Ask a Vexxpert Podcast Episode 20: Inside the Entrepreneurial Journey with Mike Del Buono + Co-Host, Brad Houghton

5 min. readbyVexxit StaffonOctober 28, 2021
While it’s usually our professionals sharing their expertise, today we’re hearing from entrepreneurs about what they’ve learned as they’ve built their businesses from the ground up.

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Mike was 18 years old and working in a factory making drill bits when a friend convinced him to apply at a new restaurant he was working at.

“I made the switch and I was hooked from day one,” Mike says.

After some time in the industry, Mike recalls thinking, I can do this. He got a business degree with a major in entrepreneurship, started searching for a location for his soon-to-be restaurant, and in 2014 he opened King + Bannatyne, a quick service, premium sandwich shop in the heart of Winnipeg’s Exchange District.

There were many other steps along the way, of course, and a pivot when Mike realized his original plan wasn’t working out as he’d hoped. What he’d intended to be a franchise model turned into an opportunity to restructure and grow his business in a different way with help from groups like Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO).

Brad, too, struggled through his first years in the restaurant business, which he walked into straight from university.

“A lot of doors closed with my university career, but the restaurant door opened,” he says.

After taking part in ventures that weren’t getting him where he wanted to be, Brad set his goal to become a multi-unit franchisee within the established Moxies chain. Twenty-seven years later, Brad has opened restaurants in four provinces and two states, and closed a handful of restaurants, too.

Through it all, Brad has learned the importance of a good team and he recognized that by way of a shared equity model, where key players are given the opportunity to own shares in the business. He typically offers 30 per cent to a vice-president of operations or a regional manager, with general managers and chefs claiming up to 10 per cent. There are people who started as waiters with his business some 25 years ago that now own significant shares of the business, shared Brad.

With that comes the pressure to make sales, he elaborates.

“You spend $1 million to build a restaurant, you’d better be doing $1.5 million in annual sales to get the returns for shareholders,” Brad says.

Mike also believes in sharing equity, reserving shares for his operating partners in each of his restaurants, but he has a different philosophy on the cost to build after having been through it with his first venture.

“You get the real, full feel of what it is to pay the bill on a half a million-dollar loan with a restaurant,” he says. “Thankfully, we were really popular in town and we did really well and we paid that one off in five years. But, I came back to the table when it was time to build number two and I said, I don’t want to do that again.”

He lucked out in finding another space that could house his second and third restaurants—one, another sandwich shop and the other, a full-service restaurant.

Whether starting out or expanding, Mike and Brad can agree that having the right supports along the way is crucial. Accountants and lawyers—that includes taxation and family lawyers—can protect your interests in the event of something unexpected, like an audit or even a breakup.

“Looking at a lease,” Mike says, “I look at it the same way. You’re jumping into a contract that is basically the lifeline of your business. You’ve got to get it right from the beginning, before you sign on the line, because it’s going to save you down the road.”

As for what’s next for Mike, he says watching Michael Keaton in The Founder sparked his interest in real estate. Eventually, he says, he’d like to own buildings that mix commercial and residential—filling the commercial space with new concepts and people who have grown with the company.

Check out our podcast episode with Mike and Brad for more on how they’ve found their way through entrepreneurship and reach out to Vexxit to connect with professionals who can help you on your business journey. Featured image | Mike Del Buono and Chef Emily Butcher in the Nola dining room. (Abby Matheson/Tourism Winnipeg).

Brad Houghton is owner and president of Eatz Enterprises, a franchise group that owns 22 Moxies restaurants across Canada and the U.S. He can add podcast co-host to his impressive list of accomplishments, as he takes the reins in today’s conversation with Mike Del Buono. Mike is managing owner of Burnley Place Hospitality Inc. with three successful Winnipeg restaurants under its arc — King + Bannatyne, Second Spot and Nola. (Fun fact: Nola’s head chef is Canadian culinary icon Emily Butcher, star of Top Chef Canada’s season nine).

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