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Domenick Celentano

How to Start a Restaurant? Not by Watching Americas Next Great Restaurant!

By June 29, 2011

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Sould Daddy Closed 2 LocationsCelebrity Chef Advice Bombs

Did you watch the NBC reality TV series "Americas Next Great Restaurant"? It was an entertaining series that featured aspiring restaurantpreneurs looking to open the next greatest fast casual restaurant concept. Fast Casual gets mixed in with Quick Service (QSR) such as McDonalds. An example of Fast Casual is Panera Bread vs. Casual Dining an example being Applebee's.

Several finalists were :Meltworks, grown-up grilled cheese; Spice Coast, vibrant cuisines from coastal India and Soul Daddy, authentic soul food. Soul Daddy won and also lost in my opinion. That is too bad for founder Jamawn J. Woods.Meltworks

The judges/investors consisted of: celebrity chefs on several Food Network shows, Bobby Flay and Curtis Stone; Lorena Garcia, former restaurateur who founded 2 restaurants featuring eclectic ethnic blends and Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle one of the most successful fast casual restaurants. Only Steve Ells had fast casual experience rendering the others less than useful as investors and mentors.

I work with numerous food entrepreneurs in how to start a food business. So I bristle at how money and celebrity status seem to be credentials to advise food entrepreneurs.

Reality TV Series are Not Reality

Reality TV series, ABC's Shark Tank, for example are entertaining... and provide a disservice to entrepreneurs. This one is probably the worst example of how entrepreneurs pitch investors.

The winner of the America's Next Great Restaurant show received funding from all of the investors to open 3 locations in different parts of the country. The winner was Soul Daddy. What happened?

In a recent post on Eater.com, the headline Soul Daddy Shutters Los Angeles Location Too announced this unfortunate circumstance right after Soul Daddy also Closes NYC Location... one month after opening! What kind of investor team is this with such a short vision span? The remaining Mall of America location is still open. Considering the investors track record, who knows how long it will be before they bail?

What Happened to the Losers?

The Spice Coast concept evolved wonderfully. Sudhir was an example for all food entrepreneurs. He had passion and balanced it with "practical passion" modifying the original concept with many of Steve Ells suggestions. The vibrant cuisines from coastal India were transformed into many hand held menu offerings that fit into the fast casual concept perfectly. Nation's Restaurant News Indian fast-casual restaurants spice up the segment article states that Indian Cuisine is slowly making inroads and referencing a variety of fast casual chains who feel America's next great restaurant will be Indian cuisine. Guess the judges should have been reading Nations Restaurant News... they might not have nixed Spice Coast. If you did not watch the show, view the Sudhir Kandula exit interview video - he has the presence, practical passion and vision that real investors look to when writing checks.

Meltworks also had attributes that showed great promise as a comfort food positioned fast casual chain providing "adult" grilled cheese offerings.  Erics concept was well thought out prior to entering the show... it needed some work... that's why we call it Proof of Concept. I saw the "celebrities" as less than enthusiastic with the concept... it was basic comfort food.  So more bad advise.

Recently Jonathan Kaplan, creator of the renowned Flip cam has taken his money from the sale of Flip (sold to Cisco) and has gone from Flip cam to The Melt Grilled Cheese chain. Now that is someone I would seek advice from. Mr. Kaplan recognized that the same attributes of the Flip Cam, simple, nostalgic, memorable, and affordable to be the same as grilled cheese.

Hmmm... see a trend here in asking the wrong people for advice and finance?

Validating your foodpreneurial Idea

We love to engage with anyone who will listen to our great ideas AND we mistakenly solicit advice during this same conversation. Bad idea! Consider doing some basic research before you start a restaurant.

If you want to be a great golfer, do you hang around with professional baseball players? If you have a great idea for a new gluten free product, don't you think it is best to solicit feedback from consumers who have a gluten intolerance since you will inevitably want to market to that target group? Aren't you better off seeking advice from food industry experts that can clearly articulate how to successfully set up your gluten free manufacturing plan or where to find the best gluten free food co-packers?

Food Entrepreneurship Tips - How To Start a Food Business

You validate a fast casual concept to by seeking out food consultants and investors who have experience in consumer foods and who understand 2 of the Keys to Success in fast casual restaurants : Replicability -  consistently being able to deliver the same food quality and Scalability - being able to take location #1 and growing it to multiple units.

If you don't, you may follow the unfortunate footsteps of Soul Daddy. I wish him all success in his current location.


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