The demands are a recipe for failure unless one prepares well, say those who’ve risen to the challenge
From the August 2015 issue
Would-be restaurateurs regularly approach Josh Grapski to “pick his brain.” That’s not surprising. Grapski is president of La Vida Hospitality, which owns and operates Nage and Big Chill Surf Cantina on Route 1 near Rehoboth Beach, as well as the Taco Reho food truck and Crooked Hammock, a brewpub under construction just outside Lewes.
What is surprising is that many such requests come from people outside the business. Grapski can generally separate them into three categories. Home chefs, encouraged by the “wows” garnered from appreciative friends and family members, want to share their recipes with the masses. Others are attracted by the lifestyle — or their perception of it. “Man, your business looks like so much fun,” they tell Grapski. “I would love to work in a restaurant — it wouldn’t feel like work.” Then there are those who tell him they have a concept that’s going to be “a home run.”
The proximity to the sea sweetens the appeal. Stressed out in their current jobs, they imagine shucking the 9-to-5 grind to spend their days on the sand and their nights in the restaurant, chatting with happy customers. Come winter, they’ll take a month-long vacation or two.
All these hopefuls have one thing in common: “They’re thinking of one small aspect of a business that has a lot of components,” says Grapski, who has a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from Cornell University and is also a graduate of The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia. “They might have a great apple pie, but they don’t know how to market it, or how much money they need to run a business or how to operate it.”
Yet some will still plunge into the business — and plenty will fail. According to research by H.G. Parsa, a professor in Ohio State University’s Hospitality Management program, one in four restaurants closes or changes hands within the first year. Over the next three years, the sell-or-fail rate soars to three in five. The “good” news: The numbers are standard with most new businesses, according to the Small Business Administration and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But as you consider those odds, remember that a resort town can heighten the challenge. RehobothFoodie.com, a popular blog that offers news and reviews about coastal restaurants, has made note of seven restaurants in downtown Rehoboth that closed within a year or two of opening. Indeed, the “Breaking Chews” section of the website reported in June that America’s Pie, soon to open in the ocean-block space formerly occupied by the short-lived Lexie’s and then the short-lived Uncle Louie’s, will add yet another slice of pizza life to the first block of Rehoboth Avenue (now sporting Grotto, Nicola Pizza, Louie’s and Dough Roller).
If your dream job involves owning a restaurant at the beach, here are some tips to consider before you sign the lease. As Carrie Leishman, president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association, advises, “Buckle up and go in with your head on straight.”
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