My dad, who was a part-time/small-time cattle rancher, always said “the best way to earn a million bucks in the cattle business is to start with five million.” So it is with the restaurant biz as well.
This city is rife with excellent chefs who can’t run a viable business to save their souls and, honestly, I have to place myself in that category. I have more experience in marketing and general business practices than most, so I’m fine once there is enough cash flow to keep all the juggled balls in the air. But too many think it’s enough to just serve good food, and that’s not the case at all. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many places that make money and prosper for generations while serving little more than deep-fried catdookie. We all know which places these are.
A restaurant is like any other retail operation, in that financial success basically boils down to offering a desired product in the right location while controlling costs. A “desired” product does not mean a “good” product any more than offering someone a choice means offering them freedom. Are there enough people who want this product in this location?
Before I get too textbooky, I can only offer my own observations and experience. The fact is there are certain locations in this city that will never, ever, EVER be able to sustain a successful restaurant. You could conjure up the ghost of Auguste Escoffier, kick in some John Besh and top it with some Emeril “bam” and the place would still be stinko due to a lack of parking, poor street visibility and/or simply being in a location where not enough people are willing to go. I think we also know where most these locations are, though it doesn’t seem to discourage a new crop of folks from trying every couple of years. Bless their hearts. Maybe it’ll work this time. Good luck with that.
On the other hand, sometimes we get overkill in certain successful locations. I think it’s only a matter of a short time before the rapid restaurant/bar growth along Freret St. starts to cool. It’s not because places aren’t good, but because there are only so many customers who can fit into that area so often in any finite time period. The pie is only a certain size. I have a good idea of where the next hot spot is going to be. Maybe I’ll discuss it in another column — once I secure my location first.
At one point about three years ago, there were three Asian places in a two-block stretch of Magazine St. A couple of years ago, it seemed everyone wanted to open a small plates/wine bar. These days, we’re seeing way too many frozen yogurt spots all opening at about the same time. Remember right after Katrina when all the taquerias opened? It’s like watching a covey of quail dart first this way and then that across open ground — in unison but with no real thought about where everyone‘s going. We just know everyone’s going.
So many wonderful things happen in My Perfect World (a place we each have in our own minds). In my personal Nirvana, New Orleans would have a decent German restaurant, a truly Greek place and a pan-Caribbean café. But it takes money to set up these kinds of operations and an affordable location with enough traffic, parking and visibility to make them viable long-term. This is one of my very few criticisms of the New Orleans restaurant scene — there needs to be a wider variety of offerings.
New Orleans is the only city in the world with its own unique cuisine and we do that very, very well. We also do a lot of other things at a world-class level, so this isn’t intended as a criticism. What irks me sometimes is there can sometimes be too much follow-the-leader.
Desired (and excellent) product, good location and cost control. I’ve already got my neighborhood picked out. C’mon Lotto…
Craig Giesecke has been a broadcaster and journalist for over 30 years, including nearly two decades at the AP and UPI covering news, sports, politics, food and travel. He has been the owner of J’anita’s for five years, serving well-reviewed upscale bar food and other dishes. Comments are encouraged and welcomed.