Has your chef ever thought about opening their own restaurant?
As I’m sitting here working on this post, my husband reads the title and immediately says, “No way!”
It’s definitely not for everyone. But I know many chefs who would like to one day have their own place and many chef girlfriends and wives (or husbands and boyfriends) who wonder what it would really be like.
There are a few chef wives who have written books about opening a restaurant with their chefs. You can read about Delancey and Wife of the Chef in a few posts I wrote last year after I read the books.
But today, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Dhanny. I met her through this blog and have LOVED getting to know her this past year! She has such a great perspective on restaurant ownership and I’m thankful she’s willing to share her story with us today!
Dhanny and her chef/husband Joe own My Kitchen Restaurant in New York. If you live near by or travel there, I’m sure they’d love for you to stop by. 🙂
So your husband can cook. When you entertain, he puts together these amazing meals and everyone comments that he needs to do this professionally.
In fact, he’s been in the industry for a few years. He even worked himself up to Sous Chef or better – HE IS THE CHEF…
Now what? Cue violins and let the dreams begin….
It’s time – he should get his OWN RESTAURANT
This is NOT the beginning or OUR story. However, Chef and I do have our own place, so I thought I’d write a quick piece on what you can expect when deciding to open a restaurant. Keep in mind, this is MY point of view.
FIRST STEP: Financing
Your options are as follows:
- Your own money – bwahahaha
- Your family offers money – LOL at the prospect of being in debt to them
- A friend offers to be partner – O_o said friend has zero culinary experience or management skills
- The “Silent Partner” – another word for blood sucking vampires… HAHAHA.
SECOND STEP: Size
Yip!! Size does matter.
THIRD STEP: Concept
You don’t have to be in a corporate state of mind but you have to really think about your concept. What will make you stand out? What will make you money?
NEXT STEP: Staffing
Yes, this is an actual step. What!! Did you think he was going to buy, prep, cook, serve AND clean?
OH WAIT!!! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO SERVE
Probably the most important thing. Concept is one thing. The actual food is what will capture the guests. Some careful menu planning is needed. Note: this will probably change as you evolve.
OH ONE MORE THING!!! – Family Life
Owning a Restaurant will impact your life in ways you’ve never imagined. Long hours mean less family time. Most chefs work on holidays. Restaurant hours don’t usually coincide with school plays and Saturday soccer games. Mother’s Day! Oh what’s that? ONLY the best money making day for the restaurant business. Give it some serious thought.
So now that you and Chef sat on the porch, sipped on some wine and you’ve read all that, you’re feeling great. You’re going to open a restaurant!!!
Let me tell you what really happened with Chef and I……..
Let it be known, we never intended to open up a restaurant. 🙂 Chef and I are caterers. We’ve been catering for the past 20 years. We love it.
Background: We ran a successful catering business – corporate, private, city contracts and of course the little guy…We were smart to diversify, so we were always busy. However, over the years, corporate business began to decrease, private parties were scaling back, Meals-on-Wheels literally became a non-profit part of our business. So while we seemed busy, maintaining a staff of 25+, commercial vehicles and a huge facility was becoming a burden. Chef and I decided to shut it down. NO PLAN. Just knew we had to stop what we were doing.
You see, once we made the decided to give notice to the city, we knew it meant, laying off our employees, giving up the facility. OH and the “blood sucking silent partner” LOL.
Here we were – two of us, unemployed for the first time. No idea what to do.
SO you see, our journey didn’t start off with a dream of being restauranteurs.
Chef and I catered a few events but mostly enjoyed not having all the responsibility. A couple months later, we eventually had the “talk”. WHAT NOW??
We could attempt to find other jobs. In fact, Chef went on an interview, he was so devastated when he got home, I decided then and there that working for others would not work. He has so much to offer but at his age, no one would hire him. Everyone wants the trendy new guy.
OUR FIRST STEP – having the AH moment 🙂
We still had quite a number of clients, so we decided to look for a kitchen space, in order to continue what we love doing – CATERING.
NEXT STEP – how were we going to afford this? We’re simply too old, experienced and bitter to consider any of the recommendations in STEP ONE for you.
This is where you really hope SUZE ORMAN never reads this because she would hit us over the head…
Before I talk about that, let’s consider SIZE.
Remember I said “size does matter”. When we began looking, it truly was just for a catering kitchen. However, along the way, I stumbled upon this space and simply fell in love.
We now had to shift our thought process: kitchen for catering but also now had to consider a banquet space, backyard, restaurant space – teeny tiny kitchen…
Chef’s eyes twinkled. We were off-premise catering, so he saw potential in anything larger than 6 square feet.
My eyes glistened because I loved the idea of having a catered space. I just knew it was RIGHT for us.
BUT WE CAN’T AFFORD THIS. We discussed all our options, sometimes with a clear heads, sometimes over a drink.
FINANCING OUR DREAM or was it OUR FUTURE…
Remember this wasn’t our dream. It was a necessity. We financed our new venture with our 401(k). WE WOULD NEVER recommend anyone doing that but for us at our age, it was the right move. We are not in debt and didn’t over extend ourselves. We can walk away.
CONCEPT: oh right. The next piece of advice.
Well, all we knew, was that we had a kitchen to cater, therefore concept didn’t matter. Do you guys see where this is headed?? The restaurant was never in our plan.
