The 3 Lessons Miles James of James at the Mill Has Learned Since His 20s

Miles James worked at renowned restaurants in Paris and London before opening James at the Mill almost 19 years ago at age 26.

James grew up in Fayetteville and briefly studied architecture at the University of Arkansas. He then graduated from the New England Culinary Institute. In 1992, his mentor and future father-in-law, James Lambeth, suggested that they create a restaurant at Lambeth’s hotel, Inn at the Mill. James at the Mill opened in December 1994. In July 2011, he opened 28 Springs in Siloam Springs with partners Todd and Shelley Simmons.

How about some advice for this week’s “20 in Their 20s.” What three things do you wish you had known when you started a business in your 20s? Is there anything you are glad you didn’t know when you were starting out?

1) I wish had studied business. My business education came from trial and error, the school of hard knocks, which is a great but time-consuming way to learn.

2) I wish had stressed more that James at the Mill is an everyday good restaurant. We have a reputation for being a special-occasion restaurant, for birthdays and anniversaries, but I view us as an approachable restaurant with great value.

3) In the beginning I took things way too seriously, I’ve learned to have a good time and relax, if you focus on your core principles and execute to a high level daily, most everything works out. Don’t sweat the small stuff, take care of your employees and customers and listen to their needs. That’s what you’re there for.

I am glad I did not know how hard the restaurant and hospitality business is. In the beginning it was all about what I want to cook and create. Now I listen a lot more.

The restaurant business is notoriously hard and fickle. What’s been your biggest challenge?

I still believe our biggest challenge is marketing and advertising what we really are. Inn at the Mill, James at the Mill and 28 Springs are a unique hotel and restaurants that offer great value. The quality that goes into every dish, experience or room we provide far exceeds the price we charge. If I could find our voice in marketing and advertising and know that I was reaching our target audience with verifiable statistics, I could get our message across. We’re getting much closer to this goal.

What is the biggest business mistake you ever made?

I remodeled Inn at the Mill and James at the Mill in 2006. I took every dime I had and poured it into our hotel and restaurant. I rebranded the hotel with a luxury hotel group that was very successful in Europe. Their marketing program did not translate in the United States. It almost ruined our business. Now we are branded with Ascend Hotels; occupancy has never been higher. Nice recovery, and I’ll never make that mistake again.

What is the smartest business decision you ever made?

The smartest business decision I ever made was switching from architecture to hospitality. It’s what I am meant to do. Hospitality is a very rewarding field. I love making people smile and making people happy. I love teaching our staff and providing memorable experiences. This is what fuels me and drives me to succeed.