Carla Hall—a story of how fame does not equal success

Carla Hall MUFSO Dallas

Carla Hall has it all. Beauty, grace, fame, and success are all great descriptors of Carla. Maybe the story of her greatest failure is why I was so impressed by her keynote address to the nation’s top restaurant executives recently during the Multi-Unit Food Service Operators Super Show (MUFSO) in Dallas.

Born in Lebanon, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville, Carla is an American chef, television personality, and former model. She was a finalist in the fifth and eighth seasons of Top Chef, Bravo’s cooking competition show, and a co-host of The Chew, an ABC network afternoon show.

Chalk up win after win for Carla, including a successful catering business in New York City, until she lent her name to a restaurant in Brooklyn.

“I had resisted for three years people hounding me to open a restaurant,” Carla says. “It took us two and a half years to open it because we were so overconfident that we would succeed and become the next great fast casual chain. We spent so much time working on logos and a social media plan I forgot that great chains begin with one great restaurant. We made some big mistakes that now looking back doomed it to failure.”

“We could have taken advantage of my fame had I opened my restaurant in Manhattan with its steady supply of tourists, yet we rented a spot in Brooklyn that took a 15-minute walk to get to along the river because the rent was cheap,” Carla says. “I insisted on scratch-made menus that resulted in inconsistency. Our labor’s talents didn’t match our needs. We played up a walk-up window for ordering from the street, but it was on the opposite side of the restaurant than it should have been. I truly wanted to make a difference in that Brooklyn community, helping people be successful in the restaurant business, but to do so the restaurant has to succeed.”

So despite heavy media coverage and big crowds early for Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen in America’s biggest city, the restaurant closed its doors in August 2017. “I wanted a place where I could share true Southern cooking like my grandma used to make, and we did. But you can’t shortcut the basics in building a restaurant,” Carla sums it up. “I’ve learned a lot and I will be back with an even better restaurant.”

According to CNBC, about 60% of restaurants fail in one year and 80% fail within five years—so Carla has company. Her vibrant personality and hunger for learning the ropes in the restaurant business will likely see her succeed the second time around. Her story was one of the best keynote addresses I’ve heard. It goes to show that fame is no guarantee of success.

By Tony Treadway