After Starting Modestly in the Gables, Nick Sharp has now Grown a String of Restaurants. The Secret: Stay Modest
By J.P. Faber//Photography by Robert Sullivan
If you ask Nick Sharp what the golden rule is for starting a new business, his answer would be to prepare for the worst-case scenario, and then make sure you can afford it. That, and stay true to your vision, not pandering to every customer.
Sharp was working as comptroller for a commodities company in Miami, and living in the Gables, when he decided to try his hand at starting something popular in his native Melbourne, Australia: the chef-driven café. “We just wanted to do something that was very familiar and similar to what we have at home,” he says, having moved to the Gables in 2012. “For us a café means really, really good coffee and a chef-driven kitchen. There were bakeries and coffee shops [in the Gables], but nothing like that.”
Before he launched Threefold Café on Giralda Avenue, however, he employed his accounting experience. Having worked in risk certification, he was an expert at looking at how things can go wrong. “It was a new venture, but we did understand the numbers and set realistic targets. And we did something that we knew we could afford. So, we kind of based it on, ‘What if nobody comes? What are we committed to and can we afford it?’ Anything above that was a bonus.”They took a one-year lease with options, on a storefront where Nick had spotted a for-rent sign.
As it turned out, Threefold was able to break even just a couple of months after launching, largely because Sharp and his equally inexhaustible wife Teresa did most of the heavy lifting.
“We were pretty tight when we opened, with a small amount of capital, so we did pretty much everything ourselves. All the interior work we did ourselves” says Sharp. “We opened with a kind of skeleton crew – a trainee working in the kitchen, a good guy up front, Teresa running the coffee… We didn’t want to invest in 30 people and then have to let them off if we weren’t busy, or not be able to pay them.”
As luck would have it, says Sharp,“We got busy early, and then we started building a team.” More than luck, it was the formula: noticeably good coffee coupled with a breakfast/lunch menu served from early morning till mid-afternoon. And it was on the Millennial edge, serving the first smashed avocado toast in Miami. “If it wasn’t for avocado toast and Instagram we probably wouldn’t have succeeded,” says Sharp, only half kidding.
“Coffee was becoming king, and people were looking for those [kind of places],” says Mark Trowbridge, who recently interviewed Sharp for his Trow Knows CEOs roundtable series. “There was nothing like it in Coral Gables, or even in all of Miami-Dade.” It also wasn’t for everybody, something that Sharp says he was keenly aware of when cultivating what has become a loyal clientele.
“Our model all along, though it’s not exactly the ‘customer service’ school, is that if you don’t like it, don’t come,” he says. “It’s not that the customer isn’t always right, but not everybody is your customer. The thing really is to identify them. If someone is not your customer, you’re never going to please them, they’re just not in the right place.” On the other hand, if they are the right clientele… “We’re just over five years old, and we have customers that came the first week and they are still coming.”
Within two years of starting Threefold in the Gables, Sharp and his wife Teresa launched a second Threefold in South Miami. By then Nick had quit his day job, splitting his time between the locations and, in 2017, with another small coffee shop in the Gables Entrance building.
In mid-2017 the Sharps opened and almost immediately sold the Corner Coffee and Pantry in Key Biscayne – too far afield – and instead became partners in the Deco Coffee Company last year, in order to supply theirs and other local venues.
This year things are moving even faster, starting with Someone’s Son, the Sharps’ first venture into a restaurant with a dinner menu. It opened in the location of their coffee shop in Gables Entrance, where it already caters to the MasTec staff that works in the building. “Then we had the opportunity to open a Threefold on Brickell. It just sort of came our way,” says Nick.
Next on the list is to bring a trend to the Gables that has raged elsewhere, but not yet here: The local brew pub, where the beer is made on the premises. Sometime close to the start of 2020, Sharp will be opening Bay 13 Brewery and Kitchen at 65 Alhambra Circle, near the Alhambra Tower and the former La Palma on Minorca. But now, just as it was five years ago, it’s all about hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.
“It’s not how do we become millionaires, but how do we break even,” says Nick. “Looking at it from that point of view, and obviously as a small family business where we don’t have millions in capital to invest, pretty much everything we do has to have a good chance of breaking even.”