Gary Muller,Chef and Co-owner, The Mill House Inn
Gary Muller’s company is thriving. His Mill House Inn in East Hampton, New York has been in business for 20 years and recognized by Travel + Leisure and the Travel Channel, highly rated by Zagat, and featured in other prominent publications. His properties have welcomed celebrities and prominent people from all over the world.
If you ask Muller the secret to his success, he’ll likely tell you that his family is largely responsible. “Family” is how Muller describes his employees at the inn, and he believes all leaders should treat team members as such, displaying empathy, instilling trust, and creating an environment where going “above and beyond” is a daily occurrence.
Muller is in the people-helping business. Whether that means serving his cherished guests or connecting with his work family, his care for other people runs throughout his unique leadership style. Learn how Muller has grown such a loyal and dedicated team, and how he fosters a work culture that has led to massive business success.
- The most important trait to look for in a potential hire (it has nothing to do with skills)
- When it’s time to let people go, even if it pains you to do so
- The difference between leadership and management, and how one is critical to growing a business
- How to ensure your team is doing their best work, without micromanaging
Full Transcript of Podcast Episode with Gary Muller
Nathan: Welcome back to the show, Gary. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. You were an early, early, early guest of the show on the magazine. And for those of us, for the listeners, that haven’t heard our first episode that we did together, well, we had quite the episode at the start. I forgot what number. It’s been time until now. Are you able to share with everyone, how did you get your job
Gary: I hired myself, I guess. I guess since the very beginning, I hired myself. Even when I worked for other people in the first days. I always thought it was me incorporated. Because my skill set, I was gonna define my own tomorrow. I had family that was in the hotel and restaurant business, and I chose not to work with any of them. I met a lot of people through them. And I kind of chose not to work with them either. I went out and got my own jobs and moved from place to place. Probably a little too often but that was certainly valuable. You learn and then when you stop learning, it’s time to move, which I think teaches us a little bit about how we need to lead our people that they want to stay, that they have a length of time that they’ll consider being with you.
I was listening to Marco Pierre White this morning in his biography on audible.com. And he said it’s impossible to get a job at that restaurant because no one ever leaves because they’re treated so well and they’re so happy. And he called again and again and again until it was an opening. And I sort of feel like my first 10 years before I really owned my own brick and mortar, it was kind of like that. I found places I wanted to be and I waited till I could sneak in the door.
Nathan: So can you just give our audience a little more insight around the Inn and all the amazing stuff that you do?
Gary: Well, we own the Mill House Inn in East Hampton, New York, and Graybarn Cottage in East Hampton, New York. The Mill House, we started in 1999. It is 11 rooms and suites in the village of East Hampton, New York. Very, very high-end. We like to be like a Ritz-Carlton or a very high-end small boutique hotel, and we have the benefit of having a small number of rooms and a high ratio of team members. So we’re able to take great care of our guests. And we also have a four-bedroom home, which we rent with all the hotel services.
And as Nathan and I have talked about previously, I’m not sure we’ve ever sold rooms, and I don’t think it has anything to do with sheets or breakfast or anything that we provide. It has to do with helping people travel better, giving them an experience. And I don’t mean that kind of experience you get when you go out fishing. I mean the kind of experience you get when you’re taken care of by people. That warmth and hospitality that when you go home all of a sudden, “Wow, I just feel better. There was somebody that actually really cared about me. They were concerned that the amount of time that I spent there mattered, that I got to do things I wanted to do. And even if that meant sitting on the front porch reading a book, drinking a bottle of Cabernet, they took care of me and made sure it worked.”
And it’s…we’re coming up on our 20th anniversary.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. Awesome.
Gary: So my first 20 years were spent in the restaurant business. And next year, it’ll be 20 years from Mill House Inn. It’ll be 10 years for Graybarn. So it’s a long time in a village. We’ve seen a lot of change and we’ve kind of seen nothing change because it’s a very small village on the east end of Long Island. So there were some landmark times after 9/11. We saw more people move there and we’ve seen a difference as people travel closer to home, being only two hours from Manhattan.
But in all, it’s still a little village and that’s what makes it popular. That’s why we love living there. And I guess that’s the most important thing about a business as you have to love not only the business but where it takes you and what it lets you do.
