Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint where the entrepreneurial spark catches fire. For Alex Canter, it was at a spot in his family-run restaurant nicknamed “The War Zone.”
By Adam Guild
"If you are not thinking about the next generation of your restaurant, there will not be one."
The space earned that moniker because staff used it to handle delivery orders from a multitude of online platforms. For them, it had become a logistical nightmare. For Canter, it was a problem to be solved. In the process, he built a company now worth nearly $100 million, simply by solving a problem he noticed as a restaurant owner and sharing that solution with others.
The 27-year-old grew up in Canter's Restaurant, which has been a Los Angeles institution since 1931 and even immortalized in a scene from "Mad Men." His great grandfather started the eatery and his father has worked there for years. Canter was given the nickname “Mini Patron” and began waiting tables at an early age.
At just 17, he was named director of business development and the role suited him, as he was interested in looking for new ways to do things. One summer, he completely rewrote the menu. He also added a POS system and created a mobile-friendly website.
Canter felt as if the family business was his playground and there seemed to never be a doubt that he would make working at the deli a career. But, first, college became a testing ground for his entrepreneurial nature.
It was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he studied economics and entrepreneurship that Canter learned some of his greatest lessons.
He formed Red Lights, LLC, so he could throw the Red Lights Music Festival. He attracted others to help produce the event, got all of the necessary permits, and set out to raise $500,000. That proved to be an insurmountable challenge. The experience taught him an important lesson: start smaller next time and build something that could be a stepping stone to something larger.