A long way from her hometown of Gainesville, Florida, Rebecca Tax is the owner of Clare & Don’s Beach Shack in the small city of Falls Church, Virginia.
But the Shack is not a first for her. By 2000, Tax and her brother had successfully opened three of their seven restaurants, including the ice cream parlor and sandwich shop hybrid Mike’s Deli and the home of The Original Burro, Mexicali Blues. Clare & Don’s followed in 2005 and thrives to this day by cultivating its beach vibe with live music, tropical decor and fresh seafood.
In charge of hiring, firing, maintaining inventory and even cleaning the bathrooms at Clare & Don’s, Tax has learned the ins and outs of the food industry through years of practice. Tax also prides herself on giving back to the communities that support her business.
Find Your Grind spoke to Tax about her path to opening Clare & Don’s and Mike’s Deli, how she learned what it takes to run a business and what’s next for her varied dining spots.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What types of training and/or schooling did you have in order to start a restaurant?
I was an English major, so very little of my education actually prepared me for the job I do.
How did you decide to open Clare & Don’s?
My brother and I had already opened Lazy Sundae in 1996, Mexicali Blues in 1998 and Big Belly Deli in 2000. We just kept thinking of other ideas of menus we thought people would enjoy and opened businesses accordingly. By the time we opened Clare & Don’s, we had already opened three other restaurants.
What led to you choosing your beach theme?
We spent our formative years in Florida where you can always find family friendly and reasonably priced seafood. That concept did not really exist here in Northern Virginia, so we thought we would give it a shot!
What are the most important elements about Clare & Don’s that you work toward keeping intact?
We are extremely involved in our community, and having a successful restaurant allows us to give back in many different ways. We lend our space to groups for meetings, feed homeless shelters, provide food through the school system for kids who have food insecurity on the weekends, as well as donating to lots of local charities and hosting fundraisers at our restaurant.
What is Mike’s Deli?
We opened Lazy Sundae in 1996 as a homemade ice cream parlor. In 2006, we moved from Arlington to Falls Church. In 2008, we decided to add breakfast and sandwiches to our menu to make it a more frequent destination for diners. Thus, Mike’s Deli @ Lazy Sundae was born. When we move to our new location in a couple of weeks, we will reemerge as Lazy Mike’s.
How did you know you were ready to expand with Mike’s Deli?
We outgrew our location!
When starting out in the working world, did you always expect to be a restaurant owner?
I had no idea. I thought I would be a teacher!
What types of risks did you take while opening your business?
We had to sign a personal guarantee for our lease. That money was borrowed, so that was pretty stressful since we had no idea what we were doing!
What were the obstacles you overcame while opening your business?
It was a learning experience to figure out all of the building codes and hoops to jump through in order to get open. As we currently are in the middle of moving Mike’s Deli, it is still a process. Rules and regulations change all the time, so even though this is the seventh time we’ve opened a restaurant, there are always new things to learn.
What are the obstacles you face each day while running your business?
Thankfully, I was young and unmarried at the time, so the fact that I worked 60-80 hours a week for 10 years didn’t matter much. Now that I am married and have kids, it is still stressful and I do miss quite a lot of family stuff. But 60 [hours] is more the norm, and over 80 is less frequent.
What does it mean to “find your grind”? Why is it important to you to find your path?
The fact that my business has allowed me to do good for the greater society has really helped me “find my grind.” Just feeding upper-middle class people restaurant meals has begun to feel a little hollow, but the fact that it allows us to be helpful citizens of the world makes it all good!
If you could go back and give your younger self advice, what would it be?
I would have learned more about actual business to create a bit more hierarchy in our structure. As it stands, I know we are largely successful because we are always on site, but sometimes I would like to be less available to every single person (employee and customer) who wants to talk to me.
What should young entrepreneurs know before beginning their journey?
Get ready to work your ass off!
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-photo courtesy of Rebecca Tax and Toa Heftiba