Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hurry Up and Wait

It's been a LONG time since I've updated the blog.  I haven't decided to stop doing it, it's just that I've been putting off writing because I keep thinking I'm going to have some huge news to report on the restaurant front.  Well, there's still not an announcement to make but I figure the whole point of this blog is to document the experience and the process.

Since we moved to NC, we've been working with a real estate broker, searching for the right restaurant space.  We've seen several locations.

We looked at a location in a brand new mixed use building - a pristine white shell.  They wanted a ridiculous amount of money for rent and we'd have to construct a restaurant from the ground up.  No thank you.

We seriously considered buying out the aging owner of a neighborhood restaurant that is housed in a historic bungalow just a couple of blocks from the Carrboro Farmer's Market.  What we couldn't seriously consider was his asking price.

We loved the tiny restaurant space that was tucked in a picturesque courtyard and which was outfitted beautifully - a little jewel box.  But, the owner all but specifically told us not to buy the space due to an unreasonable landlord and major construction which is planned for the building and which would undoubtedly affect business.

We didn't like the nondescript storefront Indian restaurant with the acoustical tile ceiling at all.  We rejected the strip mall space without even looking at it.

The funky free-standing building with an outdoor patio had potential but it was tucked on a back street that wasn't a very good location.

And then...

Our agent called to tell us that a restaurant right on Franklin Street had abruptly closed.  Were we interested?  Um, yes.  Franklin Street is the main drag in Chapel Hill.  East Franklin Street is mainly bars, fast food chains and souvenir shops as the University Campus abuts the street.  The West Franklin side of the street is populated by more upscale restaurants, funky shops, coffeehouses and music venues.  A bit quieter, more neighborhoody, but still easily accessible by foot from the campus.

We went to see the space the very next day.  The restaurant that had occupied the space was fine dining but had been poorly managed financially and the slow summer months in a college town were the death knell.  This is a sad story, especially since the restaurant had enjoyed critical success.  As is always the case, however - one man's loss is another man's gain.

We REALLY like this space.  It's a bit larger than Brendan's dream space but is better suited to reality.  There's a bar that seats about 15 and two dining rooms.  The largest dining space seats 42 and the smaller, back dining room seats 24-30.  Having the dining area split like this is perfect for private functions.  The kitchen is roomy and well equipped and there's plenty of storage and office space.  The best feature?  It has its own private parking lot.  If you know anything about college towns, you know how precious that parking lot is.


We made a lease offer on the space within 5 days of seeing it, offering less than what the owner was asking in rent.  Unfortunately, we weren't the only people who recognized the potential in the space.  Apparently, there were upwards of 10 offers!  Even in this economy!  The reality is that an essentially turn key space within walking distance of campus and the heart of Chapel Hill  just doesn't come along very often.


The owner of the building took more than a week to respond to the lease offers.  The waiting was excruciating.  We knew that at least some of the offers for the space were from national chains.  This could be good or bad for us.  Good if the owner doesn't want a national franchise in his building.  Bad if he cares mostly about deep pockets instead of our fledgling start up.  Did we low ball our offer and shoot ourselves in the foot?


Finally, the owner responded to about 5 of the potential tenants - and we were one of them!  Yay!  But, we're still only 1 of 5.  Would we accept his counter offer?  We quickly deliberated and decided that we would.


And then, in the middle of it all, the owner's real estate agent leaves for a two week Mediterranean cruise.  The owner isn't comfortable working with anyone else, so everything is on hold for two weeks.  I'm paranoid.  Maybe this is a ruse and they're actually negotiating with someone else and just leaving us dangling on the hook in case their preferred tenant doesn't work out.  Our agent's assurances that this is certainly not so don't comfort me.


This past Tuesday - the agent is back in town and the owner wants to meet with us in person.  Can we meet the next day at 2pm?  Of course we can.  Except we also have dinner scheduled with some friends/investors for that night so we'll be out for half the day.  Scramble to find childcare.  Regular babysitter is booked so call my parents.  Will they please pick up the kids from school and keep them for 7 hours?  The most wonderful people in the world don't hesitate - of course they will.

The owner is pleasant, affable.  We chat for nearly an hour and a half about what we plan to do with his building.  He seems receptive and positive.  We all talk about the space as if we have already rented it.  Is this a sign?  But then they mention that there are 2 other prospective tenants they're still talking to.  So, we're one of three.   I feel like we're on a reality show where people are regularly booted off.


They'll be in touch soon.  By the beginning of next week for sure.


And then this morning, an email asking for our financial statement.  As soon as possible, please.  Sent.


1 comment:

  1. wow - i hope you guys still have nails left after this.