Annie Morton moved to NYC in 2012 in a snap decision without a specific plan. Read here how she started her craft beer and burger bar, Benson’s on the Lower East Side.
How long have you been in the USA and what brought you here?
I moved to NYC in 2012, a snap decision based on a frustratingly stagnant role in Australia. I wanted to be my own boss rather than keep working at the mercy of someone else’s priorities. Hospitality was a passion of mine that I had always worked in part time, so I took the opportunity of a full time management role with The Australian NYC to learn the ropes from a broader business perspective.
Tell us about Benson’s and what made you want to start a New York Bar?
Benson’s is a craft beer & burger bar in the Lower East Side. It’s a small space that makes you feel welcome and a part of our “family” of regular guests. I had planned to move back to Australia before opening a venue, but then an opportunity presented itself and I figured I should take advantage of it. I think I was also drawn to the challenge.
How long did you have the idea for this business and why did you decide to start Benson’s?
The timing was a bit backwards – the venue came first, then the concept, and finally the financing. All told, I started vaguely considering it as an option for New York in September, and by April we’d opened Benson’s. That’s a lightning fast turnaround! There were so many reasons we could have backed away from it, but the emotional support I had from friends and family was unbelievable. I also figured it was worth taking the risk, I’d have hated to not do it and always wonder what if?
Were you always in hospitality or was this something completely new for you?
I’ve worked in hospitality since I was 14, but it’s only been my main career the last four years. In Sydney, I worked in sports marketing & media, an industry I love dearly. What I’ve learned is how similar each of these roles have been – I’m always still handling a bucket load of logistics, and dealing with hoards of people!
What has been your ‘Ah Ha’ / ‘I’ve made it in the USA moment’?
The real one is yet to come, but our first birthday at Benson’s was a good feeling.
Photo: Annie and her Business Partner David.
What have been the hardest lessons in opening a Brick and Mortar business?
Budgeting! As good & disciplined as you are, you can always be better. Also the challenges associated with finding and keeping quality staff in a highly transient city.
Are the customers transient or mostly regulars? Do you find business to be seasonal or quite steady?
We get a steady stream of regulars, and any given night will see plenty of them stopping by. As our profile grows it’s been exciting to see people view Benson’s as a top destination for their trip to NYC, and it’s always our aim to convert all of our new guests into repeat guests.
There are certainly strong seasonal patterns, with summer being the quiet period. Business picks up considerably through Sept/Oct, and then very strong through the colder months right through to April. Cold weather brings on a hankering for burgers and craft beer I guess!
Photo: Some of the clientele at Benson’s
Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?
For new guests, Yelp has been a huge advantage for us. We have some of the most engaging & positive reviews, and that has seen a huge jump in new customers. For our existing customers, Instagram has been the most effective way to let them know about a new special, or just to prompt them into making another visit.
Do you have any mentors, and how have people been with sharing information and their networks?
Matt Astill & Glenn Treacher were great as we started out, they have all the experience behind them and an amazing network of contacts that I was able to use knowing I wasn’t being taken advantage of. It’s also been great having so many young Aussie entrepreneurs in the city right now, and the camaraderie of that has been really helpful.
What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?
Think through every part of the set up and operations process. Project conservatively. Work hard (and be happy to). Check out the competition. Utilize your friends, family & colleagues as your best marketers.
Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business?
We have a couple of Aussie influences on the menu, with Cooper’s & Boags on the list as well as a lamb burger & the “Benson Burger” – a close take on the traditional burger with the lot. We celebrate the bigger holidays like Australia Day & ANZAC Day, but mostly are happy to dial back on the Aussie vibe and just present a fun and relaxed atmosphere.
What is next for Bensons?
We’re still perfecting the original, so maybe this time next year we will have an inkling of what comes next.
Do you have an offer or promo code you would like to share with AWNY members?
Any brunch entree with three drinks for $28 – available weekends, 11am-4pm
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