"Last one out of town turn off the lights"

Joined Sep 21, 2001
That phrase was on the reader board of a restaurant a few days ago. Two restaurants went under this week in my town. A sports bar and a franchise family restaurant. OK, so I rarely ate at the family restaurant but I was at the closing party for the sports bar and it was a shame to see them go. We used to go there maybe once or sometimes twice a week. I talked to the manager on the reason for closing. First, the bars' utility bills were doubled last year when there was the "energy crunch" that raised everyones' electric and gas. The building is 40,000 sq. ft.! The second reason is the recession. Big bars make for big overhead and this year the customers are staying away. I also know that at least 3 other restaurants are just about ready to fold. I was told by an insider at one of the places that this regional chain restaurant is only averaging $300 per day since last fall. They should be closed by the end of March. Very scary. And I'm talking about a chain with name recognition. As I told someone last week that when the bad restaurants start to go, it means that the good restaurants are struggling to keep their tables full.
Joined Apr 19, 2001
Scary, Peachcreek, for us all, and especially since I'm about to embark on a gig at a new restaurant opening in April. I've seen quite a few small restaurants fold around here, too, recently, and one chain - Boston Market, although I think they were in the weeds already.

We've also seen a huge drop in the cooking classes which I assist at; people either just don't have the disposable income they did, or are afraid to spend it. The cooking classes were also held in an area directly affected by Sept. 11, as it's a 'bedroom community' for a lot of people who worked at the Trade Centers. Lots of grieving families.

I guess the only good thing is that what comes around, goes around, and all we can do is work smart and hope we're all still above ground when it does! Best of luck to you.
Joined Jul 31, 2000
This is true,

Walking through Manhatten recently and seeing so many restuarants and hotels suffering sends a very clear and profound message.

People need to heal, not to mentian also that the economy is doesn't support the ends to the means at this time.

Peacock alley closes in the Woldorf...the Oak room in the Plaza.

and don't overlook all the small family owned and operated buisnesses that have no recourse but to turn off there lights.
Joined Sep 21, 2001
It will be interesting to see how the recession plays out. This area has lost some jobs lately and my business is down maybe 25%. I jokingly tell my gf that before long I might be reduced to drinking blended Scotch and beer in cans. But on a more realistic note. Our vacation to the Caribbean has been turned into a weekend at the Oregon coast. That 25% business decrease takes mightily from our bottom line. I call myself a "weed" because of my penchant for living and working in extremely difficult restaurant markets and surviving even when people with more resources and expertise fail. Its time to dig in your heels. Play for keeps. Make the tough decisions before other people make those decisions for you.
It is sad that 50+ foodservice workers are newly unemployed this week. But for the grace of G*d and good cooking it isn't me.....


Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
One of the interesting trends that I have seen recently, is that it seems that people are starting snub the big national chains in favor of small, local restaurants. That is not to say that these small restaurants haven't been hurt by the recession, but I think that people (at least here in Chicago) are finding comfort in the small "Mom & Pop" places. Though I hate for anyone to lose their jobs, I find this to be a good trend. It was getting to the point that chains were taking over, and the concept of regional cuisine was in serious danger of becoming extinct.
Joined Nov 29, 2001
...And the dice are either on your side or they're not. Our restaurant closed because this teeny town doesn't have any foot traffic. Everyone drives everywhere and as a takeout joint, we were heavily dependent on the working public and on foot traffic. The working public in the "downtown" area (comprised of two blocks), loved us and tried desperately to keep us in business. However, in a bad economy, you can't fault someone for not eating out every night. The local economy in this part of the country is one of the worst but there is some comfort to us when we run into old customers who tell us how much they miss us. The ones who ate with us the most are the ones to apologize, and they should not. We always appreciated the kind comments.

We'll open another food business when we move, after we have done the appropriate research into location and the local economy. We're gluttons for punishment, I guess ;).
Joined Mar 2, 2002
I'm new here to this post. This is a topic that very much interests me. I own a small take-out restaurant near a big university (translation- I own a seasonal business!!) We've been open a year and a half now, and I am just now getting to the point where I don't worry just all the time about the bills. It is very slow in the summer around here, and the fact that we survived last summer was nothing short of a miracle. I just kept looking forward to September when the students would come back. I was sure I was going to have this huge increase in sales over the previous fall (when we were brand new and not many people knew about us), and my budget reflected this optimism. I bought some extra equipment, increased labor to cover the proposed increase in business, and then started to get pretty scared around the beginning of October when the growth in sales wasn't happening. I had to work four doubles a week with very few days off for the rest of the semester just to catch up financially. Lesson learned? That is the last time I ever budget based on a proposed increase. From now on, I either base my numbers on what has in fact gone on before, or I budget expecting a loss. That way, if there is an increase, its all gravy. Whew! Close call! I laugh when I remember how smart I thought I was before opening a business. Its been one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Every day I learn something new. I just hope I keep being lucky enough to learn those lessons before its too late!
Joined May 1, 2001
This has happened to a couple of people I know in non-food businesses, as well. The economy was booming, so they increased their floor space, bought new machinery and took on staff. They then found themselves with doubled costs and, at best, a marginal increase in revenue.

Predicting the future is always risky. Some times are riskier than others.
Joined Sep 21, 2001
Isn't it funny that a company like Enron can lose 4.6 BILLION dollars in one year and nobody notices and I have a sales rep breathing down my neck if I am a few days late on my grocery payment check!
Joined Dec 12, 2000
reading all the posts about places having to close up, makes me wonder how most of the restaurants here in Kamloops, and in BC manage to stay open so long, I mean with the amount of peole living here and the number of restaurants, and with the overhead costs alot of places must be having difficulty staying open. my example, here in BC the population is 4 million and for the entire province there are 7000 restaurants. Most of which are either chain or fast food.
Joined May 14, 2001
You are barkin' right up my alley here, Pete. Our little University town is like a mini-twin cities: Iowa City & Coralville. Coralville is home to the monster chains, Iowa City to the trendy locally-owned places. Folks do seem to be talking the talk about the local businesses and the local economy, but they don't always walk the walk.

