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Sept. 7, 2022

208: The Three Rs of Restaurant Success: A Conversation with Deidra McGuiness-Ciolko

208: The Three Rs of Restaurant Success: A Conversation with Deidra McGuiness-Ciolko
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When the restauranteur Deidra McGuiness-Ciolko opens her business with just $7 left, she must find a way to turn things around quickly or risk losing everything.

"I just figured, we're going to make it, it's going to be fine. We had to close for five months and that was tough. The laws here in the Dominican Republic for the curfews are very strict, and you don't reach back. We shut down

Deidra McGuiness-Ciolko is a restauranteur, professor, and taco maker from Boston, MA. She is the owner of Gordito's FreshMex Restaurant in Cabernette, Costa Rica, which she opened in 2010. She is also a franchisor, with one franchise store open and in the pipeline.

This is Deidra McGuiness-Ciolko's story...

Deidra McGuiness-Ciolko is a restauranteur and professor who moved to Costa Rica and started her own restaurant, Gordito's FreshMex. She talks about her journey from Boston to the Caribbean and her experience during the pandemic. She advises people who are thinking about starting their own businesses to be careful what they wish for and to treat their business as if it were someone else's.

In this episode, you will learn the following:

1. How Deidra McGuiness-Ciolko ended up in the Caribbean

2. The three Rs of business (reduce, reinvent, relax)

3. The importance of being careful about what you wish for when starting your own business


Gordito's on the web

Chapter Summaries:

[00:00:04] - The day the restaurant opened, it had $7 left. It was a tough year for the business. As people are aging, they are turning to meditation, prayer, and getting rid of their bad habits. There is a lot of space to learn one of the three Rs.

[00:00:55] - Deidra Mcguinessciolko is a restauranteur professor, taco maker, and dear friend. She's going to talk about her journey from Boston to Costa Rica. Adam Lamb is a chef and hospitality professional. Adam has coached and mentored thousands of culinarians over his 30 years career.

[00:02:05] - Deidra McGinnis is from Boston and she is now a taco maker in the Caribbean. She worked in Santa Domingo for nine years as the director of operations for the liquor end of a casino. After her son was born, she moved back to Florida and became a stay-at-home mom. After five years, she decided to move to Cabernette and started Gordika's FreshMex Restaurant.

[00:05:38] - “resilient“ is one of his favorite words. She grew up in Boston for Irish Italian; she's had several acts and she's not afraid of doing anything anymore because she did this ” I don't often have nice things to say about myself, but I'm getting there. “

[00:06:36] - There was a pandemic in the Dominican Republic. The business had to be closed for five months. The owners liquidated all their employees and bought out their partner. It was the first time in 60 years that she had any time off in the business. They were responsible for 700 people. Someone quit his job and sold his shares in a hotel company, and started his own restaurant. Deidra's advice to people who want to start their own business is to be careful what they wish and don't become their business. Deidra also advises not to treat the business as if it was someone else's business. There is a Facebook group called “asshole line cook, “ where a member wrote a harsh post about restaurants not being able to get employees because they don't pay enough. The next day the member of the group apologized for his post. Deidra is grateful to her clients for choosing to spend their dollars with her. Deidra and Joe had a midlife crisis last year and they were separated for a year and a half. Deidra has been smoking and working and drinking like a maniac since she was 20 years old. She had to learn to calm down and learn to be a duck and let things slide at her restaurant. Deidra has been using a coach for a year. Deidra has never done the hard work before. So she wasn't down with the whole coaching thing. She's been doing it now for a full year and it's helped her turn her life around. She has reconnected with Joe.

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You know, we're super blessed. Our restaurants need people from all over the world and chat with them every day. And I tell them the story of when we opened. The day we opened, we had $7 left. And I don't mean that I'd have to dip into my it was seven fucking dollars.


