During a recent video project with some Bank of the West Merchant Services customers, we got to know the owners of some fascinating businesses. Consider Paul Marino of the Columbus Café in San Francisco.
He runs an establishment that has a long, rich history in the city’s North Beach neighborhood, and he takes great pride in it. In this quick Q&A we did after the video shoot, Paul’s focus and practical wisdom are evident. I’m sure other business owners could benefit from his experience.
Q: Your business has been around since 1936. What has been the key to its longevity?
A: I would say the simplicity. We have good, old-fashioned drinks, a comfortable atmosphere, and bartenders with character. We’re located on one of the best streets in San Francisco in the heart of a bustling neighborhood — that helps, too!
How did you become the owner of Columbus Café, and how did you handle the transition?
My dad and I bought the building and the business 12 years ago as an investment. I took a break from my career to learn the trade hands-on. I put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this business to make sure it runs as smoothly as it does today.
How have you weathered slowdowns – or surges – in business volume over the years?
Bars are pretty recession-free, and we have seen an increase in business year-over-year. Even though I’m not as hands-on as I was originally, I am still around to keep an eye on the business.
What is the most significant lesson you’ve learned in your business about cash flow?
I always am sure to have cash on hand for unexpected expenses. I’ve also worked hard to be debt-free, allowing me to save.
What tips would you give to somebody who is just starting a business that relies heavily on retail or merchant services?
You need to have the time to invest in your business. If your business is going to be a side project, keep in mind it may take over your life. I was able to put my primary career on hold to invest my time in the bar, and it took me about five years. Now after 12 years it is a well-oiled machine, and I’m able to stop by only about once a week.
Also, find great employees and take care of them. I have a wonderful crew that I trust. They work hard and live up to my high expectations but are also rewarded. I take care of them with bonuses and also connect with them through team events. I have many great, long-term employees, and I am thankful for that.
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