converting to restaurant--advice for new guy

Junior Burger
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2005/11/18 15:09:13 (permalink)

converting to restaurant--advice for new guy

Been lurking a long time, now I need help.

I have a failing catering business. No need to go into the reasons why, I'm just not getting the amount of business I need (There's a divorce involved -- don't ask). I have room in my free-standing building - a re-zoned old house - to seat 30-40 people. I want to convert the building into a true bbq joint. The one in my part of town had to move to a bigger place across town because he just got too busy. The few lunch places in my part of town are lined up out the door every day. Plus, I'm in the south and I'm really good at it -- hence bbq.

I have a Alto Shaam combi, a 24" chargrill and a six burner range. I want to do order-from-the-counter, fill your own drink, we'll holler when it's ready kind of service. And lots of take-out (not much parking or seating).

Unlike my catering business, I want to do one thing really well, and gain a reputation for that. That's what I mean by a "true" bbq place. I'm thinking I just want 2-3 meat choices and sides. This seems like under-utilization of my equipment -- I have a grill, why not burgers or chicken sandwiches? Also, I don't have a fryer (don't need one for catering) and there's no more room under the hood. Am I crazy to open a bbq joint with no fries or rings? Should I lose the combi and put one in? Then I need grease service, right? Do killer hand cut fries really excite anyone other than restaurant reviewers? Do I need desserts for what I'm doing? Or appetizers?

These are the kinds of questions I am pondering. I am getting good ideas from this forum on things like soda fountain service, employee retention, etc. Any other message boards out there that would help would be appreciated. Any practical advice for a new guy would help, bbq-restaurant-owner advice, especially. "You are crazy, restaurants always fail" is not really advice. If you have no advice, but have extra prozac or bourbon, I will send my address.


12 Replies Related Threads

    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: converting to restaurant--advice for new guy 2005/11/18 16:02:19 (permalink)
    Welcome to Roadfood Yeahyeah101,

    I don't think fries or rings are a necessity, but some sort of potato offering would be nice. Grilled potato wedges would be an attractive offering. It is the sort of thing that could make your place stand out from the rest generating word of mouth such as..."well, they don't have fries but those grilled 'taters can't be beat"

    In short I would say, why invest in new equipment? Make what you have work for you.
    Double Cheeseburger
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    RE: converting to restaurant--advice for new guy 2005/11/18 16:51:57 (permalink)
    Greyghost has a good idea. Another thing you could think of would be homefries. Although they are typically thought of as a breakfast side, I prefer to have homefries with a sandwich at lunch since they have less saturated fats than french fries.

    Good luck with your new endeavor yeahyeah101.
    Michael Hoffman
    Double-chop Porterhouse
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    RE: converting to restaurant--advice for new guy 2005/11/18 17:05:51 (permalink)
    I'm not in the business, but I'm a barbeque customer. So I have to ask: Why not have cole slaw, macaroni and cheese, greens, beans, Brunswick stew and cornbread as sides? Or, at least some of those.
    Filet Mignon
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    RE: converting to restaurant--advice for new guy 2005/11/18 21:40:43 (permalink)
    Welcome to Roadfood. Simplicity has always been my key to success. Fewer choices facilitate immediate decisions by the customer and less work for you. Boil up some corn on the cob, break them in half, dip them in butter, and serve a piece with each bbq. Good profit margin, zero prep, easy to prepare, and little if any spoilage. Sweet corn is a popular impulse food at most fairs and events. You might also consider home made lemonade(prepared in front of the customer). A great impulse refreshment on a hot day to compliment a bbq.

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    RE: converting to restaurant--advice for new guy 2005/11/18 21:57:53 (permalink)
    Welcome YeahYeah!

    You've got a good idea and from your initial post seems like it might work. I wish you would have said what part of the south you are from. Agreeing with the last post of keeping it simple!

    With the Shamm you have some versatility, but I would carefully consider not offering fries and onion rings, both are extremely good money makers. I would think about cutting the 6 burner back to a 2-side burner and converting the extra space to a gas fryer. I'm not sure if you could prepare anytype of fries in a shamm.

    Not promoting another site (forgive me admin) but checkout, the forums are especially helpful there and the chat rooms will provide you plenty of answers to questions.