And I see as we're aging, a lot of us turning to meditation, prayer, getting rid of our bad habits, all those things that come from business and in that, there's a lot of space to learn one of those three Rs reinvent. You know, look, this was such a tough year. Fucking hard, man. Really hard and scary. Something new is coming, I think, for most of the people on the wall.


That's Deidra Mcguinessciolko, restauranteur professor, taco maker, and dear friend. And on this episode of Chef Life Radio, she's going to talk about her journey from the Bean Town, Boston, all the way to Costa Rica. And on the beach, she burned her boats. She's been living by the three Rs ever since then. And you're going to find out what the other two are after the break and how you can put all three of them to use to create a life worth living with one caveat be careful what you wish for.


This is Chef Life Radio, serving chefs just like you who want to enjoy their careers without sacrificing their lives. I'm your host, Adam Lamb, and over my 30 year career as a chef and hospitality professional, I've coached and mentored thousands of culinarians who led lives of contribution, community, and authentic leadership. Let me be your guide on this journey together, looking for solutions and perspectives to some of the biggest issues impacting the hospitality industry, our lives and our careers. Today. We shall.


And now back to the show.


I'd like to welcome to the show very dear friend, Deidra McGinnis. Cioco. Hi, Dee. Hi, Mr. Lam.


Listeners are probably really interested why a gal from Boston, born and bred and bean town ends up in the Caribbean.


I am a taco maker in the Caribbean now. I ended up here because I took a chance on doing a consulting job in Santa Domingo to revamp the liquor end of a casino. So that meant the bar, the liquor on the floor, the events they have a lot of big events they had. I said I would do it for six months. It was something different.


I didn't even know where the Dominican Republic was. And I stayed nine years there and became the director of operations for the entirety. Because you knew where all the bodies were buried. Yeah. So that's how I ended up in the Er.


And my son was born, and my husband and I, your good friend, Mark, we moved back to Florida and he pursued his career in this lovely business, and I became a stay at home mom. And before he passed away, he made me promise him, but I would not run back to the Dominican Republic.


Which at first you did your best to. I did honor that, yeah. I waited five years and kept coming here on vacation. Finally said, okay, how can I stay here? And I had developed this awesome fish taco that came out of some weird dream and I said, okay, going to move to the dr and selfish tacos in this little town of Cabernette, which is a surf and kite hub.


Yeah. So with my partner Joe, we did that and started Gordika's FreshMex Restaurant and we are ten years old now. I seem to remember that time when you finally made a decision to do that. And if I remember correctly, at that point you were all in because there was no plan B. No plan B.


And I tell people that story. We're super blessed. Our restaurants meet people from all over the world and chat with them every day. And I tell them the story of when we opened. The day we opened, we had $7 left.


And I don't mean that I'd have to get into my it was seven fucking dollars and no plan B. Right? And no plan B. And as the Dominican say, gabacia vios, we made it, thanks to God and also to ourselves. We worked super hard, super, super hard.


And we built something really cool. And we have now franchised, we have one franchise store open in the pipeline. That is where the money is at, baby. Right then there let's hope so. Well, I was so excited to think about what we would talk about and of course there are all kinds of things that are bubbling up.


But one of the things that struck me earlier was this idea about resilience, especially having come through our play gear here in the United States, and curious to know how that played out in your neck of the woods. You basically got there and you burnt the boat, right? Yeah, I mean, resiliency is one of my favorite words and I don't often have nice things to say about myself, but I can't I know, it is a shame. It's a byproduct. I'm getting there though.


Growing up in Boston for Irish Italian, you know how right that is. There you go. But I will say that I'm super resilient and I've had several acts and I'm not afraid now of doing anything anymore because I did this. And so speaking of the pandemic, as that rolled around, I know there was a lot of fear around that for this owners, especially restaurant owners around the world, and I literally didn't have any fear. I just figured, we're going to make it, it's going to be fine.


We had to close for five months and that was tough. The laws here in the Dominican Republic for the curfews and what very strict, and you don't reach back.