Nathan: Yeah. So I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest at the Mill House Inn, and amazing. I cannot recommend it enough. And I’ve actually been lucky enough to meet many people on your team like Jay and the guys. The one of the main reasons that I wanted to invite you back on, Gary, is since our first episode, first interview that we did, Foundr has grown a lot and I’ve hired quite a few staff since. And back when we did the interview, I think maybe I only had a couple people in the team. So a lot has changed for me in the past couple of years. And I really learned a lot from our conversation around leadership and really treating people in your team amazingly well that they’ll never want to leave.
And as time has gone on, I really have been thinking a lot about this leadership stuff. So I really want to talk to you about people leadership. And the first question I really wanna open things up to is, you know, one thing that I see that you do with your team is you’ll do anything for them and you, you know, go above and beyond what would be expected working at any company, and it’s just amazing. And you make it such an awesome place to work. I can see that. I can see that with your team. I can see how much fun they’re having.
But one thing that I’m personally struggling with a little is how do you make sure you don’t get, like, go overboard or potentially get taken advantage of at times because you are too nice?
Gary: You know, Nathan, a friend once said to me, “No good deed goes unpunished.” And he was very correct with it. But you have to maintain the ability to continually do well for those people, and the laws of human nature will allow you to lose a few. You’ll pick up better ones. People will show up simply because they’ve heard that it’s a great place to work and it’s a wonderful culture and the people are real and they’re honest. And I think listening is probably the most important part of that.
If someone needs something, Jay is famous for it. He’s just great at it. Somebody can’t afford a new battery for their truck, well, he doesn’t give them the money. He goes and gets the battery. And while they’re working, he’ll go sneak in and put it in their truck for them. it mattered, and it mattered a whole lot the way it was done. And I knew somebody who had all their knives stolen. I went online and I could have shipped six knives to them.
No, I wrapped them and I handed them to them and I watched tears. When is it too much? I don’t know. If your business is growing and if you feel that familial relationship and I’ve kind of replaced them, I think we all. At the Mill House Inn, if you replace that word team and HR with family because family is really what it is. And you’re lucky like I am because we have small businesses. And when you’re in a small business and you can touch everybody, even if they’re on the other side of the world, you still know everybody and you have the time to talk to them. You treat them just like family.
So I don’t think there is a limit. As long as the business supports the good things you do, I don’t ever say I can’t. And it’s business. And when there’s not extra money, people understand immediately. Because I had someone say to me, “You just do so much for me. It wouldn’t make a difference.” I’m like, “Well, it does to us.” And it’s not a standardized thing. Everybody doesn’t get the same thing. It’s not a standardized bonus time or standardized time to get a raise. It’s about having empathy for your people and knowing each one individually. And saying, “What can I do to make Nathan’s life better?”
Because if I do, you’re gonna be happier. If you’re happier, then the thing that we’re doing together, the journey we’re on together, it’s gonna go better. Because it’s not, certainly not, even a business as much as we take it away and say, “It’s not HR, it’s not a team.” Well, it’s also not a business. It’s some type of objective that we’re leading people on a trip, and we’re gonna make something happen that’s bigger than any of us.
You’re certainly doing it. You’re sharing ideas that are amazing, and you’re getting to talk to people that you’re readers and listeners just wish they could. That’s such a wonderful goal. And it just keeps growing and you keep getting more and more people. And you have this ability to get them to want to talk to you. So, no, to answer your question much shorter. I don’t wanna put a limit on what I ask someone to do for me and I’m not gonna put a limit on what I’ll do for them. And if I get taken advantage of, well, it’s happened. And I guess that’s just okay because I love the people that work for me. And I think firmly of the people that have left.
Because when they were contributing at their best, that’s good. And the thing about empathy, you know, sometimes something bad happens in someone’s life and they do something and they leave. I’ve bailed people out of jail, and it’s what you do. It’s about making that family work, and you wouldn’t put limits. And I always summed it up in one real short little sentence, when you have a child and it’s time for them to learn how to walk, when do you stop teaching them? Never. Because they’re gonna walk. It’s that simple. So it’s the same with your family that you have at work.
You teach them, you put them in motion, you communicate with them, and you don’t stop. Because if you stop, forward progress is everything.
Nathan: And when you talk about family, what’s your thought of treating your team as a family versus like a football team? What’s the difference there to you?
