John Seymour is a product of indie hospitality. Raised by a Bartender, he often served beers to patrons as a kid. The New Yorker has been behind the bar, worked the door, bussing and served tables – really understanding the nature of hospitality from the start.
John’s also a producer of indie hospitality. He opened his first restaurant, a burger joint called Pop’s, alongside his wife about 10 years ago. Today, he’s known for the Brooklyn-bred chicken + waffle brand Sweet Chick. His urban hustle, optimism and embrace of unique partnerships with folks such as Mass Appeal’s Nas has helped Sweet Chick grow far beyond its Williamsburg location.
John was kind enough to dish on his push towards entrepreneurship, his take on addiction in the F+B industry and what’s next for Sweet Chick. Catch him at the 2018 Independent Lodging Congress on October 18.
You’re one of the ‘no college, all hustle’ success stories. Where did your perspective on starting a business come from?
I believe my drive to start my own business is a blend of my father and my wife’s influence.
My father is a typical immigrant story, came from Ireland, worked 6-7 days a week as a Bartender to support a family and give us a better chance. He always wanted to own his own bar but life got in the way. I remember my older brother lying at school and telling other kids my dad owned the bar he worked in and from a young age that always bothered me.
When I met my wife I also wanted to provide my future family with more. I found myself in the same shoes as my father; I was bartending and waiting for the FDNY to call me. I knew it was time to make a move and we opened up my first spot together.
With any successful F+B space, it’s just as much about the culture as it is about the food. How would you describe the culture or ethos of Sweet Chick?
We are psyched to have you and Peter Bittenbender, CEO of Mass Appeal, speak a bit on the relationship between Sweet Chick + Mass Appeal at ILC this year. What are some of the key ingredients to successful partnerships you’ve had?
For us , I believe that being honest with each other as to what each individual or group can bring to the table, what everyone’s role is and, most importantly, that you all share the same vision and trust each other.
Before Sweet Chick, you opened a burger shop with your wife Fallon called Pop’s. Where did that vision stem from?
Basically an Homage to my father who used to make about a dozen burgers a day by hand in the bar he worked in.
Addiction in the F+B industry is pretty apparent but still not really addressed. What’s your take on, or experience with, addiction in the industry? How can restaurateurs better help their employees who struggle with this?
For me, I’ve shared my experience with them as I’m 16yrs sober. I do not preach but lead by example and I have a low tolerance for intoxication in the workplace. My motto is: To each their own but do not let it affect your job.
What does it mean to you to be a true New Yorker?
You have to grow up here
Story behind your first tattoo?
Got my first tattoo when I was 16 in Ireland with my cousins.. It was all over after that
Favorite song off of the new Nas album?
Go-to restaurant in Brooklyn?
SWEET CHICK of course
What advice would you give to a 25 year old John Seymour?
Keep showing up and put 100% in everything you do, you will be fine
You and your team have managed to open 5 locations in 5 years. What’s next?
Continue looking at new opportunities and you will probably be hearing about us overseas soon!