We shut down march 17. And I thought at that time it just could be coupled. Maybe a month. Right. It's all going to blow over.


Yeah. And as the weeks crept on, we had to make some big decisions. So we liquidated all our employees, which in this country, they have a very great rule that when you fire someone, you have to pay them separately based on the amount of time they've been. So that cost us a lot of money, but we liquidated everyone so that they would have money. We shut down the business, we bought out our little partner, and we reopened another corporation.


And while I was in the lawyer's office, at the very beginning, I took my son Joey with me, 21, because the lawyer is very much a misogynist. And I've learned over the years not to deal with that. I just know that he's not listening to me, even though I'm the brain. Got it. So I always bring a man with me.


And my partner wasn't here, so I brought my son. And it's a very beautiful lawyer's office. All the bells and muscles. So we leave and my son says, I had a little epiphany when we were in there. It's three Rs and the True store, it just keeps ringing in my head.


Reduce, reinvent and relax.


That's fascinating because my experience of the play gear was there was definitely no relaxing. I mean, don't get me wrong. I was always continually trying to find my center, even if it meant the first thing I did, or in the midst of the day, I'd shut my door and I had a little sign that says, meditating, just 20 minutes. I got to have 20 minutes. I got to get centered or everything else is going to go to shit.


But when you're dealing with basically 700 souls that you're responsible for to keep safe, albeit everybody's responsible for their own safety. But I took it on like, there were four times when I was standing next to somebody who within the next week tested positive. And I would come home and I would tell Jennifer, and I would go upstairs, and I would spend a week upstairs and not be near her, because in the not knowing, you want to take every possible precaution. And I spoke to a lot of people and emailed people and saw exchanges on Facebook and some hashtag chef groups, and there was a lot of pain and angst and uncertainty and people questioning, what the fuck? And there was a part of me that was really glad that it was happening, because as the entire world slowed down, nobody could run away from themselves.


Well, that's an excellent point. And I'd say in my pandemic year, my pandemic in paradise. It was the first time having been in this business since I'm 14 years old and coming up on.


60 years in the business. Good.


I've been doing this since I was 14 in one way or another, and I've never had any time off. And certainly this, I think, was the key, unique situation that some of us were in who didn't end up having to be frontline workers like yourself. Time off without an expectation that you're. Supposed to be doing something right, there's nowhere for you to go. I think that really ties in.


And that was the first time I had ever experienced anything like that. And the fear that you're talking about and people getting sick could have opened for delivery. But I was very afraid of the virus for myself and for my employees and their families. And we just chose not to. And I watched other businesses, the pizza place and the hamburger place, fucking raking it in.


And I'm sitting there thinking, I'm doing the right thing. But it was the right thing for us. It was. And I do say that with the utmost respect for the people that weren't able to do that, that did make money during that time, people who lost someone close to them or employees, I wasn't touched by that. But it was just massively affecting to our business.


So there may be some people who have gone through the pandemic. Maybe they were socking away the government checks. Maybe they were being really smart and cobbling together a couple of dollars. I've heard about that. Yeah.


Someone we both know who shall remain named nameless, quit his job, where he was almost two years away from being completely vested in a director of culinary position for a hotel company. And I got this phone call. I said I quit my job, sold my shares, opening up a restaurant. Like, what? Like, aren't you too old for that shit?


And then, of course, three weeks later pandemic it. And somehow he's, like, held it together because he's just so damn stubborn.


Would you say, Peter, that you weren't going to let anything get in the way of your failure, were you? So if there were folks out there who, now I'm not going to work for anybody else, going to do my own thing, whatever that might be, if you could give them one piece of advice before they start on this journey, what would it be? I always start out, Be careful what you wish.


That's a great intro.


Listen, we've all stood on the line or behind a bar or in the dish pit thinking we wanted our own place, right? Yes. And thinking, look at those owners or that manager and all the money that they're making, or they don't have the stress or they're not sweating their balls off back here, dunking their hands and ice buckets to work the saute. It is really fucking hard. And here is the biggest piece of advice.


