Building a Business Outside the Box

Culinary entrepreneur Zach Greerson says versatility and patience are key.

CULINARY CREATIVITY: Restaurant entrepreneur Zach Greerson chefs outside the box in Southwest Florida. Photo Credit: Zach Stovall

Zach Greerson, 29, understands the power of being nimble. As a classically trained chef, he knows the ins and outs of delivering haute cuisine from a traditional brick-and-mortar establishment. But as an entrepreneur in the ever-shifting culinary world, he also knows how to pivot to new business models when innovation is required. “When you don’t put an idea in a box, it’s easier to ask, ‘What can we do?’” Greerson says. “When you’re open to anything, it becomes a question of, ‘How bad do you want it and how hard are you willing to work?’”

Greerson’s first restaurant, Journeyman’s Food & Drink in Anaheim, California, was named Orange County Restaurant of the Year in 2019 and one of the top 10 best new restaurants in the United States in 2018. The restaurant’s menu changed daily and focused on a chef’s tasting menu available in four, six and nine courses. “We introduced a lot of people to a new style of dining,” Greerson says. “And we had a lot of fun and broke a lot of barriers.”

Last year, Greerson returned to his native Southwest Florida and quietly began working on his next endeavor: SYLA, which stands for See You Later Alligator, a moveable feast inspired by Florida cuisine (think oakwood-smoked alligator and duck egg frittatas). Greerson’s offerings can be found at pop-up events that sell out weeks ahead of time, private chef dinners and a forthcoming take-out service.

When it comes to starting a successful business, Greerson gives this advice: Throw your ego aside. At Journeyman’s, Greerson was quick to nix whatever wasn’t working on his menu. “That made us exponentially better,” he says. “We were able to look at ourselves under a microscope without feeling ashamed or angry, and that helped us get over the barrier of thinking that what we did was right the first time.”

For rising entrepreneurs who strive to think outside the box, he suggests building in time for introspection. “Because I’m not working six days a week, 18-hour days, I spend a lot of time with my wife on our patio with a cup of coffee or in the quiet of night, thinking about things,” he says.

Time and space for reflection, Greerson said, are often what lead to breakthroughs. This goes against the traditional entrepreneurial model, which favors quick action and rapid flameout. Greerson suggested patience instead. “Don’t get deterred when something doesn’t happen right away,” he says. He points to SYLA as an example. Between permitting and COVID delays, it took almost a year to get his project up and running. “That patience factor allowed me to look at more angles and try to be more versatile. Had I gotten my way and had SYLA ready the month I got here, I wouldn’t have been ready mentally or physically.” With steadfast patience and a dash of versatility, he said, businesses can ultimately benefit from slowed progress. “We need to learn how to let time do its work.”