A Q and A with Sarah Cyr, co-owner of The Wine Cellar and Bistro
Q. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your business life?
A. The more you care, the harder your job is. When people say, “You can’t please everyone,” it makes me cringe. This restaurant really tries to please everyone, as hard as that may be. Every person matters and it is extremely difficult to make everyone feel special, but there is a reason we call this business “hospitality.”
Q. How many hours do you work during an average week?
A. I am at the restaurant on average 10 hours a day, five to six days a week. Some of that time is devoted to fun duties like tasting wine, trying Craig’s (husband and co-owner Craig Cyr) new menu ideas or visiting with customers.
Q. How did you get started in the business?
A. I worked at restaurants all through college and law school, and my husband worked at the same restaurants while going to culinary school. The thought of leaving my last restaurant job to practice law broke both our hearts and then we had our answer.
Q. How is running a business different from what you thought it would be?
A. I didn’t realize paying taxes, of all kinds, would be a task that would take up a substantial amount of my time.
Q. If you didn’t own your business, what would you really love to be doing?
A. Traveling and enjoying restaurants around the world, especially France and Italy where we would immerse ourselves in Old World cuisine and the wine country.
Q. What keeps you up at night?
A. The staff — keeping a talented staff and keeping a talented staff happy.
Q. What makes you stop what you’re doing and say, “What am I doing here?”
A. Not much. I love Columbia, working with my husband and the restaurant. Columbia is halfway between both our families, and it’s the right size. It’s not a big city, but Columbia has lots of culture and a neighborhood feel. We always meet interesting people here.
Q. What did you learn from the best boss you ever had? Or the worst?
A. The best and the worst boss I ever had are the same person. I learned how to run the restaurant business behind the scenes and then how to alienate customers and employees with a lack of sincerity.
Q. What Columbia business do you most admire?
A. In the restaurant scene I admire Classy’s — a couple working with zero employees, working every day, providing a tasty meal, just like I saw 100 times in Italy. There is something romantic about a restaurant that makes you feel like you dined at someone’s home, only you didn’t have to bring anything or make awkward small talk.
Q. How do you motivate the people you work with?
A. Lots of thank-yous and positive reinforcement.
Q. Describe the ideal employee in five words or fewer.
A. Motivated, dependable, honest, perceptive and gracious.
Q. What do you try to read in a day?
A. Wine-related info. I have passed my first-level sommelier test and would like to take the next level next year. There are four levels, with the top level being master sommelier. Plus, it is just a fascinating subject.
Q. What parts of your ordinary life have you had to give up for this job?
A. TV. We do not have cable. Our time off is just too valuable. If we feel like vegging, we watch a movie. We stay current through the paper, people and the Internet.
Q. What’s the motto you live by as a business owner?
A. Love what you do.
Q. Who’s your greatest inspiration?
A. My husband works 12 hours a day, on his feet, in a hot kitchen and is still passionate about cooking. He works so hard and yet always seems light-hearted. He really does have the kind of work ethic that the rest of us strive for.
Q. Where do you see your business in five years?
A. Here. We love Columbia. I hope it is just as successful as it is now, and if it is even more successful, how lucky we will be.
Q. Would you rather be the Donald Trump or Google guys in your field? Why?
A. Neither. I don’t think that way. We try to not to compare ourselves to other people. We just want to be happy and be able to survive. We just want to make our lives and business better. Just follow your passions. If I had to pick someone in our field, I would say Danny Meyer, a New York restaurateur that has many different types of restaurants. He wrote a book called “Setting the Table” that talks about hospitality and customer service in the restaurant business.