The restaurant business is not for the faint of heart. Once you've taken your first job, whether it be in the front or back of the house, you quickly discover whether or not the business is for you. There are many different restaurants out there, each with it's own style of management and personality type but certain things are constants. The hours are long, the pay is not great in the back of the house, the atmosphere is somewhat like high school due to the long hours of enforced intimacy, there is constant drama and you must have nerves of steel. Except for the pay scale, these principles pretty much apply to all positions in all restaurants from the dishwasher to the General Manager. Very few endeavors require more work and stress than a restaurant opening. Unfortunately, once the doors are open, the stress levels out but it doesn't really decrease. Ever. The idea of a restaurant that runs itself is laughable and totally unrealistic. But those of us in the business must love a challenge. There's no other explanation for why we do the things that we do.
Our current challenge is to decide on our next course of action. We're torn between two options, putting together the money to buy a 40-60 seat restaurant somewhere outside the city with or without rooms, or put together the money to lease a small place in the city (most likely in Queens or Brooklyn) a la Gabrielle Hamilton, open on a shoestring and see what we can do basically on our own resources. They are both tempting options and we are still debating the pros and cons of these different directions. Although frankly, we're starting to lean toward the lease option and retaining the majority of control with minimal debt. Either project will require investors and loans but the scale of the project will determine how quickly we can make our money back and pay everyone off. You make less money with fewer seats but it also requires less money to get the doors open.
The properties that we've looked at recently have shown us the great range of what's available withing a given price point. We've looked at places in the Berkshires and upstate NY in a price range of $600,000-$895,000. Everything requires a certain amount of work to bring it up to our standards. It's amazing how few places take the trouble to clean their kitchens (and other areas) before showing them to prospective buyers. They could hire an outside contractor to clean the place for a couple hundred dollars and it would probably increase the perceived value of the property by thousands of dollars. The places we saw would require anything from $20,000 to $100,000 to get them up to our standards and get the doors open. This is on top of the asking price, which does not include any miscellaneous fees for lawyers, certificate transfers, inspections, etc. You would also have to factor in the time it takes to make the upgrades and process the sale. All in all, buying a property means the soonest we could have our doors open would be three to six months after we found the right property and that is a very generous estimate.
On the other hand, if we found a leased property in the city we have the advantage of being able to negotiate a build-out. Generally there is a grace period for renovations before the tenant starts paying rent. If you can find a landlord willing to do the build-out and add the cost to the lease then you get a bit of a cushion in which to get the doors open. Even if we need to pay for the renovations ourselves, since we would be dealing with a much smaller space and we have friends in the area who can help us out with some of the finishing work, theoretically it would still be less expensive than refurbishing a much larger space in the country. It's all just a theory at this point.
So, now we're going to use the next couple of weeks before the cruise to start pounding the pavement in the city and see what's available. This way we'll have a firm foundation of information on which to make a decision. I don't think we'll come to any firm conclusions before the cruise. Actually that time away from the situation may be what we need to help clarify how we want to proceed. We know that the type of food we do will be well-received in New York. It's just that neither of us had any great desire to relocate here permanently. I won't go into the laundry list of reasons of why that is here, suffice it to say that although we love New York, it's not where we intended to make our next home. Circumstances have a way of surprising us and sometimes you just have to go with it.
Sometimes we ponder whether or not we want to open up a new restaurant at all. I'm sure it's just a lingering hangover from our experiences in Colorado. But there are days when we wonder if we're insane to keep doing this. I mean we're definitely insane, all professional cooks are a little bit nutty, but insane enough to keep banging our heads against a wall? Then our love of cooking and food resurfaces and we carry on. After all what we would do without a kitchen from which to entertain people?
On the bright side, we've almost finished revamping and unpacking the kitchen here in Queens. We've got dishes and ingredients and equipment. Now all we need are people to cook for. We'll be available to cater dinners in the New York area beginning February 21. Anyone interested can email us for rates and information through this site. It won't be inexpensive but it will be worth the experience. We may even have a couple of dinner parties of our own here at the house. We are also going to put together couple of dinners with Shola in Philly for when we get back from the cruise. That will be fun. We can't wait to get into his kitchen and see where the magic happens.
Tomorrow we start combing Craigslist in earnest and looking at rentals. If anyone knows of anything they think we might find interesting, please drop us a line. We'll be in the kitchen tomorrow and Thursday working with cheese so we'll get some new dishes up in the next day or two. Thanks for your patience in waiting for those. I can't tell you how good it feels to finally have a kitchen again!