Long time resident of Pleasanton, California, a Bay Area suburb 25 miles east of Oakland, Jim McDonnell brings cutting edge culinary flare and a new standard of dining that locals rave about on Yelp. His small plates paradise, Sabio on Main, is a nod to his international travel and love for food. We asked Jim to tell us how his restaurant has become such a staple with residents and travelers to the area, and how his experience running a restaurant in the town he grew up in differs from his previous work experience in corporate America.
Why did you decide to start your business? Tell us your backstory!
I travel a lot and eat out at great restaurants all over the world. I felt that my home town didn’t have a restaurant that I would really go out of my way for, and I was sure there were lots of people like me in the community that would appreciate something special. Sitting at a bar and having a few Small Plates is my go-to restaurant type, so I decided to open a tapas restaurant, with a great wine list and high end bar, focused on local ingredients.
Why do you love doing business in Pleasanton?
Some of the local communities have grown quickly and the downtowns have become really commercialized. Downtown Pleasanton has a great, small town character, a walkable Main Street and lots of community events. The area is growing, and there is more and more demand for distinctive retail businesses and restaurants. The community has been super welcoming, and the city has been a pleasure to work with.
What’s the most helpful piece of customer feedback you’ve received?
I found that constant customer feedback is critical – restaurants or any small business simply can’t stand still, they need to evolve with the community. We had a really clear idea of what we wanted to be when we opened, and we’ve stuck with the basic principles we established. We did hear feedback from customers though, that our wine list, for example, was too exclusive – they wanted more approachable choices particularly by the glass. We had already won a Wine Spectator award for our list, so we felt we had a pretty solid selection, but customers were looking for some Spanish varietals which happened to perfectly complement our menu.
What’s your advice for other business owners or someone who wants to start a small business?
Do market research. I spent six months exploring the market, testing the concept on friends, exploring other restaurants in the area, talking with the City, etc. As I learned more about the market and what was currently available, I evolved my original wine bar concept into a full small plates restaurant. By the time we opened, I felt I knew the market really well.
The Bay Area’s business community is rich with wonderful stories like Sabio on Main’s. Discover great businesses in your area by downloading the Yelp mobile app. If you run your own great local business, use the free tools available at biz.yelp.com to help tell your story and join the conversation.