By Reed MacNaughton
A reader told me they wanted to open a new restaurant in the Village. I said, “Don’t.” “Haven’t you heard?” I asked, knowing full well they had, “Sixty percent of new restaurants fail in the first three years. Not to mention the margins—it’s no business to be in if you want to make a living!” Also, there’s still a pandemic raging. We’re in our second lockdown.
The National Restaurant Association did a survey: fifty-four percent of restaurant owners in New York do not believe their businesses will survive another six months without major government assistance. Sixty percent are considering “hibernating” until the pandemic is over, compared to 36 percent of respondents nationwide. This is no time to open a restaurant.
“I have to,” the reader insisted. “I love the art of great food, I love the feeling of great hospitality, and I love this neighborhood. I have to do something.” Their sentiment was not lost on me. I walked up Hudson Street the other day, dipped down side streets here and there, and counted no less than 30 vacant storefronts. The image is bleak.
To our friend’s credit: they were persistent, and knew that this was no endeavor to take on alone. Being a “front of house” person, they recruited a chef. And as they needed expert help to pursue these vacant spaces, their real estate agent was on board. An architect will be bringing this vision to light, while the general contractor will bring it to life.
I’m scared for them. To open their doors is struggle enough. The next construction project to come in under budget will be the first. Will it be another abandoned job site? A schedule that dragged on for so long that all hope was lost? I hope not.
What happens when they open? Can they survive in this competitive environment? New York City by itself is home for the finest offerings available to the discerning consumer, but now they have to compete against “ghost kitchens” that deliver their food without nearly the same overhead costs. Also, the delivery apps shave 30 percent of the revenues off the top of an already thin margin. It’s just impossible.
When CAN they open? If construction and competition aren’t challenging enough, they have to survive the whims of politicians and changing policies. How can you pay your rent when you have 24 hours to comply with the city’s newest ordinance? Or when you’re compelled to pull thousands of dollars from your coffers, having been required only weeks before to do the same for a different, yet equally contrived mandate? How can you fight an all-powerful foe?
No. I have faith. I know this can be done. I see it get done every day. This restaurant will open, because our friend is doing it the right way. They know how to find the space that is right for them. They’re using design to their advantage—to build a welcoming space for the community, but not burning cash that is so hard to come by. They will open with operating capital—and with a runway to pay their staff and rent while they earn your business.
And earn your business they will. They will compete. Because hospitality trumps convenience. Because New York needs neighborhood restaurants. Because the Village needs to be a neighborhood. Because the pandemic will end and the Prohibition of a restaurateur’s right to earn a living will be repealed.
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.