    First on your menu, that will drive your equipment selections required. I'll be glad to help, my s/n on is Burgerman1 also, or you can reach me at

    Good luck
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    RE: converting to restaurant--advice for new guy 2006/01/15 16:53:49 (permalink)
    shouldn't you thinl about a REAL BBQ pit
    if you own the property
    I think you'ld do a much better business with some serious slow smoked food
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: converting to restaurant--advice for new guy 2006/01/15 17:54:02 (permalink)
    I'm no restaurateur...just an eater. So, here's my opinion, which is really a way of saying good luck.

    Go with your gut. Remember, on multiple choice they always said your first answer is usually the right one? Be wary of would-be restaurateurs like me. Our dreams are not your dream.

    You are likely to work most hard on your dream, and believe most heartily in your dream, as opposed to some formula for success. If not, you might as well have a 9-5 or buy a franchise that'll maybe make money, but make you march in lock-step.

    Go in there and love it with all you got.

    Keep it simple, keep it clean, keep it honest. At the end of the day that's the the only way you'd want it anyway.

    It's a tough row to hoe, but methinks glorious when it works out. See you on the cover of Forbes. Good luck, again,
    The Bear
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: converting to restaurant--advice for new guy 2006/01/16 07:24:07 (permalink)
    Hello All,
    I'm with Michael on this. There are certain side orders that you want or expect with bbq., and his choices are
    excellent. I am a lover of fries, but don't want them with bbq., but if you add burgers, I want fries.
    In Harrisonburg, Va., we have something that sounds like what you want to do. It's called the "Smokin" Pig,"
    They don't nearly have the seating room you have, little parking, but do alot of take out. After starting slow, they are doing well now.
    I am sure if you call at the right time, the owner would be able to give you good advice. E-mail me if you want
    the business's phone number. Just hit my profile and then the e-mail section.
    Take Care,
    Filet Mignon
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    RE: converting to restaurant--advice for new guy 2006/01/16 10:06:20 (permalink)
    Sometimes you wonder if these guys who never respond back are getting anything out of our responses.

    You asked about dessert. If you're in the South a HOMEMADE banana pudding would seem the thing to offer.

    Dirty rice, fries and rings would make great sides in addition to homemade mac and cheese and greens.
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: converting to restaurant--advice for new guy 2006/01/17 21:27:07 (permalink)
    You're right. Where'd he go?
    The Bear
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    RE: converting to restaurant--advice for new guy 2006/01/17 21:33:52 (permalink)
    Originally posted by ScreenBear

    You're right. Where'd he go?
    The Bear

    Maybe the ex took it from him
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    RE: converting to restaurant--advice for new guy 2006/02/01 19:41:55 (permalink)
    Hello Jim,

    I cook & sell many types of food in my restaurant, primarily seafood, but my heart is in the "Q". I'm The Executive Chef for one of the largest caterers in Florida, who is primarily bbq, and feeds groups of 10,000. During the last two years I have seen a Memphis BBQ legend leave North Florida completely and another new national chain close a location down and move to another part of town. All of this in the 50 mile radius that spawned Sonny's-Bono's-Woody's franchises. BBQ IS REGIONAL!!!

    Does the area you are in around Nashville need another bbq place and why? What can you do better in the cooking/flavor department that the competition is or is no longer doing correctly? People love sauces and they seek out places with distinctive flavors.

    The Alto Shaam gives you better holding capability than almost all the competition right off the bat, especially if you are to be a one man show. You need to get good with a smoker,maybe get a portable one and fence it in the rear of your place, way cheaper than putting a unit inside and you can utilize it for catering if needed. Does the Alto Shamm have to be under the hood? Anyway,a fryer is necessary, you could fry corn also. I would say yes to french fries, a good 5/16th skin on natural that you can cook crispy and slam the food out of there. Lightly smoked or grilled chicken (held) for sandwiches is probably good but you can make a dozen bbq sandwiches while a burger is cooking and with way less condiments. There are too many places that serve average burgers, which is not what you need. Ribs done correctly and with flavor are MONSTERS, eat in or out they will generate positive conversation (advertising) and a built in to go business.

    If you have a basic,simple bbq menu let the public direct you as you progress, desserts,apps,soups and so on. Being very good at bbq and understated will get you started on a budget but by being there you will establish the quality and reputation of your product.

    The wine is kicking in so I'll quit ranting.. Last night a friend of mine came into the restaurant who owns a Sonny's Franchise and I am constantly reminded of how successful bbq can be. His operation is one of if not the best Sonny's I have ever been to and he came out of a banking environment!

    Will work for wine!!

    If your heart is into this it will work Jim - keep it simple - Best of Luck!

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