Up next in Founder Fridays is my brother, Robért LeBlanc, who owns some of my favorite restaurants and bars in New Orleans - Sylvain, Meaux Bar, Barrel Proof - through his company LeBlanc + Smith. My biases aside and my biases included, I always have a great time at his joints, and the food is fantastic. That’s a testament to his sense of hospitality, but Ro also does a great job of hiring very talented people and working with them to execute a shared vision.
We both had circuitous routes to the hospitality industry, although I think his was much more random than mine. Long story short (if such a thing exists when a LeBlanc is doing the talking), Everybody’s All-American decides he doesn’t want to be a doctor, starts a hip-hop label (even though he has ZERO rhythm), becomes an event planner, launches a night club four months after Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, and eventually expands into restaurants. He's been at it for over 10 years now, and I think he's great at what he does. I have leaned on Ro immensely throughout the process of launching and building Good Stock and it would have been a hundred times harder without him answering my endless stream of questions. I'm happy to let him share just a few of the many things he's taught me over the years.
Why did you start LeBlanc + Smith?
I did not intentionally start out to own bars and restaurants. It was an evolution from a record label that I started with friends in college. Upon further reflection though, I think that deep down, I was always going to be in the hospitality business. We all were. Some of the most formative experiences of my life were at family parties at both my maternal and paternal grandparents’ homes. They were always big occasions that included our immediate family, our extended family, and many of our family friends. The foundation of those events was both of my grandfathers being incredibly hospitable to all. And so after starting as a record label, I eventually gravitated to where I was always supposed to be it seems.
What is a challenge you didn’t foresee?
This will be hard to qualify in a written answer, but one of the challenges that I did not foresee is developing the touch that it takes to make bars and restaurants successful. My parents established in me through their own examples a tremendous work ethic and I have always been very driven. But our industry is as much art as it is business. And with art, pressing too hard often kills that which you are trying to create. So I have had a really hard time determining when to press and when to back off to allow our bars and restaurants to breathe. To open up on their own. I struggle with this daily.
What would you tell someone else starting out in your industry?
Get started as soon as you can and learn as you go. There are experiences you will have to go through in order to eventually become successful that are very painful but very necessary. And there is no way to learn from these experiences other than to suffer through them yourself. You cannot read a book to avoid them, you cannot learn from a mentor in order to avoid them. There is truly only one way over that wall. But every one in our business went through the exact same pain and made it to the other side. So instead of delaying the inevitable, just get started and take your licks as soon as you can.
What do you love about your job?
Working with really talented and really passionate people on a daily basis to entertain guests who trust us enough to choose our establishments over thousands of other incredible options. The great feeling I get when a staff member triumphs or when a guest smiles is as strong today as it was when I began ten years ago.
What is your favorite soup?
French Onion, and there is not a close second for me.