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“Dashboard allows me to quickly identify and assess areas of concern”

Restaurants have big costs and small margins. That's one of the reasons so many of them fail. Having an easy way to track the bottom line is just as important as offering a stellar menu and a welcoming atmosphere. Just ask Rick Montoya of Ox & Fin in Eugene, Oregon.

On paper the eatery has all the right components for success. A focus on preparing meat and seafood with Italian values in mind, means their ingredients are always fresh, often local, and unfailingly delicious. Montoya and his wife Betsy, the restaurant's general manager, hire every member of the waitstaff personally to make sure they have exceptional customer service skills. They've worked hard to create a space that is “cool but not pretentious.”

Still, 2014 marks the first year the restaurant has come close to breaking even. The reason for what Montoya calls “a remarkable turnaround” is an increased focus on running the business like a business – including paying more attention to the numbers. For that, Montoya has found LivePlan's Dashboard feature incredibly valuable. “It's so easy to take a quick look at what's going on at the restaurant,” he says. “Since we started running on financial metrics we've done a lot better.”

Until six years ago Montoya's closest connection to the food industry was a dad who was a chef. “I have no skills from him whatsoever,” he notes. For nearly 20 years he worked for States Industries, a hardwood paneling manufacturing business owned by his step-mother's family. His position as Vice-President of Sales required him to travel most months out of the year, usually with company president (and his step-mother), Diane. Because she was a “real foodie”, she insisted on eating at the finest restaurants wherever they went. Over time Montoya developed a keen sense of what makes for a good restaurant.

Until six years ago Montoya’s closest connection to the food industry was a dad who was a chef.

Montoya left States Industries to start his own consulting firm in 2008. He wasn't traveling as much and finally had time to eat out and experience life in Eugene. He was at his favorite wine bar one night, enjoying time with friends and perhaps a little too much to drink, when he looked at an empty storefront and said, “I ought to open a restaurant over there.”

He wasn't serious, but the rumor mill took off. A couple of days later one of his wife's friends called and wanted to know when she could make a reservation at his restaurant. That was all it took to get the wheels turning. He had some money he wanted to invest in something, and a restaurant seemed like a good idea. He was introduced to a well-known local chef and started talking through some ideas.

Ox and Fin
The Pacific Northwest meets Italy in Ox & Fin's eclectic yet elegantly prepared and locally sourced meals.

Then a big consulting job in North Carolina took over his life for a while. He sidelined his plans for the restaurant but kept coming back to them when he had time. In 2009 he was on a family vacation in Mexico and mentioned the idea to his brother-in law, Curtis Large. He was really excited about it and suggested they invest in a restaurant together.

The pair opened Osteria Sfizio in 2010. From the beginning it struggled to reach profitability. Eventually they parted ways with the head chef and reopened the establishment as Ox & Fin to reflect the restaurant's emphasis on steak and seafood. But even with a new chef and a revised menu, there was still no sign of improvement. In fact, sales declined every month.

Looking back, Montoya says he and his brother-in-law took a lot of bad advice from people who pooh-poohed their ideas because they weren't restaurant people. But Montoya was a businessman, and at the end of the day, he told Curtis: “Let's just run this like a business.”

Montoya took over as a managing partner in 2013 so he could supervise the kitchen and front of the house. His wife Betsy serves as general manager and oversees day-to-day operations. The whole team put some real time into thinking about what they wanted the restaurant's culture to be. They decided on three main areas of focus: a place that served great food; had a welcoming atmosphere; and provided exceptional customer service.

Ox and Fin
Ox & Fin may have metropolitan appeal but owners Rick Montoya and Chris Curtis never lose sight of what matters — a comfortable and unpretentious atmosphere in which customers can enjoy their food.

“If you're going to manage a business you do it by the numbers,” Montoya says, and focusing in on the restaurant's financial performance became his other obsession. To do that, he synced LivePlan's Dashboard feature with his QuickBooks software. The Dashboard is a business management tool that allows owners to quickly and easily compare their projected income and expenses with actual figures. Once all of Ox & Fin's financial data is loaded into Montoya's accounting program, he can instantly pull up charts and graphs showing the restaurant's financial metrics.

Montoya likes the fact that the software is online rather than sitting on a single computer. It means it's constantly being updated with new features, and that he can pull up information anywhere by using his iPhone, iPad or any computer with Internet access. He likes that LivePlan has a “read-only” feature, which means he can share the company's financial metrics with his staff to empower them to make better decisions for the restaurant.

“Since we started running on financial metrics we've done a lot better.”

He's also finding that the Dashboard is a helpful tool for making changes at Ox & Fin. Once he realized that rent was his third-highest cost behind labor and food, he began playing around with the idea of opening the restaurant for breakfast in addition to lunch and dinner. “I plug information into the program to see if it makes sense, and away you go.”

The news in 2014 has been pretty positive. Revenues are up 32 percent this year compared to last year, and a five-month period in the spring was better than the same time the previous year. When the profit margin started to decline in the fall, Montoya was able to quickly assess and identify areas of concern, which were then communicated to the restaurant's management team for corrective action.

“This last year has been a cool journey,” Montoya says of his experience with Dashboard. “We've only scratched the surface using it.”

“Any person who's starting a business and isn't using LivePlan is missing a major tool for success,” he adds. He definitely plans to use it when it comes time to exit from Ox & Fin. The software's pitch feature will be very helpful, as will tools that help him identify his market and put together a basic business plan.

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Ox & Fin

The LivePlan Dashboard helps Rick make confident decisions and track the financial health of his restaurant.