Viability of new restaurant right now

Joined Nov 13, 2009
Hi all. First time poster, but looooooooonnng-time lurker. Before the body of my post, I just want to extend a warm thanks for all the great info, civil discussions, and laughs I've had from reading here.

I've worked on and off as FOH, dishwasher, line cook, and manager in a few different food venues going back to when I was 13 starting in my cousin's pizza shop.

In my teens, I fell in love with the ways of the classic French cuisine by observing and studying my uncle who was then-head-chef at a prominent local restaurant. While working in the field in my twenties, I had plenty of opportunity to hone my skills.

Ideally, I would love the opportunity to go on my own and try my hand at serving the food I love to prepare. I have money aside for this "dream" project, but I have to wonder if I am really being practical by even considering it.

First of all, the economy sucks. I don't see my current employer exactly raking it in.

Second of all, I am sure that running a restaurant is not the same skill-set as just cooking in it. I have run a bar as GM before, so I am familiar with business, but it is not exactly the same thing. Plus, even though there was bar food, it was a minimal menu.

Third, just because I am enamored with rustic French cuisine, it does not mean there is a market for it in my area.

Let's see, have I pretty much answered all my questions, lol? What I am curious to hear is if I am pretty close to the mark as to why I ought not to even consider it, or if I am being a bit too harsh. Experiences of others who have also been through what I am considering will be immensely appreciated. Thanks all!
Joined Apr 17, 2006
Well, you brought up all the important points. Now you need to find answers. Is there a market for the type of food you want to offer? Ask around and see if people display interest. Or ask what type of resaurants they would like to see in your area. In my area, overwhelmingly people will say they would like an Italian restaurant. The nearest are 25 miles away in another town. I know people who have restaurants that are struggling because they're trying to do the same thing everyone else is. I know talented Italian cooks looking for a place where they can showcase their talents . Somehow they can't seem to fit the puzzle pieces together and break out of their rut with something no one else is doing. I run a seafood place, but there's no good steak place in my area. I saw no reason not to do both, and now I sell a ton of steaks and have broadened my customer base from strictly seafood lovers to include steak lovers. There was a gap in the market that no one seemed interested in filling, so I did. You might find the same situation where you are. People might love the kind of restaurant you want to open and it might just be a matter of no one doing it. Yes, the economy sucks. However, people still need to eat, and going out for a good meal is justifiable for that reason. They might forgo the new car or other major purchase this year, but will be willing to spend some of that money on going out. People are going out less now, but they still do. Casual dining is suffering because they boomed in an economy where people went out several times a week. Fine dining is suffering because of their relatively high prices. The people that I see struggling the hardest though are people who don't know what they're doing or don't want to face reality. There are some places here where the service is bad, the food is bad or both. The owners appear either to not see this or not care to correct it. They blame the economy for lost business when it's their own fault that customers don't come back. A lot will depend on the economy in your area. If you are in a place like Detroit that has suffered huge layoffs, now might not be the time to do this. If your area has a fairly strong economy (people are at least working even if they're not making as much as they used to) you may want to go ahead with your plans. This year we have had increases every month compared to the same month a year ago. Some were double digit increases. The owner says this is shaping up to be one of his best years in the 18 years he has owned the place. We are located on a rural highway in WI. If we were in an urban area, the concept would do much better, so location is important. There are some good real estate deals to be had now due to the economy. If you have a stable economy in your area and plan to have a place that isn't too pricey (you can fancy it up later when the economy is better if you want) and have good food and good service, I see no reason for you to not do this. This is a time of great opportunity in certain areas. Also, don't over extend yourself financially. That's what takes a lot of places down. Things like decor are important, but a clean place with a welcoming interior and nice exterior will serve as well as high priced furnishings. You can improve things as the money comes in. For instance, let's say you have ugly formica tables but the bases are strudy. You can either order new tops for the bases or throw a table cloth over the whole works. Cheaper than buying whole new tables and it and leaves money for things like good quality food ingredients. You wouldn't believe the places I've seen stick all their money into the furnishings and then be stuck buying cheap ingredients that they need to charge big $$$ for to cover their investment. That equation never works, and somebody winds up buying their fancy tables dirt cheap at auction. (Another place to save yourself money). If you do decide to go ahead, keep us posted on how it goes.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
independant restaurants with lines and expansion in this market.....

Good BBQ, Pappy's hit a home run.....great BBQ from a Memphis BBQ winner, this guy quit entering because he kept winning. Anyway they've got a $5 lunch special, about 8 sides (none exceptional), ribs, turkey, brisket and all things pig. They only sell fresh, if they run out they run out.....lines out the door, buzz is that they are looking at other ventures. Location is in an up and coming area, 5 minutes from Downtown, next to St. Louis University and several other chains around.

