One Restaurant.com employee found out first hand when she and her cousins set out to open 40tude Bistro and Bar in Schaumburg, Illinois. The Dish sat down with her last week to learn a little about her experience.
Realizing a Dream
Ask Lea Filipek and she will tell you that a restaurant does not simply open overnight. For Lea, her cousin Randy Santana and his brothers Michael and Ron, starting their own Asian-American restaurant was a 15-year process! They were fortunate to have Randy ̶̶ a chef with almost 20 years of experience in the kitchens of Shula’s Steak House, the Hyatt Regency Chicago and the Sheraton Chicago Hotel, amongst others ̶̶ as an asset from the start, and Lea championed the business end of her family’s dream, convincing her cousins to finally take the plunge and open their own restaurant.
They quickly learned that there’s a lot more to opening a restaurant than just great food.
“You cannot manage a restaurant just knowing how to cook. You have to know the financials and you have to know the marketing side as well,” Lea said.
In fact, she says that choosing the food for their menu was the easiest part of their business planning process. They created a menu well before they had a location or any other logistics in place, drawing from traditional Filipino and Asian recipes they had long enjoyed within the family and a variety of American, southwestern inspired dishes that every patron can enjoy.
Of course, one of the most important aspects of opening a restaurant is finding a suitable location. Pick a busy area and risk getting overlooked and trounced by nearby competition. Go too far off the beaten path and no one will find you.
In this case, finding a location was a fortunate accident. One day, Randy noticed his favorite sushi restaurant had closed and the space was for rent. The family team jumped on the restaurant-ready space right away.
Even with a menu and location locked up, there’s still a lot to do before a restaurant is ready to open for business.
Lea and Randy proceeded to do some heavy lifting, hiring contractors for renovations, meeting with lawyers to discuss health and food codes and safety qualifications, applying for a liquor license and consulting an interior decorator. They also hired an additional chef and a wait staff.
Close but not completely there, the next step was to hold a soft open of the restaurant. The soft open is a common practice in the restaurant industry that allows the chef, in this case Randy, management to finalize training with servers, cooks and support staff. Effectively a dress rehearsal for restaurants before they open to the general public, a soft open allows them to “grease the wheels” of their operation under low stress traffic and close supervision.
Getting Yourself Out There
Even when the restaurant doors open, the management still has work to do in getting the word out and acquiring customers.
Lea’s strategy for 40tude was to flood digital channels, like Facebook and Twitter, with news of the grand opening and menu options. . 40tude also joined the local Chamber of Commerce and advertised in the local newspapers and Filipino community newspapers and magazines.
Word of mouth does help get customers in the door. Think about how many times you’ve visited a restaurant based on a friend or family member’s recommendation versus stopping into a new spot on your own. 40tude Bistro and Bar’s large family base helped support the restaurant’s early success and the staff has done a great job of bringing in friends and new customers.
Supply and Demand
With the restaurant open for business and customers streaming in, there are still tweaks that can be made to perfect the experience for the customers. For example, 40tude discovered that the Filipino dish silog (rice with garlic and fried eggs) off of the Saturday and Sunday brunch menu was extremely popular. Customers began asking for it on weekdays. So, a couple weeks after opening, Randy made the decision to get rid of their brunch option and offer “Filipino breakfast” (silog) every day of the week to meet the demands of his customers.
The process of opening a restaurant is a huge undertaking and most casual diners are unaware of just how much work goes into the opening and operation of our favorite local spots! Share this post to show your appreciation!
Have you ever considered starting your own restaurant? What type of food would you serve? Tell us in the comments section below.
If you’d like to visit 40tude Bistro and Bar, you can find it at 1318 N. Roselle Road in Schaumburg, Illinois.