All of those things that you learned from and did for another restaurant, whether you were in the corporate structure or single owner working for a single owner, whatever, all of that stuff you learned and did for other people, that goes out the window when you open your own place, you think, I took my first inventory three weeks ago. Three weeks opt in weeks ago. Well, that's basically you never had much in the shop anyway to invent.


That's a big mistake that people make. I've seen it with some other friends of mine. You've live in your own places, and they have tons of experience, and yet you're in your own place, and you're either too busy to do all that stuff or you think you're going to remember it. You don't need it. That's number one.


Don't do that to yourself. Treat it as if it was someone else's business, not your own. That's what I mean. You'll be a lot more careful with it if you do. Right.


Number two is don't become your business, because if you ever want to get out, you're not going to be able to because people believe the business is you. Right, exactly. All the personality. Yeah. Don't become your business.


We were there every day. Every hour. He goes outside chatting to people. You're on the line making stuff, and you're like, Where the hell is he? He's doing his thing.


He's the social butterfly. Yeah. And we were great partners in that. He was amazing with the clients. And I will tell you this, when we open the business, I just wanted a tapa stand on the side of the road.


Like a retrofitted hot dog. Right? Exactly. That's it. And he who is quite the cook and has taken a lot of culinary classes and was lucky enough to work with Wolfgang Puck and an internship, but never did the day to day grind.


Right. He said, no, we're going to do this. We're going to go big, blah, blah, blah. And we did, and it worked. But I said to him at the beginning, I got this much customer service left in me.


I will deal with it, all the other shit, but don't let me go out there and talk to people.


So, yeah, don't make the business all about you. It is very much your baby. But I think the mistake that we made and I've seen with a few other people, is not being able to teach that baby to go to sleep. Bites right. And it's a hard mistress.


I mean, it's awful hard to cuddle up to at the end of the night. I mean, you got nothing, man. I spent the weekend in Ohio doing a discovery visit for a family owned business. They have three outlets that were not only the grandfathers, but their father's family grew up in it. And the mother, who is a workhorse and a giver and a very caring woman, is constantly scanning the entire environment and yet wonders, what do we need to do in order to step out of the business?


Because they're getting tired. Right. They want to bequeath it to their kids. They want to sell it. So, like, where are the systems if someone walks in here is like, okay, so where are the receipts from last week?


And so, to spend that entire weekend kind of, like, steeped in that mom and pop and the stone cold desire of this woman, I could see it in her face. Like, she loves what she does, but, you know, she's tired. I'm tired. And I will tell you, I'll just share this quickly with you. There's a Facebook group called Asshole Line Cook.


I'm surprised I'm not a part of that. Right? Well and I follow it, right? And there was a post recently with another topic that's really hot right now, like restaurants not being able to get employees because they don't pay enough. And that's a huge thing right now.


So this Asshole Line Cook, he was saying, yeah, well, fuck all those owners. If you can't afford to pay, people shouldn't be in business. And just a really harsh post. And I think if you were talking to some of the big corporations or just about that, okay, there's some validity there. I took it super personally, and I walked off, and I didn't know it was a public page.


It wouldn't have mattered well, the next. Day, because people could see what I had written. So the next day, some of our best customers like, are you okay? Are you all right? Because I basically told people, and I feel really badly about this, and this is why I'm sharing it with you, I basically told people, Get out of this business if you're expecting something else.


And I went on a tirade about how exhausted I was and life this business is and how devastating it can be to families and this and that. I was like, Go get your fucking college education. Do something else. So I wrote that, got it off my chest, feeling pretty good. Forgot to hit save.


And the next day, after I realized that people had seen it and after I reread it, I was like, how could I? Where do I get off slamming the industry that has sustained me my entire life? What a piece of shit. Because here I was telling people, I ride home in the car crying, three nights a week. Now, that's the truth.


