The New York restaurant nut is a notoriously tough one to crack. It’s so notorious, in fact, that when I first moved here, a friend joked that I could only consider myself a “real New Yorker” after I’d seen at least three restaurants cycle through the same building space, two of them having closed their doors permanently.
Despite the industry’s reputation, I guess I underestimated just how difficult it is to make it in this business, because I’m surprised and saddened to say that 14 months in, I’m already two-thirds of the way there — several times over.
Two-thirds of the way, but not quite there yet. And therein lies the silver lining.
It seems that several of the new restaurants have figured out how to capture the elusive customer base their predecessors couldn’t.
Take the now-pub down the street from my apartment, for example. The look of the restaurant that previously occupied the space was on the shabbier side of shabby chic, and its food was mediocre, at best. The new owners spiced up the decor with a bit of paint, some booths and a darker finish on the bar, and completely overhauled the menu. It’s a little pricier than it used to be, but the ambience and food quality make people willing to fork over the extra cash. It’s been open about eight months, and the dining room is still packed nearly every night of the week.
Then there’s what used to be the quick-service sandwich place near our office. Despite being in a prime location and having a serviceable selection of fresh, made-to-order sandwiches, the store closed down early this year. Its model included a lot of locally sourced and organic produce, so the prices were a bit higher than the average sandwich shop. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle, but when you’re competing with concepts like Subway, which has built an entire empire around its budget appeal and fresh ingredients, it can be tough to grab, much less maintain, a sales edge.
The prices of the store that opened in its place are significantly lower than those of its forbear, and its “get” is wraps, not sandwiches. It also sells an array of Mediterranean cuisine, further differentiating itself from area competitors. Although it has been open for only a few months, the line has been out the door during every lunch rush I’ve seen.
These newcomers are thriving where others failed because they did their research. They saw what wasn’t working for their predecessors, and they fixed those problems when they set up shop — a good suggestion for would-be restaurateurs all over the world, not just in New York.
And as far as my friend’s “real New Yorker” metric goes, I’m content to put off that particular milestone indefinitely. Learn from others’ mistakes, and help me out with that, won’t you?
Contact Vanessa Van Landingham at [email protected] .