“We’re trying to get to a place where working on our business is also working on ourselves.”
Mark Canlis is the co-owner of Canlis, one of the top 20 restaurants in America as rated by Gourmet Magazine. Through his restaurant, Mark embodies hospitality and stewardship in the pursuit of fine dining excellence.
What does hospitality mean for Canlis?
Hospitality is first and foremost a relationship – not a transaction. It’s the willingness to embrace relationship. That includes and, in many cultures, implies strangers as well as friends. We often talk about it in this way: hospitality is making space for someone else. Emotional space, physical space, mental space. It’s finding a way to welcome, finding a way to include, even when the path seems impossible.
How do you build meaningful relationships with your guests?
You can’t force it. You can’t construct them. But you can invite someone in. We invite with the expectation that if they say yes, we need to show up and be fully present and generous with who we are. Sometimes you have a great connection with the guest and sometimes you barely say 10 words at a table. Sometimes serving a guest and building trust simply means being silent and listening. But let’s remember one thing: trust is the currency of all relationships. Our goal is to be a people, to be a company worth trusting. And interestingly, none of us trust what is unsafe. So really, our goal is to be a safe place for those coming to dine.
What does stewardship mean to your business?
Stewardship first and foremost begins with ourselves. It means living fully into who we were created to be. If we don’t begin with this understanding of taking care of all the gifts and resources that we ourselves have been blessed with, how could we ever hope to take care of anyone else’s time or money? And that’s what the guest is giving us: their most prized possessions: their time and their money. Every night they arrive at Canlis with that same deep longing, “tonight needs to matter.” No one just decides they want to spend $100 on dinner. People entrust us with the most special, sacred moments of their lives: wedding anniversaries, birthday celebrations, family reunions, their daughter’s only 16th birthday. If we don’t take that responsibility seriously, if we can’t be trusted with that sacred an evening, then we cannot hope to succeed in business.
What challenges have you faced following Jesus in your work?
I don’t think my work has kept me from following Jesus. If anything, it gives me focus and purpose and insight into how to follow Him–or what that even means. The reality is I don’t have 6 hours in the morning to read scripture. That’s awesome, but that’s not me. Me is three kids, breakfast, school, and then 95 employees to care for. Work isn’t a distraction from becoming who I want to become, it’s a vehicle for it. A way to live out and refine and live out again what we believe. The question you should be asking is “if you didn’t work, how would you live out what you believe?” And my answer is, I don’t know. We weren’t made for nothing, to sit still. We were made for a purpose.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to a young professional?
Pursue working for people who you believe in. Spend more time caring about the character of your boss then about the accomplishments of the company. You’ll become like the people you spend time with. So think that through carefully. Then, give your best effort to your work and when you go home, don’t take it with you.
How have you seen God work in your weaknesses or failures?
I hope this is normal, but I’m having to confront my failures multiple times a day. It’s not until you get out there into the real world and try to accomplish something on your own that you realize how insufficient you are in getting it done. Insufficient, and yet wonderfully made. I’m learning to embrace both at the same time.