Why Fort Worth Restaurants Are Short Lived and Fail
Don’t let the revolving door of
NEW Fort Worth restaurants
slap you in the butt!
Of course, what you’re reading are just my opinions, but you must remember I was raised in the family restaurant business by an owner/chef father who was very successful in what he did. I learned a lot from him. The most important thing I learned from him was that you must know what the locals want (after all the locals are your bread-and-butter,) what the locals really want to buy, what average price the locals are willing to pay for a fair value meal and even more important – are the locals willing to eat more than just one meal a week with you or consider you their frequent place to eat.
The answers to these concerns must dictate the items on a restaurant’s menu and
what percentage of the local public would choose these menu items on a somewhat regular basis.
At the risk of stepping on some toes I want to tell you a story about what I shared with a very successful local restaurant owner many years ago. Unfortunately, my comments fell on deaf ears. This “so far successful” restaurant owner didn’t want to recognize the trends of changing times.
I told him it was critical to look at the state of other restaurants in his niche. Or did he even know he needed to identify his niche? Did he even know what a tight micro-niche is and how it affects small business, especially owner run non-franchise businesses?
Well, no! But the worst part was this restaurant owner’s ego got in the way and he wouldn’t even listen! And, ego got in the way convincing him that the menu and way he ran his restaurant for twenty years would always work. Well, it did till he had to lock the door!
Everyday diners gravitate toward traditional simple, satisfying and somewhat healthy menu items instead of the ultra-fancy stuff at a fancy price.
Remember, people have changing tastes as a variety of specialty food places emerge in the
marketplace or neighborhood where they spend their food dollars.
But, the newness will wear off! It always does unless you are the norm and mainstay standing out in a crowd that has frequent occasions to eat the flagship kind of selections your menu promotes.
Have you ever driven by Westside Cafe on Camp Bowie West just past the Cherry Lane traffic signal early on a Saturday morning or at lunch time or even Sunday about noon when many church services end? Westside Cafe’s parking lot is full and yes, most of the customers are a little bit on the blue hair side. (Those older folks were also a slender majority of those who frequented the closed restaurant I already mentioned.) The over 45 crowd seems to support a major portion of business at Westside Cafe as well as the retired folks and others who just want an early start with a regular traditional breakfast before heading out to whatever their weekend activities are.
Did I mention that loyal and returning often diners love the personal attention they get regardless of the price they are paying for a meal? This was a big attraction for both restaurants. People like to be welcomed like a good friend stopping in for a visit.
Another wildly successful Camp Bowie eatery is Jason’s Deli, still family owned out of Beaumont Texas for 40 years and still community focused. Jason’s Deli has grown to many states and continues to serve a menu they describe as healthy options that are quite simple and an extensive fresh salad bar. The gingerbread mini-muffins are a sweet delight and everyone can have soft serve ice cream, serve yourself style. The menu occasionally features a seasonal choice or two that regulars love.
I have seen the huge volume of delivery items going out the door of Jason’s Deli whenever I stop in before 11:00 am for lunch take out. Jason’s Deli has figured out that good value for a decent price and delivering consistent quality is what keeps people coming back. (And, NO, I am not paid or compensated by anyone to give my opinion and experience about Jason’s Deli, Westside Cafe or any other restaurant.)
I think about several restaurants that have folded over the years, restaurants that
called me in for a business consultation when they knew they were in a downhill slide.
Unfortunately, by the time restaurant owners called for help these businesses were too far gone, working capital was gone or they had employees stealing them blind. And, the common denominator of these restaurants’ managements was that they didn’t have the guts to face the problem, to make fast changes even if it meant a big image makeover or to fire “trusted” key manager type employees who were destroying the bottom line by ordering in huge amounts of liquor then carrying the overflow of booze out the door at lock-up time. Yes, the owners went home after the kitchen closed. Management staff always lingered to look after the clean-up crew. They watched alright! They watched until the coast was clear to haul out the booty!
Having eaten at Westside Café off and on over many years I have noticed the changes that have taken place. Some of the vegetables now seem to come out of a freshly opened number 10 can – not unlike some other restaurants but these vegetables are not glopped up with some sort of “signature” fancy sauce or other strange presentation secret that leaves them unrecognizable. You don’t need to Google the strange named menu items to know what is in them or what they are!
