By Reed MacNaughton
“How do I open a restaurant?” they asked me. Their minds were made up, arguing was useless at this point. They understood the climate—the arena they were stepping into—so I felt the best answer was to ask more questions: “Well, where would you like to start?”
“That’s just it,” they responded, “I don’t know where to start! It’s all so overwhelming. I have to find a location and then design it. I know we need to get building permits and have inspections, and with being in such an old neighborhood, I think I need approvals from the Landmarks Commission as well? Once we have passed that, I need to build it! Construction sounds complicated and I hear nothing but horror stories, but then I need to source my kitchen equipment and all the little parts and pieces like flatware and glassware and furniture. Man, there’s a lot of furniture involved in a restaurant with a bar! I have to get the branding right, the messaging, the marketing, the opening will make or break you … and then there’s the liquor license. It’s just all so much. And that’s what goes into the opening. Once we’re open, we have to survive. Now we have a real legitimate business on our hands that has real legitimate responsibilities like payroll, rent, and taxes. We need to focus on operations and customer service…”
“But,” they continued, “this is what I want to do. If you want to be in business, you have to throw your hat into the ring. And there’s no better ring than the West Village. I’m going to open a restaurant here, and I need to know how.”
As I listened I smiled, because this poor, frazzled soul reminded me of a story. I asked them, “Are you familiar with the fashion industry here in New York? Every February and September there’s a ‘Fashion Week’ where show after show is presented to the public. And these are not back alley gatherings—these are esteemed Productions!
Consider all of the parts and pieces that go into major events like these. They can’t be whipped up in short order; they have six months of planning that go into them. When one Fashion Week ends, the next one (scheduled for six months later) begins.
Opening a restaurant is a one-off event. But it’s an event that has many moving parts, many contributors, and many, many complications. And these all impact each other. You can’t consider the construction as just the construction, because it will be impacted by the kitchen design. And you can’t just have a kitchen, you must have a specific kitchen which accommodates a specific menu. And space is limited! Can you see how everything affects everything else?”
Their eyes lit up. “Of course! This makes a lot of sense. And this is a MAJOR PRODUCTION. It’s actually the most expensive investment of my life. Even rent, which is so high, doesn’t compare. It will take me four years of rent to match the cost of this project—and we will consider ourselves lucky if we’re one of the success stories that get to claim four years in business! I can see what you mean—this project is a ‘production.’ I have to be a production director.
But how? How do I stay on budget? How do I stay on schedule?” Again, I smiled, “You’ve already said it.”
Reed MacNaughton builds restaurants. He has been a contractor for 15 years and his efforts to help save the local restaurant community can be found at www.PleaseOrderTakeout.com.