Gary: Sports, I think sports culture in some way as a team, obviously, the professional sports culture, they have the luxury that, “I guess the last guy drafted is still making a very sizable paycheck at the end of the week.” So those woes aren’t there but there’s other issues that are there. I’ll tell you something. Last night, I was watching “The Larry King” and I guess you’ve probably seen a lot of Larry King over the years because he’s the king of doing what you’re doing. And he was talking to Tony Goldwyn who was a star on “Scandal” and the old Goldwyn family, and Shonda Rhimes has really shaken up the world of television, and Larry King asked Tony Goldwyn, “So what’s so different about having a woman in charge there?”
And Tony said, “Well, people all matter. Family really matters. If someone’s child has a graduation, guess what? We’re not gonna rehearse tomorrow. If someone needs to travel on a family vacation and they have to be there, we may not shoot that week. So if I can’t be part of a business that can do that, that’s not a business I wanna have given any given Sunday that football team needs to show up. But we still have to build it as close to a family as we can. And that’s part of the idea of leadership and as you grow and get bigger. But neither one of us are ever gonna be GE, Norwood. I think either one of us wanna be.
But when you have thousands of employees, you need to teach that all the way down the line so that at the lowest levels of the company, the same teachings that you gave in the boardroom to the top 20 people, everybody else feels the same way. You need to communicate that to them.
Nathan: Let’s talk about finding people to join your movement, join your family, join your team, join the Inn. What’s your strategies there for acquiring…not even acquiring but welcoming great talent and then finding great talent?
Gary: Well, I think that’s probably the hardest thing that we go through today. Arguably where we are, we have zero unemployment. So do they say 3% is equated to zero? And it’s also a very expensive place to live. But I think it’s beyond that. And the wisdom I would share would have nothing to do with that. It’s that I don’t put a label on people, so I don’t necessarily have a job description written down.
If someone walks in the door and we interview them, and all of a sudden the person jumps out at you, let’s find out how we can bring them aboard. So by being open to whoever it is, to…in whatever situation they personally have, three kids at home, divorced mom, single dad, working another job, challenged in any way whatsoever, overqualified in some other way. It doesn’t matter. If I see that smile and that spark, and oftentimes I meet someone that Jay has hired. They just walk up and they shake my hand and they say, “Thank you.”
And looking at them, I know their name and I know their picture because I’ve seen it. And I may not have been there in two weeks. And when I talked to him, I said, “You’re welcome. It’s a pleasure to have you aboard, and I’ve heard only wonderful things about you.” I know when I talk to the guests that have been at the Inn, they tell me the same story. So I think it’s by leaving everything away by saying that, “Change. Let’s just burn it all down, let’s call it a revolution, let’s get rid of HR, let’s get rid of the word team, and let’s build it all brand new. And let’s use the word empathy as how we think about hiring people and bringing them on board and making them part of the family.
Because once they’re there, the issues that you might have had previously seem to go away. The things I grew up with where who is gonna work when someone else is sick and someone needs to do this, and how are we gonna get that done, and we still have six hours worth of work to do, and it’s only three hours till the wedding is gonna happen. It just seems to get done when you put the family together right. Everybody just looks at each other and says, “We’re gonna make this happen.” And that’s the beauty.
I mean that’s leadership. To me, that’s the five-star crown you get as a leader. When you look at everybody that’s around you and you say, “Well, they don’t even need me and they’re doing a better job than I could do.” That’s the benchmark. That’s the test. You know, go… They look at me and they say, “Go away. We’ve got all this.” And I’m like, “Call me if you want me.” That’s the beauty of leadership, the beauty of people. You give them credit. You as the leader take the blame when something is wrong. Because ultimately, you’re the one who has to bear the responsibility.
But once you put that business in motion, and you’ve got the right people, get out of the way. Just let them go. Because it’s like having a storm anchor on the back of the boat. No matter how hard you try to go forward, you’re not gonna get any forward progress. It’s your job as the leader to cut all the lines and let the people move forward. As long as you’ve communicated well, and they understand the objective, they understand what we’re doing, you’ve defined it, and you’re willing to change it as needed, let the people move on. Let them do the thing they wanna do. And they’ll do a good job.
