August 14, 2007 brett

Arman Ausiello hasn’t made it; at least, that’s what he’ll say. The owner of Santa Rosa, California’s Ausiello’s 5th Street Grill warns, “once you sit on your laurels and think you’ve made it, you’re done.”

Arman, whose vitality makes his age a complete mystery, has owned successful bars for over 25 years; anyone looking into opening a bar would be wise to listen to his advice. Armen’s lack of college degrees is completely negated by a natural business sense and a work ethic taught in no MBA program. Ironic that a man so successful in a competitive business would offer this as advice:

“Don’t get wrapped up in competition. Do what you do, and be happy with it.”

Beyond his years behind the bar, every morning Arman cleans his entire establishment, and in doing so sets the standard for each of his employees. Many would call this work below the level of an owner, but Arman learned from his father to “just work,” and work he does. He makes sure to distinguish Ausiello’s as a neighborhood tavern/beer bar with a sports focus, not a sports bar. He does not draw his identity from thematic elements, but rather strives for consistency of service, food and environment.

This commitment to consistency has solidified Arman’s place in the community; the community is as well a part of Ausiello’s, with hundreds of framed pictures adorning the walls. These pictures serve to remind Armen who his people are, and exactly why he doesn’t need to change.

Interview

It is 10 a.m.  His Fifth Street Bar and Tavern is not yet open, but he is in full swing in getting the place open.  He wipes down counters, unloads bar stools, while his 22 year old daughter Leanna cooks the bacon for the day.  Arman Ausiello is the owner of this fine establishment.

When did you start?  How did you get into owning a sports bar?

Well, I was 22 years old and I was coaching a softball team.  We were looking for a sponsor and I found this dive bar up the street who lost their softball team.  We came in, and not only did we have 15 guys who played softball, but we had another 30 people who followed us.  Back then, people watched softball games.  They came for the beer. 

So I was working at the place on Saturdays and I brought the softball team in.  I started doing promotions like pool tournaments and shuffle board tournaments and stuff like that.  The guy’s business jumped big time because we hit his place in full force.  I was kind of the person running all the promotions.

It went back to the days when you’re partying with all your friends, instead of just hanging out in the kitchen doing nothing and looking at each other like idiots, I would always run something.  We’d dance, I’d have a pool tournament or a dart tournament.  Something.  I took that to the next level and started running promotions in this guy’s bar. 

After about a year, he wanted to get out.  He’d always wanted to get out.  He couldn’t sell the place because it was such a pit.  But I was cleaning it up and fixing it up and it was something that I did.  Growing up working for my dad, I was taught to work.  So I always cleaned things, fixed things up without having to be asked. 

And so he offered me his place.  I knew I didn’t have any money.  I was 22 years old.  Just to make payments and go from there.  Well a friend of mine actually found out about it and he had the money.  He paid the owner half the money down.  He got the money from his grandma.  His name was Bubba.  Bubba took the place over, which was disappointing at the time, but it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.  Because he eventually failed because he just wanted the prestige of owning a bar.  He didn’t really want to work it.  He did just about everything you’re supposed to do, but wrong, to run a business.  Within three months he had failed, and for another nine months it was in courts.  So for a whole year this bar with a bad reputation was closed.  I got offered the place again once it got out of the courts and I only paid what Bubba owed him.  I didn’t pay a dime for six months until I got my fee.  And I got to change the name.  So I got to change the whole image.  At that time, I thought a neighborhood beer bar should have sports in it.  So I covered all the holes with sports crap. 

I don’t know if it was the time or whatever, but it just was something that the town needed and it just flourished from the get go.  I never really had hard times.  I worked hard for what I got.  I didn’t know what I was doing, but I just acted like I did.  I knew that if I was consistent at what I did, and I kept it clean and I worked hard, good things would happen.  And that’s exactly what happened.

You’ll talk to a lot of people that went to college to learn a lot of things about business, which is all good.  I think it’s great.  But it comes down to being consistent in what you do that really gets you over the hump.  And like you guys say.  The passion for what you do.  It reflects on people and people see that.  And they want you to make it. 

That’s how I got into it.  That’s what I did.  Within ten years, all of a sudden the Holiday Inn has a bunch of sports stuff.  All that crap I put on the wall to cover the holes in the wall?  They now call it memorabilia.  It wasn’t even a word!  Now they call us sports bars.  To me, we’re a neighborhood tavern that’s very sports oriented that puts out a good, consistent product.  That’s how we survive.

That’s pretty cool.  For the next twenty years then, you had that spot.

I thought I’d never leave. 

Then you moved out to Santa Rosa for family reasons.  And started this place when you found the same thing.  That gap in the city and filled it up.

Well, yeah.  That’s right.  I’ve gone to other towns and people have been to our place in Belmont and said, ‘Geez.  We need one of these in our town.’  Even those sports bars were pretty keesh at the time, I don’t feel that we were in competition with that.  Because our main thing was being a neighborhood beer bar.  Sports was something that we do.  Food was something that we do.  If I felt that I was in competition with anybody, I’m in competition with Safeway.  Because Safeway sells beer, wine, and burgers too. 

So you have to do your own thing.  Stick with what you are.  And stay consistent.    

I guess we have one more question for you.  If you could go back to when you were 22 years old and offer yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?

Wow.  One piece of advice when I was 20 years old.  I guess the biggest thing I’ve learned over the years is not to get too wrapped up in the competition.  Just do what you do and let that be good enough. 

I know in this business, a lot of people get caught up in what customers want.  Customers want to do the competition piece.  ‘This bar is doing this now.  And this bar is doing that now.  And they did this, and you should do that.’  I got wrapped up into that early.  I would get upset. 

Because people make this place their home.  They make you feel like this is the greatest place in the world.  But then a new bar opens up and it’s like a girlfriend leaving you.  Every one goes over to the other bar.  It used to really bother me. 

But, like I said, I keep saying the same thing over and over again, but if you stay consistent at what you do and do the best you can, you’ll survive.  You will survive in any business if you do that. 

There’s one thing I knew that I never did and I could see it was the difference between other people that failed in this business. 

Every bar and every restaurant goes ‘BOOM!’ at first.  If you say, ‘I’ve made it!’ you are done.  Because once you sit on your laurels and think you’ve done it, you’re gonna go down.  You have to keep improving.  You have to keep consistent on what you do, and you’ll last longer.  You’ll get through the five year thing and you’ll last longer if you don’t sit on your laurels.

Great business advice.  That’s the truth.

You’ll see that in a lot of people.  They might say it more eloquently, but they’re going to say it.  It’s all going to be the same thing. 

The point I wanted to make is that I never went to college.  Alright.  I’ve seen a lot of people get business degrees and have no business sense.  None whatsoever.  I feel sorry for them.  I think the book is great.  I would have been able to do a lot more early on if I knew.  Like I said, I just acted like I knew what I was doing and after ten years I actually did.  But if I had a college education it would have been a lot easier on that respect. 

But I have a lot of business sense, I’ve come to find out over the years.  I’ve seen a lot of people without it and it’s amazing.  You don’t get into business if you don’t have business sense.  I think that comes naturally.  I think that comes with your type of work ethics and stuff like that. 

That’s always been my thing.  I’ve had a lot of business sense in this business, and I’ve had enough sense to stay out of other businesses.  That’s why I’ve been pretty successful in life.