That was until 3:30am one morning, I woke Chef (true story). I told him my idea. If we’re going to do a restaurant, why not make it Mom and Pop. No one does that anymore. In reality, catering will always be the larger percentage of our business, so being Mom and Pop will give us the flexibility to be open or closed if and when needed.
He was intrigued, until I said: “That means YOU have to cook.” Everyone was going to come to our place to dine in OUR KITCHEN, to chat WITH US and EAT YOUR FOOD. It will not be a type of cuisine but instead a blend of us and foods which we like. If it bombs, well we have catering. Haha!
This is our life and so began our journey.
He became Executive Chef, Chef, Sous Chef, Salad Man, Dessert Guy and standby dishwasher.
Me? Well I assumed the roles of hostess with the mostest, bartender, waitress and head comedian.
Behind the Scenes: Chef is the buyer and sommelier, gardener, repair man, electrician
Me? Well I became the official taste tester. Oh I’m also accountant, events manager, photo-taker-outer, social media consultant, event planner, human resources and most importantly BUFFER between Chef and event wait staff.
We are also very lucky to have hired a dishwasher/utility guy who is awesome and a sweetheart.
TOGETHER: the three of us can do anything we want.
OH WAIT!!! Almost forgot – What to serve?
Sigh. We had no idea. We just knew we didn’t want it to be Italian. Went back and forth for a couple weeks. Then it dawned on Chef. He’s never been on the line and he has a teeny tiny kitchen. He had to create a Menu that HE COULD CONTROL.
We developed a menu based on items we cooked at home for our friends. Then refined those items, so that at any given order, one item is grilled, one in the oven, one under the broiler and on the stove top or fryer. Yeah, I think my Chef is kind of smart. Decisions which would only have come with experience.
The physical menu also went through some trial and error. I was aiming for something I would’ve created at home for a dinner party. The inside cover has quotes from our family, again, adding a touch of the WHO WE ARE.
And there you have it. We OWN A RESTAURANT!
We opened the restaurant on Valentine’s Day, 2013. The worse restaurant day E V E R and had quite the successful evening. Serviced OUR WAY. Everything was based on “how we would want to be treated”.
It’s been two years and we are doing amazingly well.
WOULD I RECOMMEND anyone following in our footsteps – HECK NO!!
Finance – Don’t use your 401(k)
Crazy Concept – what the heck?? This Mom and Pop thing is exhausting
Food – oh sure. Open a restaurant and decide OH let’s just cook Italian Caribbean.
Staffing – we are sooooo under-staffed. Remember, we also cater, so on any given day, we can be in for breakfast for 300 then follow that by restaurant service. Or on crazy days, book off-Premise catering along with two in-house events. What’s not to love about THAT! Everyday!!!
Chef and I are caterers, first and foremost. Keep that in mind. So we have already developed our “backup plan”.
Chef and I have worked together for the past 20 years, so we are an oiled engine. We’ve already established who the Alpha is. (Want to place a guess?)
Chef and I are best friends. We work hard at balancing life by playing hard.
We love what we do. I don’t believe our “model” will work for others, we’ve just been lucky.
I’ve decided to add a final note on our family life. Chef and I have been lucky to have always owned and be self-employed.
We own a couple of boys and one Chef Baby. The boys are older and all very good cooks. No Chefs but all in food related businesses. Mostly, we talk about Chef Baby because she is still with us. She took the brunt of neglect which comes along with the industry. However, she also reaped the rewards of learning to dine well and appreciate the industry from the inside out. Having a little one did help provide normalcy over the years. So don’t be scared about having kids.
I was able to work full time and be a full time mom. I went to every event or activity. However, being married to a Chef, meant he didn’t have that flexibility. He missed quite a few events. There have been a few times where Chef had to pick up Chef Baby from school and forgot the time. HOW DO YOU FORGET THE TIME!!! So over the years, I had to become the active parent because I didn’t trust him. When Chef Baby was younger, we took her along with us. Any time spent together was better than time apart. She even had a company uniform.
As with most everything else in our lives, the timing on the Restaurant was just right. Chef Baby is no longer our baby. She started college the year we made the “big move”. So Chef and I found ourselves totally immersing ourselves in the business without the necessary worry of parenting 24/7.
We also made a decision, unlike other families who owned restaurants, NOT to force her to work for us. We have never thought of the business as a “hand down” legacy, so there is no need.
We rarely have time for friends. Some patronize the restaurant, others stay away. We don’t do much entertaining anymore. In fact, the only entertaining we do in is Our Kitchen but get paid now. Haha!
To balance life, we made a decision upon opening this new business, Our Life – Our Terms. So we close on Father’s Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We do not overbook for the other holidays (Easter or Mother’s Day or Thanksgiving, etc.). We try to get done at a reasonable time, so we can enjoy “family time”. So far, this has been working out nicely and our customers have that AHA moment when we explain our reasoning.
Advice: If your hearts in it and all the pieces fall into play – go for it. Just don’t do what we did.
Note: My article is written solely as my perspective and based on our life.
Restaurants succeed for different reasons. Most fail for the same reasons: not enough planning and no backup plan.
— Dhanny Palma
So what about you? Have you and your chef ever thought of opening your own place? Let us know in the comments below!
From one chef’s wife to another,