Friday, February 24, 2012

History and Statistics

From today's St. Louis Post Dispatch:

Gerard Craft of the Niche family of restaurants, Kevin Willmann of Farmhaus, Josh Galliano of Monarch and Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe have been named semifinalists for Best Chef/Midwest in the 2012 James Beard Awards. Salt restaurant in the Central West End is a semifinalist in the Best New Restaurant category.

These guys are some major heavy hitters and their restaurants the best in the Lou. As St. Louis people, we should be proud to have these folks in our midst. And we should patronize them as much as possible. Heck, they are all independents aren’t they?—all the more reason. There are so many good restaurants in our town, so many people laying it all out there in the spirit of purveying culinary arts—many on the bubble. There is a behind the scenes a struggle that most of us never understand.

Things have changed since I was in that part of the business--so competitive and so filled with uncertainty. The restaurant business is tough and if you want to do it, I recommend that you spend 10 years apprenticing before going out on your own. Forget about dropping a bunch of money on culinary-art-for-profit schools unless you have the cash up front. If you must seek higher education as a launching point, go to St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. I went there and it was a great experience, cheap. That said, I hire a lot of people from several schools in the area, many I would first advise to do the above.

Anyway, hopefully after ten years, anyone seeking to embark on this journey will have seen the struggle of the independent restaurateur.  Hopefully they will keep their nest egg hidden from the desire to see their name in the newspaper like them fellers up there. Some of us make it, some of us don't. We are all awesome regardless, sure. We the artists of customer service, food preparation and hospitality, we the broken and weary all too often. We are champions and so necessary to our community and our culture. Our customers can be loyal and brutal in there ability to make or break us.

Here is a top 10 list of things needed to make it in the restaurant business.

1. Money.
2. Knees, a couple of pair.
3. A chef with diplomacy, old school butt kicking doesn’t work much anymore.
4. Forget about sleep.
5. White picket fence family lifestyle?--ain’t gonna happen, mark that one off too.
6. You might want to check your liver from time to time.
7. A stable of divorce lawyers.
8. A stable of vendors to check kite, (careful here).
9. Money when #8 cuts you off.
10. Money for payroll when #9 pops up (think about it).

Also in the Post Dispatch today:

The four area Casa Gallardo restaurants closed for good Thursday because of the "very soft economy,"

This is sad.  Who didn't go to a Casa Gallardo? Or better said who didn't work for Casa Gallardo? I could take it one step further and say: Who didn't work, play or know Pat Hanon and/or Ray Gallardo? I worked for both and it was a ton of fun. Ray was a hero to the industry in many ways. His ethnicity and rise from roots story. This guy was and still is a great businessman. Back in the day they formed Hanon Management and there were twenty or so of us who managed assorted restaurants within that empire—yup, a multi unit management company. Patrick's, a family owned restaurant (a great family at that) later turned in to Puljos 5, and was most recently named the St. Louis Hall of Fame Sports Bar and Grill. Ozzies, just up the mall, closed a couple of years ago and Rob Gallardo re-opened down on Washington Ave. Bevo Mill, well that place was just an ongoing crazy banquet space, not sure who has that now, but it was in the stable. There was Max's Bar and Grill in the Radisson in Clayton. There was Patrick's Cafe in Ellisville, Joe Hanon's in Maryland Heights. These restaurants were killing it back in the 90’s. Not nearly as fancy, but food has changed.

Then came the JalapeƱo Restaurants that tipped the scales of Clayton pretty people watching phenom. Highlights of my experience were the ever so popular Party in the Park parties. Cardwells and JalapeƱos were totally off the hook on these nights. The other highlight was my last day of work at the corner of Brentwood and Maryland, the day after being punched in the face by a muscle head trainer type working on his lady skills. I have been in contract management ever since.

Nothing is forever, and that is what makes the restaurant business such a challenge. I think the top priority on any restuarant opening should be to sell the restaurant in the first year. Once the brand has any hint of equity, sell it and get out. Sometimes it takes longer than a year to stabilize it. The longer it takes the more of the top 10 you will need, ifyouknowhatimtalkinbout.

1 comment:

Bob Stergos said...

Great insights, Ralph, into a very complex yet endearing industry. Thanks for working so hard to serve others so well.