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The Reinvention of Mike Ledesma, How a Former Financial Advisor Turned Restauranter

Mike Ledesma left his job of being a financial advisor to pursue his passions, leading him to Hawaii, where he enrolled in culinary school. Host of Full Disclosure, Roben Farzad, sits down with Ledesma to discuss his many culinary ventures that led him to Honolulu, Baltimore, West Virginia and Richmond — working up to opening his very own restaurant, Perch, in the ruins of an ancient Chinese restaurant.

Episode Excerpt

The following excerpt was edited for clarity.

[17:37]

Mike Ledesma: I think there's a level of expectations when you bring someone with a background as myself. You have to make a difference. You have to cook better food, you have to train and try to teach the best techniques and have the best sanitation. It's a complete package. It goes either way. It's like, I love what you're doing, or I hate what you're doing. And then at that point it's, well these are the parameters you gave me for success. Then I explained it to you on the financial side. What is the goal? So I have to work backwards and try to achieve their goals and after a while I get tired cooking the same food. I'm not gonna lie, I get bored cooking the same stuff. That's why I also move to different restaurants, from seafood to French Bistro or Belgian Bistro to Patina or with New American. And then to the East Coast where it's kind of seafood-esque daily. Very healthy vegan, vegetarian. It kind of rounds me out as as a chef.

Roben Farzad: When did you get the ownership bug nagging at you? Because we're gonna get into it. You did something extremely ambitious. You can go online and look at the old pictures of Joy Garden and this crusty but storied, 50 to 55-year old Chinese restaurant. What you turned it into is almost this super expensive ski lodge type thing with expensive woods and frosted windows. The technology that you were showing me in there, I mean that that takes a whole other entrepreneurial skill set. But build me up to that.

Ledesma: I was a corporate executive chef for RRG [Richmond Restaurant Group.] At a certain point, you're getting managed to develop these concepts. Then at a certain point in your career, in your personal life, you just want to be on your own. So there's a value to that. Is it the money? Is it building something? It's I want to build something. I want to be able to train the way that I want to train. I want to cook the food that I want to cook. That took the process of okay, now I have to make a decision, how am I going to do this?

Farzad: How many panic attacks did you have in making that decision? I have to honestly ask you. You're now an executive corporate chef at a thriving restaurant group here. You have somebody else taking care of back office and benefits and procurement and proteins. You can kind of snap your finger and say, we want to go into this and do it. But the price of that is, you're not doing it. You're not autonomous, right? It's not an ownership thing. You still are an employee. But to get to where you want to get or where you are right now involves an enormous leap of faith and enormous financial risk, you’ve got to bring investors together. I'm telling you what you know now. I understand the risks that you took in your kind of peripatetic existence where you live out of a garment bag, and go from being a surf bomb bouncing to Baltimore. But this is a whole other game.

Ledesma: I was brought in the calculations from the capital asset pricing method where it's risk versus reward.

Farzad: Wow, you're really doing finance 101. You went CAPM on the restaurant. Can you explain this for our late listeners, CAPM.

Ledesma: CAPM is higher risk, high reward, low risk, low reward. Basic. As you figure it all out, the time you spend is the opportunity of making or losing money. And that's what I basically said, I'm all in.

 

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