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Empowering Restaurants in America

Chef and Restauranteur Paul Wahlberg on Building a Successful Business

Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie C. Olsen Photography

Before his starring role on the hit A&E show “Wahlburgers” and owning the restaurant chain of the same name, Paul Wahlberg simply set off to become a chef with a love of food that would help satisfy eaters’ taste buds. “The speed, activity, sense of completion, and making food that people enjoy” is what drew him in to the restaurant industry.

The fifth of nine Wahlberg siblings, including actor Mark Wahlberg, Paul Wahlberg has opened 26 locations of Wahlburgers with Mark and their sibling Donnie Wahlberg, who also star in the TV series. The show puts their sibling dynamics on display as they strive to expand the chain. Their mother, Alma Wahlberg, makes appearances as well.

Owning a restaurant may seem glamorous, but Wahlberg emphasizes it comes with a set of challenges, including putting out more fires than you may expect. He said new restauranteurs need to “know your world, know your customer and make friends [because] your friends always come back to support the restaurant.”

Experimentation is also crucial when starting out in the restaurant business, said Wahlberg, who emphasized the importance of channeling your own passion while meeting the customers where they are. “Do what you love, find out what sells and be open to learning,” he said.  Taking a well-rounded approach to the business is also crucial, he added: “Every team member has something to contribute. Listen to the customer and the staff — you work for them.”

Being a leader and listening to your team can be a balancing act, but it’s one that’s well worth the effort, Wahlberg said. You must “allow the team to build its identity within the restaurant’s framework,” he noted. Humility plays into this as well. You have to “learn how much and how little you really know.”

When all else fails, follow Wahlberg’s advice to prioritize the wishes and desires of your clientele. Their happiness is what matters most, he said, and every choice you make in the kitchen and restaurant should serve that need. “The customer will feel it the second they come through the door,” he said.

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