IT IS NOT the best time to be in the restaurant business, and it’s especially hard for fine-dining establishments.
Sales at full-service restaurants, which includes upscale eateries, have fallen 8% year-to-date, while fast-food restaurant sales are flat so far this year, according to Technomic, a Chicago restaurant consultancy. What’s more, with consumers continuing to watch their budgets, fancy eateries are bracing for a further falloff in business of 3% to 7% for 2010.
So what was Hannah Hopkins thinking when she opened Dish, an upscale restaurant and wine bar in Mahopac, N.Y., in June 2008? Though the timing seemed unfortunate, Hopkins and her husband, Kevin, had been planning and saving for the own eatery for six years; they hoped that being one of the only sit-down restaurants in town would work in their favor, recession or not. In the beginning, Hopkins had to adjust her pricing a bit (she raised the price of some salads and a shrimp wrap), but sales have been good enough of late that she could afford another chef. For 2009, she expects revenue to be $300,000,with profits of $24,000 to $36,000.
SmartMoney asked Hopkins about the ups and downs of running her restaurant. Here are her condensed answers.
Business: Dish, an upscale restaurant and wine bar.
Industry: Food service
Location: Mahopac, N.Y.
Year founded: 2008
Number of employees: 10
Web address: www.dishmahopac.com
Where did the idea for Dish come from?
When my husband and I moved to Mahopac six years ago from New York City, we would constantly say wouldn’t it be great if we could just go out and get this or that. In time, we finally realized that what we were describing was Dish: a neighborhood place that served fresh, ever-changing farm-to-table cuisine.
You co-own Dish with your husband. How do you manage living and working together?
My husband, who is an attorney, buys all the wine and beer for the restaurant — and he does the books. But, we’ve both agreed, he’s not allowed in the kitchen. After that, we do our best to keep work at work and not at home. In our business relationship, we try not to take things personally. While we put our marriage first, business is business.
What’s your favorite meal on Dish’s menu?
It’s hard to say, there are so many dishes I love. But if I had to choose, I’d go with the fennel and coriander-encrusted sockeye salmon, which we pair with an heirloom pumpkin puree, roasted green beans and shallots and top with a spiced orange oil.
Serving local food can be unpredictable, how do you cater to nature’s changing temperaments?
I have a very small, set menu. To account for differing materials, however, I typically introduce three to six specials each day. Beyond the materials issue, operating with a changing menu is good for business. Not only is it more difficult for people to become bored, they can come in and try new items more frequently.