Nathan: Now, are you able to share how long did it take you because, like, in Mill House Inn service, everything you guys got going on went like the whole experience is impeccable, and it’s all driven by the people. How long did it take to build up a team where you can just get out of their way and they’d just, you know?
Gary: Well, we had the luxury of starting small. We only had one building. We had eight rooms. And when we took over and then, obviously, that was the planning that Sylvia and I did, my wife, when we looked at it and said, “This is manageable.” And we have the luxury of building something here similar to Foundr. There was no Foundr when you got there. So sometimes it’s the people you bring on that drag you forward.
I think more often than not, it’s the people that drag you forward. I know that in every one of my friends that’s in the high-end restaurant industry. It’s often times that a new great restaurant occurs because you sit down and go, “I’ve got two guys that are just fantastic and this one girl who’s better than both of them, and I gotta open someplace new simply because I have them.” So the talent tells you. And I can’t say it enough, leadership is people, business is people. It’s all about people. Nothing else literally matters. I think with the right group, you and I could take our people together and go do something new that neither one of us knows anything about.
And as long as we put together a good plan, we’d be successful at it. Because the people would support it.
Nathan: Can you tell me about the characteristic traits or qualities that you look for in the people? Like, people talk about A Players and stuff like that. What are your thoughts on all that? And, yeah.
Gary: I look for emotional intelligence. I don’t care if it’s somebody for the kitchen and chef has looked at them and she said, “I’m gonna train them.” I’m like, “Why? Do you really wanna train them? They’ve never used a knife before? They don’t know which end?” Well, hopefully, they do but, yeah, because she wants to do anything. And this is a real case in point. The girl that’s now our assistant chef, been there for two years, loved food, could cook but had no professional training whatsoever. But, boy, there was a fire in her belly burning that she wanted to do this, and no one wanted to take her on.
So honesty, integrity, people who share the characteristics that I wanna have as a good leader. The wisdom to communicate well, to have integrity, to be able to support that change that I keep referencing, to be forgiving because every leader has other people under them who are leaders. So you have to be forgiving of everybody and it’s how you say it. It’s not like, “You burned that. Look what happened.” It’s like, “Wow, we burned another one. Oh, well, let’s do it again.” No one did it on purpose and nor would they ever. So it just happened.
So I look for that sense of optimism in a person where they wanna come in and do the job. Learning is a big one for me. And I usually break it and sneak it into every conversation and I talk about…and I’ve done it forever in the restaurant and… What do you read when you’re home at night? And in the old days, pre-internet, I’m an old guy, it was like, you know, where you’re reading “Bon Appetit,” where you’re reading “Gourmet,” and did you buy a new cookbook? And what restaurant did you go to?
If you really wanted to grab knowledge, if that was the most important thing to you, which is what Foundr is about. It’s about knowledge and sharing knowledge, which is so Uber-cool. If my cooks were doing that, then I’m like, “Well, they’re gonna want to teach.” So that’s the person I want. And if I can help them be better at it, then good. That’s my job. Same, same. I mean building a team and being a leader and being somewhat removed as every guy at the top should be and you see somebody floundering and they don’t know how to do one thing, say, “Guess what? I volunteer. I’ll do that one from now on until we teach somebody to do it.” Because that’s the job you get as the leader.
And then all of a sudden, you see somebody and say, “Wow, that was the right person to bring on board because they’re saying like, “Teach me how so I’ll do it now.” So it really is emotional intelligence, having somebody who’s been the best someplace else. I think we ran our businesses like that 30 years ago. People would look to poach and see who they could get a great chef or sous chef from. For you, it would be who could I get the best writer from or the best media arts guy or the best guy who can sit there, cut video and audio.
You know, I want someone who has a good head on their shoulders, who emotionally wants to be on board. And who all of a sudden walks in and says, “Wow, I love everybody here.” You know, when I see somebody walk out and they filled out an application, I have no part of it. But I see this smile on their face, and then I see a couple my team members, and they’re smiling. Because, generally, that person will have spent an entire day just wandering around. I’m like, “Oh, so you kind of got along, didn’t you?” So I think I’ll be seeing more of them. And he’s like, “Yeah, most likely.”
So, you know, we’re lucky enough that we’re not in a world where we have to have someone check off the boxes on a sheet of paper that we can bring up our own, which is…I think we’re lucky and we thank God that we can be able to do that every day, that we can bring people on just because who they are.
