Sunday, August 04, 2002

Hands-on approach worked for Putters Tavern owner

Enterprise insight

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

        LIBERTY TOWNSHIP — More than 20 years of working in restaurants taught Jan Collins five things that she thinks led to her success as a new business owner.

        Take risks. Be aggressive. Invest your time. Put customers first. And give to the community.

        Oh, and one more thing:

        “Make sure you've got plenty of parking. I didn't and it was a nightmare for a while because other tenants were towing away my customers.”

        Ms. Collins' business, Putters Tavern, opened in March 2001 at 6575 Cincinnati-Dayton Road. It's been so busy that an expansion is already under way and includes another full-size bar, a smoke-free dining area and 70 more parking spaces.

        A Dayton native, Ms. Collins got started in the restaurant business waiting tables at a local TGI Friday's, leaving behind a career as a registered nurse.

        She worked for a short time in the medical field before realizing, at age 24, she wasn't happy in that profession.

        Her mother (Charlotte Staley) was a registered nurse, and her father (the late Joseph Staley) was an optometrist, so pursuing a medical career seemed a logical path to take.

        But working in restaurants, she found, offered the kind of “upbeat atmosphere” she was looking for in a career, and gave her the opportunity to create and please.

        “It's very gratifying,” she said.

        Ms. Collins' aptitude for the business became evident by the speed at which she climbed the corporate ladder.

        Within three years of starting her waitress job, she was promoted to assistant general manager and later progressed to general manager positions at two other locations, including the Tricounty TGI Friday's on Princeton-Glendale Road. At the time, she was one of only five female general managers of 150 in the national chain.

        National Restaurant Association spokesman Tom Foulkes said independently-owned restaurants like Putters remain a “bastion” of small business.

        “Chains are exerting a greater influence in the market, but independents continue to dominate,” he said, with 89 percent of full-service restaurants operated by independents and 11 percent operated by chains.

        Mr. Foulkes said he also is not surprised at Ms. Collins' success.

        “Obviously, because she was in the industry,” he said. “But also because the restaurant industry has a real entrepreneurial spirit among their workers. Workers with the right attitude, skill set and work ethic can easily go from the dish room to the board room.”

        A subcontractor who worked closely with Ms. Collins when Putters was under construction said she definitely fits that mold.

        “What a lot of people don't realize when they own their own business is that they have to be hands-on, and that's what Jan does right,” said George Kalkhoff, who did general contracting and woodwork for Putters.

        Ms. Collins took over as general contractor halfway through the project, learning whatever she could from her workers, friends, other experts in the field and the public library.

        “She called all the subs. She did her own painting. She ran a tight ship, and she was there all the time,” Mr. Kalkhoff said. “She was very aggressive, but that's really what made everything happen.”

        Ms. Collins said she talked for years about opening a restaurant, but never acted on her dream. Her husband, Steve, a commercial and residential appraiser, was an impetus in her decision to open Putters.

        “He supported me,” she said.

        Opening Putters also was a way to keep track of her husband after 18 holes of golf, Ms. Collins jokingly said — and even put it in writing on the menu cover:

        “It was always my desire to open a place where friends old and new could enjoy great food, libations and stimulating conversation in a warm, friendly atmosphere. So kick back, discuss your day, compare scorecards or cheer for a favorite sports team. This is my idea of a friendly gathering place. So please, enjoy! Jan Collins.

        “Oh! Did I fail to mention? I also needed a place to find my husband after 18 holes of golf.”

        Putters Tavern, 6575 Cincinnati-Dayton Road, West Chester Township, 755-0222. Business hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to midnight Sunday.


       Jan Collins, owner of Putters Tavern in Liberty Township, says she's learned a lot in 20 years of restaurant work. But she made one big mistake after opening her establishment — she didn't create enough parking.


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