Young Gun Alum

Jesse Sandole '10

Jesse SandoleSomething may smell fishy on East Bay Street in downtown Charleston, but Jesse Sandole’s business model for 167 Raw is anything but.

Sandole graduated from the College of Charleston in 2010 with a degree in business administration. Now he owns and manages 167 Raw, a seafood market, restaurant and catering company.

We sat down with Sandole to talk about how he grew a small seafood market on Nantucket Island into a Charleston seafood staple, why it’s important to surround yourself with good people and how to strike a balance between being strategic and rolling with the punches.

School of Business (SB): Why did you choose to attend the College of Charleston and pursue a degree in business administration?

Jesse Sandole (JS): I started out at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, where I played lacrosse. Having been born and raised on Nantucket, I was used to brutal winters, but was getting pretty sick of them by freshman year. In the spring of 2007, I visited some friends who went to school at the College of Charleston. It was a pretty easy decision to transfer after I came down here. 

I chose to pursue a business degree because it is all encompassing. You can really go anywhere and do anything with that background. My initial plan was to work in Oystersfinance after graduation, but eventually I decided I wanted to own my own business. My family was in the food industry and I grew up cooking, so starting a restaurant just made sense.

SB: Tell us about your post-graduate business endeavors.

JS: After I graduated from the College, I moved back to Nantucket to manage my dad’s seafood market, East Coast Provisions & Seafood. I also spent two summers in Todos Santos, Mexico, where I did a lot of surfing and catering for private events.

In 2013, I started thinking seriously about opening my own place. I signed a lease for a building on 167 Hummock Pond Road in Nantucket and the 167 Raw seafood market was born. In addition to that space, I partnered with Cisco Brewers across the street to open a pop-up raw bar and bought a food truck to carry our produce. It wasn’t until later that year, when I expanded the business to Charleston [289 East Bay Street], that we included a dine-in option.

SB: What do you want your customers to get out of an eating experience at 167 Raw?

JS: I try to keep the experience fun, and the food to the point. We don’t overcomplicate things. Our menu is simple and fresh. We just want people to have an honest experience that is equally uncomplicated and enjoyable.

We keep our restaurant small so the service is very personal. People say they feel like they’ve known us for years. That level of service coupled with amazing food is what we’re all about. We want people to walk in on any given day and feel at ease. There should be nothing stressful about a dining experience.

SB: What have been the challenges of running a successful business like 167 Raw?

JS: A big challenge at 167 Raw Charleston is how small we are physically. We’re unconventional in our operations because we have to be. We have two supporting facilities downtown: one for storage and one for production. We 167 Rawexecute the final production of the meal in the restaurant, but all of the preparation work is done offsite. So all of the fileting of fish, washing of oysters, making guacamole, pickling veggies, prepping salad ingredients is done in another space. Having to move so much food between facilities is tough. We get a lot of parking tickets.

But I’m not complaining. Before we had those spaces, everything was done onsite. Produce delivery people would come in with a dolly full of boxes and literally pass them over diners’ heads. We have learned a lot.

SB: What have you learned about teamwork and collaboration in establishing and running a business?

Our success has been hugely predicated upon our ability to surround ourselves with amazing people, whether it’s our own team or private contractors.

We've been very fortunate to have extremely low turnover, which is rare in the restaurant industry. I feel this is largely due to the fact that our team personally identifies with the values of our brand in a way that's very natural. It's easy to let your hiring practices slip in the midst of a growing business that has a million other problems that need attention. There's no way that we could run an oyster bar, fish market, and catering business 1,000 miles apart without having plenty of great people in both places. 

SB: How did the College prepare you for the business world?

JS: I had a great learning experience at the business school, and loved all of my professors. Mark Pyles [an associate professor of finance at the School of Business] probably made the biggest impact on me and gave me tools that I use on the financial side of my business.

The finance program at the School of Business is really well designed. It kept me on my toes and forced me to think in a different way about finance as it applies to an organization or business. From buying a house to managing the financial operations of 167 Raw, everything I learned at the School of Business had real-life applications.

SB: What is your ultimate business goal?167 Raw

JS: My ultimate goal is to keep creating amazing experiences for people, whether in Charleston or elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not looking to open a million restaurants, but we want to grow in a way that is strategic and thoughtful — at the right time, done the right way.

You hear about restaurants that try to do too much too soon and lose everything. That’s not our plan.

SB: Do you have any advice for future business owners or restaurateurs?

JS: First you have to go for it, and then you have to roll with the punches. Being level headed and keeping a clear mind is of utmost importance when running any kind of business. Things never go as planned. 

The other advice I have for anyone who wants to own a restaurant — or any business — is to invest in people who identify with what you're trying to accomplish in a way that's natural.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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