Nathan: Can you elaborate a little more on emotional intelligence. Because this is something that I think is very, very important. Like, myself, I never…I’m not that technically smart, Gary. Like, you know, I’m not that strong at working certain things out. I’m a good problem solver for certain things. But, you know, I struggled in school like… But I think I have a reasonable amount of emotional intelligence which really helps me grow as a person and do really cool things. Can you tell me, like, what your thoughts are around emotional intelligence. Elaborate more on it for our audience and why it is so critically key. Because that’s something that I look forward to.
Gary: I’m gonna say same, same with you, Nathan. They barely kicked me out of high school. They let me into college. Three times they let me in. They never let me out. But that wasn’t…it didn’t matter so much. I read a book a week and I listened to one or two books a week. And I’m very happy when I get to listen to a mystery novel or read one because most of them are about learning and getting smarter.
So if the emotional part of it….it’s looking for whole people. And even if you see that there’s something broken in them, can you help them? Can you fix it? And why are you doing it? We talked last time and, certainly, we’ve talked when we were together for the longest time when I was in Jersey City. I started and maintained for about 10 years an at-risk program for people where we had a culinary school that eventually wound up being a full 12-year curriculum.
So we sought people from every age group and every level of having challenges, shall we say, but they all had this good bit in them and we always looked for that to see, were they good? Did they care about other people? Were they willing to help? Did they understand love? Did they understand like? Did they smile at things? Did they enjoy happiness? Did it make a difference when we all of a sudden taught them and they saw a piece of food completed?
Did they look at that and all of a sudden you could see that their heart beat just a little bit quicker to saying, “I made that and it looks pretty damn good”? So we’re proponents of that all the time. And if we suffer anything…earlier, you asked me, “Could you do too much?” Well, I stand by that. You can’t do too much. But all of a sudden when you can’t pull somebody in, that’s the one thing that hurts as a leader. After you’ve tried everything you can for as long as you can, that you’ve got everybody else that’s part of the family says, “They can’t stay anymore,” that’s when you sit there and you bang your head against the wall. And that’s when you’re challenging your own emotional intelligence.
You’re sitting there going, “Did I do something wrong? Did I miss something along the way? Did I miss it in the beginning when I brought them aboard?” Oftentimes, not sometimes, people are pretty good at hiding it. And then there’s other people that I think are just some people that are just not, by nature, good. And they’re good at hiding their bad characteristics. But I think you are. From the lengthy conversations that you and I have had in East Hampton and on the telephone, you do. You have that…or you wouldn’t be able to talk to everybody.
You have a huge command of emotional intelligence. You’re a pleasure to speak with. It’s soft, it’s warm. You pull out information from people and you share information back. You’re the first one to say, “Can I help with this?” Or, “Can I help you do that?” Or, “I found this person that knows that.” That’s what your whole business is about. It’s sharing that. I don’t think you would have done Foundr if that wasn’t one of your highest quality traits. I think that’s probably why you’re there. It’s because you’re helping people at a very high level.
Nathan: Yeah. Well, thank you, Gary. Let’s switch gears. Talk…I was taking some notes while you were talking as well. Talk to me about the hard things that you’ve had to do as a leader. Because there are some hard things, man. It’s not all easy, right? Just, you know.
Gary: No, I mean it’s not. It has its heartbreaking. We just mentioned one of them. We had someone who was with us for five years and I did the sit-downs. We did the intervention, so to speak. No, it wasn’t a drug issue or anything like that. And I’ve had two or three of them over the last 10 years, 15 years. There’s three that I can think of, and they’re people that we lost. And I just spoke to one on the phone the other day because I keep in touch with him because I genuinely like the guy a real lot, and we’re friends to this day.
And he submitted because I just dropped the football. Again and again, he goes, “You should have thrown me out three years earlier. But you kept trying to make it work better.” So, yeah, those are the hard ones. And the hard ones are when you bring somebody in and they’re not getting it. You’re not gonna get rid of them. They’re a great team member. They’re part of the family. But they’re continually doing the same thing wrong and you’re wondering to yourself. You know, in the hotel business, you and I’ve talked about this too, we’re responsible for people’s lives. We’re not quite like the Airbnb’s of the world. We have a regimen and we deal with people’s safety.
