Wednesday, March 11, 2009

So, We May Be Opening a Restaurant...

As those who have been reading this blog know, I'm unemployed. And have been for a while now. The prospects look very bleak. Every interview I go on, the hiring authority tells me how flooded with quality applicants they are, and I keep hearing the figures on how many jobs are lost each month. It's hard not to think I'm fighting a losing battle by looking for a job.

My friend Jason, who's in the process of opening a restaurant in Pilsen, told me that a recent ad seeking a sous chef generated one response per minute for a full day. He said he had lots of executive chefs who said they'd be willing to work as line cooks, just to get in the door. Whoa.

Besides fantasizing about making my living as a writer, and then laughing at this pipe dream when I check my Google AdSense balance, I've been kicking around the idea of opening a place for a while now. All the trade publications I read talk about how down economies offer the silver lining of a buyer's market, lots of available spaces with favorable terms, and almost-daily restaurant auctions. So I've been surfing Craigslist and other business listing sites and taking a look at what's out there. There's a lot.

About six weeks ago, I happened upon a listing that piqued my interest, primarily because the location was really good. I called the number, set up an appointment, and went and took a look.

It's a restaurant that was only open for about 9 months, and the space has been home to three different concepts in the last four years. It's a small storefront--about 1500 square feet, and it's in a busy, fairly affluent area with lots of foot traffic. It's very near a theater as well as a couple other venues that draw people into the area. I've since been back twice with various partners and consultants in tow and we are currently in negotiations to purchase the space, the lease, and the contents of the restaurant.

The concept that we're envisioning was inspired by the location. We approached it by trying to figure out what the area needs, and what would be well-received and profitable there, rather than starting with "what kind of restaurant have I always dreamed of running?"

I'm not going to get into too much detail at this point, because I'm worried that I'll somehow jinx the whole thing, but the plan is that we will change the layout of the existing table service restaurant and re-launch it as a more easily-approachable and affordable quick-serve place. The area has quite a few well-known full-service restaurants, but little in the way of decent quick options. More than once, I've found myself in this neighborhood, not wanting to take the time for a sit-down meal, casting about for a place to grab a quick burger or a hot dog, and come up empty.

I haven't been blogging much lately because I'm neck-deep in due diligence. I've run kitchens and restaurants for years, but never owned one, never started a company or purchased an existing one, and so I'm dealing with lawyers, wading through "so you want to start a business" pamphlets I got at the local SBA office, and making checklists of all the various permits, licenses, and filings we'll need to do, should this thing take shape the way I believe it's going to.

It's exciting, but nerve-wracking. I have, of course, written a menu, sketched out a kitchen layout and floor plan, and started re-connecting with purveyors I've worked with in the past. That's the easy and enjoyable stuff for me. But I'm doing my best to restrain myself from getting to deeply involved in the fun stuff, since the whole thing might fall through and all the work (and emotional investment) I put into it could be rendered fruitless overnight.

So, for the time being, I'm focusing on aspects that I need to put into my business plan to pitch this idea to potential investors and banks. Projected cash flow statements, income statements, and working budgets. Pay-back and pay-out schedules, whether to form an LLP, LLC, or corporation, and other really fun stuff like that. I'm out of my element, so I'm trying to use all the resources available to me via family, friends, and past work associations, and learn all I can from the internet. I've been spending a few hours on the phone every day, as I still also juggle naps, meals, and stories for the kids, diaper changes for Nora, and playdates for Henry.

Watch this space for future developments. If the purchase actually goes through, I'll feel more comfortable blogging about the details, and we're hoping that's going to get done within the next couple of weeks or so.


Nick said...

Go for it! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Good luck. We'll definitely check it out when it opens.

Anonymous said...

Good luck!

But let me add this... It seems obvious, but I'll mention it anyway, whatever you decide on, make it the best possible. I can't tell you how many new restaurants serve absolute crap.

Go to and look over the five star restaurants to see what folks are looking for.

Anonymous said...

Good luck, Eddie. With all my heart.

Mariana, Mexican lady, highly cultivated and... unemployed!

Angela said...

And it is an AWESOME restaurant. You've done a great job. My favorite place to get burgers.

JJ said...

Open a branch in the SF Bay Area. I know it's competitive here but there's always room for a sustainable, humane and delicious restaurant.

Cora Bullock said...

Well, I'll wish you good luck, just like everyone here. Although there are many things you have to do before actually opening one, once you get the hang of it, it'll be a breeze for you.