Marcus Fortunato | Crain's Las Vegas

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Marcus Fortunato

Background:  

Boteco is a laid-back world-fusion restaurant in Las Vegas known for its shareable plates, chef's tasting menus and weekend brunch. Proprietor Marcus Fortunato has had a long and successful international career in business consulting and gaming industry software development but decided to open Boteco in his retirement to get back to his first passion: the kitchen.

The Mistake:

My biggest regret was taking off the kitchen whites and putting on a business suit.

I started in a Michelin-starred kitchen in the early 1970s, working under some chefs who are known today as great chefs. I started as a dishwasher because back then that was your entry into the kitchen. I worked my way through the kitchen, becoming a sous chef.

But about halfway through the '70s, I traded in my kitchen whites for a suit and became a business consultant. I lived in New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Brazil, and worked as a business consultant in mergers and acquisitions throughout the world. I had a really great career for about 20 years as a business consultant worldwide.

In the early '90s, I got into gaming and software development, and that's where my wealth really began. I built software and gaming companies that I own and applied a lot of what I learned from my business consulting ventures together with the discipline I learned in the kitchen in my early years.

My biggest regret was taking off the whites and putting on a suit. That that was a life-changing decision, but now I have finally been able to return to the kitchen.

In business, you can make a mistake and hide behind a memo; in a kitchen, you make a mistake and the customer will tell you.

The Lesson:

The restaurant has never left me. I actually manage my companies as I was taught inside the kitchen. In business, you can make a mistake and hide behind a memo; in a kitchen, you make a mistake and the customer will tell you. The end result is final. You can fix a million-dollar mistake in a meeting; you can't fix a $13 dish once it goes out.

Around 2010, I started selling my companies and found myself in early retirement, and instead of opening new businesses like I had for the past 20 years, I took off to Paris. I roamed street markets and visited kitchens. Through my contacts, I went to cook pro bono at the Ritz in Paris. I just got back into the kitchen for fun.

When I got back home to Vegas, I opened a culinary school and for five years taught over 4,000 people the art of French cooking. It was a fun, almost nonprofit experience that actually relieved stress.

The culinary school became Boteco. The restaurant is in the same location as the culinary school and was a way to offer what I was doing in the culinary school to all my customers.

I still have five companies in the software and gaming business here in the U.S., South America and Asia. I don't have an office in any of my companies. I roam from room to room and run my companies almost as chefs run a kitchen line, just like my humble beginnings in the kitchen.

So Boteco is actually a second coming for me ... continuing the journey that I never left in my mind but had to leave physically for financial reasons.

My wife and I always say that the reward we get from a customer enjoying our food outweighs any multimillion-dollar contract I can sign. Trust me, I like money and money allows me to play, but that kitchen in me never left. It's been a long journey, but I'm back and I wish I had never left.

Follow Boteco on Twitter at @Boteco_LV.

Photo provided by Marcus Fortunato

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