And 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we’re in charge of making sure something is right, and I’ve always had a policy. You know, when the manager at night is gonna handoff and he’s gonna leave to the overnight manager, walk that whole property. Check everything. Look at every room. Make sure everything feels right. Because most likely that’s gonna stop us from ever having a problem. You knock on wood 20 years, we haven’t had one yet. But I had somebody who continually dropped the football, sports reference, and I couldn’t get it through. I just couldn’t get it through, and he stayed for quite a while.
But we would have our once a month, “Well, why are you still doing some of the things that you’re doing?” And that hurts because as a leader, you think that you’re not getting through. And I try to grow from it. I try to find out what I might have done differently. And then sometimes, I sit there and say, “You know what? I changed my perspective. That’s not fixable. That’s just what it is.” So if I can understand that there are some things I just can’t do, a little stoicism, it’ll be a lot easier for me to move forward. Because everybody doesn’t get 100.
So over the years, I just turned 60 last month, so as of being an old man, I’ve learned that everybody is not gonna achieve perfection. I’ve never gotten close to it. It’s overrated. But we’d like to do really, really well. As one of your…my favorite interviews to listen to you is “Everything You Do at Tony Robbins.” He’s the guy who probably made me successful, singularly of a one person I could name. But he always gave me the analogy that, “Well, if a guy bats 400, he’s at the top of the world in baseball.” But that needs 60% of the time he’s failing.
So, no, you can’t be perfect at it all. There are gonna be things you’re just not gonna get. And sometimes as a smart leader, he looks at those lists of things and he says, “You know what? We can’t win here. We’re not gonna go there. We’re not gonna do that. We’re gonna go where we can win.” Because the after people are the most important thing. The next important thing is time because that’s very limited.
Nathan: So you know how you said, like, the person said to you that you should have let them go earlier, like, how… Because as a leader, there are some tough things and you know we avoid them. Do you have any advice for people that, you know, aren’t doing the hard things? Having those hard conversations?
Gary: Yeah, that you shouldn’t be afraid of them. Because as a leader, you’re gonna grow. And when you solve those, because some of them are solvable because that particular one I solved, and we solved it talking long after he had left, and he realized that he had family problems at home that he wasn’t dealing with, and his mind just wasn’t at work, and he couldn’t admit that. So I added a tool to my repertoire that I said, “You know what? I’m gonna become part shrink. So let’s go out and have a pop of wine.” Because if I can’t fix it, you know what? We may have two bottles of wine. And I’m gonna get you to talk to me.
And it’s not just because I’ve invested time and effort into having you be here, part of the family, but because there’s no one who’s ever worked for me or with me that I didn’t genuinely care about. And if there was time, let’s see if we can get this fixed. Let’s see if we can find out what it is because you may not know. So, yeah, it’s essential as a leader to have your own list of things that you’re not getting to.
And the easiest people that can tell you that is all those other people in the family. I often used to give out, and I still do occasionally, a sheet and say, “Can you rate how well I’m doing?” And I used to give it to everybody and, “How well the place is doing for you. Do you like being here? Is your boss okay? How’s the compensation? Do you like lunch? The family meal, is it alright? Did we make you work too hard or do we not make you work hard enough? Do we teach you enough?”
So, yeah, you wanna learn. You wanna become a better leader. Because the better you are at that, and that’s not dictating how everything gets done. That’s not leadership. That’s management. Leadership is very different. And the better you are at leadership, the more you can grow the business, the more you can step away and watch the business as you should. So seeing the forest through the trees is a good thing.
Nathan: Talk to me about ensuring. One thing that I’m quite proud of at Foundr, and I don’t say this to brag, but I can confidently say that everyone that has been able to work with us at Foundr, anyone in our team or our family, have done their best work. And I’m sure that that is very, very similar to everything that you guys have going on with, you know, your family, your team at the Mill House Inn. How do you make sure or ensure that if…they will come and work at the Mill House Inn, how do you ensure they do their best work?
Gary: I think you do that by example. And I think I’ve been doing that by example since the first day I picked up a knife and that’s when you become a leader that people start following you and say, “How did you make that? How did you cook that? Why does that look different or taste different?” You instill in people the want to have part of the thing that you have, part of its reputation. We’ve had people come aboard because of the reputation. Many of them say, “I just rather work for you. When you have an opening, call me.”