But I didn't want my clients to know that, right? So you do get tired. And if you open up your own place, it's ten times worse than your worst day. Doing inventory, sleeping on a cardboard box in the storage room, back to back doubles for five days. It works then, but let's just hit the flip on that.


It's incredibly rewarding. It's that same, which is dangerous, of feeding people souls, because you are feeding people's souls. It's not just food. It never is. Here's, I think, a trick to success.


If I have any advice for anyone. In this business, how about an observation? Yeah, I mean, I always would say you have to be grateful to your clients. For choosing to spend their dollars with you. But the other day I was listening to Meditation Room and I heard this line, what you appreciate, appreciates.


And that encompasses that. I tell my staff, even when they're rolling the burritos, I see them slow something together. Or if I see that there's only PECO to guy on three quarters of that burrito, I say to them, you eat because these people eat. You have to understand that. So treat their food with the same reference, reverence, even though it's just a burrito or a taco, because if they don't come here, your family doesn't eat.


The I had written down earlier when you were talking about we provide people a very unique opportunity. And there is absolutely scientific evidence at the quantum scale that somebody who's pissed off making food, someone takes that into their body, just go to McDonald's. I mean, it's technically calories, but nobody feels nourished good after that. It's a different story when you have somebody who's maybe not painstakingly, but at least being present to what they're doing in the moment because they know like they're going to put that thing in their mouth that you just had in your hands.


It reminds me of the movie Vanilla Sky. If anybody's ever seen that movie, there's a reference with camera and Diaz in the car right before she crashes it and it crushes Tom Cruise's head. But anyway, to look it up, it's fantastic. But right now, you and I are going to go out to the back dock and we're going to have another conversation. Hold on.


And so for those listeners, just to let you know, this is part of our membership site where you can become a Chef Life radio crew member, either monthly or yearly, however you want to do it. But all these little excerpts are when we get into really juicy stuff, vulnerable stuff, all the sloppy stuff. And those episodes are part of the package when we get there. So hold. Thank you.


Thank you. Goddamn, girl. Your husband said something very pertinent to me. He was watching me from the server area as I was working in the past. And it was such a busy place that there were actually two of us working cold and hot, expediting plates and building trays and boosting the fuck out.


And I was pulling somebody through the line, through the window because I needed what I got. And it's fine. And he's like, hey, come here for a second. He pulls me around the corner. He says, what are you doing?


I'm like, I'm doing my job, leading the team, getting the food out of the window. He's like, listen, at the end of the day, it's just some brown stuff on a plate that someone's going to eat and they're going to forget about in 6 hours. We're not curing fucking cancer here. And I felt so ashamed. And of course, he was several years younger than I but he stood towered over me.


And I remember feeling like being in front of my dad. Okay. And then as I turned around, he grabbed me by the arm and he said, but don't fuck it up. Yeah.


And he had that in the ability, and I have it as well, to remain calm and cool and collected in those circumstances. I didn't have that, and I'm really sorry about that. And a couple of times I slipped up. A few weeks ago, I didn't like the way my staff had put away the fish. And even though Joe, my partner, offered to help me, I was screaming and yelling over on the other side myself.


I lift up 100 pound box of fish, I rush back, fish juice is all over me. I can't get up off the floor. That's right. Yeah.


That'S it. Why am I doing this? And he was pissed off at me. I was hurt. I was down, and he was pissed, and he had the right to be, because why are you acting like a bitch?


Why are you acting like it has to be done? What else did Mark used to say? Only popcorn. You tell me. Only popcorn.


Listening to you, it struck me because of something else I once heard from Jennifer, which is like it's like drinking poison and wishing someone else was going to die. Yeah. But ultimately, what ends up happening is you drink so much of it or you eat your stress so much that it manifests a physical ailment, and your mind is that fucking powerful that you can create that in your body to such a point where your liver is breaking down, your bones are breaking down. I don't know how many chefs and cooks out there have waist problems and hip problems and ankle problems, and no amount of compression socks are going to bring that away. And yet to be able to shift your perspective in the midst of it, that is so hard, man.


