For at least ten years, that's all I've heard from friends and family. You should open a restaurant! It would be awesome! We would eat there every day! Yeah, right.
Well, for the past two years or so, opening either a BBQ joint or buying a bar was in the back of my mind, but with running my other business occupying my time I knew it wasn't going to happen. Then, six months ago I sold my business and that opened up a lot of options. So, the crazy peer pressure kicked into high gear again
Everybody else was saying it's a suicide mission, the restaurant will fail just like all the others, I'll end up going broke, etc. And that's all probably true. But despite those odds, something kept telling me to do it, so I began seeking out properties. To hedge my bets a bit, I knew that one thing I had to do was buy a building, under market value, and avoid leasing at all costs. This way, even if the business didn't work out I'd have two exit strategies where I could either sell the restaurant and get most, or maybe all of my equity back, or try leasing it out to another newbie restaurateur sucker and let them pay the mortgage until they fail and have to move out.
So, I figured since so many people here have always dreamed of opening up their own place, by sharing my experience, good and/or bad, will provide inspiration, or offer words of caution and help those who are interested in doing the same. I know that I've spent so many hours here reading through the experiences of others, and most helpful has been the member here, Pyle's BBQ who runs Saddles BBQ Bistro. He took the time to talk with me a great deal and helped make the decision to move forward that much easier.
Anyway, today marked another milestone that finally puts this idea into motion. I finally closed on the building and got the keys. Now, the real fun starts as it's time to start tearing things out, remodel, and make it my own.
The place was a breakfast/lunch diner so the guts of the kitchen are in place and it past its last health department inspection in August, so thankfully it doesn't need a ton of work in that regard. Unfortunately, it isn't up to my standards even though it may fly by the HD, so I do have a lot of changes in store. The exterior also needs some work as the blue vinyl siding looks pretty cheap, but fixing up the outside is low on the priority list compared to everything else.
So, here she is in all her somewhat plain and ugly glory. The Udder Place is the old name though, not what I'm going with.
With a little work, the building the smoker will most likely be going in:
And the front of the house needs a little work. Carpet is going and I'm putting in wood floors, or probably more likely, commercial laminate. Having a custom ordering counter built, and extending the wall that separates the dining room from the kitchen to the ceiling since I don't know why they only did a 1/2 wall. And obviously, it will need to be decorated to give it a good BBQ feel.
Now, let me just say a few things for those thinking of going out and buying their own place, since I've been living this nightmare for the past three months.
When people say it takes twice and long and costs twice as much as you expected, it's usually true. If the bank says it will be two weeks to get your approval though, plan on a month. If you've budgeted $10k on part of the project, realistically be prepared to pay closer to $20k. You wouldn't believe how slow things can progress and how extra costs add up.
Meet the health inspector at the building you're considering and walk through it with them before you even consider making an offer. They hold the keys to your success, and getting their opinion about how a building is set up, existing restaurant or not, will dictate whether or not it's a good idea. The last thing you want to do is move forward on a place and then after it's yours, get the HD out there and find out it's a can of worms that will cost you thousands to bring up to code.
Finally, money. Come to the table with some money and don't go into unnecessary debt. You've heard the stories where people go and cash out all their retirement accounts and mortgage their only home only to start a business that has one of the highest failure rates. That's not worth the risk.
Also, even though you may need some traditional financing to buy a building or something, be prepared for rejection. Banks simply don't want to lend to restaurants, or more specifically, brand new restaurants to people who may not have any experience. Some may be willing to lend, but with unfavorable terms. And many more will try to get you to go the SBA route, which I'd advise against. The same thing with insurance companies. Hard to believe, I know, but insurance companies don't want to insure high-risk restaurants. Don't be surprised if you call ten insurers and waste all sorts of time giving them all the information about the property and business only to never have your calls returned, or for them to flat out say they won't cover you. Persistence is key.
Ultimately, even if you have found the perfect place and get the ball rolling, plan on at least two, possibly three months before you even get the keys. And then even if it doesn't need much work to get it ready for operation, you'll be waiting on the health department, mechanical inspectors, permits, and so on before you get the clearance to open your doors, which can easily take another couple months. So, plan accordingly and expect it will take about six months from finding the ideal place to being open for business. Sure, you may very well get done with everything sooner, but err on the side of caution because there's nothing worse than having high hopes to be open by a certain date and then encounter delay after delay, and having to constantly tell people the grand opening is going to be later and later.
Anyway, that's enough for tonight as I've been long-winded enough. Time to sit back and relax with some whiskey after a tumultuous and stressful three months to get to this point. But I'll be sure to update this along the way with progress pics and share my experience or answer any questions anybody may have about everything as I'm more than willing to help.