Written by: Cathi Profitko
Adam Lathan, co-founder and Executive Chef of The Gumbo Bros., is a native of the Gulf Coast of Alabama and a graduate of ICC’s Food Business Fundamentals program. In 2016, he and his business partner Clay opened their first location in Brooklyn to rave reviews. He recently joined ICC students for an Ask the Alumni event where he shared his experiences and advice on opening your first restaurant …as well as some secrets to making a great Gumbo.
Opening a restaurant is both exciting and overwhelming. It means you are creating a business that not only feeds your soul but will pay your bills. A big difference between those who succeed and those who don’t, is how they prepare for and manage the unexpected. How did Adam approach this? Here are some highlights from his discussion.
1. First things first, prepare a business plan.
A business plan is your road-map and will make you focus on all aspects of your business – not just the ones you are best at but more importantly the ones you are not.
2. Be generous with your estimates and set aside contingency to cover the inevitable yet unexpected.
One area that many people miss is that in addition to construction and other startup costs, you also have operating costs (lease, utilities, insurance) to pay, even before you open. Setting aside sufficient working capital to cover this is critical.
3. You will need help.
Use resources and the network at ICC to assemble a team of advisers that will give you honest feedback and advice. The Gumbo Bros. has been operating successfully for well over a year yet Adam still actively maintains and expands his relationships with advisers and mentors.
4. Work with people you trust.
In addition to your advisers, mentors, and business partners, find a real estate broker and an attorney that care about your business as much as their own. You are tied to your lease for at least 10 years… be ruthless in making sure it is the best you can get. Remember, if you can’t take it with you when you leave, negotiate to have your landlord pay for it.
5. Understand what each member of your build out team – Architect, Engineer, Contractor(s) – is responsible for and hold them accountable.
Having had plenty of experience in general contracting while working for his father, Adam understood a lot more than most going into the build out. He recommends hiring a self-certifying architect to save time on approvals, working a “no change order” clause into your contractor agreements and take LOTS of pictures throughout the ENTIRE process. You don’t want to have to take down an entire wall to find out where a leaky pipe is 6 months after you open.
This discussion on restaurant construction could have gone on forever as Adam is a wealth of knowledge… but we were all getting hungry so Adam made us some Cajun Gumbo (the roux is oil based). And, of course, it was delicious!