If you build it.. will they come.. or will you go broke first?

Breaking down a dream
It was a recurring theme in my head..

Feeding people, the larger the group the more exciting it was for me. My dream, however, was to build a unique place for the masses to enjoy our rotisserie barbequed, hand/carved ‘Beef-on-a-Bun’ that only we knew how to do. We needed a storefront location. I figured once we had the logistics solved then the world would be our oyster (move over Mcdonalds …there is a ‘Real Beef’ sandwich in town). My husband and our two kids, our first ’work for food’ employees, tentatively got started. Child labour was not such a big issue back then, in fact we just did what we had to do to pay the bills.

We were not poor, (ok, so we were really poor) and needed to overcome some setbacks from an ill-timed venture that my husband started when the markets were at 20% interest rates. The venture was a tire shop, competing with Canadian tire, I know, that should say it all and but my husband was convinced there was money in tires. He owned a gravel truck and spent a lot of money on tires… hmmmm.

I had my hands full with three hairstyling shops, myself and a good friend of mine co-owned. We each had a salon to run and we oversaw the third one. The reason for having three was because of the locations that opened up and I was always looking for opportunities. This is how and why the Tire shop finally grew wings. A unique building on a visual highway with lots of gravel trucks passing by came up for sale.

This book is about the food and events industry, but it is also my story, maybe the story of entrepreneurs everywhere and what makes us tick? Getting excited about what we do is a given, making it more profitable is our goal. This is the key element in any business.. profitability, if it isn’t turning a profit find out why or move on. This is essential and my only advice for any entrepreneurs that are reading this. Love what you’re doing is also essential to success. A little side note here, we didn’t start the catering business with love, it was a necessary means to an end.

We sort of fell into the food business by accident. Isn’t that how all good businesses start? We were broke and beaten from the tire shop and a brother-in- law had a homemade barbeque. I think everyone knows someone that has a big barbeque that can cook everything from huge chunks of meat to whole animals? Well this one cooked whole hogs on a rotisserie and was much in demand.

We had a whole lot of time on our hands (bankruptcy does that) and no money. The brother- in-law had lots of money and no time. He hired us to go barbeque this whole hog in some godforsaken place up north. Off we go in our camper overnight to spend the next day barbecuing this hog for a gift opening. It was boring as hell and we were hard pressed to fill our time while this thing was cooking, 8 to 12 hours in those days. The guests would wander over and ooh and aah at this whole hog sizzling on the spit. The end of the day, we didn’t even have to carve it, we made over 500 dollars!! At that exact moment, this boring little job turned into a million dollar business, of course I was just dreaming back then.

So started our auspicious career in catering and notice I said OURS! As  it turns out, we need lots of help.. parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings or anyone even remotely related. Our friends were also roped into play/work. THIS is where you find out who your real friends are. Sometimes anyone with a pulse gets snagged into our needs. Don’t be surprised when you show up at an event and we put an apron on you..it is necessary sometimes. We got rid of the brother- in- law when he got greedy and wanted to cut me out . (It had nothing to do with us almost burning his barbeque down to the ground.) We built our own and we.. well not me because I can’t weld, built it bigger  and better than his. We could cook THREE whole hogs at once in ours !!! Oh ya.. we were gonna show him!images[3]

Our  adventure into catering had began .

This recurring dream I had was to open up a real storefront, a turnkey operation that will be, NOT the next Mcdonalds because we’re serving ‘real’ food! We were going to give McDonalds some true competition! (ok.. so I was young and inexperienced we’re going back over 30 years here)

The people want ‘real beef’ in their bun.. beef that is barbequed for 4 to 6 hours ‘slow roasted’ on a rotisserie barbeque and hand carved onto the bun!! Yes.. no cutting costs or corners here.

Just like the movie “Field Of Dreams”..  “if you build it, they will come”.

Well I think there is a lot of that in all of us dreamers and entrepreneur’s and I certainly wanted to build it. I made up drawings of what  the building would look like and I even bought an old  property on one of the busiest streets in the city, I rented it out until I could realize my dream.

I only needed to  find an architect that would work for nothing (and a piece of the pie) but I didn’t count on fighting City Hall about something called zoning and enough parking stalls. Well all I can say about that is, thank god I had renters! That is of course, until they skipped out on the rent. Add the fact that all that traffic zooming past the front door was not conducive to getting good renters anyway.

Then something magical happened, a Swiss Chalet on a real busy intersection closed down, and the building was for rent,  IT WAS PERFECT! well, almost. I needed to figure out how to rotate big roasts of beef in there and not chickens. The location was really busy but only one side of the highway allowed the traffic in. Not a big deal because our food was worth that inconvenience.

images (100)The rent was a little steep though, 10,000.00 a month (that was 25 years ago!) That’s  a lot of money but it was also a prime location and my dream was pretty big. I could hardly sleep and I had all sorts of plans and I needed advice.

So I called the one and only Catering Guru I knew.. he taught us so much over the years. We met him at a yearly conference of classes and lectures and ‘hands on’ teaching in Vegas at a conference called “Catersource”. We were building our business from the input we learned at this yearly show.Mike Roman was THE MAN and I put him on speakerphone for all of us to hear what advice he could give us to make my dream a reality.MIke Roman[1]

After my gushing & glowing report of what a perfect location and building and how many thousands of vehicles pass there every day, he asked me TWO  questions. One: “how much was the rent” And two: (the most devastating question of all) ” let me ask you this Cherylle, how many ‘beef on buns’ will you have to sell to pay the rent?”

Now lets just break this down . $10,000.00 divided by 30 would be 2,500 ‘beef on a bun’  a month …which would be approx. 100 a day. That would be JUST to pay the rent .

Lets see… 2500 beef on a bun would require that many buns at $3.00 a dozen then there would be the cost of about 800lbs of triple A Angus beef  (certified..remember..no cutting corners here). We then have to fuel the barbeque, don’t forget the wrappers and the condiments.. geeze forgot about the cost of staff (well that would be free because we would be running it). Now this is getting real complicated.. and why do we have to pay taxes on the property when we don’t even own it?

Well.. needless to say, when we got off the phone it was not pretty. Didn’t matter how we cut it, diced it or sliced it. Turns out the product we needed to sell to pay expenses, was the deal breaker !!

Some dreams are worth pursuing and some aren’t.. some are realistic and others are best laid to rest. I never gave up on my dream, I just put it on the back burner to simmer and I still bring it out every once in awhile when I see an ideal location or a perfect building or…or…or……..

2 thoughts on “If you build it.. will they come.. or will you go broke first?

  1. Great article! If all potential first time restaurateurs would read this before jumping in it would save a lot of money and heartache. Maybe 1 out of 3 businesses wouldn’t have to fail!

    1. Thanks Marcie! I love getting comments.It was a bitter pill to swallow but when you run the numbers it really brings it all into perspective. In catering if a person worked on putting together a take-out package you don’t incur and other expenses. We did that.. but that is another story..lol

Comments are closed.