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Restaurateurs create together

Joshua and Jenna Miles oversee a growing group of businesses. (Photo by Kimberly McKinzie)

A Mexican restaurant, a southern barbecue restaurant, a downtown Italian restaurant, a beer garden and a microbrewery are just some of the planned projects that Joshua and Jenna Miles are gearing up for in 2016.

The couple already runs three restaurants—the Revelry, Branca, Buffalo Proper—and a hospitality management company—SCN Hospitality LLC. Across their four businesses the duo employs some 150 people.

Joshua Miles, 34, is director of food and beverage at the Strathallan, a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel on East Avenue.

He grew up in Greenville, S.C. The hospitality industry was within reach from an early age. His father worked for a paper company that did a lot of work with restaurants. Miles was able to see how restaurants worked by accompanying his father on meetings.

“Restaurants have been very near and dear to me my entire life,” he says. “I would get to go to work with him and go to the back of … restaurants. I had a blast doing that. I started working in restaurants at 14 and I’ve been working in a restaurant since.

“I loved bringing people together, being around people, interacting (and) not standing still,” he adds.

He studied hospitality and tourism management at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. He transferred to Brevard College and graduated with a degree in political science in 2005.

Miles worked for four years as the general manager at the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Jasmine Porch restaurant, based in Charleston.

“I’ve always had a penchant for parties,” Miles says. “I’ve always enjoyed being the organizer, facilitator, communicator and that’s always something that’s been ingrained in my DNA.”

Miles was feeling ready for something else—a new opportunity. Wegmans Food Inc. recruited Miles to open Next Door By Wegmans in February 2009. He became assistant general manager for the restaurant.

“I was at that point in my life where I’d been at my job for right on five years and it was good, it was great, but at the same time I was a little overworked, underpaid (and) it was time for me to look at something different,” he says. “I put my time in and when Wegmans came along I decided to vet it out. It’s all true stuff—it’s a great company to work for.”

Teaming up

He picked up and moved to Rochester where he met Jenna, who then served at the restaurant, that same year.

“I moved to Rochester, fell in love with the community, fell in love with Jenna and that was it,” he says.

Jenna Miles was learning about the industry herself, first as a server and then as a host at Tastings, which is now Next Door By Wegmans.

“I’d never worked in a restaurant but I really enjoyed it,” she says. “I started there as a host, and I loved being a host. I thought it was really cool to meet everybody and have control and a bigger perspective over the dining room and people’s dining experiences.”

Jenna Miles, 31, is a native of Holley, Orleans County. She attended college for one year at Rochester Institute of Technology before transferring to the College at Brockport. She graduated in 2006 with a degree in art history and history.

She began working as a server at Next Door By Wegmans after a few years of traveling. In 2011 she moved into a sales position for T. Edward Wines Ltd.—a New York City-based wine distributor and importer.

“I learned a lot working for T. Edward,” she says. “Obviously I learned a lot about wine, but I learned a lot about how to negotiate. I learned a lot about people and how to deal with people and different personalities—it toughened me up a lot.”

She transitioned full time to general manager of the Revelry in August 2013 until 2014.Today she runs SCN Hospitality and is working on launching a microbrewery in Canandaigua.

“I never thought I would own my own business necessarily—I never thought of it in that way, but I like to learn on my own more than I like to be taught,” Jenna Miles says. “In retrospect I’ve had it in me all along to be in the role.”

Joshua Miles became general manager at of Next Door By Wegmans in September 2011. In 2012 he left Wegmans and became vice president of Payment Processing Consultants Inc.

The Revelry

By November of that year he devoted himself full time to starting the Revelry, which opened in 2013.

The Revelry initially was misinterpreted by the public in some cases, they say.

