In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.



architect and owner, SFJones Architects


Background:  

SFJones Architects is the firm founded by American architect, Stephen Francis Jones. Jones previously worked as an in-house architect for Wolfgang Puck Food Company and helped develop the fine dining ambiance at Spago Beverly Hills. He has worked on projects including renovating the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland, site of the Academy Awards’ Governors Ball, and designing Lucky Strike Lanes in Hollywood. He recently completed a work-play amenities facility called Foundry & Lux in South San Francisco. 

The Mistake:

My big springboard was being Wolfgang Puck’s in-house architect. As I started getting into it and understanding the restaurant business, I was intrigued by it.

I got Spago. It was like the most anticipated restaurant in LA coming out in ’96. For a person starting their own business, having Spago as their first business, it was quite a fortunate thing for me. It catapulted me. I did another project in Hawaii and a couple of other restaurants.

Working for a restaurant company was a cool job, but I didn’t think that’s where my future was going. I wanted to do more buildings.

My big mistake in 1999, was that I started thinking I needed to branch out. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into restaurants. I basically started focusing on trying to get more residential work. I wasn’t downplaying the restaurant work. I had this niche, but I didn’t realize how valuable that was.

When I started going after residential work, I showed clients the restaurant I did. They would be like, “You did a great project. Why would you want to do my little house?”

Part of it is that restaurants are more interior type projects as opposed to buildings. I wanted to be able to design buildings and I wanted to do high-end residential stuff. I was hell-bent on doing architecture and doing housing.

The timing was in late 1990s, we were going into a recession. I almost went out of business because I had been focusing so much on redirecting myself and not taking full advantage of what I had started with.

You build upon building blocks. You progress. Restaurants turn into bowling alleys…

The Lesson:

I decided that I have to stick to my niche, to where I made myself successful. I really started to go and look for projects that I would be able to sell my clients on the type of work I do.

The experience I had working with Wolfgang Puck as an in-house architect, that translated to the type of projects that I would have – it was an advantage.

I learned from that mistake.

The restaurants and projects I do are more complex than most architectural projects because of heavy mechanical, plumbing and complexities that go in restaurants. It’s like building a sports car, a Ferrari that has a big engine that has to look stylish and beautiful.

In 2000, I landed the remodel of the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City. It was a huge project that basically righted the ship again and gave me a lot of work.

It expanded my work beyond restaurants and I did a spa over there. It was more of the social spaces that I’ve been honing in on. I learned to build upon that. I’ve since been able to take it to another level, to incorporate architectural design with the branding. We did Lucky Strike bowling lane, so it was an offshoot of a restaurant into a bowling alley in the early 2000’s.

The lesson learned is you build upon building blocks. You progress. Restaurants turn into bowling alleys, into amenities facilities and that turns into branding. Those opportunities allow you to grow instead of thinking you need to find housing.

Now my focus is all related to social spaces. It’s a good thing I didn’t end up building houses. 

Photo credit: Weldon Brewster

Follow SFJones Architects on Twitter @SFJ_Architects. 

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