learn from your successes and failures, but leave them behind. You should never stop trying to improve, and never settle for anything less than your vision.

What’s the most common misconception about your industry? That the restaurant industry is extremely profitable, and that anyone can open a restaurant.

What’s the five-year outlook for your industry in Louisville? The labor market is over-saturated and it will become more of a challenge for restaurateurs to find workers to sustain the level of quality we enjoy. But I feel the restaurant industry will continue to do well here in Louisville.

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