- September 4, 2015
When the casting director for the television show “Restaurant Startup” called Brian Roland in October, the young Naples chef hadn't even watched the show.
“I don't watch TV at home,” Roland admits.
You can't blame him. After all, Roland, 35, has been busy building Crave Culinaire, the upscale catering company he launched in Naples in 2013.
“We found you on Google,” the casting director told Roland. When the chef told the show he had no plans to open a restaurant, “they kept kind of pushing,” he recalls.
Roland also huddled with his chef de cuisine and sous-chefs and decided they would benefit from the publicity even though he'd be away from the business for days filming in Los Angeles. “I had to give them the concept within a week,” Roland chuckles.
Roland had helped open and operate new restaurants in Fort Myers and Naples before, though always as a chef and never with his own money. “Let's just put Crave in four walls,” he figured.
Roland admits he became anxious after watching a few episodes of the CNBC show, which pits one team of restaurateurs against another for investor money. “I realized they were going to set me up for failure,” he worried.
Just as he had predicted, Roland didn't win. But the hosts of the show complimented him despite picking the rival contestant. “It validated that we're a viable business,” says Roland. “This helped me feel good about growth.”
The appearance earned Roland front-page coverage in a Naples newspaper and it more than doubled the number of fans on social media such as Facebook after it aired March 17. “This was phenomenal,” he says. “Chef reality TV has become super popular.”
The effect of the television appearance boosted Roland's reputation as a celebrity chef with existing clients and helped him land new customers. “They can trust you a little more,” he reasons.
The sales goal of $1 million this year that once seemed distant is now closer to reality thanks to the television appearance. “We're on that path,” says Roland, who invested $50,000 to start Crave Culinaire in early 2013. “We're doing very well on that goal.”
Roland says he's wrapping up a winter season in Naples that saw Crave Culinaire busy with six full-time and 60 part-time employees. “Some weeks, we've got 20 events,” he says.
Roland says about a dozen prospective investors called after the show aired. He says they fell into three categories: angel investors who wanted to back a new restaurant, restaurateurs who wanted him to take over their existing operations and wealthy catering clients who wanted to invest in his business or new restaurant.
Roland says he's considering all those options carefully, but he's keen on several ideas. One is to expand his catering business for a new wedding venue scheduled to break ground in Naples later this year. “If the logistics work well for us, we may open in Tampa,” he says.
Another idea is to create a fast-casual restaurant concept with a special focus on healthy food. “My mind is always moving around the business,” Roland says. “It's hard for me to turn off.”
Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss