From her dad, she learned to keep a level head when the going got tough.
From her grandfather, she learned that the recipe for restaurant success calls for a mix of hard work, good grub and a willingness to take risks.
And from the boss she had for her part-time high school gig at the Tommy Hilfiger store in Tuscola, MICHELLE MURPHY learned first-hand what customer service looks like when done wrong.
“I was working one day and a group of Mexican guys came in that didn’t speak English,” Murphy says. “The store manager couldn’t understand them but I could — my Spanish was pretty good then. She came over and said, ‘I can’t understand them. Learn how to speak English or go back to your own country.’
“I looked at her and said, ‘Are you serious right now?’ She said, ‘Yes, I shouldn’t have to deal with people like that ...’
“I set my keys on the counter, grabbed my things and I walked out the front door — and never came back. I wasn’t going to deal with people like that. It was disgusting.”
These days, it’s Murphy who’s the boss — later this year, she’ll celebrate five years as owner of FieldHouse 219, a downtown Monticello sports bar.
The 2007 Tuscola High and 2011 Eastern Illinois grad took time out to answer a few questions from Editor Jeff D’Alessio in the 25th installment of our weekly speed read spotlighting local leaders of organizations big and small.
When it comes to the workplace, my one unbreakable rule is ... respect this place, and each other.
The biggest business risk I ever took was ... this. FieldHouse. 100 percent.
My grandfather, Tony Liga, opened Liga’s in Tuscola when he barely spoke the language — my family on that side is from Sicily — and knew no one in the town. It was an institution in Tuscola, and was a part of my family’s life for decades.
I always wanted to be like him, and approach business like him. He didn’t play games, he just worked hard. He was the hardest-working person in any room he was in. I always wanted to be that way. He and his wife, Fina, were my restaurant role models, along with their beautiful daughter Mary, my Ma.
By the time I actually had the opportunity to start FieldHouse, my Nonno Tony had passed away, and my Ma and Nonna Fina had moved to Chicago. So, that was hard. I didn’t have the support system there that I thought I would have when I daydreamed about opening a business with them by my side.
But, people like me are addicted to calculated risk. It’s in my blood. I knew someday I’d do exactly what I’m doing.
The hardest thing about being a leader is ... the friends you lose. It can be very lonely.
I’m frugal ... pretty much in all ways. I wouldn’t have made it through this pandemic if I hadn’t been so, so tight since the day I opened.
When I started FieldHouse, I had no money. I couldn’t pay anyone to do anything. So, I learned how to do a ton of stuff. I did repairs on equipment I’d never seen before — tiling, plumbing, painting and so much cleaning. If I couldn’t do it, I worked hard to find a friend that would do it in exchange for some Busch Light and pizza.
I didn’t have a choice whether or not I should hire help. I couldn’t. I guess I do have that choice now, four-and-a-half years in, but now I know how to do everything, so I figure I might as well keep doing most things on my own.
As my kitchen manager, Johnny, and I always say: ‘This is a business of pennies.’ So I watch every penny we have. I have to.
My philosophy on meetings is ... 30 minutes, 40 if they’re not hungry. We do full meetings quarterly or so, but I send a briefing every morning so everyone’s in the loop all the time.
Meetings are 30 minutes of talk, and 30 minutes of labor — cleaning, rotating beer, moving furniture, etcetera.
My single favorite moment of all-time in this job was ... hmmm. This is so hard. Maybe Game 6 of the Cubs World Series in 2016? Or the Monticello football playoffs/state championship a couple years ago? We livestream the games.
The place was packed, but it’s the sounds that I remember most. The place gets silent during the national anthems; I always loved that. We always turn up the volume for the Star Spangled Banner, and pretty well everyone knows what to do from there.
I can still hear the sounds — the cheering, and the whistling, and the laughing, beer bottles clanking in celebration and the clapping of high-fives. I can’t be convinced that there’s a better place to watch a ball game than at FieldHouse — it’s has all the things that make watching sports great.
I can’t live without my ... MacBook. God help me if I lost it and my iPhone — we’d be in big trouble.
My business role model is ... my dad (Lloyd Murphy). Level head all the time, and he gives me unemotional advice.
When we talk business, he talks to me like a business person, and not as his kid, and I always appreciated that he was able to make that distinction.
It makes us both sharper to be constantly challenged by each other.
The last luxury in which I indulged was ... buying a Traulsen 18 pan sandwich prep cooler last year for the kitchen at FieldHouse. I know that sounds lame, but I had to buy a super cheap one when I started, and we limped it along for a long time, but I knew if I ever got a little money ahead, I wanted to invest in that for our kitchen.
Those things are stupidly expensive. I must have spent hours researching, drawing pro/con and spec spreadsheets by hand.
As far as my exercise routine goes ... before this shelter-in-place, I was going to the gym twice a week in the mornings and then just doing my usual heavy labor work.
Now, I’m working on the farm with my boyfriend, Chris, so I’m doing more physical work than I have in my life, much more than I could get at any gym.
On a 1-10 scale, the impact of the pandemic on my business has been a ... 10. You don’t have to look far to see how (tough) this stay-at-home order has been on the restaurant industry.
It will never, ever be the same. Never. And, honestly, neither will I.