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The True Costs of Opening a Restaurant

The True Costs of Opening a Restaurant

Food & People, Restaurant Road

So, you’re thinking about opening a restaurant. Whether it’s been a childhood dream or a more recent inclination, there comes a time when a decision must be made: to invest or not to invest in opening your own restaurant?

As part of the process, everyone begins researching how to get capital or restaurant investors. What many forget to take into account are the hidden costs of opening a restaurant—all of which are intangible.

COST: Relentless Time.

“I think it’s kind of like when you decide to get married or get into a relationship,” ponders Christine Cikowski, Owner and Chef of Honey Butter Fried Chicken and Sunday Dinner Club. “It’s a big commitment and it took me a really long time to get on board.”

Opening a restaurant is more than just monetary investment. It’s a massive investment of your time and your emotional well-being.

“It’s such a hard life, especially if you’re not doing well. If I was going to do it, I wanted to fully commit. It’s like having a kid. Once you decide to do it, you gotta be on board.”

This high-risk investment isn’t just one that you make on your own. Your friends and family must also come to terms with the path that you’re about to embark upon. From speaking with various award-winning chefs around the country, they all caution that no one really gets how draining it is until you’re in it.

“I think it’s kind of like when you decide to get married or get into a relationship.”

For Top Chef winner Kelsey Barnard Clark, the marriage metaphor also applied, but in a more exciting sense.

“I opened my first business when I was 22,” she explains. “You know that quote about meeting the person you want to be with for the rest of your life and wanting the rest of your life to start now? I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to do it now. I felt stifled working for other people.”

After several starts and stops, she now owns KBC, which is a restaurant and market that also does catering. For Bernard-Clark, the cost of her time from relentless commitment to success meant the freedom to create a restaurant culture that she was proud of and a schedule that allowed her to be an involved mother.

COST: Training on Systems of Processes

For Johanna Hellrigl, who grew up as the daughter of one of the world’s most famous chefs, the restaurant world was something she greatly resented.

“My biggest thing was having been in it and seeing the rough times. Having my mom drive me home at 2am after I fell asleep in the office. Having to be with my mom on the floor wearing a little party dress instead of going to a sleepover.”

After pursuing a successful career in public policy, the restaurant world called out to Hellrigl, who returned with the idea to make it better.

“I wanted to take what I was doing in my old job and transfer it into what I’m doing now.”

In her new role as Executive Chef and Partner of Doi Moi and Bird’s Eye, Hellrigl is introducing massive leadership programs that address systems of procedures, team building, and professionalism in restaurants. The investment that Hellrigl made to transfer her real world skills to the restaurant industry was a decision that paid off not just for her but for her teams.

“My biggest thing was having been in it and seeing the rough times. Having my mom drive me home at 2am after I fell asleep in the office. Having to be with my mom on the floor wearing a little party dress instead of going to a sleepover.”

COST: Emotional Intelligence 

Top Chef finalist Marjorie Meek-Bradley’s resume includes impressive hits like Eleven Madison Park and Per Se. She’s also been a part of several restaurant openings and even been a partner in one. Despite her excellent training and exposure to restaurants, she opted to not be involved with openings from an ownership perspective.

“I was in talks with a broker to sign a lease on a space that I had a concept, capital, and partners for. I just realized that I had no clue and needed to learn more. I decided to take a break. I was burned out from opening and Top Chef. I wanted to learn again.”

The restraint and humility that it took for Meek-Bradley to come to this conclusion for herself shows tremendous emotional intelligence on her behalf. She assessed what was right for her.

When Meek-Bradley heard that Stephen Starr was opening a second restaurant in Washington D.C., she jumped at the opportunity to apply.

“I saw this company as one that had opportunities. St. Anselm was the complete opposite of anything I’ve ever done in so many ways. They give you the tools and support that you need. It’s nice to have corporate structure and help when you need it but also freedom to create a culture that you believe in.”

For Meek-Bradley, the mutual investment of time in both her career as well as Starr Restaurants was a match that made sense and has allowed her to flourish.

“I was in talks with a broker to sign a lease on a space that I had a concept, capital, and partners for. I just realized that I had no clue and needed to learn more. I decided to take a break. I was burned out from opening and Top Chef. I wanted to learn again.”

COST: Your Health

 “Eat something. Get some sleep. Don’t get yourself into a hospital visit due to exhaustion. Bad idea.”

When building a project of this magnitude, it’s natural to put yourself last. The little things like maintaining a healthy diet, getting exercise, and sleeping enough all fall to the wayside. During openings, chefs and restaurateurs boast about spending 80-90 hours a week on site and sleeping in corners when they can. At the end of the day, this poses a negative impact on yourself which could be disastrous for your timeline.

“Take time for self-care,” warns Jill Tyler of Tail Up Goat and upcoming Reveler’s Hour. “Eat something. Get some sleep. Don’t get yourself into a hospital visit due to exhaustion. Bad idea.”

A special thanks to Jenn Walker (author of “Always a Bitch, Never a Boss”) for being Restaurant Road’s chief consultant and to Justine Swindell for her glorious illustration of the same.

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