Many would-be restaurant entrepreneurs assume that they either have to get the restaurant they want from the beginning or give up the dream altogether. But that is overlooking an important and in many ways even better option for getting into the food business- start with something smaller.
You could start with a food cart, a stall at the local farmers market or a food truck, just to name a few. These are still business options that will let you try out your menu and concept but with a lower initial investment, less risk and less commitment in the beginning- which is the best time to start smaller and not overwhelm yourself.
And in some cases you might be happy not ever getting bigger than these types of venues- I know a family that put their kids through college on the income of a hot dog vendor.
Keep an open mind when you are working on your restaurant business plan and you might find that there are alternative ways to get to the same end that may actually be easier than you had first imagined- and much faster to arrive at from where you are right now.
The Business Journal takes a look at food carts that have graduated to brick-and-mortar locations this week, an idea that’s been germinating in my mind for a while.
I’ve come to see Portland’s carts as a proving ground for people with entrepreneurial spunk but frequently little business experience. I like to patronize a few, watching them improve with experience, or not.
There’s one in particular that I like to visit. The owners are friendly and competent cooks. But they’re clearly newcomers to business.
On my first visit, I paid with a debit card, entering my PIN when handed the key pad.
It turns out, I was entering a tip. Fortunately, my PIN was lower than the bank balance so I didn’t get into too much trouble.
The operator couldn’t reverse the charge and ended up refunding the difference in cash.
I returned a few weeks later. I was glad to see they’d gotten a handle on card transactions. This time, inventory had them rattled.
A few minutes after taking my order for a grilled chicken sandwich — not to mention my money — the proprietor cheerfully informed me she’d have my dinner ready in a jiffy, just as soon as she returned from Fred Meyer with the chicken.
God bless ’em, right?
Food carts are the incubators of Portland’s restaurant industry, a proving ground where folks with a knack for cooking can see if they have what it takes to crack the restaurant business.
It’s a tough way to learn business basics. Cart kitchens are tiny; storage nonexistent. If you miscalculate the day’s traffic, you’ll run out of food or wind up with too much.
The margins are slim, but so too are the stakes.
But they can be masterful teachers. Craig Sweitzer, a retail broker with his thumb on the pulse of the restaurant world, calls carts the “boot camp” of restaurants.
Some make it, graduating from wheeled structures to full-on brick-and-mortar locations. Portland Business Journal subscribers can read about a few of the ones who are making it in Friday’s paper.
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