Local bar as classroom: Owner of
Knotty Shamrock shares startup story © April 12, 2013, Norwich University Office of Communications

Entrepreneur Club members meet with the owner of the Knotty Shamrock at his Northfield tavern. From left to right: Adam Kocienski, James Roswell, Scott Rizzo, owner Kevin Pecor and Abraham Mauricio.

photo by Jordan Silverman, staffEntrepreneur Club members meet with the owner of the Knotty Shamrock at his Northfield tavern. From left to right: Adam Kocienski, James Roswell, Scott Rizzo, owner Kevin Pecor and Abraham Mauricio.

When a group of Norwich University students decided to put together a club for budding entrepreneurs, they started at the local pub.

That establishment was the Knotty Shamrock, a restaurant and Irish bar close to Norwich’s Northfield, Vt., campus. Inspiration came from Kevin Pecor, a former Norwich student who had opened the place less than two years earlier. Pecor visited campus to talk to the newly formed Entrepreneurs Club about communications, business plans and the general ins and outs of getting a startup off the ground.

By reaching out to Pecor, the club may have hit on one of his principle gems of advice: Networking is critical and it happens everywhere.

“It’s almost like fishing,” said Pecor, who left Norwich after his sophomore year to begin a 12-year career in the Marine Corps. “You’re constantly reaching out with your pole, seeing if you get a bite ... Networking happens naturally. It almost happens accidentally.”

It kind of gave people hope that they can secure capital if their ideas are good enough.

Scott Rizzo ’13

Pecor, a Northfield native, worked at a variety of businesses after leaving the Marines, and formed the idea of establishing an Irish pub with John Lyon, his best friend and a Class of ’99 Norwich graduate. This was a longtime dream, and a perfect location seemed to exist right in Pecor’s home town.

“We knew that the town needed something,” Pecor told the group that gathered on a snowy March afternoon. “We knew that it would be great for the students to have some place to go that they could walk to.”

Thus began several months of late nights and long hours. Pecor and Lyons began learning about the industry and business lending. “Hard work pays off,” said Pecor. “You hear that. You probably heard it as a child.”

The work it takes to create a business is no joke, he said. One misconception, however, is that you need a brilliant idea and lots of money at the front end.

“Small business hinges on a good idea and a great business plan,” he said. “What’s the concept? Who is it going to serve?”

He and Lyons wrote a draft of their plan and sent it to a broad group of family members, competing business owners, military contacts and friends they met at Norwich as far back as rook year. When feedback came, it was “painful but useful.” The partners ripped their plan apart and rethought things, now envisioning a restaurant with superior food that also happened to be an Irish bar. In October 2010, they sent the plan to the bank and held their breath.

“Two weeks later, we got a call from the bank saying, ‘this is one of the best business plans we’ve ever seen from a startup,’” said Pecor.

James Aird, a senior and president of the fledgling club, said he was impressed by the immediate success of the Knotty, with a reported $750,000 in sales the first year.

“What stuck in my head was the importance of his business plan,” said Aird, a Brookline, Mass., student majoring in Studies in War & Peace. “The business plan is applicable to any industry. Not just a bar.”

Scott Rizzo, a senior and the club’s vice president, is himself working on a business plan for a 3D printing idea and appreciated the boost he felt at the meeting. Pecor did a great job of inspiring the group, he said.

“It was motivating for people,” said Rizzo, a New Jersey political science student minoring in business administration. “It kind of gave people hope that they can secure capital if their ideas are good enough.”

Rizzo had always been interested in the process of business startup, and got involved with the Entrepreneur Club through friends. He had heard about Pecor and the new restaurant in town, and struck up a conversation when he stopped by the Knotty one evening for takeout. He was looking, Rizzo said, for someone who could teach the group something they couldn’t learn from one another. Pecor’s visit was arranged.

“We’re interested in any type of alumni who thinks they have something to share with the club,” said Rizzo. “Even if it failed, I’d like to hear about that, too.”

Aird said they’re still a very small group, and the biggest goals are recruitment, retention and setting things up for younger students to take over. The club started in the spring 2012, and was recognized by Norwich the following semester.

Pecor, who continues to work for Vermont as a systems analyst, eventually took over Lyons’ share in the restaurant. He has big plans, and is considering expansion into the next-door space, a second restaurant and brewing and serving his own craft beer.

He left the students with a couple of pointers: Find a niche and build that into your brand; network all the time and don’t be afraid of competition.

“If there was another restaurant that opened in town, I would embrace it.”