Brian Keyser

New York City, New York, United States

Wine Bar Owner Twitter Linkedin Facebook

Casellula Cheese & Wine Café

There are many benefits to owning a small wine and cheese bar. Our customer base is made up largely of regulars, so going to work feels like going to visit my friends more than "working." I have a small staff of 15, with very little turnover, so we really are like a family.

With 525 square feet, Casellula Cheese & Wine Café can seat 39. Our annual revenue is around $1.68 million….that's a lot of sales per square foot. Our menu includes around 40 cheeses from all over the world, and we work with different seasonal ingredients to compose the perfect condiments. We also offer an eclectic and extensive selection of wine and beer.

Here’s just a bit of what we can cover in our PivotPlanet session(s):
• How to determine if this is a lifestyle you actually want to lead.
• How to avoid being under-capitalized.
• How to avoid micromanaging and delegate responsibility.
• How to manage people.
• How to juggle more tasks at once than you ever thought possible.
• How to improve efficiency and maximize profitability.

I'm proud of creating a place where customers regularly tell us how much they loved their experience. It's even better when they say that while in New York they have eaten at Le Bernardin and Jean Georges, but their meal at Casellula was their favorite. We have been recommended by the Michelin Guide, and the New York Times refers to me as Mr. Keyser now; that's kind of cool. A publisher has asked me to write a book on cheese plates, which is a great recognition of what we do best.

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Before becoming involved in the hospitality industry I worked in film production, the career I had always dreamed of, but it never brought me joy. I left Hollywood when I was 28 years old and took a job as waiter. To my surprise, I fell in love with the restaurant business and never looked back. I guess sometimes you don't actually dream of your dream career!

Before opening my own place, I worked as a front-of-house professional for 10 years in some of the finest restaurants in New York City. As a server in 2000, the Chicago Tribune cited me for providing the "best service in the world." Working in a restaurant is fun for me. I love the social interaction; am passionate about good food, wine, cheese and beer; respect the people who make what we sell and enjoy being surrounded by customers who feel the same way. Most importantly, I am doing something that brings joy to others.

As the owner of a small business I am required to be skilled in many areas. I am an expert at navigating a P&L and managing food and labor costs. I am comfortable dealing with both employees and guests, in all of their colorful and sometimes challenging complexity. I can unplug a clogged toilet, catch an error in a payroll report, help you choose the right wine, navigate complex tax requirements, compose a Tweet, train a new server and turn an unhappy guest into a fan.

Since I had been in the business a number of years before opening Casellula, I thought I knew what I was doing. But, if the degree of difficulty for a server is a five and eight for a manager, then for an owner it's 90. For an owner who does not have serious restaurant experience, it's a 190. Opening a restaurant was the definition of a humbling experience, but I love what I do and now have the freedom to make my own schedule and the time to travel and pursue other interests beyond work. I'm not getting rich, but I am making a good living.

Reviews (5)

    As budding wine bar restauranteurs, Brian's expertise and experience were exactly what we needed to hear. We came to him with a long list of questions and he patiently addressed every one. Brian really knows his business and the industry, plus he would be great to have a glass of wine with.

    Fran Lisner

    I'm really glad that I was able to speak with Brian. He made time to speak with me on short notice and his feedback was insightful and very thoughtful. I look forward to working with him again in the future.

    Damian Graybelle

    Brian's a real down to earth guy. Listened to my every concern and had excellent advise.

    Omar Delgado

    Brian was honest, knowledgable and fun... He gave me many helpful suggestions to get organized and on my path towards wine bar ownership.

    Silvia Gallo

    Brian Keyser’ s advisory session was excellent. During our one-hour call, he provided a knowledgeable and realistic view of starting a restaurant business. My primary goal was to learn what influenced Brian’s career path and how he turned his vision into a reality. He gave valuable insights from a general business standpoint, and of course, many helpful tips on running a successful wine and cheese cafe. For those who are considering opening their own restaurant, I strongly recommend they talk with Brian to gain his perspective.

    Topics of our conversation included:
    • Brian’s background and motivations for opening his own wine and cheese cafe.
    • The best advice he received from mentors over the years.
    • What it takes to run a successful business in this space, including both professional and personal considerations.
    • People and organizations that helped him get established, and continue to provide support and guidance.
    • Views on customer service.
    • How to anticipate and overcome obstacles.
    • The role of promotion and public relations in a new business.
    • What he finds to be most rewarding about having his own restaurant, plus unexpected benefits. On the flip side, he discussed aspects that can be challenging.

    Brian answered all of my questions very thoughtfully. In addition, he posed several questions that I should ask myself about starting a similar business. These ranged from vision to planning to day-to-day operations, plus gaining relevant experience and the potential impact on my personal life.

    Recently I had the opportunity to visit Brian at his Casellula Wine and Cheese Café in New York City. The experience was wonderful. The food was excellent and quite creative, and the service was exceptional. It was an added bonus to be able to see Brian and his staff in full operation from a customer standpoint!

    Cindy Klimstra