Pforzheimer awarded for entrepreneurship

Wilton resident Andy Pforzheimer of Barteca Restaurants is the winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2016 award for New York, in the category of food and beverage services, and he’ll be headed to Palm Springs for the national contest.

Barteca is a holding company for 23 restaurants — 12 Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurants and 11 bartacos.

“We started in Norwalk, and we added one Barcelona every few years in Connecticut,” Pforzheimer said. “Then we added one in Atlanta, because Connecticut’s very small, and we didn’t want to go to New York City.”

“When the one in Atlanta was successful, we opened bartaco in Port Chester, and that was successful, so we attracted the interest of a private equity group who invested in us, and with that money we opened in Boston and D.C. and Nashville and Tampa,” he said.

But the restaurateur has a “weird” feeling about being recognized for that success.

“Building something never feels like you're building something; it just feels like a very slow process, and usually it feels like you’re not getting anywhere,” Pforzheimer said.

“It’s a lot like climbing a mountain,” he explained. “If you climb a mountain, you’re just looking at your feet and a route, and sometimes you’re going down when you’re supposed to be going up, and it doesn’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, but every now and then you stop and you look over the edge and you go, ‘Whoa, look at that.’”

“This award felt like that,” Pforzheimer said. “It’s not I like I did anything new or different, but it is nice to every now and then have that stop-and-think moment.”

The funny thing is that Ernst & Young didn’t give Pforzheimer a list of criteria to explain why he was awarded, but the 25-year resident and former Wilton Board of Finance member thinks it has something to do with his activities outside Barteca.

“I think honestly one of the main reasons is that I’ve been trying to be less actively involved in the company and doing more teaching and other things,” he said. “I teach entrepreneurship at the Institute for Culinary Education in New York, and I’m involved in putting together a faculty for a restaurant startup business school program at the Culinary Institute of America.”

But perhaps Pforzheimer was recognized for his business philosophy, which in a few words is, the customer’s always right.

“We like a sense of urgency, as opposed to talking about getting things done. If a customer isn't happy in the restaurant, you drop everything on your plate and you go over and fix it, and don’t leave that table until they’re happy,” Pforzheimer said.

“Keeping that sense of urgency alive as you get bigger is hard, so it’s part of my job to keep that front and center, but it’s a pretty short to-do list,”  Pforzheimer said. “It’s know the difference between right and wrong, and if something’s wrong, fix it.”

As Pforzheimer’s business grows, he plans to transition out of the role of chief executive officer and take the chairman’s seat on the board of directors, but for right now, he has the most important responsibility of them all: finding and securing profitable locations.

“Location is the decision you can’t change,” Pforzheimer said. “You can change everything else. You can fire a chef; you can get rid of a menu item; you can change your bartop from wood to marble, but you can’t change your location.”

This, Pforzheimer explained, is easier said than done.

“You need enough density that the place will do business, so that’s the large market, and then within the large market you need the cool building on the cool street corner in the part of town where your customers live, and that can take years,” he said.

Barteca Restaurants is looking to expand into several large markets that Pforzheimer believes could be profitable horizons.

“I’m looking at a place in Austin; I really like Austin. We’re looking at a couple places in Houston. We’ve been looking in Winter Park in Florida for a while. We just signed a lease and we’re starting construction in Philadelphia; that’s new for us. We’re looking in Denver and Boulder, so those are all new markets,” Pforzheimer said.

Pforzheimer received the New York award at a black tie event in the Marriott Marquis Ballroom June 22. He left The Bulletin with the following simple but unexpected advice for budding restaurateurs.

“People ask me what the most important thing they should learn when they want to open a restaurant is, and I tell them to take accounting classes, and they never want to hear that; it’s funny,” he said.