There are two types of restaurateurs who look to expand their empires: Those failing,l being close to financial disaster and only steps away from shuttering the doors and the other group of successful operators who have developed a sought-after concept, offer great food, have built a professional team and can withstand the curve balls that the public pitches.
If you don´t fit into either of these groups you need to buy a restaurant. And today, that is probably one of the easiest items in the country to purchase. Or worse yet, acquire for free.
Since Sunday evening, I have been offered four restaurant properties that will all surely be successful with the right operator. One gent, who had purchased two boats in the past month, was telling me what a great space he had available to accommodate a creative chef/owner. He assured me that the location-one of the best views in San Francisco- would be a winner. Of course the conversationalist did preface the statement by admitting he had just purchased two wooden boats. Enough said about that space.
While walking from the shrimp platter to endive-blue-cheese display, I heard of another space in Capitola, California and yet a third Washington state. Yes, this is definitely a market for expansion.
Without scaring the hell out of every owner teetering on the edge of negative checkbook balances just before processing payroll this is the season for destruction. Actually, October, November and December are frequently banner months for private bookings, bringing in bucks that rightfully should go to vendors. But many owners feel the whimsy of better cash flow and blow all chances of winter-month-survival through spendthrift practices that a pocket full of the chicken-man´s cash can stimulate.
That´s when the restaurant hawks who know their business should begin to circle.
We are in the season of expansion exploration. This is the time to start scoping out your next property- look for the slow Thursday and Friday night places. If you don´t know the owners- and you probably won´t- downward spiraling restaurants seldom have ownership presence- get to know the managers. Spend some time scoping out customer counts, sidewalk traffic and open and closing times.
Research the landlord.
If it´s in the same neighborhood, talk to your banker; ask if they have any read on the space. In Monterey, California, if you want to know anything about the restaurant
Business, you head to Monterey County Bank. The Chairman, President, CEO and general Grand Poobah of the bank, Charles Chrietzberg, Jr. knows more about the restaurant biz on that strip of culinary competition than anyone in the world.
Most bankers do. If they don´t know the restaurants, they know the landlords. And that´s the real information.
Now don´t confuse opportunity with hawk-like predatory tendencies. I would never suggest that you purposely look to do other owners ill will in an attempt to expand your empire. In the world of the restaurant hawk nature takes care of that.
I am, however, professing, that if you abruptly awake mid night startled that your manager didn´t sectionalize your yet to be designed new dining room layout, if magic thoughts of menu development and flittering visions of an untested concept interrupt social conversation about the latest congressional perversion, you may need to begin looking for another space.
Expansion is the root of all evils and the only way to build an organization. Is it tough? Of course. Is it at times a preparational pain that seems to linger? Of course. Nothing, however, compares to growth in business.
One is fun. Two is glorious. Three is catastrophic. Four is phenomenal. And five or more means that you have paid your dues, played the game, and probably won.
In order to win, remember, the deal has to be perfect. You do not need another restaurant. The landlord needs another tenant. And, if the deal is fair and equitable for both, take it. In many cases, the last restaurant owner took a dive and he probably suffered some serious financial stress. It is likely that the landlord shared that financial setback.Therefore, he may be trying to recoup the losses. That isn’t your problem.
Research the last tennant’s lease. Ask him about his numbers. If he went out of business, he will sign like a canary on the neighborhood, the landlord, the traffic and the clientele.
Currently, there is a space in downtown Sonoma, California that has been vacant for over a year. The rent is almost $12,000.00 a month. The key money is equally ridiculous. Is that a wise landlord? Of course not. And, the space should remain cobweb filled. It would be a disastrous demise for anyone with hospitality talent to hover near the front door. The nose marks on the windows may accumulate until greased over fog disallows any interior vision before the landlord realizes he has a jinxed corner at best.
So beware of landlord vultures. It is seldom that a hawk can outwit a vulture. They stay apart in the air. They circle, they inspect, and they go their separate ways. Your landlord is your partner. Look for a good one.
October, November, December. Months of the restaurant hawk. Fly low. Keep your eyes open. And begin thinking of that new concept.