Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Kristian Niemi, Owner of Off Menu Ltd., located in Columbia, SC, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

We have multiple businesses, mostly restaurants, including Bourbon, Black Rooster, and the upcoming Dragon Room. We also have a catering company called Honey River Catering and an event company, F2T Productions.

Tell us about yourself

I started in the restaurant business in the late 80s after getting out of the Army, where I was a translator of Farsi. The GI Bill didn't really pay the bills, so I got a job at a high-end restaurant as a waiter's assistant and was quickly promoted to waiter. Meanwhile, I was jumping from college major to college major, Pre-Med, with the plan to become a heart surgeon, Anthropology, then finally, Architecture with a focus on Historic Preservation. During my senior year of architecture school, I also enrolled in Culinary Arts at St. Paul College to learn more about the restaurant business.

After working for a couple of places, I opened my first restaurant in 1995. Since then, I have opened seven different concepts and continue to forge ahead with ideas for more. My motivation comes from the desire to learn and to serve my community with the best product I can possibly deliver. Since that's nearly impossible to do, my motivation never wanes.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Some of my peers would point to me being named the 2023 Restaurateur of the Year or having been inducted into the SC Restaurant Hall of Fame last year, but those mean very little to me. My accomplishments come in the form of having happy employees, both past and present, of having glowing reviews rolling in from the various restaurants or events we put on, and from being a contributing member of our community.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

Learning to let go and allow your team to do the jobs you have entrusted them to do. I was a control freak in the early years, and it took a horrific personal loss for me to reassess my life and begin to let go. Since then, the businesses have thrived under my guidance, but through the actual work of my amazing staff.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Work in whatever business you are interested in and learn as much as you can on someone else's dollar before you start spending your own.
  2. Always hire people who are even more capable at their position than you could ever be, BUT know every position, so you aren't held hostage by them.
  3. Empower them and compensate them well, so you can continue to grow, and so can they.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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