Last night, my wife did a little walkthrough of downtown IC. It was 7pm on a Wednesday night, and no restaurant was over 1/3 full (unfortunately including BOTH of mine). We picked a rough time to buy a new restaurant - we took posession September 1 - but we're toughing it out. Like I always say, "keep your chin up and your head down!"

Alan Greenspan says the recession is over. I just hope he gets the word out soon.

Joined Sep 21, 2001
Went to a closing party for a so-so try to be upscale Italian place this weekend. They lasted a little over a year. It was a rough go for them. Fortunately for the owner (he isn't a chef, he is a surgical technician) he is still employed but this venture hurt him. I guess the foodservice labor pool just got a little bigger.
I ran into my food rep. at the party. He was being appropriately concilitory considering he lost a good account. When I saw him yesterday and was all over HIS case for over-charging me on a can of subbed olive I mentioned that the people who closed lacked my tenacious Pit Bull mentality about the restaurant biz!
And so it goes..in my little town....
Joined Nov 29, 2001
Has anyone considered the possibility that restaurants close left and right because there has been an influx of culinary students and people pursuing careers in the culinary arts?

Compare Culinary arts to other fields...

* Doctors...
* Lawyers...
* Financial (MBA's, etc.)...

It seems that students, in their pursuit of high paying fields, glutted "professional" schools and that's why only the top 2% of any given graduating class wind up with decent jobs. Doctors' earning capacity was cleaved in half by H.M.O.'s but the glut of med students did its part to widen the pool. Law, accounting and medicine can be specialized fields but that's a double edged sword. Specializing makes it more difficult to find a position but it does make a person more valuable.

Due to the recent respect given the culinary arts (someone decided to look at Wolfgang Puck's holdings...), can it be that there's just more to pick from in the way of eating establishments than there was in the past?

Joined Mar 3, 2002
As I understand it, if I inf act can understand the arcane economics lingo -- if you subtract the effects of the housing industry on the economy, we're still in a recession or barely creeping out of it. Housing purchases and the resultant purchases & renovation that stimulates is what is keeping us off the bottom.
Joined May 26, 2001
Interesting thought, Chiff, but... no. Just because there might be more people TRYING to work in the industry doesn't mean they DO work in the industry. If anything, I'd expect it to help places stay open longer than they otherwise might: cut your payroll temporarily by hiring newbies.

As Alexia pointed out, in lots of parts of this country (and the one to our north, too), there is still a recession. In a recession, people spend less. That means restaurants make less. If they are owned/run by people who don't know every last detail about what they're doing, they can't make it. Even if the owners ARE on top of efficient management, there are only so many aspects they can control -- and the most important one they CAN'T control is getting customers into those seats. (Gee, Chiff, I just realized that you know that all too well. Sorry.)

BTW, when I finished B-school, my MBA got me...nothing. Of course, I was one of those few who took "Finance for Dummies.";)
Joined Apr 19, 2001
Could some of the reasoning be, at least in part, the 'yuppie' foodies who think it would be 'cool' to own a restaurant? Who imagine themselves the next Drew Neiperonte (sorry if I butchered the name!) restaurant moguls?

As I'm right now working for one of those, I may be a little biased, but it does seem that not only cheffing has become a 'hot' career, but owning a restaurant gets a lot of talk among the foodies at the cooking studio classes I help out at. All those folks who think it would be loads of fun to be the magnanimous 'host' to admiring friends, family and shiny-eyed guests who gaze in awe at what they've 'created'. Uh-oh, I'd better stop while I'm ahead of the game!
Joined May 28, 2002
It's interesting that this conversation is so timely for many of us. We have been open for 2 years and the best way to describe buisiness is "consistenly inconsistent".... We too have just lost 2 restaurants in our area - both less than a year old each. Marmalady has a good point about the "yuppy owners". Both causualties were "restaurant-tourist" - thought they could run a restaurant part-time. It takes commiment, dedication, innovation and alot of dishwashing and floor mopping
Joined Oct 13, 2001
This is one of the main reasons that I made the switch from hotels and private restaurants to health care food service 5 years ago . My business is pretty recession proof as sick people always need to be fed . Also the quality of hospital food is normally very poor so bringing my culinary talents to this arena has really made a difference . I run my kitchens like restaurants , not like institutions and man does it show . There is a big need for quality people in my industry and if you need a stable income as I do with real hours you might want to consider this option . course this is just my opinion .
Joined Dec 23, 2000
Marmalady's comment echoes a funny magazine article by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith about 30 years ago.

He had a summer home in New Hampshire and described the couples escaping from the Manhattan rat race who took their life savings and bought a trendy little restaurant in NH which, conveniently enough, happened to be for sale just as they arrived.

They would cook their hearts out, Galbraith said, and the regular summer people greatly appreciated their efforts and their subsidizing the residents' dining. Invariably, though, the economics wouldn't pan out and they would be forced to sell to the latest escapers and return to stock brokerage, lawyering, or whatever.

Must still be going on. :rolleyes:

Joined Aug 11, 2000
I was in the housing market this month and driving around St. Louis found that there were huge amounts of "for Lease or Sale" signs on businesses. One of our hottest places that opened a couple of years ago in an upscale hotel had a party of 2 last Wed.
Service had always had an attitude (our perception was that black turtlenecks close off blood flow to the brain).
Restaurants have been scraping through in Clayton.
A few hot new ones stay fairly packed but the others are ecking it out. Not a good time.
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