A Small Business Success, and Some Reasons it Ended

Robin Salzer
Robin Salzer is a small business owner, a former City Council candidate, a former city commissioner, and founder of the Pasadena Hot Meal Program.

(Editor’s Note: Robin Salzer, who has contributed to this page in the past, closed his popular restaurant, Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ last weekend after 37 years in Pasadena. In an interview with the Pasadena Independent’s Terry Miller, Salzer had some things to say about his small business frustrations with government. Excerpts from the interview appear below.) 

“The most difficult aspect of a career in the food business has been dealing with government legislation written by [elected officials] who have absolutely no clue on how to run a small business. Often they write laws based not on what is needed or correct but on what makes them look good for the next level up. I’ve said many times that if these politicians had first worked in the customer service industry they most likely would be better as a politician. A good example of this is in how Mayor Tornek lost all credibility and respect from the Pasadena restaurant community in his misleading and mishandling of the Pasadena Minimum Wage Ordinance while running for election. His lack of communication skills, arrogance and temperament clearly show that he was not ready and equipped to handle an issue as impactful as the Pasadena Minimum Wage Ordinance.” 

“We give a ridiculous amount of food and beverage away to almost every charity or non-profit that calls on us, so much that our industry is now on the verge of being a non-profit ourselves because we supported the wrong leaders and didn’t or couldn’t organize ourselves into the formidable city stakeholders that we truly are.”

“The Pasadena Hot Meal Program evolved from my City Council run in District 1 in 2007. That campaign was one of the most difficult and awe inspiring endeavors I ever took on. It was amazing to find out that at almost three out of four doors that I knocked on the resident either knew me, knew my restaurant, had a relative who worked with us or we did a fundraiser for their charity. When I was invited into their kitchens for a beverage and conversation I noticed many homes had almost empty refrigerators. These were my customers and they had no food at home. I promised myself that win or lose I was going to do something to help. I lost a very close election but with my friends Walt Jackson and Pastor Tom Bereal we started the Pasadena Hot Meal Program. Since 2010 we have served more than 140,000 free hot meals to those in need in Pasadena.” 

“It really is hard to fathom on how fast 41 years has just zipped by. Most restaurateurs and small business owners work very hard and honestly never realize the extent of it or time involved until they actually pause or retire. When you have an unbridled passion for anything that you do it almost seems effortless even in the most challenging times. All of my friends in the restaurant business here in Pasadena have that same passion to survive and succeed. It’s the passion and the mindset of service before self that fuels success in any small business.

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