There are many things to take into consideration when opening a new restaurant or expanding your existing restaurant into a new space; Tyson Cole calls these “the big three.” Cole, esteemed chef and co-owner of Uchi and Uchiko restaurants in Austin, Texas was recently interviewed by inc.com on the topic of starting a successful restaurant. His first point was to “never start without the big three.” Those three? A “great chef, great location, and great concept.” Now, choosing a great chef is truly dependent on your restaurant – we can’t necessarily tell you who is right or wrong for your individual establishment. The same thing goes for the concept – at the end of the day, it’s all about your creative vision! Don’t let us change your mind. But location, now that is something that we can offer insight on. As you’ll come to find out, there is much more to choosing your restaurant’s location than meets the eye.
There are many factors to be aware of when finding the perfect location for your restaurant. Do you want your restaurant to be a destination or a neighborhood favorite? Who will your customers be? Have you looked at both the demographics and the psychographics for the area? Are you planning to open up in a place formerly occupied by a different restaurant, or are you building a new space? What is your budget? The list goes on much longer than this, but these are by far some of the most important factors to consider when choosing your space, and the primary detail upon which to focus is whether your restaurant chooses to occupy an existing space or to build a new one. Let’s dive into this topic a little deeper.
There are pros and cons to picking a restaurant building that was formerly occupied. What was the old restaurant like? What kind of customers did it attract? If it wasn’t a restaurant, what kind of establishment was it, and what did it mean to the community? Why did the former occupants leave or why did the former business go out of business? These are important questions to ask, and from those answers, you can start to delve into not only the demographics, but also the psychographics of the existing space.
The difference between demographics and psychographics is as follows: the demographics of a location refer exclusively to who comes in – the customers’ gender, age, etc. while the psychographics will tell you why that person comes in. Is it just because it is close to their house? Perhaps they don’t frequent the area, but they love the food at your restaurant. Maybe they went to a movie theater or a shopping center nearby, and your restaurant is conveniently located to those points of interest. Whatever those answers may be, they are important to look at and will determine a lot of strategy for you moving forward.
Moving past the psychographics, if you are planning to inhabit a formerly occupied space, make sure you look around and decide what can be reclaimed and what cannot. On occasion, reclaiming a space makes the transition to the new location easier and much more cost-effective – sometimes, it actually costs more. For example, Famous Toastery, a breakfast and brunch restaurant out of Davidson, N.C., currently has 13 locations. Of those, 7 were established in spaces from failed ventures because it was actually cheaper. However, they approached their Columbia, S.C. location differently. Because of the fact that they would have had to include the cost of demolition, it was more cost effective to start from scratch. Restaurant chains similar to Famous Toastery should also be aware of the layout of any space they are looking to occupy. For many chains, it is desirable to have a consistent layout and theme in every location. That is not always achievable when occupying a previously owned space.
On the other hand, occupying seemingly unusual previously-owned spaces can elevate your restaurant business, or at least draw attention to it (read: built-in marketing). For example, Chef Kevin Gillespie of Revival, a traditional southern restaurant in Decatur, GA, was able to renovate an old farmhouse in town to be the perfect space for his Sunday-supper inspired eatery. Taking over the old farmhouse gives the restaurant charm and an instant sense of familiarity in the community. Another example of this is the chosen location of 5Church, a modern American restaurant in Charleston, S.C. Owner Patrick Whalen was drawn to the space – a 100-year-old mariner’s chapel – immediately. It had previously housed a dive bar, and not much of building was up to code, so the team had to do a full gutting of the building and then start from scratch. However, Whalen feels that it was totally worth it, citing “good bones” – “We were breaking all the cardinal rules of frugality, but we felt it was worth the risk for that building.” The risk was worth it. 5Church has 3 locations and has been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, Eater, Food & Wine, and countless others.
Perhaps it really does come down to that old adage: location, location, location. Of course, general restaurant quality, service, and food always comes into play. But smart location and research is fundamental in securing the success of your future restaurant. Make ‘find the perfect location’ your number one goal, and don’t give up on it. A location that housed a previously failed restaurant might still be perfect for you even if it wasn’t for the other guys. And don’t forget to take a look at some out-of-the-box options, like an old mariner’s chapel, for instance. Or an old farmhouse. And if all else fails, build from the ground up.