As any restaurant owner knows, you don’t just work at your establishment. You live there. You sacrifice sleep, time, money and energy to build and maintain a successful business. It’s all worth it when the restaurant is up and running, bringing its owner’s vision to life.
The Esendemir sisters, Fusun, Gonca ’08 and Arzu ’07, live the restaurant life. Gonca and Arzu both attended Montclair State University; an experience they say was instrumental to their entrepreneurial careers.
“We were familiar with this area because of Montclair State,” said Gonca, a filmmaking major.
“I chose Montclair State because of its overall value,” Arzu said. She was a Finance and Management major. “I considered Wall Street,” she continued. The courses she took in her program proved to be beneficial to her later on when she started making business decisions for the Flatbread Grill. “They helped me gain an understanding of the business world. I feel a sense of empowerment and can hold my own in business conversations.”
Their sense of empowerment has served the sisters in the often-hostile world of entrepreneurship. They described some of the prejudices they faced when dealing with contractors and suppliers, like remarks about how long the Flatbread Grill would stay in business and questions asking if they worked for their father or another male manager.
“The naysayers only encouraged us to work harder,” Arzu said. The sisters created their brand identity without help from an outside agency. “We don’t outsource anything.”
Gonca began her Montclair State career as an English major, but then switched to Filmmaking. It was a fairly new program at the time, with laid-back professors who “did all they could,” she said. She liked the relaxed nature of the department because it was unlike other art schools, where “there’s lots of pressure to be an artist.” While she was a student, Gonca worked in New York City, and then became involved with the Flatbread Grill during her final year.
From there, the restaurant took off. The sisters have a small staff and do all the baking themselves. “There are times I didn’t get to sleep at all,” Arzu said. The Flatbread Grill was a success in Montclair and the sisters plan to open a second location in Hoboken in 2014.
The Esendemirs are going to come back to Montclair State University to speak to students at the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship about their journey with the Flatbread Grill.
“Weigh the pros and cons of your business plan,” said Gonca, when asked what advice she would give to students considering starting businesses.
“You have to have security,” Arzu added. “You can’t leave your job without security. Cut down to part-time and do a lot of research. Find a mentor – that will help you avoid so many mistakes.”
They both commented on the importance of patience in the business world – the first two years are key to a new business, and owners rarely make money during that initial stage. Perseverance pays off, and the Esendemir family knows it.
“We’re hardworking by default,” Arzu said. “That’s all we knew.”