Buying into a restaurant at 25 years old, putting in 100-hour workweeks, watching revenues rise — it’s all in a day’s work for Johnny Lulgjuraj, ‘typical 29-year-old.’
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Johnny Lulgjuraj laughed when his dad told him to prepare for 100-hour workweeks before opening a restaurant.
After all, he was a smart kid — valedictorian of his class at Full Sail, the youngest manager ever at his last restaurant. Sure, his dad owned Manny’s. His family knew the business. But Lulgjuraj was cocky.
Then he had his first 120-hour week at Oceanside Beach Bar & Grill, back in 2011 when he and his brother, Tony, opened the place. That’s when the joke stopped being so funny.
“Now I’m down to about 80 (hours a week),” he says, in between waitresses handing him bills and asking for paychecks, cooks sliding him plates of fish to try for the menu, computers acting up, emergency phone calls, guest greetings, inventory checks and more emergency phone calls.
“It’s controlled chaos,” he says of the restaurant business. “That’s why most people fail. They don’t understand the stress.”
Talk to Lulgjuraj today and something about him seems different than it did four years ago when this was all still a dream.
Since then, he’s turned 29 years old, hired about 50 employees, run for a seat on the Flagler Beach City Commission, fought to expand his building, gotten married, seen his revenues rise annually and made a vow to put in his overtime now so that he wouldn’t have to miss soccer games, like his parents had to, if and when he has children of his own.
“There’s no easy way to make money — it’s just hard work,” he says. “And we’re working our (butts) off while we’re in our prime.”
He’s bearded now and bulkier, too. When he listens, he does so intently, aware that another interruption is coming. He seems confident, and exhausted, and in control.
“Every day there’s a new challenge,” he says. “I’ve learned to deal with (the stress). … Nothing’s ever going to run perfect.”
Lulgjuraj’s mother, Marina (staff calls her Mommy), is also at the restaurant almost every day, playing hostess. “She gives me feedback. I turn that feedback into a reality.”
Johnny’s like the company COO. Tony’s more the moneyman, the CEO behind the scenes.
“Every year we’re busier, but it’s because we’re putting more and more money into the building,” Lulgjuraj says. “The more we’re growing, the more we need to grow.”
He and his brother invested more than $250,000 before even opening Oceanside’s doors. Then there was the patio addition, the upstairs deck and the parking expansion. “We’re still dumping every penny we have back into the restaurant.”
In his mid-20s when all this started, Lulgjuraj also had college loans to contend with. But buying in made sense, he says. It was the only way he knew to control the way his life would go.
“It was a more secure approach to our future,” he says. “I had more to offer, more to invest in my future than making someone else rich.”
When Lulgjuraj was younger, he wanted to be a soccer star. Even now, he’s always looking for pickup games. It’s the aggressiveness, he feels, that fuels him.
“When I get out there, it’s like I’m playing World Cup,” he says. “People hate me for it, but when I get this little bit of free time, I’m going for it.”
He’s also going for having Oceanside’s deck finished by January. And maybe he’ll go for a seat on the City Commission again, too. After that, who knows?
“I’m just the typical 29-year-old guy,” he says, smirking. “Love fast cars, traveling.”
He lets himself gaze out the window for a second, maybe two. “Just the typical 29-year-old guy.” It’s a fun little fantasy.