A pilot who soared in the skies for over 40 years, Gerard Gunter never imagined that he was going to retire as a restaurant owner.
It all started in 2009. A couple of his friends were looking for investors for their restaurant. Since he was still flying full time, Gerard decided to get onboard as a silent partner.
Several years later, his friends wanted to sell the business and were looking for a buyer. As his flying tenure was coming to an end, Gerard decided to grab the opportunity. Hence, JerryG’s was born.
As a fairly new venture, JerryG’s was not spared by the wrath of the pandemic. There were many things that they had to quickly change in order to keep going.
We recently caught up with Gerard to talk about how he and his team weathered through the pandemic, the Movement Control Order, and what changes they had to make in order to come out stronger.
Hi Gerard, thank you for making time for this interview with Eber. Can you start by telling us what motivated you to start this restaurant?
As you know, I started as a silent partner and then bought over the business.
As a silent partner, I did not give much input because I’m not an expert in running a restaurant. I definitely had a lot of ideas I didn’t know if they’d work. My friends were more experienced, so I thought they’d know better.
Later, my friends decided to sell the business. I was also about to retire from flying. So I thought, you know what, I should buy the business. I was already a partner anyway. And I have all these untested ideas that I’d love to put into action. So voila – here we are – that’s how JerryG’s was born.
JerryG’s is actually a play on my name, Gerard. People call me Jerry at home. My partner Shireen suggested that I personalise the restaurant name it so it reflects me more meaningfully.
So you never thought you’d end up as a restaurant owner?
[laughs] No, it was never my plan.
What was the direction you wanted to take with the restaurant?
You know, people always ask me about the concept of the restaurant. Is it western, Filipino, and etc.
My concept is more holistic. Good food alone is not enough. Great price alone is not enough. My philosophy is good food, good music, and good connection – and that’s our tagline.
Every single decision I make is true to that tagline.
Let’s talk about more serious matters – like the pandemic. Obviously things were tough for you and you had to make some changes?
The entire pandemic and the (Movement Control Order) MCO has definitely been a challenging time for us. Things were tough – but I did not want to give up. We definitely had to think out of the box and do things we’ve never done before.
For example, before MCO, we did not do breakfast. We’d open for lunch until late night. We had a great crowd coming in at night. But now, we have to close early.
To make up for that, we have to open early as well. So we introduced breakfast into the menu and serve it as early as 8.30am.
Another thing that we had to do because of MCO was get listed on Grab and Food Panda. Before this, I was against the idea of food delivery because, you know, good food, good music, and good connection.
Food delivery seemed a bit of a disconnect as people are not actually coming into the restaurant. But then I realised that we would still be connecting food to the people – and that works for me.
A friend of mine, Salina, she makes really great jam tarts. In fact, she also started doing it during the MCO. She spoke to me to see if I can sell her tarts over at JerryG’s. I said yes, of course. That’s another connection right there – connecting her and her jam tarts to people who come in.
We are also more active on social media now. My daughter, Jamie, is handling our social media account. That means that I also get to see her more often.
Our location is away from heavy foot traffic so creating visibility by referrals and social media is vital. But being away from the main road can also be advantageous – it’s quite cozy and somewhat private here.
I also made sure that the interior design fits with the energy of the venue to produce a welcoming atmosphere.
What’s your strategy to keep customers coming back?
My ultimate goal is that customers should get value for their money.
Of course, we’re reasonably priced, but that doesn’t mean our service should be average. We have to give customers our best. From the seating, to the lights, music, interior design, I’ve put so much thought into everything.
The music isn’t too loud – but you can still hear it. The decorations are up to date. In fact, this platform we’re sitting on can also double as a stage. We have 3-piece bands performing every week. My daughter, Jamie, performs here too.
When customers get value for their money, they will feel satisfied and want to come back. If they don’t, then there will be complaints. No one ever complains that a Mercedes or a Ferrari is expensive – because they see the value in it. That’s what we strive for.
We want our customers to be happy and refer us to their friends because they had a good experience here.
Another very important element for me is my staff. A happy workplace is key to driving up sales and increasing customer satisfaction.
I make sure that everyone feels like they matter. From the front of the house to the kitchen. Everyone’s opinion and feedback counts. Everyone can approach me and tell me anything. There’s no barrier or hierarchy.
I take them out for dinner every now and then. Sometimes we go to different restaurants to observe how things are done there and observe what we can learn from them.
All my employees get medical insurance and proper training. When they make coffee, they’re not just making coffee. They have undergone barista training, they know what makes a good coffee and they can even do latte art.
We also serve wine. Everyone, including myself, have been trained by wine experts or have gone for wine tasting workshops. In fact, we had the Master of Wine, John Salvi, conduct a training for us.
There’s also a good crowd coming in late in the afternoon. So we have happy hour promotions for them.
Another thing is our menu. Initially, I had some consultants over and they designed the menu. I asked my chef, Hafifi, if this was something he’d be happy to make everyday and serve to his family. He said no.
So I scrapped the whole thing and got Hafifi to design the menu. I wanted something that our staff was happy to do and would proudly recommend it to their friends and family.
Does your experience as a pilot come in handy in running a restaurant?
Actually, yes, there are a couple of things from my piloting days that I carry into the restaurant.
One of them is the JUST culture. It is a learning culture that focuses on constantly learning and improving. Employees should be allowed to make mistakes and learn from it. Mistakes are not a crime – it’s an opportunity to learn. It’s continuous learning and correction.
Another thing is service points. Everything from the service charges on the bill goes directly to the employee. This way, they will be more motivated to upsell. Some companies give a fixed amount to their employees. Whether they sell more or less, they get the same amount. But here, the more they sell, the more they get.
It seems like you feel very strongly about empowering your employees.
I think it’s extremely important that your employees are empowered to do their job – whether their managers are around or not.
For me, I don’t even have to be at the restaurant. My staff know what they’re doing and they can take care of everything. That’s a huge success for me.
Happy team members relate to happy customers. If the people who work at JerryG’s feel at home, so will our guests.
Before we end, any tips for budding restaurant business owners out there?
I’m a part of this group called Business Network International. It’s a group of entrepreneurs and businessmen/women from all over the world.
It was one of the members that introduced me to John Salvi and helped to arrange the wine event.
I highly recommend networking and finding people who are just as passionate about business to help you out. Many entrepreneurs are afraid to ask for help when they need it.
Aside from that, always make sure your employees are happy – because that will reflect in their service, and ultimately, your brand.