“I feel like there is an essence to each concept,” says Jenna Miles. “The core and the timeless aspect of each concept, I think, helps us to stay relevant. When we opened the Revelry so many people were like, ‘yeah, it’s the trendy new spot.’ I feel like people throw ‘trendy’ around without really thinking about it. And for me that was the last thing that we wanted to be. We wanted a comfortable but beautiful, elegant restaurant.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel on anything that we’re doing but we try to bring our own creative spirit to what we’re doing,” she says.

The Revelry is a restaurant that celebrates the past.

“The Revelry was something that I’ve had in the back of my brain for many years,” says Joshua Miles.  “It’s the culmination of many different things that I feel are important in a restaurant. It’s an expression in some fashion of my southern heritage but ultimately a place that we’re looking to evoke feelings of yesteryear.”

The availability of the location—at 1290 University Ave.—was a catalyst to the restaurant’s creation.

“The building, it just felt right; it had a soul to it,” says Jenna Miles. “We just felt like it was the right fit for that particular restaurant.”

In addition to his own business venture, Joshua Miles works at the Strathallan.

“I think they both have the hospitality gene, and either you have it or you don’t,” says David Christa, CEO of Christa Development Corp. and co-owner of the Strathallan. “They’re extremely passionate about what they do.

They’re always accessible, they’re very upbeat and as a couple it’s truly amazing how well they complement each other; they just do a tremendous job.”

The Strathallan’s restaurant, Char Steak & Lounge, has benefited from the background and experience of Joshua Miles, says Kevin Morgan, a partner in the Strathallan.

“I immediately realized that Josh had the type of personality where you knew something fun was going to happen when you were around him,” he says. “Josh has taken our food and beverage program to the next level, along with Jenna always supporting him.”

Joshua and Jenna Miles are doers. They follow through on their goals, Morgan says.

“They are successful because of their keen attention to detail and their focus on providing a warm, inviting atmosphere and always making their guests feel welcome,” he says.  “They are always striving for better; they celebrate successes but continue to always want improvement.  They’ve been able to assemble loyal passionate teams that believe in their vision, which has allowed them to grow.

“It’s very exciting working with them; they always keep things fun and fresh.  They are very focused on the business end of what they do to make sure they are profitable,” he adds.

Double expansion
In August 2014 the pair, along with other partners, co-opened Branca in Bushnell’s Basin and Buffalo Proper—a restaurant on Franklin Street in Buffalo—the same week.

“For Branca (we envisioned) a restaurant that people who live in the area feel comfortable going to every week, multiple times a week,” says Jenna Miles. “(And) a restaurant that offered great Italian wine, great cocktails, with impeccable service, and the service really is the thread that connects everything.”

When challenges arise in the restaurant industry, it is important to have perspective.

“Basically in our world failure was not really an option,” says Joshua Miles. “There’s a certain formula that you need to put together to be successful in this business. It’s timeliness of when you’re opening your business, what else is going around you, it’s real estate expenses, its buildout costs, staffing and what you’re offering to the community—all those things if they’re not thought out thoroughly the chance for lack of success is greater.”

Hiring the right people counts as a major preoccupation.

“Staffing is one of our largest issues,” Joshua Miles says. “We spend a lot of time making sure that the culture in our restaurants is where it needs to be and that starts with who you have working. Rochester is not a huge community, so that presents an issue, but we’ll get through it and we’ll figure it out.”

More than 200 people interviewed to staff the Revelry, Jenna Miles says. Today the team there has kept the business thriving.

“Looking back now I think there are a lot of reasons the restaurant has been successful, but I think ultimately it’s been so successful because of the people we have working there,” says Jenna Miles.

Balancing a business, a marriage and a newborn makes the Miles’ routine a challenging one.

“It was really hard,” says Jenna Miles. “That first year or so of life owning that restaurant and working there 16 hours a day was exhausting but really fun at the same time and really stressful, but I was learning a lot. We were navigating being husband and wife and working non-stop and working with each other, so it was definitely challenging; it was not easy.”

In business the couple complements each other.

“I think what Josh brings to the table that I don’t have is just a penchant for risk-taking that you have to have as an entrepreneur,” says Jenna Miles. 

