How a 31-year-old entrepreneur grew her restaurant business to more than $6 million in annual net sales last year

Gina Luari
Gina Luari, the founder of The Place 2 Be.

courtesy of Luari

  • Gina Luari launched her first brunch restaurant in 2016 after growing up in the industry.
  • She’s scaled to four more locations and booked more than $6 million in annual net sales last year.
  • Strong branding and investing in growth have helped her scale amid difficult conditions, she said.

The restaurant business is in Gina Luari’s blood.

As a 6-year-old, she immigrated to the US from Albania, where her family ran a restaurant. In Connecticut, her father landed a job at a local diner and, a decade later, bought the establishment and hired Luari.

“I was working as everything from a host to a server to a dishwasher,” she said. “I’ve always been engulfed in the restaurant industry. It’s been a part of who I am for so long.”

Luari transitioned from restaurant employee to entrepreneur in 2016 when she opened her brunch spot, The Place 2 Be. Since then, she’s expanded to three additional locations, with a fifth opening this month, hired more than 200 employees, and booked more than $6 million in annual net sales in 2021, documents verified by Insider showed.

Despite her family history in the restaurant business, Luari initially forged a different career path after college: She worked as the executive director of the Rocky Hill Chamber of Commerce, where she helped small, local businesses scale. It was there she noticed a void in the downtown Hartford brunch market, a business opportunity, she said.

At 24, she leased the space for her first restaurant. Her mother had to sign the papers because the landlord thought she was too young, she said.

The entrepreneur, now 31, spoke with Insider about her growth tactics and how she continued to stand out in the food industry with a growth mindset and cohesive branding.

Take advantage of your time and opportunity

The Place 2 Be brunch spot
The Place 2 Be locations include swinging chairs and other photo spots.

courtesy of Luari

As Luari launched and scaled her businesses, she never felt imposter syndrome, and that’s been one of her biggest assets, she said. When she opened The Place 2 Be, she understood there were aspects she didn’t know about entrepreneurship — in fact, she still feels that way. But she’s confident that she’ll be able to find the answers to her questions through trial and error, she added.

For example, as she prepared to open her first location, she used her experience from the chamber to determine her best course of action. She took out a $26,000 line of credit, filed her LLC, applied for a liquor license, set up her payroll, determined her point-of-sale software, and created her menu.

“The two things you don’t get back in life are time and opportunity,” she said, adding that it’s important for new business owners to move efficiently through their launches. 

Create a compelling brand experience

The Place 2 Be shake
The Place 2 Be’s shakes and other brunch foods are served with the company duck.

courtesy of Luari

The Place 2 Be is known for its unique branding, including rubber ducks in drinks and colorful, over-the-top brunch plates, which customers regularly snap and share with their social-media followers. That’s not an accident, Luari said.

She aimed to create an experience that people wanted to be a part of and share, which she achieved through her food and interior design. 

The first step in the business branding was working with a graphic designer to create the logo and develop the printed menus, she said. Then, she hired a local artist to paint murals on the walls. She also scheduled a ribbon-cutting ceremony — something she’d spent a lot of time doing at the chamber — to ignite local interest in the business. 

“I wanted to transform the space into something that would be a place where I would want to hang out,” she said.

She also installed a green wall and swinging chairs so visitors experienced “picture moments” in the space that they would likely share on social media, she added. Lastly, she invested in dinnerware, glassware, and drink vessels that would surely photograph well.

“All of those factors really helped elevate and create the brand,” Luari said. 

Navigate tough times by investing in growth

While 17% of US restaurants closed during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Luari invested more time and money in social media and marketing. The tactic brought in a new crowd of customers, she said. 

A post shared by The Place 2 Be ™️ (@place2bect)

“They started coming to us because they kept seeing us on social media,” she said. “We were in their faces 24/7.”

Luari and her team launched initiatives like “brunch boxes” so customers could order takeout and experience the brand in their own homes. The boxes included signature menu items as well as stickers and The Place 2 Be’s signature rubber ducks.

“We’re always looking for a better and more efficient way to do something,” Luari said. “I really do think that’s why we’ve been able to sustain through everything that was meant to destroy us.”

Read the original article on Business Insider