And we’ve had people leave that regretted leaving saying, “I’m not gonna get to work someplace that’s this good.” And I’ve heard that in a few of the books that I’ve listened to lately and it seems to be a Hollywood thing with major A-list actors when they leave a show and they say, “I know I just left the best job I’ll ever have in my life.” And it wasn’t the show, it was the people that they got to work with every single day that made it a joy to walk in and do what you’re doing. So I mean it’s a bad corporate word culture.
Now, family values. I mean semantics doesn’t matter. We can oops and say, “Team,” and we could even say, “Human resources,” because we know we don’t mean it. We know that there are all human beings and we love them all dearly and we want them to move forward as we move forward. I mean we wanna have a gazillion dollars so we can all pay them something less than a gazillion dollars and have a couple pennies left over. Because it’s certainly not about money, it’s about doing a thing that makes a difference.
So, yeah, it kind of gets obvious where people want to work. In the restaurant business, whether we look at really in chateau, you know, we see who’s there. We look at Zagat’s and see how they rated the restaurants. And, “My lord, if you’ve got a 28, you’ve got people knocking down your door.” So we set a reputation. You know, my father always said to me when I was a little kid, “Be careful how you carry yourself every day because people are gonna judge you by that more so than you actually know.” And, boy, he was right. He was certainly right. It’s the communications you have. It’s the way you do the simplest jobs. It’s the way you speak to people that you don’t even know and know if they’ll have anything to do with your business. But it makes a difference in the long run. It certainly does.
Nathan: We have to work towards wrapping up. A couple more questions around. You know, you’re certainly a generous caring person with your team, your family in the Mill House Inn and you’ll do anything. But at the same time, I can see that you’ve got clear boundaries, and I think you would be reasonably firm. How do you navigate between those two different spectrums? Like, you don’t let like… Like, you wouldn’t let like, you know, the zoo got wild. Like, you know, you run in a very, very tight shot, man.
Gary: Yeah, we really, really do. You are on your way into the circle. It’s kind of simplistic, you know. I think Steve Jobs always had one saying, “If you can’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother coming in on Sunday either.” I’m glad you got that on the first off because so many people just don’t get that one.
So I…and it’s just not about the second day work week. We all do that. It’s about the…I mean we mentioned just so much earlier. It’s about the caring and concerning. And when you got that one individual and they’re standing over there and housekeeper sees that somebody in the kitchen is going crazy and can’t keep up and walks over and starts squeezing oranges and grapefruits and making grapefruit juice, is it their job? No. Could they just go find something to do in the laundry room? Yes. But they’re just helping because they can.
So they find themselves edged up a level. They’re a little higher pegging in the family structure. We also know at the last day and you know it as an owner, you know. Makes me think of Chris Brogan when I say the word owner. You need a certain amount of people to fulfill the work. And sometimes everybody is not gonna be the absolute best. They’re not gonna be rewarded the absolute best either. And they kind of know that. They kind of know that they’re not coming in with 110%, and that’s just who they are. And it’s okay if that’s… If I need people, and that’s what you wanna do, and you’re doing a good enough job, that’s fine.
You know, in my business, we still have people who wash dishes and wash pots and do laundry. We still try to treat them the same as we treat our general manager and our assistant general manager and our chef. But sometimes that person doesn’t wanna be treated that way. They don’t even understand the concept. But that’s okay if that job needs to get done. That doesn’t make an owner happy if they’re dealing with empathy. That kind of makes them disappointed because that person isn’t understanding that we wanna do the best for them. But you can’t. It’s the same thing as we said before. You can’t do everything. You can’t please everybody. You can’t bad 100%. It’s impossible.
So that’s just what that employee is capable of. That’s what that situation deserves. But we hold no level on how far up we’ll go. My next business will be employee-owned. I don’t think everybody is gonna own part of it. But I know that the next hospitality business I do, I want my entire family to own a piece of it. I don’t mean one point. Because I think that that’s the future of small businesses, that’s what will make them really cool. That’ll make them the envy of everybody. Why are you there every day? Because I own that. That’s my food. Those are all my partners. I think that’s cool. I think for hospitality, that’s really cool.