The other is a corn meal based, deep dish pizza place who is marketing as Green. They hired a fine dining chef to work the menu, they've got the best pastry chef in town working at the second/third stores....2nd has organic milkshake bar in the basement.....$7 a pop, they are selling like hot cakes. matthew is working on a menu for the third place.....dessert bar drinks and fancy bite desserts. Same thing....lines out the door, they are opening two new places within 2 months of each other in different parts of town. Pi.

Fine dining is lagging. Tapas places/small plates places are the trend here...$6-8 a plate can add up quickly.

Most of the successful (even white linen) restaurantuers I know dream of having a hamburger or BBQ place. Really kind of funny.
Joined Nov 13, 2009
Thanks to both of you for the in-depth replies. I guess I will simply have to take time to see if the type of venue I wish to deploy is in demand. I am not trying to claim that I "know-it-all" or am "great-beyond-belief," but nonetheless I am generally familiar with every facet of the business, so it is not like I am deluding myself into thinking that because my Aunt Peggy likes my spaghetti and meatballs, I should invest $3 million into an Italian haute cuisine restaurant.

To address myself in a more specific way, I am truly in love with provincial French cooking -- especially those preparations that are most classic and traditional. Over my years, when I have had time, I have honed my recipes and brought much in the way of reintroducing these dishes to those with whom I have worked with great reviews. Here in NJ, there is not too much in the way of this cuisine -- which is both a blessing and curse. Either it means there is a gap that I can exploit, or it means there is simply no demand.

I am quite adept in many styles, so -- as the previous poster indicated -- if barbecue turned out to be most profitable, I would lean in that direction. Restaurants, at the end of the day, are businesses -- not mere fancies for the owners' exploits.

Also, I have always worked my area based on my own experience -- without a problem. Is formal culinary education -- or even studies abroad -- any sort of benefit when marketing oneself as restauranteur? I personally always found that I knew Escoffier better than culinary school graduates, but this is sort of a different ball game than just trying to get a job. Again, anyone's participation in this thread is immensely helpful, and I thank you.
Joined Sep 16, 2009
Yeah your right with your economy due to our global recession. You got a nice idea putting french cuisine into your hands. I know its kinda odd nowadays that due to the aging of the world, restaurant serving are starting to change.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
One of my best friend's has had some incredible Provencal based French restaurants....
50-60 seats, tiny 1.5 person open galley kitchen with prep area in basement.
they had a long bar and a very very warm semi casual feel. Made their own bread etc. Ed ran a 13-17% food cost....un fricken real.
3-4 course special price meals.....he'd do 3 turns even during the week.
Made his own charcuterie 20 years ago. It was one of the few places that served unusual offal or pate d' tete....again think 15-20 years ago, Very Few were doing the old school shtuff. Anyway he moved to a much larger venue and tanked. Now he's got an Irish Pub.....many of us still miss the feel of that small warm restaurant where the owner always greeted you and thanked you.....didn't hurt that he got in fun wine and loved pourring.

As to school, it's not necessary. The aforementioned restauranteur got his masters in city design. At least 50% of my friends have never been to cooking school other than to teach. Most of the top chefs in USA have never been to to marketing yourself, it's not what you know it's how you use it and WHO you know.


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
You can carve a niche any way you want. You may have to put "Steaks, Seafood, Pasta" on your marquise but there's no reason to offer Steak Frites and Coq au Vin on the menu. You just have to present it in a different way.

The way with these kinds of places is that the smaller they are the better the food. Don't ask me why, but it's hard to put your mark on everything when you get to 60 seats or beyond. The dining room becomes less personal and is a little more difficult to watch.
Joined Nov 13, 2009
Thanks all for keeping the ball rolling. The suggestions of smaller being better definitely make sense. I know a family run shop a little ways from here that has no more than 8 tables, and they have lines out the door practically all day long -- yet they have no desire to ever expand. It definitely makes me think.

Which leads to my second biggest fear (of course, failure being the first): how assured is my fate that I will become a slave to my own place? Right now, we all work, put in our hours, and go home. But I have seen so many people in my life become ensnared in restaurants that they own, to the point that they begin to hate it. I don't ever want to feel that way. I don't need to sail around the world and stop in once every six months to pickup my check, but a little bit more freedom rather than less would be nice. As i said in my last post, the key to running a successful place to remember that I am trying to achieve both profit and independence. Without these two, it makes any sort of a venture a whim rather than a business. Thoughts about how to control this situation?
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