Raymond Haldeman is a former Philadelphia Society Caterer, Restaurateur and Nightclub owner with clubs in South Beach, Palm Beach and San Juan, who parlayed his success and expertise into a thriving new career as a Restaurant Designer. He has carved out a niche for himself by providing independent owner/operators with functional designs and eye-popping “wow-factor.”

How did you get started in this business?

I started as a busboy at 16 and worked my way up to chef at age 19, then got the crazy idea that it would be fun to work on a yacht. I landed a job as chef on ITW’s corporate entertaining yacht, The Arara III, which enabled me to work with caterers from all over the country. When my tour was up I started catering parties out of my apartment and a year later was featured on the cover of Money Magazine for grossing $1M, I was 24. I then opened 2 restaurants, and eventually wound up in the nightclub business. My last nightclub was a total failure and I started thinking how I could parlay a lifetime of experience into a new career without the costly overhead of the brick, mortar and payroll. I created a website and started a campaign on google ads and 2 weeks later I got my first restaurant design job.

How do you make money?

Typically, designers make there money by charging a design fee and marking up all purchases and that requires staff and keeping track of a lot of paper work. I pulled myself out of that equation and decided to have the client pay for all finishes, furniture and fixtures direct. This saves the client money and makes me more competitive price-wise.

How long did it take for you to become profitable?

My priority as I mentioned was to eliminate overhead, so with the exception of gas, tolls and google ads, I have no overhead. I was profitable from the day I landed my first design job.

When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?

Honestly, with any venture I ever had, I always started with a vision, and then I would just start taking action. From my past experience, I knew that when you are taking action, you are learning as you go, and that creates momentum. When you have momentum, the path will unfold before you and you will navigate your way. So I learned early on that “trying is thinking about wanting to do something and then there’s doing, which is being engaged in the process of creating what you want.” So the answer is no, I never doubted, although I’ve been surprised that the magnitude of what I created was far greater than what I had envisioned.

How did you get your first customer?

My design website was up for 2 weeks and I got my first call. “Bill Gardner here, I just bought a resort on Butternut Lake that has been closed for a few years. I need a designer and I want to get you up here asap, can you come on Tuesday?” Me “um, yes, sure, where did you say it was?” Gardner, “I’m about 3 hours north of Milwaukee in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.” Me, playing along, “oh, um, ok, well, um, OH, do I fly into Milwaukee and then rent a car and drive up?” Gardner, “that won’t be necessary, I’ll send my private jet to pick you up.” And on a Tuesday morning in May of 2104 at 9:30AM, I was the single passenger on a 15 passenger jet that took off from the Philadelphia Executive Airport and landed him in Butternut, WI. I’ve been designing non-stop ever since.

What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?

When I created my website and started my google ad campaign, I decided, instead of 30 keywords, I would concentrate on 1, 1 keyword/phrase that I could “own” organically and on google ads. My google ads campaign cost me about $2600 a month. Now, with tweaking and continuing the domination of the single keyword phrase, I am always on page 1 organically and my google ads cost me $400 a month. In case you’re wondering, it took about 2-3 years for that evolution to happen. So my advice would be to distill what you are offering to one word or phrase that is most associated with your business. Tissues = Kleenex, Restaurant Designer = Raymond Haldeman

What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?

I get all kinds of calls and my natural inclination is to help people. However because I’m so busy, I have to turn down business, and my heart goes out to operators who need my help but do not fit within the parameters that I have had to follow in order to conform to my no overhead business model. I try to spend 10-15 minutes on the phone with them so they leave with a credible perspective that may be helpful to them in the development of their project, and it makes me feel better.

What do you think it is that makes you successful?

I am fortunate that I have learned to appreciate and understand the great value in doing those things you hate to do, but must do. These days, I actually enjoy doing the things I hate to do because I know how powerful that is and I understand the value I will get from it. It’s the old Aristotle observation, “sum of the parts is greater than the whole.” If you’re shooting on all cylinders the return is exponential. I believe that 80% effort nets 80% return, and 92% effort nets 92% return, BUT 100% EFFORT NETS 10,000% return. Understanding that, I eagerly go for the 100% and I reap the benefits.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

I would have to say that the opening night of any of my nightclubs has always been the most satisfying. The nightclub going public always judged the success of a nightclub by how crowded it was, and over the years I developed a Grand Opening Strategy to insure that on opening night there would 500-1000 people left at the front door clamoring to get in, but couldn’t, because it was too crowded. Seeing that ocean of people having fun, the chaos the excitement, was very satisfying and I loved it.

What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?

I am sticking to my “no-overhead” business model, but am adding another dimension to my brand in the form of a TV show. I just finished my reel and am about to embark on the arduous task of making my pitch to production companies.

What business books have inspired you?

I’ve been reading Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” for over 20 years. Its a tedious read and I’ve read it 3 times but I always go back to it, a chapter at a time, as it is important for me to keep my consciousness in that way of thinking. I’ve also been an avid Tony Robbins fan my entire life. Also, I always have something instructional or enlightening in my headphones when I’m at the gym. I just finished an easy read and very good one, “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Patience, patience, patience. If you’re doing it right, it will happen, just keep going. On that point, I’d like to say something about “keep going.” I have experienced and witnessed that “determination” is more powerful than good-looks, talent, money or brains. That’s why there are people out there winning Grammy’s that can’t sing there way out of a paper bag. Determination is the most powerful and effective tool we have, but being patient, knowing that it WILL happen, helps.

Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?

Yes, absolutely, I actually see myself as a mentor and my intention is always to share what I have learned with others who are interested in what I have to say. Emailing me through my website is best.


Connect With Raymond Haldeman: