Beating the Odds to Follow the American Dream
Clutch MOV is proud to sponsor this year’s Mid-Ohio Valley Entrepreneur of the Year. Clutch MOV envisions a community where citizens can take risks on the promise that success would uplift the residents of our valley. Our artists, creators, innovators, and small business owners strive to build something new, better meet the needs of our community, and nurture the entrepreneurial spirit of our region. These entrepreneurs are on the edge, finding new ways to build, create, and serve. This year we received dozens of nominations for innovative, forward-thinking, community-building entrepreneurs from the Mid-Ohio Valley. The panel believed five individuals stood out for the impact they are making through their work. We are sharing their stories in this series.
Sebastian Cruells’ life journey is the epitome of the American Dream, a dream that became a reality when he and his wife Whitney opened 740 Social in downtown Marietta. Cruells entered the United States without speaking English and started bussing tables and mopping floors in New York City’s Little Italy district. He worked hard to improve his situation while studying English, and learned the restaurant business and the skills necessary to succeed. Moving from busboy to food runner to server to bartender, Cruells finally became a manager at a busy restaurant. When he and wife Whitney moved to the Mid-Ohio Valley and considered the possibility of opening their own restaurant, he knew he was ready.
“I’ve spent over twenty years in the restaurant industry, in almost every ‘front of house’ position possible. Seeing the business from so many aspects, I knew I could create something exciting for the area, using all the tricks and tips I’ve picked up along the way.”
For several years, the couple would follow any leads for buildings that were for sale or lease. None of those spaces were quite right, until they looked at 181 Front Street (former home of Jimbo’s Bar). Cruells’ gift of seeing possibility where others might see obstacles was the first step toward achieving his dream. The amount of renovation needed versus their budget was daunting, but Cruells was optimistic and determined. And when asked what advice he would offer to would-be entrepreneurs, he shares from experience.
Don’t be afraid of the next step. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work – but if it does?…Amazing.
“You have to believe in what you’re doing, because you are going to have to fight for your idea. Don’t be afraid of going for it,” he said. “There is no manual, but if you’re willing to look a little silly asking questions you will usually find twenty people willing to help you answer them. I never in a million years thought a bank would give us money to open a restaurant. Our motto was ‘Let’s take it as far as we can, one step at a time.’ We thought the building owner would laugh at our offer, but they accepted, we thought the Small Business Development Center would tell us our numbers weren’t feasible – they helped us tweak them. We thought a bank would slam the door in our face, they didn’t. Don’t be afraid of the next step. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work – but if it does?…Amazing.”
The couple’s vision for the restaurant was unique and perfectly suited for the newly renovated space. Cruells explained that although the Mid-Ohio Valley has many excellent restaurants, he and Whitney often found themselves having to choose between fine dining or bar style food. They didn’t see many places that offered outstanding food, good service, and a price point that enabled diners to return regularly. Cruells was adamant about creating a menu that offered special food but not priced so that people thought it was only for special occasions.
The result of that vision is a speakeasy style space, with warm brick walls and flickering lights. The restaurant offers several ways to enjoy the dining experience, from the cozy lounge to the bar to the outdoor dining room. Cruells took every aspect into consideration – including the volume and type of music to the presentation of the food – to ensure a pleasurable meal. He feels he’s achieved success “if the guest leaves feeling wonderful, but can’t quite pinpoint why.”
The story of 740 Social’s success is not complete without including the very difficult chapter of the 2020 pandemic. The restaurant was scheduled to open April 1st and all the hiring was completed the same week the world realized the crisis was going to worsen before it got better. Across the country, restaurants were forced to shut their doors and many owners were facing the possibility of losing their businesses. Instead of panicking, Cruells took a proactive approach. He created a Facebook page to engage his new employees and keep them updated. He researched best practices for the restaurant business and implemented ideas such as moveable plexiglass shields and safer floor plans.
