Turning a dying cafe around...

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by Mister K., Apr 23, 2019.

  1. Mister K.

    Mister K.

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    25 years, Chef, former owner of successful Catering co.
    I’ve been a corporate caterer for the past twenty years. I started with a 30K debt and grew it to a very successful operation. Family and health issues have recently caused me to sell out to my partner of 18 years. After four years, all is well. My wife is in remission, and I’ve had the necessary surgery to help me get back on my feet. I’m 61, but not ready for retirement yet.

    I’ve recently been introduced to an owner of a struggling cafe close to downtown of a metropolitan city. This area is filled with both university students and affluent couples, some with kids. There’s money to be made. George (about 40) had bought this tiny shop ten months ago, it has an 800 sq. Ft. Kitchen and business has done nothing but decline. His offerings besides a good cup of coffee include soups, salads and sandwiches geared to the healthier types. There’s a Subway Sandwich shop four stores away and a rundown bar with a huge patio next door.

    George asked me for help as well as an opportunity to partner up with him. He has no outstanding debts and has recently been dipping into his personal funds to stay afloat. He’s a straightforward guy but has no real direction. I feel ready to get back to running a place, and I believe that I can put this place on the map.

    I welcome any thoughts, questions and comments.
    Thanks for reading this post.
     
    phaedrus and topbakersun like this.
  2. Vjan

    Vjan

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    Hi Mister K.
    If there is a Subway 4 stores away, my thoughts are you need to stand out compared to them.

    Wish you all the best!
     
    Mister K. likes this.
  3. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    Walk around the neighborhood and ask people where to get a good lunch, as if you were new to the area. If they don't mention the cafe, say you walked by that place and wondered if it was worth while. Collect as many opinions as you can without being too obvious.
    I'll suggest it's an obvious problem that George is unaware of, ignoring or causing. Examples might be prices too high/poor value, place doesn't appear clean, Food is skimpy or poor quality, service too slow or rude, the wait is too long for a table, wait too long for food, hours aren't posted, hours are inconsistent, George doesn't shave, George doesn't greet customers and say Thank You when they leave, place doesn't appear open. Place is open at the wrong hours, closes early, opens too late. Tables and chairs are wobbly and uncomfortable or too crowded. George has a family member working the front of the house and they are lazy, rude, too talkative, unprofessional and driving away business. The cafe hasn't been painted in years and looks really rundown. The signage out front is poor quality and not welcoming. The menu is geared to healthier types but nothing available for the general public and not enough healthy types to support the place.
    Ask a friend George hasn't met to go buy a sandwich and soup. Do that two or three times with different people on different days of the week. Listen to what their experience is like.
    I wouldn't worry about Subway or any other place nearby. If the cafe offers a great lunch at a fair price in a pleasant atmosphere it will find it's own customer base. Some part of the formula is missing.
    For the heck of it, I'll ask you to PM me the address and I can google it to see it from the outside.
    Anyway, if you decide to pursue this, make sure George has a sales tax account so he's not dipping in to that as well.
     
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  4. rabajara

    rabajara

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    Caterer
    That is some great advice. I think you covered most everything.
     
  5. Mister K.

    Mister K.

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    25 years, Chef, former owner of successful Catering co.
    Thanks for that Van, my thoughts as well.
     
  6. Mister K.

    Mister K.

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    25 years, Chef, former owner of successful Catering co.
    Thank you Chefwriter, you’ve covered just about all of the potential downfalls of every food service establishment. The seating is limited to four! It’s a tiny serving area with an 800 sq. Kitchen 4 steps below grade.
    There’s so much wrong about the place that a rehaul is definitely to be done.
    I welcome more from you once I follow all of you suggestions through. You’re a good writer here on this site and I have often read your posts.
     
  7. Mister K.

    Mister K.

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    25 years, Chef, former owner of successful Catering co.
    Thank you chefwriter, I’ve often seen your recommendations on this site. You are most helpful. how do I PM you with the location? I’d like you to see its non- descriptive frontage. it appears that the landlord operates his/her medical practice upstairs and George has only a very small serving area with the kitchen being a few steps Lower covering the entire basement. He has no cooking exhaust system and uses an electric oven and a tiny convection. There is no back door, so deliveries such as corporate catering is not possible due to the traffic volume out front. so how do I pm you?
     
  8. Mischief

    Mischief

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    I'm thinking the fact that there is no seating is the most glaring issue. I'm not taking my family to a cafe where we won't be able to sit down and enjoy the meal. Is there any space for an outside patio area or anything similar? I know the kitchen is small but could the building be organized in a way that could create additional seating without compromising kitchen efficiency too much?
     
    Mister K. likes this.
  9. NnamAries

    NnamAries

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    There is prospect here as you've said, the key is to make it as urbane and welcoming to a diverse customer base as best as you can. Best of luck!
     
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  10. Mister K.

    Mister K.

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    25 years, Chef, former owner of successful Catering co.
    I believe that the key to success here may be to go exclusively with take out.
    The traffic going by this shop is phenomenal with a flow of commuters and available (however limited) parking. We can offer a superior sandwich and salad fare far beyond any chain can offer. Different, better, tastier. Competing with subway is not the intention. Over and throughout my youth I’ve been eager to introduce the Chicago italian beef sandwich to the folks of this Canadian city. Mostly dominated by italian breaded veal, how can I get my message across and have people even go out of their way to come to the shop?
    Much thanks to you all, from all over for your time and considerations.
     
  11. Mister K.

    Mister K.

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    25 years, Chef, former owner of successful Catering co.
    I agree wholeheartedly!
     
  12. halb

    halb

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    Owner/Operator
    Sounds like a food truck without wheels.

    Yup. Think food truck!
     
  13. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    Mister K.
    I sent you a PM by starting a conversation with you. That's the version of PM on this site. Check your profile page under "Conversations".