Mike Cordero is the man behind eight of Northern Virginia’s popular restaurants, including the newly opened G.O.A.T. Sports Bar and Gaming Lounge in Arlington and Rockwood in Gainesville, plus Don Tito, A-Town and Barley Mac. After a knee injury ended his up-and-coming career in Major League Baseball, he shifted his focus to his other passion: food.
What is the one piece of advice you wish you had heard when you were starting your career?
I owned my first restaurant at the age of 20. At the age of 25, I grew to 25 locations. The one piece of advice I would’ve loved to have back then is the steps to grow from one restaurant into multiunit locations, as I made many mistakes along the way.
What has been your greatest achievement so far? Your greatest regret?
I feel my biggest achievement was to be recognized as a premier chef in the DMV with many write-ups and awards. My greatest regret is not jumping on business opportunities that could have turned out to be very successful ventures.
When did you feel you had “made it”?
I had some great accomplishments along the way … cooking for several politicians as well as the Washington Capitals, the Washington Nationals and D.C. United. But I always say when you no longer have to introduce yourself by name, then I would definitely feel like I made it.
How do you define success?
I always say “chase the vision and not the money.” The money will end up following you. I believe I have accomplished both to be successful.
What job or position have you previously had that helped you get to where you are today?
Two jobs helped me get where I am. At the early age of 13, I was working at a local pizza place in the South Bronx. Then I worked as a line cook in the heart of New York City. I have gained lots of experience from older chefs to prepare me to begin my venture of owning my restaurants.
What do you do after a disappointment?
Because I started out very young, I’ve had my share of mistakes and disappointments. I probably have a Ph.D in making mistakes. But I work hard and I think very wisely moving forward to minimize any disappointments. And if one comes along, I take it as a lesson learned in life and not a disappointment.
Give us an idea of your work/life balance philosophy.
The restaurant business is an ever-changing business. You have to learn how to balance your life, so you can also have a quality-of-life. I try to play several rounds of golf every week, which I call the green office. Taking short trips not only relaxes me, but gives me some time to think of some ideas, so I can come back and do what I love to do.
What is the one thing you do for yourself every day, or at least once a week?
Working out is an important part of my daily routine. You have to keep the body well-oiled, especially when working long hours in the restaurant business. I see some chefs are dying at a young age and I feel that’s because they’re not paying attention to when our bodies are giving us signals.
What’s one thing you still want to do with your life?
Open a restaurant in another country. I have friends from overseas telling me if you open an Italian restaurant in China, all you need is just one restaurant. Another friend is telling me to open up in Dubai. I love the challenge and it would be very exciting.
Any advice for those who are going into your field?
I say gain as much experience as you can from independent restaurants as well as corporate-structure restaurants. It’s only going to prepare you for this ever-changing industry. I see a lot of young entrepreneurs focusing on their strong points; they need to work on their weak points to become an all-around business owner.