Twenty-four year old Pamela Bardhi is already turning into a serial entrepreneur. We talk to her about her first endeavor, Ria’s Cafe.
Work ethic is half the battle when it comes to maintaining the willpower to survive the turbulence associated with launching a restaurant. Pamela Bardhi learned the fortitude it takes to power through from her parents. At the age of 24, while many of her peers are settling into entry level jobs after college, she is building a budding enterprise as founder of Ria’s Café in Boston, Mass.
Launched in April 2015, Ria’s Café is bringing a taste of Europe to the West Roxbury neighborhood. Patrons can enjoy imported Italian café beverages, handcrafted gelato, sorbetto, pastries and paninis. It’s home to her. In fact, the stylish café is located in the building owned by her father and positioned next door to another café – West Napoli – which is owned and operated by her parents. She spent her childhood at West Napoli working in the family business and learning the ropes of restaurant operations.
It would be easy to assume that her entrepreneurial journey is a little cushioned compared to others who haven’t had the luxury of growing up in the industry. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Born during the collapse of the communist party in Albania in the early 90s, Bardhi’s family fled to Rome for safety. Thanks to the wise foresight of her grandmother to enter her parents into the immigration lottery system without their knowledge, her parents received temporary visas to the United States and decided to stay. Bardhi was five years old at the time and her brother was just six months old. Her non-English speaking parents worked hard to make ends meet.
Her father worked three shifts to keep a roof over their heads and her mother worked from home selling crafts and handmade bracelets to help with generating income. Her father got into the pizza business and, eventually, purchased the building after a friend’s recommendation.
“I was thrown into the entrepreneurial world. My parents didn’t understand contracts so I was the one who always broke it down for them. I stepped in and I was doing general manager stuff by the time I was 18. I built their whole website. I built their social media marketing platform,” Bardhi said.
As an undergrad at Stonehill College, Bardhi majored in communications and minored in business. She saw that there was a market need for gelato and frozen treats as there was no other gelato establishment within a 10-mile radius and no frozen desserts available in under approximately a two-mile radius from their Bellevue Street location.
“I thought, ‘what better way than to start in my parent’s building, based in my roots?’” Bardhi said. “My whole senior year of college was dedicated to building my business plan.”
Mentors have been key to Bardhi’s success. After interning as a teenager at the Boston marketing agency The Anthem Group, its President Christopher Sinclaire took Bardhi under his wing. She also found mentors in her college professors and through the Woman On Main initiative. Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced in 2013 that the effort is a part of his vision to make Boston the premier city for working women. According to the US Census Bureau, fewer than 30 percent of businesses in Boston are owned by women. Bardhi said “that your network is everything” and the initiative and Babson College’s The Women Innovating Now Lab have been a source of true empowerment.
Her advice to women looking to open their own restaurant is to know your building codes and expenses, figure out the equipment you’ll need and to understand the atmosphere you want to create. “If you plan for it to be an in and out place, don’t put in comfortable seating. There’s a lot of psychology to it,” Bardhi explained.
She was intentional about choosing to use social media as a marketing tool to attract others, avoiding print advertising all together because she didn’t think the return would be there. She also urged women to think on their feet as they engage in the planning and building process. “Sometimes as women we tend to overthink things and then you drive yourself crazy and as an entrepreneur we need to know how to improvise. Be prepared for everything to go wrong,” Bardhi said.
Ria’s Café has 10 employees and their schedules fluctuate based on need. Approximately five work in the off season. Now that things are running smoothly she has time to dedicate to her other interest, real estate.
“It was one thing my parents had done for a few years. They were flipping houses. It’s pretty serious. I was thinking after Ria was in place, ‘what can I do to diversify assets in order to truly make it to where I want to be?’ Real estate has great returns,” she added.
Bardhi received her real estate license late last year so she could cut out needing a realtor when her flips were done. Instead of seeking traditional bank loans she raised initial investment from family members who were experienced in real estate as well.
Her message to other women is, “Follow your instincts. Especially the female instinct. It’s strong. When your gut tells you something, chase it. Don’t be afraid to step into the arena. Don’t overthink things. Just do it. If you fail, oh well, there’s a lesson in it for you. Your failures are actually successes.”