Nathan: Yeah, I love that. And one last question. No, two last questions and then I will have to wrap there. But I could talk with you all day, man. I’m really enjoying this conversation. Unfortunately, I have to move to the next one. So two last questions. One, how do you approach giving feedback? And two… So that’s question number one. How do you approach giving feedback? Question number two is where is the best place people can find out more about yourself, your work, Mill House Inn and, yeah, then we’ll have to wrap.
Gary: Well, feedback is really easy. I assume you mean the team members.
Gary: Well, Nathan, welcome to the team. You’ve been with us a year. Go get yourself a cup of coffee or grab a bottle of wine, whatever you choose, and write your own review. When you’re ready, today, tomorrow, the next day, let’s sit down and talk about it. That’s gonna be the hardest piece of paper most people ever write and they’re not gonna be ready for that situation. But it works every single time. Because I’m gonna look at them and say, “You know what? You’re not gonna be judged by saying you did things wrong. Everybody probably knows that. But I wanna know what you wanna fix, what you wanna work harder on.” We don’t have to pussyfoot around things that we all know.
Theoretically, if we’ve done a good job as a leader and then the people underneath those who are leading and managing, we’ve kind of told you all the little things every day. We didn’t let it get to a meeting or some kind of review, which I think is useless because by then you’ve broken the person. We’ve said it every day. You know, kind of like you do need to show up somewhere on the time when everybody expects you to be here, and we’ll kind of politely say that every day until you eventually start showing up on time.
Or you need to finish all the stuff that you’re supposed to do by the time you leave because we’re in that kind of business. Because someone else is gonna show up and keep doing that job. And they can’t afford to have everything not done.
So self-policing that people…especially when it gets up to that creative level and all the assistant manager and chef level and when your personal assistant is out at the front desk, what did you miss on? “Well, you know I knew three things. I should have got to that customer and I didn’t have time.” And that’s when I look at them in the review and I say, “Well, it’s probably my fault because we don’t have a good system yet. Well, we’ll write every single thing down about each guest so that we can then maybe have somebody else get in touch with him if you’ve got home and they’re checking out tomorrow morning.
But when you’re saying that didn’t happen, and you think it was you, often times it wasn’t. It was a breakdown in the system and we make ourselves better from doing that. There’s not a single thing than I’ve often said this, “If you’re with me, you’ve done nothing wrong and you’re gonna do nothing wrong. If something is in error, I’m responsible and we’ll fix it together.” Or we’ll decide we’re not gonna fix it. Maybe we’re not gonna do it anymore. But I don’t wanna have people around me who I think are doing things wrong. That’s kind of like a kindergarten thing or a first-grade thing where you get a report card. Not for me. Not for my business or anything I’m associated with. We do that on a daily basis and we make each other better.
And as far as us, well, you can go to Foundr. You can find me now in two articles. Of course, at millhouseinn.com or graybarncottage.com. And… Oh, yeah, we’re gonna try to help everybody travel better. So anybody who reads it, anybody who listens, give me a shout. My email address is right on the website at millhouseinn.com on the about page, and tell me what you don’t like and do like about travel.
And if you wanna talk on the phone, drop me a line in an email. We’ll arrange a time to talk about it. Because it’s our job, it’s our dedication being in the hospitality industry to help you travel better. Not just when you stay with us, but all the time, each and every trip you take.
You know, we try to make that a little bit easier, a little bit better. Impart some wisdom about places to go and restaurants to eat in and what’s the best way to get from there to here and what you could avoid that would make your trip better because it probably isn’t worth the time. And what are the best things we’ve seen in the best places we’ve ever been? We talked to people who travel all over the world and we love to share it. Nathan, thank you. It’s an absolute honest pleasure. I look forward to having dinner with you in New York soon and I look forward to coming to visit you in your home and seeing Australia.
Nathan: Yes, thank you so much, Gary. An absolute pleasure, mate. And, yeah, really appreciate your time and the conversation is always in the friendship. And, yeah, thank you so much, mate. I have to get going now but I will wrap there. Awesome. All right.
Gary: All right, man.
Key Resources From Our Interview With Gary Muller
- Learn more about the Mill House Inn
- Follow Gary Muller on Linkedin
- Follow the Mill House Inn on Twitter