Business Law category

Verde Restaurant: A Pittsburgh Hit

January 28, 2013 | Posted by Ken Eisner | No Comments

Approximately 2 years ago, I was introduced to a gentleman from Chicago, Jeff Catalina. He advised me that he wanted to start a verde-tequila-wallnew business. It was apparent within the first three minutes of our initial lunch meeting that Jeff, who had been in the finance world, was engaging and extremely intelligent.

I did, however, immediately question his apparent intelligence when he advised me that he was planning to open up a restaurant with absolutely no prior experience. We all know of the horror stories of opening restaurants. As lunch continued, he shared with me his belief that there was a great opportunity to start a high-end Mexican restaurant and that he had already found a perfect location in East Liberty. While I, like probably virtually everyone he spoke with, attempted to discourage him from entering into such a difficult industry, he was determined.


Credit: Jeff Swensen for The New York Times

Approximately 1 year ago, he opened his restaurant, Verde, which is exactly as he described it – an upscale Mexican restaurant that has become a hot spot because of its cool atmosphere and great food. The restaurant is now considered one of the favorites throughout Pittsburgh and was also even recently featured in the New York Times.

Now that he has hit a homerun with Verde, he is planning to open up his second restaurant, Tender Kitchen in the former Arsenal Bank Building on Butler Street in Lawrenceville. Given Jeff’s intelligence and apparent great instincts, Pittsburgh can look forward to another hugely successful restaurant.



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Watching A Business Grow: BW Wholesale Florists

January 21, 2013 | Posted by Ken Eisner | No Comments

Approximately 15 years ago, a family friend, Jules Kruman, who at the time was in his 70s suggested that I reach out to a friend of his, Mike Ulrich, because he thought it would be a good personal and business relationship. Candidly, while I have always admired Jules, who is soft spoken, extremely intelligent, and very successful, I doubted that this connection would ultimately result in a lifetime friendship and business relationship.

That could not have been further from the truth. I had lunch with Mike shortly thereafter, who is similarly to Jules, extremely understated, showing up with an unshaven face and baggy jeans. We immediately hit it off. Mike is genuine, kind, and extremely intelligent.

Mike had recently moved to Pittsburgh from Jamestown, Pennsylvania to expand his family’s wholesale flower business, BW Wholesale Florists. He had purchased a warehouse on Penn Avenue, approximately six blocks from where Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh now sits.

BW-Wholesale-PittsburghOver time, so many trucks were pulling into the Penn Avenue warehouse that the business growth exceeded zoning limitations,  forcing Mike to move the business. He therefore purchased another building in the Strip District. Since that time, he purchased several other commercial properties in the Strip District as well as purchased Keystone Ribbon Company, a floral accessory company and purchased that building as well on Penn Avenue in the Strip District.

BW Wholesale went from being a bit player in the wholesale floral market to being the #2 wholesale flower business in the area. Despite the success of the business and the numerous commercial properties that Mike now owns, Mike remains as modest as ever.

As a lawyer, there are few greater feelings that than watching clients successfully grow their businesses. In this case, BW Wholesale has grown beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations. Mike is a pleasure to have as a business associate, but more importantly, as a true friend.

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“Your greatest asset is your house,” is a saying you have probably heard before.  But for business owners that may not be the case.

Sorry we are closed

Recently, a new client contacted me and informed me that he was retiring, moving to Florida, and inquired as to how to wind down his medical practice.  I asked him whether he was planning to simply close up his practice.  He asked confusedly what that had to do with it.

I explained to him that his greatest asset may not be his house, but may be his medical practice and had he considered a business succession plan.  A business succession plan is essentially the identification and development of potential successors to a business and then a plan to transfer that business to the successor for fair market value.

While it is preferable to enact a business succession plan many years before you want to exit the Newspaper ad business for salebusiness, we were nonetheless able to locate a purchaser for this medical practice and turn an asset that he was planning to “wind down” into a several hundred thousand dollar profit.


A lesson to be learned here is that if you own your business, it is a valuable asset and that proper succession planning is necessary to maximize its value.

Studio Raw Rises from the Glitter and Ashes

July 12, 2012 | Posted by Ken Eisner | 1 Comment

Approximately two years ago, LaRaine Burda, her son Dan Burda, and his life partner Rohn Neugebauer came to see me to establish a new business.  They were starting a hair salon called Studio Raw and needed some guidance on forming the business.  They shared that this hair salon would be unlike any other in Pittsburgh.  Before I knew it, the usual thirty-minute initial consultation turned into ninety minutes.  The time flew by learning about their passion and vision for the salon.

Their vision soon became a reality.  They opened on Babcock Boulevard in Ross Township.  When it opened, the studio was beautiful, with open areas, a large white grand piano, huge video screen and an open bar and kitchen.  Yes, that’s right, an open bar.  More importantly, the banter among the stylists and the customers was playful, whimsical and sometimes scandalous.  So fun!



Over time, Studio Raw was no longer just a hair salon; it turned into a community.  Studio Raw hosts and sponsors many charity events, raising much needed funds for such worthy causes as Cystic Fibrosis, Make-A-Wish, American Cancer Society, and Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Walk. In the past 3 years, Studio Raw has raised over $50,000! A business with a heart.

Because of the welcoming and fun atmosphere and the commitment to hire only the highest quality stylists, the business grew.  They expanded the salon space to over 3000sq ft and added 14 plus staff members.

The video screen which initially was showing somewhat outdated Michael Jackson videos soon had its own separate room (near the popcorn maker), where hysterical videos are produced by Dan Burda and the Raw Hogs, typically emceed by Dan and Erin, a phenomenal hairstylist (so good that even my wife and daughters trust her) are on the screen.  These videos are taken at such events as Gay Pride Week, auditions for American Idol, and Furries’ Week.  You get the point.

LaRaine, by the way, is a fascinating individual.  She is insightful, honest, and brilliant.  She generously and willfully shares her 40 plus years of experience with the staff.

There was every reason to believe that Studio Raw would continue to flourish when it held the fabulous Glitter Party, hosted by owner Rohn Neugebauer of the 2012 Pittsburgh’s 50 Finest, to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis on May 12. The event raised over $14,000!  Six days later, on May 18, Studio Raw went up in smoke.  Literally.

There was an electrical fire destroying the building.  As the flames were appearing, Studio Raw employees had the composure to remove its computer system, a few chairs and styling tools.  This was all happening on the same day as North Hills High School’s prom – a big day for the salon.  Rather than grieve while their salon was burning, they immediately set chairs up under trees and continued to take care of their clients.

LaRaine, who was about to go on a weekend vacation with friends, was called.  It was at this point that LaRaine became one of my heroes.  In order to get past the barriers, LaRaine literally ran to the site of the fire.  Owners LaRaine, Dan, and Rohn assembled their team and proclaimed to them that this would not defeat them; it would make them stronger.  With no plan in mind, they brazenly promised the staff that they would reopen somewhere, somehow by the following Tuesday.  They lied.  Rohn, being a real estate agent with Howard Hanna Hampton Office,  immediately located a former hair salon site, also on Babcock Boulevard, and opened for business the following MONDAY.  While the quarters are tight, the staff of Studio Raw and the Studio Raw community has become even tighter.

The goal is to reopen at the former site by the end of January.  There is no doubt that with the track record of Studio Raw, this new salon will be bigger, better, and more beautiful than ever.  Here is a recent video announcement about the new space.

At one time, Studio Raw was a secret gem.  It is no longer a secret.


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