I recently spoke with 10 Los Angeles chefs and restaurateurs at An Evening on the Beach, LA Street Food Fest and out in the field, and they answered several questions, including: What was the biggest challenge in opening your first restaurant? Read their responses:
The unknown. It was the first time we did a real restaurant, Peruvian cuisine, so the unknown of how people are going to welcome it, or not, posed the biggest challenge.
Jeff Cerciello (Farmshop)
If I was to look at Farmshop, step back right now and look at it, opening the market was probably the biggest challenge, because we didn’t have any reference points. We had restaurants. So the market was a little bit of a challenge, to understand how the retail world worked, how to curate a nice cheese program, a charcuterie program, beer and wine program, specialty foods, a bakery. A retail artisan market would probably be it.
Johneric Concordia (The Park’s Finest)
I don’t know what it is about my own personality and my family’s attitude, you work really hard, you work long, you work fast, in making moves for the next challenge. Part of it is not knowing if this would work, trying your best, and not being sure how folks are going to find out about us. Yelp has been great. Social media has been great. Writers have been great. Every week, somebody’s been coming in, and we’re thinking, “What are we going to do? Are people going to show up?” People are coming through, and I guess the most agonizing thing is doubt. There’s a lot of doubt about, “Am I pushing myself too hard? Am I pushing my family too hard?” In hindsight, I pushed as hard as I could. There are things we could have improved on to make it a little bit more efficient, but to be here, amongst our peers, oh man, this is inspiring. We’re having an interview right now, in the Rose Bowl!
Probably courage to leave a comfortable corporate environment and take the plunge and invest the money and see how it goes. I opened Dorados in 1997.
Fred Eric (Tiara Cafe)
I think the bigger challenge was in opening Vida. It was the first thing I did by myself. I was 29 and didn’t understand all the economic responsibilities. I understood how to make food and create an environment, but believe it or not, I didn’t know when you did your own payroll taxes, that you had to send the government their own special check, so six months into it, I got a $90,000 bill from the government saying, “Oh, you guys didn’t file your payroll taxes.” I was like, “What payroll taxes?” “You have to file payroll taxes. We just took the money out of your account to prove it.”
Michael McCarty (Michael’s)
Getting the ingredients. We either had to grow it ourselves, or we flew it in from France.
Edlyne Nicholas (Isla Cocina Pilipina)
I think it was just making sure we had the right concept. We kept changing it, so that took some time.
The very first restaurant I opened, I was in my early 20’s, so when you’re in your early 20’s, you’re fearless. You have no concerns, you just look at the opening date and charge. Finances are always a challenge, getting your capital for your first business. Also having the wherewithal. How do I treat my staff? How do I treat my guests? My partners? It’s quite a journey.
Every little thing I did was very important, the plates, the silverware, everything. Everything plays a role in making it work. Putting all the different plugs into the wall to make it happen. It was very complicated.
Mako Tanaka (Robata-Ya)
I used to own a restaurant called Mako on Beverly Drive. Now I’m looking for another location, but now I’m Robata-Ya restaurant, which is more casual… When you open up a new restaurant, it’s very hard to bring customers in. It takes awhile for people to know, so you need to get patience and keep making good food. That’s the key.