Barry Dry: Proprietor, Hole in The Wall Cafe, Sugar Momma & NEO Café

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Barry Dry was born in Perth, Australia and studied Business Management and Economics at Notre Dame University in Australia. During his academic tenure, he ran a restaurant, working his way up from dishwasher, to General Manager. After graduating, he moved to New York City in 2011 to pursue a career in finance. It didn't take long for Barry to realize that hospitality was his true passion, so he left the financial world behind and opened Hole in the Wall coffee shop in Midtown in 2014. Most recently, Barry and his team ventured to the Financial District, opening another Hole in the Wall café in 2017 and transformed that space at night into a sexy restaurant, lounge and cocktail bar called Sugar Momma.  Additionally, Dry just teamed up with NEO U fitness studio on 5th Avenue to open NEO Café inside, serving up fresh juices, smoothies and acai bowls.

How did you get into the industry?

In Australia, whilst studying at college most students will get a job to help pay their way. A friend of mine was working for a restaurant/ bar and asked if I wanted to come wash dishes. I started washing dishes and within 12 months I was the general manager. I loved that job. After finishing College I went in to the field I studied finance. After a few years there, the pull of hospitality was just too much so I returned as the operations specialist at a New York hospitality group. From there I started Hole in the Wall.

Any emerging industry trends?

Consumers are moving away from traditional style dining and prefer alternative and healthier style foods. Gone are the days where you had long lunches and ate dinner over 3 hours. Nowadays everything needs to be quick, quality and convenient. The upswing in casual and takeaway dining is attributed to the tech sector connecting consumers to not only their neighborhood restaurants but the whole city. In summary the industry is trending towards fast and casual dining with fine dining the exception to the rule.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

What challenges doesn’t the Hospitality industry face? Employment issues such as  rising wages, lower unemployment and therefore more flexibility for employees. Higher costs which are likely to go higher with the new Tariffs and trading positions especially on already expensive avocadoes. Excessive rental rates. Easy entry to the market for first time competitors.  I think  overall the hospitality industry is a complex market place that evolves at such a rapid rate that it would be unrealistic to say there is only one challenge. As for opportunities, everything I just outlined above creates opportunity as well. The market is fickle and therefore there are plenty of ways to gain traction and snap up opportunity.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

Hole in the Wall came about, as most business do, from the desire for something that wasn’t readily available. When I first relocated to NY, there weren’t many quality coffee shops. Not like how I knew quality anyway. Over time I realized there was more demand for not only quality coffee but also quality healthy food and that drove the expansion. There isn’t a whole lot of gimmick at Hole in the Wall, we just strive to deliver quality food and drink, with great service, in a quick manner at an affordable price. The main differential is we use interesting spaces to maximize our appeal, unique and smaller locations that can be multipurpose for breakfast, dinner, events, or a bar. The long-term vision for the company is scalability. We plan to expand our model in to coffee distribution in the near future which will allow us to scale at a far more rapid rate.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

We have just signed a new lease for our latest location in Midtown East. Two new stores and a roaster will follow this, next year. The new stores will likely be in Chicago and Miami. We are planning on expanding to newer markets.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

The main reason expansion is difficult is quality control. How do you expand and keep the quality control over the whole business? That I guess is my main goal, to discover how best to do this. I believe controlled expansion rather than mass and rapid is the best route. I think implementing a company wide system and method is super important. The most important thing by far is the people you hire to support you. To believe you can grow by yourself, or think that you know best is the quickest downfall for any business.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

It was a tough first year. You always hear everyone say most small businesses fail in their first year.  Well that was certainly true for us. Learning that driving revenue is not the only way to survive, learning to adapt, learning to put your pride aside and admit that some of your choices were wrong are all things that I learnt in that first year.  When you come out the other side it almost makes it much sweeter. To literally only eat at work and to rent out your apartment and stay with friends because of money issues really makes success all the more better.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

I think it’s almost better to see a customer enjoying their experience rather than them telling you. There is no lying when you can physically see someone’s enjoyment.  The ideal experience for a customer is providing a tailored experience. Every customer wants something different when they come to Hole in the Wall and that is what we try to provide. I want my customers to enjoy the time they are here whether that be for a minute getting a takeaway coffee or having brunch with all their friends so that means adapting and understanding each customer individually.

How do you motivate others?

Probably the most difficult question so far. Having such a labor intensive business means you need to motivate different staff in different ways. Your management staff are often motivated through their ability to learn and grow where as your servers and dishwashers are motivated through money. Its about finding out what motivates different people and trying to apply that. Motivation is key to staff happiness and its important to keep  staff happy to be able to gain any momentum.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Hospitality is hard. Make sure it’s exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life because it is all encompassing.