The guests would never know or see it, but it helped his team perform better and happier, which made it worthwhile to him.
When restaurants were permitted to open again with restrictions, Cruells faced a new challenge: the community support was so overwhelming the mandated capacity couldn’t accommodate the increased guests. The kitchen staff was struggling with space and prepping obstacles, so Cruells remodeled the storefront next door into a prep kitchen. According to Whitney, “The project entailed a top to bottom, floor and wall makeover that he managed to do in the wee morning hours or late night after work. The guests would never know or see it, but it helped his team perform better and happier, which made it worthwhile to him.”
In the short time since it opened, 740 Social has proven to be a great asset to downtown Marietta. And that is exactly what Cruells had envisioned. “Restaurants are the makers of memories. Special life events, like birthdays, anniversaries, retirements…all get celebrated in restaurants,” he said. “Our goal was to be a fun, upbeat environment for people to get together. We specifically bought large party tables so guests would always know 740 was a spot where large groups could get together to be social.”
Cruells said it was very ironic that 740 Social would come to life during the dawn of Social Distancing. “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need each other. Humans are social creatures, and we want to be the place where people feel welcome and comfortable to connect and celebrate each other. Our hope is that being a destination downtown brings more foot traffic to the area, and that more people get to see how quaint and fun downtown Marietta is.”
Not content to rest on their success, the couple continues to make improvements to enhance their guests’ experience. They added an outdoor beer garden with giant games and recently created a satellite outdoor bar outfitted from a recycled shipping container.
Cruells says that seeing his vision come to fruition is the rewarding part of being an entrepreneur. “Working for other people you can give input and advice, but you don’t have the final say of whether something happens or not. Working for yourself, you take all the risk, but the outcome is so much more rewarding when it turns out how you pictured it in your head.”
We have to work hard at making sure we get family time and don’t let the restaurant consume every moment.
And according to Whitney, Cruells manages to balance his vision with his personal life. With three young children, he often sacrificed sleep and personal time but always found a way to be present for his family. For the Cruells, their business is truly a family business.
“Whitney and I have worked together since 2008 and have long since figured out our dynamic, but opening a restaurant with three small children during a pandemic, with schools being open and closed was extremely challenging. Trying to find a work life balance is difficult for any working parent, but it can be extra challenging when both parents are trying to keep life as normal as possible for the family while trying to launch a restaurant from scratch during a pandemic. We have to work hard at making sure we get family time and don’t let the restaurant consume every moment.”
When asked what he wishes more people knew about his story, Cruells is quick to answer. “That YouTube and babies really make things easier! When we started this journey, we literally walked from city building to city building with our adorable baby girl Jojo on our hips bombarding officials with questions and collecting endless amounts of paperwork. She broke a lot of ice for us, and people couldn’t have been nicer or more willing to help,” he said. “Whether it was just the awesomeness of Marietta government officials or Jojo, we’ll never know. Also, people are really blown away if they haven’t seen the space since it was Jimbo’s. It was nearly all cosmetic renovations, and I literally YouTube-d hundreds of hours of flooring, painting styles, just about anything you can think of. You can learn how to do anything on YouTube!”
Cruells has been an active supporter of the Marietta community, donating to causes such as Save Harmar Bridge and Marietta Main Street. He is determined to be a good neighbor and helps promote his fellow business owners. He says that if he wins Entrepreneur of the Year, it would be a bit daunting but he knows the recognition would help more people learn about 740 Social. And he believes that his success would benefit Marietta in general.
“My hope is to create a high volume restaurant that will bring people to Front Street, bringing business to the shops and other restaurants as well. We think that each businesses’ individual success creates success for the area, and in a small downtown setting like ours, we have to be committed to each other’s success.”
The 2021 MOV Entrepreneur of the Year will be publicly announced during a special program during the Mid-Ohio Valley Entrepreneurial Expo on September 23rd, 2021 hosted by Marietta College, following a panel discussion with all five finalists. Register today!