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Mario Padrino Sr.: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restaurateur

Mario Padrino Sr: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restaurateur

An Interview With Martita Mestey

Keep track of all costs and expenses. It’s really important to do a good job taking care of finances and accounting. A restaurant can be a very busy restaurant but not make any money. The reason for that is because most startups do a bad job about really keeping track of costs and expenses. Have a system that you follow.

As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restaurateur”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mario Padrino Sr.

A seasoned restaurateur and innovative leader, Mario Padrino Sr. has more than four decades of experience in hospitality. Born in Pinar del Río, Cuba, Mario moved to the United States at a young age and entered the restaurant industry in 1976 when his parents opened the first Padrino’s location in South Florida. To honor their legacy and hard work, he followed in their footsteps becoming CEO in 1984, taking on the responsibility of the restaurant’s finances, operations, expansion and culture. In 1992, he expanded the brand’s footprint with the opening of Padrino’s Plantation — the first location operating under his leadership as a second generation owner.

Today, Padrino’s operates under the family’s third generation of owners. Mario continues to play a role in supporting the collection of Cuban restaurants as Culture Ambassador, assuring his family legacy and traditions are upheld.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restaurateur?

I got into the restaurant business to honor my parents’ hard work and sacrifices they’d made for so many years. They arrived in the U.S. from Cuba with close to nothing and created something worth preserving. My goal was to honor their legacy.

Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

Our menu is authentic Cuban cuisine. The recipes were created and perfected by my mom and time-tested over the last 50 years. We’ve introduced a couple new items but always keep the Latin flavors. The vast majority of the menu is traditional Cuban food

any Cuban family would eat in their home. We pride ourselves on using fresh ingredients and generous, but reasonably sized portions so you feel great after eating our food and not heavy or lethargic. My mom loved cooking for friends and family and wanted every guest that dined with us to feel as though they were being welcomed into her home.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a restaurateur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

One funny situation that comes up every once in a while, is around our name. “Padrino” means godfather in Spanish and Italian and people have assumed we are an Italian restaurant. In fact, I was buying a car a few years ago and the salesman told us “Oh, I love Padrino’s, I love the lasagna.” Also, one time I was wearing our shirt which read, “Padrino’s…Family, Cuban, Tradition” and someone asked “What is Padrino’s?” The clear take away is to be very clear with your signage and branding so people know exactly what you’re selling.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?

When I first became the official owner, I struggled feeling like I was babysitting my parents’ restaurant and focusing on every negative thing that would happen- which would happen often. The AC breaking on a weekend, the bathrooms flooding in the middle of a rush, employees not showing up for their shift, all these things would constantly drive me nuts and gave me a very negative impression of the restaurant. Everything changed when my perspective changed and I dealt with issues for what they were and became more proactive. The issues didn’t change but my outlook did and from then on everything shifted. Modifying my mindset changed the whole trajectory of the business as well as my life.

In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?

For us, an excellent dish is measured by its adherence to my mother’s recipe. This is the standard to which we hold every plate that comes out. One dish that customers go crazy about is our flan. I’ve spoken to many people who have traveled around the world and they continue to say that our flan is the best they have ever tasted. It’s more than the flavor, which is amazing, it’s the velvety texture that’s unmatched by any flan I’ve ever had.

Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?

The perfect meal for me isn’t so much about what I’m eating but who I’m sharing it with. My life’s greatest memories were created sitting around our dinner table and laughing with my kids.

Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?

My inspiration for creating comes from my mother and her obsessive pursuit of excellence and incomparable ability to find solutions for any and all situations. It’s inspiring and motivating to have her as my example for creativity. In terms of creativity in what we’re implementing today in our business, I’ve turned to my daughter, Laura, to spark the new inspiration behind the look and feel of each of our Padrino’s restaurants.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?

Yes, we are relocating Padrino’s Plantation into a new plaza, revamping the look and feel of the restaurant while keeping all of the traditional menu items that people know and love within our community. I feel this new location will draw new customers into our business that have not experienced our restaurant previously and will show our new loyal guests a fresh perspective brought in by my children, Laura, Mario, and Eduardo.

What advice would you give to other restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?

One big piece of advice I would give to other restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout is to learn to trust others. When you are an independent restaurant owner and you are starting from scratch, you are doing it all by yourself and want to experience a certain level of outcome. It’s important to have key people by your side that you trust to help support you in your business in order to grow to the next level. I believe that the best of Padrino’s is yet to come under the development of my children who are well prepared and have each other to support, encourage and motivate one another to excel.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restaurateur” and why?

1. Be prepared for things to go wrong, especially on the weekends. It’s very frustrating, but I’ve learned that things happen on the weekend quite often, and that is part of the restaurant world. Whether it’s the air conditioning breaking on a Saturday or the dishwasher not showing up, be prepared to handle the situation. Once I realized that this is part of what I got into, I changed my mindset. Instead of complaining about it every single time, you need to be prepared for things to go wrong. Know that it’s just a part of the business.

2. Keep track of all costs and expenses. It’s really important to do a good job taking care of finances and accounting. A restaurant can be a very busy restaurant but not make any money. The reason for that is because most startups do a bad job about really keeping track of costs and expenses. Have a system that you follow.

3. Surround yourself with people you trust. You’re not going to make it alone. You need to surround yourself with people who will help you. I’m not talking about regular hourly folks that are doing their work, I’m talking about key people–people that you trust to manage the restaurant in a way that is consistent with your values and what you want to accomplish. That would be in all primary roles. I always say that if you have at least two key people that you value, you have a good support system.

4. Accept change in order to grow. Don’t be afraid to change in order to grow. Whether it’s improving yourself to make yourself a stronger leader or introducing a new design with a new opening, change isn’t always a bad thing. It’s important to recognize what efforts will help your business succeed and which changes need to come with it. As my daughter, Laura, always says, “you live and you learn, you adapt and you grow.”

5. Stay true to your roots. This all comes down to the restaurant’s values. Tradition is important because it helps keep the restaurant’s dishes and service consistent over time and always provides the quality that loyal customers learn to expect. At Padrino’s, tradition has carried us through three generations and we continue to build our family’s legacy while keeping true to our timeless lifelong recipes. The way you treat your guests, employees and community should also always align with the restaurant’s core beliefs.

What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?

The one dish people have to try if they visit our restaurant is the flan. It’s so delicious. The other dish we recommend trying is our Lechon Asado, Roast Pork. Our pork is slow roasted for eight hours; it’s tender, moist, flavorful and very traditional Cuban cuisine.

Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!

Mario Padrino Sr.: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restaurateur was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.