“One of the most interesting things is when put in certain positions, given the right mental and physical characteristics and abilities, you can learn to be really good at something,” says Joshua Miles. “And Jenna is the spitting image of that. She had never run a restaurant a day in her life and now she can run multiple ones without blinking an eye.”

The duo is tackling an industry that can be taxing. The dedication they demonstrate gives them credibility, says Frederick Rainaldi, a longtime friend and a business partner of the couple. “For them to be servicing every category of demographic … that is an incredible accomplishment. Their success is not a trend. They’ve dialed in and understand this market in a unique way.

“There’s confidence in businesses that have staying power—and these two have staying power,” he added.

Evolving team
As each business progresses, the roles of its leaders evolve. Jenna Miles is shifting gears this year.

“There’s a lot to be excited about in 2016,” she says. “For me I’m focused on the brewery that we’re opening. It’s a total new business model but I’m excited to learn about that business.”

The project involves a consortium of partners and is positioned to be one of the five largest microbreweries in Western New York, Jenna Miles said.

It is planned for Pinnacle North, a mixed-use development on 21 acres near the shore of Canandaigua Lake. Joshua Miles is among the developers of a barbecue restaurant at the site.

Rochester’s dining scene has changed a lot since 2009 when he arrived, Joshua Miles says. The market was ready for something new and now there are many options for community members.

“We’re operating here because the food and beverage community…was not oversaturated; it was in a good place for growth,” he says.

The couple only opens a restaurant if the area needs one, he says.

“Rochester doesn’t need another cocktail bar; Rochester doesn’t need another pizza joint—there’s plenty of those kind of things,” he adds.

Longevity in the restaurant industry is not the same as other industries. Employees often change jobs more frequently, officials say.

“I feel like we work really hard to try to put always our best foot forward and so I always feel like our people deserve the success ultimately more than we do,” Jenna Miles says. “The people who are doing it every single day, they deserve the recognition, they deserve the success that our restaurants enjoy.

“I really am surprised and grateful at the number of people who have stayed with us for so long,” she adds.

Continuous improvement is this year’s focus.

“I know in the grand scheme of things two and one-half to three years for a restaurant, it’s definitely an accomplishment because a lot of restaurants close within a year,” says Jenna Miles. “We are taking the long view. As fast as we’re growing, we also want successful businesses that will enjoy a nice lifespan.”

The Mileses see strong potential in the city of Rochester.

“I look forward to the city of Rochester—the downtown environment is getting better,” says Joshua Miles.  “People are moving back down there, the Inner Loop is getting filled in, construction is going on—there’s a good feel of positive change down there and I’m really excited to see where that goes.”

Restaurants attract a variety of patrons. They also attract a variety of owners.

“Ultimately we’re passionate about this industry; this is what we do for a living,” says Jenna Miles. “A lot of restaurant owners everywhere, no matter what town you’re in, it’s not their main occupation. They made their money elsewhere doing this on the side—it’s a plaything and they don’t really have their arms around it. For us it’s the industry that we love and it’s the business that we’re in.”

Joshua and Jenna Miles
Positions: Joshua Miles, president of SCN Hospitality LLC; director of food and beverage for the Strathallan Hotel; co-owner of the Revelry; co-owner of Branca; co-owner of Buffalo Proper
Jenna Miles, vice president of SCN Hospitality; CEO of a brewing company in Canandaigua (name yet to be released)
Ages: Joshua, 34; Jenna, 31
Family: daughter, Georgia Lucille Miles, 6 months
Residence: Pittsford
Activities/Hobbies: Spending time with their daughter; seeing friends and family.
Quote: Joshua: “I’ve always had a penchant for parties. I’ve always enjoyed being the organizer, facilitator, communicator and that’s always something that’s been ingrained in my DNA.”
Jenna: “I feel like we work really hard to try to put always our best foot forward and so I always feel like our people deserve the success ultimately more than we do.”

1/29/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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