A younger man working in his uncle’s pan-Asian restaurant across the flip of the millenium, Mike Mercatoris was prepping to-go orders and listening to his headphones when the kitchen’s head chef nabbed his consideration.
Mercatoris pulled again his headphones, and in damaged English, the chef stated, “You, me, we’re going to start out our personal restaurant.”
“I used to be similar to, ‘OK, man,’” Mercatoris recalled, explaining he blew it off as kitchen workers banter.
However, true to his phrase, Chef Ming “Henry” Zheng opened the primary Zheng Asian Bistro with Mercatoris in just a little El Jebel strip mall almost a decade later.
“We had no thought if it was going to work,” Mercatoris stated. “However I noticed strip mall eating places work in Florida, so I believed we had an opportunity.”
The strip mall wasn’t their first alternative. Initially, the pair checked out a riverside location. Their actual property agent stated he might in all probability get them the picturesque spot however not and not using a caveat.
“He had us stand exterior the riverside constructing at 6 p.m. on Friday for about 10 minutes,” Mercatoris stated. “Possibly three individuals handed by.”
The agent then took them to an accessible strip mall location, and repeated the experiment.
“Forty or so individuals handed by in 10-20 minutes,” Mercatoris remembered, his eyes lighting up as he retold the story.
“I used to be like, ‘We will do that.’”
Zheng Asian Bistro, which later opened a second location in Glenwood Springs, was only one stone on Mercatoris’ path to business actual property and entrepreneurialism, however extra importantly, it was the primary.
Summer season job
Born in State Faculty, Pennsylvania, Mercatoris, 49, grew up close to a lake and nonetheless nurtures a love for water.
“It was my junior yr of school, and I used to be wanting ahead to at least one final summer season on the lake with the boys,” he stated.
Though his uncle, Doug “Merc” Mercatoris, 71, provided Mike a job working in Snowmass Village at Merc’s pan-Asian restaurant, Mountain Dragon, Mike initially shot the thought down.
Arriving residence from Mount Union College on a Wednesday, Mercatoris’ dad requested if he was prepared for an amazing summer season.
“I used to be like, ‘Yeah, I can’t wait to see everyone,’” he recalled. “My dad stated, ‘Nice, right here’s your airplane ticket. You permit for Colorado on Saturday.’
Mercatoris’ mirthful laughter stuffed his sparsely adorned workplace Thursday as he conjured recollections from his first summer season in Colorado.
“They actually shipped me out,” he stated, smiling. “They knew I used to be going to be all bother that summer season.”
Beforehand, Mercatoris had solely visited his uncle’s place in the course of the winter for household ski journeys. Having by no means considered the Roaring Fork Valley in the summertime, he wasn’t certain what to anticipate.
“I imply, I simply fell in love with it,” Mercatoris stated. “I went again to school and graduated with a serious in psychology and a minor in enterprise administration, then I packed my issues and got here again as quick as I might.”
Leaving the nest
Even with a level in Mercatoris’ hand, his uncle Merc wasn’t going to simply hand over his enterprise to the younger upstart.
“When he got here again, I noticed he could be critical about pursuing a profession as a restaurateur,” Merc stated. “So I began him out within the kitchen, as a result of each profitable restaurateur ought to know their enterprise again to entrance.”
It was throughout Mercatoris’ time within the kitchen that he struck up a friendship with Zheng, who, at 21 years previous, was Merc’s head chef.
“I don’t know if it was as a result of we had been the identical age or what, however we hit it off,” Mercatoris stated.
For the subsequent eight or 9 years, the pair mentioned plans for their very own enterprise. Mercatoris, the charismatic businessman, would work the entrance, and Zheng, the formidable chef, would work the again.
Merc and different restaurateurs from across the valley helped the 2 get their plans off the bottom, however that’s the place Merc drew the road.
“I instructed them I wished to be the uncle who helped with the youngsters, not the uncle who helped with the bookkeeping,” Merc stated.
Mercatoris and Zheng opened Zheng “One,” as Mike referred to as it, round 2000. Enterprise picked up, they usually opened a second location in Glenwood Springs round 2007.
“We received up to now the place we wished to do extra, however we had surrounded ourselves with individuals like us — individuals with their very own concepts,” Mercatoris defined.
Fairly than increasing Zheng into extra shops, they explored partnerships with their workers, which led to creation of Grind and the revitalized Riviera Supper Membership between 2014 and 2016, Mercatoris stated.
Enterprise was good, if not just a little too good.
“I labored myself out of a job,” Mercatoris stated, grinning as he shrugged his shoulders.
Discovering his area of interest
With about 20 years of restaurant administration and entrepreneurship below his belt, Mercatoris turned to consulting.
Fairly than constructing new eating places from the bottom up, he wished to assist others learn the way. He created ZG Consulting, an ode to each the Zheng and Grind eating places in addition to a intelligent throwback to the license plate prefix “ZG,” which denoted an individual’s native standing.
Throughout one consulting challenge, Mercatoris stated he was approached by a good friend who labored at Sotheby’s Worldwide Realty. If Mercatoris had been to safe his actual property license, he would have a job with the corporate.
“After we bought the Riviera Supper Membership in 2018, I did have time (to pursue actual property licensing),” he recalled.
Mercatoris loved the work, however Sotheby’s was centered on luxurious residential actual property, and Mercatoris found his curiosity centered round business ventures, particularly within the restaurant business.
“There wasn’t lots of people in brokering that knew each side of the enterprise,” Mercatoris stated. “I had written checks for 90 workers throughout 4 eating places, and I had that inside data that I might use to assist each tenants and landlords. I noticed a distinct segment that I might fill.”
In 2019, one other acquaintance from the valley, Krista Klees, launched Mercatoris to Slifer, Smith and Frampton Actual Property, and requested if he want to head up the corporate’s new business division.
“I stated sure, as long as we might re-imagine it because the business and entrepreneurship division,” Mike stated.
Mentoring the subsequent technology
A number of individuals approached Mercatoris through the years with questions on the best way to begin their very own eating places, together with Altai Chuluun, who later partnered with Mike Lowe to create GlenX, a co-working house and enterprise incubator.
Mercatoris adopted Chuluun’s and Lowe’s challenge with curiosity, and after the thought was rebranded as Coventure, Mike stated he satisfied Slifer, Smith and Frampton to sponsor the initiative.
In a small workplace tucked right into a again hall on Coventure’s third ground, an indication with Mike’s title is about atop a largely empty bookshelf.
“I work out of my backpack more often than not,” he stated, throwing up his arms on the workplace’s lack of ornament.
These days, Mercatoris handles business transactions throughout the valley, advises and mentors new entrepreneurs at Coventure and helps the subsequent technology negotiate and perceive lease phrases, serving to them keep away from the pitfalls his uncle as soon as identified to him.
“I believe it’s incumbent on each technology to assist the subsequent discover their place on the earth,” he stated.
It’s been an extended journey away from the lakes of his youth, however when the workday ends, he nonetheless finds his method again to the water.
“I used to be huge into kayaking after I first received to Colorado,” he stated. “However now, my spouse and I personal a Centurion wakesurfing boat. We spend each weekend we will out on the water with our two children.”
Reporter Ike Fredregill could be reached at 970-384-9154 or by electronic mail at email@example.com.