But that is work. That is so worth it. Pause, breathe, and reflect.


And I hate it because I never thought that would become me, but it was a necessity. If I didn't do that, I was going to die. I mean, I've been smoking and working and drinking like a maniac since I was 20 years old. And what do you think? I had to do the work and learn to meditate and learn to calm down and learn to be a duck and let things slide a little bit.


And you know what? My restaurant is not worse off for it better off.


That's so good. That is so good. Dean and how are you?


Did I smile enough? Used to being in the fishbowl. You know, there's only truth between us. You don't have to put so in all of these. I mean, I think anyone like yourself, we're all used to being in a fishbowl, putting on the show and leaving our jacket at the door.




Weren'T you the first person to ever said to me, lam, just don't be full of shit?


It's difficult when you're bright and charming because you could fool a lot of people. Not all the people and not yourself. Well, thank goodness I had someone in my life like you who spoke the truth of me in a way that I couldn't get away from it, couldn't scorn away. I couldn't charm it. I couldn't do anything about it except to sit there and go, fuck yeah.


I have that uncanny neck. It's something people don't really like about me, that's Joe or Joe had a midlife crisis last year and that we were separated for year and a half. Sorry to hear that. We're back together. Yay.


Building and being gracious to each other. Just a big part of it. But it also and I never actually did the hard work before, so I wasn't too down with the whole coaching thing. Did it on a lark. It was just going to be six weeks, and I've been doing it now for a full year and turn my life around.


Smart not motherfucker. Everybody needs a coach. Not you, Deida. I'm just talking a listener. Everybody does a coach.


Everyone does. Everybody needs an outside perspective because we can fucking bullshit ourselves so easily. I'll own that and say, yes. Spent most of my life bullshit myself. Yeah.


And I am a bubble. Popper. That's what people have with people. And you know that, oh, this is a great I'm going to do this, or I'm doing that, and I'm like, Pop, I roll. But I couldn't do it for myself.


You need a coach or shrink or priest. You need somebody. Hey, and I'm sorry. During the show, I wasn't even thinking about, like not swear. No, you can fucking swear, man.


Okay. So I just want to say what a pleasure it's been. Love you. I can't tell you how much I appreciate reconnecting with you. It feels like just yesterday.


Really. It feels like yesterday. So thank you. Love you very much. I love you, too.


That's it for this episode of Chef Life Radio. If you enjoyed it, it made you think, laugh, or get pissed off, then please tell a friend. Get your free copy of Three Ideas or Less Chef's Dress by signing up for our monthly newsletter@chefliferadio.com. Signup here at Chef Life Radio. We believe that working in a kitchen should be demanding.


It just shouldn't have to be demeaning. It should be hard. It just doesn't have to be harsh. We believe that it's possible to have more solidarity and less suck it up, sunshine. More compassion, less cutthroat island.


We believe in more partnership and less put up, more shut up, more community, and a lot less fuck you. Finally, consider for a second for all the blood, sweat, and sometimes even tears we put into what we do, really, at the end of the day. That's just some brown stuff on a plate. None of it really matters. It doesn't define you as a person or make you any more special or less than anyone else.


It's just a dance we're engaged in, so we might as well laugh and enjoy every bit of it, even the crappy parts while we're doing it. Or didn't you know that the purpose of your life should be to enjoy. It like it happy? I love that. I am humbled.


On live on now follow us@facebook.com, chefliferadio. Twitter at chefliferadio, on Instagram at chefliferadio and check out our website chefliferadio.com. Oh, yes, chef. Stand tall and frosty, brothers and sisters. Until next time, be well and do good.


Leave the light on, honey. I'm coming home late. This show was produced, recorded and edited by me, Adam Lamp, at the Dish Pit Studios in Bardo, North Carolina. This has been a production of Realignment Media.