Ownership changes can be disastrous to longstanding restaurants
that have served simple staples successfully for a generation or more.
Like Vickery Café where a new owner must have become bored with the basic, but successful, menu items. The tweets from then current chef/owner(?) describing new menu items showed a major fancying up to the menu selections. It was interesting to see that after a run of these new items, suddenly the chef was tweeting that he was looking for a job as chef. (smile)
Personally, I see a rush to create odd stuff in most new high-end restaurants.
And, the food they are serving really isn’t anything that I am willing to spend high bucks for – it masks the natural flavors many of us crave. There are exceptions, like Molly McCook who is the chef-owner at Ellerbe Fine Food (on Magnolia Avenue in the Near Southside of Fort Worth) who can be found shopping with Ben Walker and Greg Johnson.
Every Saturday you’ll find Ben and Greg, owners of B and G Garden, at the Farmers Market off Hwy 377
in west Fort Worth (in the parking lot with a dive shop, fishing gear store.) They sell their Parker County
fresh picked produce to a following of loyal customers and to select elite markets and restaurants.
My hubby and I enjoy perfectly prepared classic cuisine. But so much of today’s high-end options are one chef trying to be more unusual than another. Their food presentation photos appear to be a conglomeration of non-appealing ingredients piled on each other with no regard for appearances or compatibility blending of flavors.
If you follow the tweets and real estate news about downtown Fort Worth and W. 7th St. restaurants, some of the newer ones on the near southside Magnolia area and even on Camp Bowie in west Fort Worth, you’ll notice a trend in turnover of location. Sometimes this turnover occurs within the same mother company by just changing the name or the offering for the closing restaurant. But for the most part, it is a signal that one eatery has “bit the dust” and another is moving in.
Just follow Bud Kennedy’s tweets and you won’t miss a beat.
Bud is the long-time food guru of Fort Worth and can be found at @EatsBeat on Twitter.
Moving into a failed restaurant location has long been thought to be a bad business decision. Incoming restaurants are now targeting these “failed” locations because they are moving in for a “cheap” finish out using the existing infrastructure even if the kitchen may need specific changes.
Greed comes into play and the new tenant thinks saving a bunch of money is a windfall. And… before long that new tenant is closing the doors so another tenant can make a stab at success. It’s a constant revolving door syndrome causing so many to lose so much! And, many aspects of location, parking, ambiance, marketing plan, quality of service, competition, trending areas, along with the lack of any one of these could be the ultimate reason for failure of an otherwise good business.
A major factor I see affecting the West 7th area restaurants (and the main reason my hubby and I usually don’t eat there) is the parking. Or should I say absence of convenient-to-door parking. I shop Target, Office Depot and Pets Mart off Carroll Street and occasionally pop in to Subway for a quick sandwich but that is because the parking is easy. You may do the park and hike thing once, but there won’t be a second time unless you have a super good reason to do it.
Another BIG thing to remember is NEVER leave anything visible or even in your car when you stop to eat in an area with so many restaurants. The bad guys know they have ample time to shop the inside contents of your car when you head to your choice of restaurant. All it takes is talking with a West 7th area Neighborhood Police Officer to realize the risks of carrying a lot of cash or leaving your laptop in your car.
So, if you are thinking of starting a restaurant, move an existing restaurant or see your business needing a push to keep its market share call me for a free and accurate three-point business evaluation. That’s what I do and I have done it for more than 20 years. Yes, I have the wrinkles on my face to prove it!
We are seeing changes within struggling franchises that actually replace one branded restaurant with another concept brand they own. Needless to say, many of these brands and concepts are unproven in the Fort Worth and north Texas marketplace! Just because a menu of uniquely created items works in another part of the country or world, it does not guarantee success here.
What amazes me with franchises is that many times they rely on published statistics and NOT on the local “boots on the ground” for location advice when placing a new company or franchisee owned business in any area. Again, for a real, honest evaluation just call me. Save yourself the mistake of investing your nest egg in a location or specific business that could be doomed from inception, not just a restaurant but any business. The basics are the same, the trends vary and your flavor is specific plus you deserve success.
Whether this revolving door turnover signals the failure of an independent restaurant or one within a “franchise” family, it’s still a failure and a big personal loss to whoever put up the heart, sweat and investment to make it a dream come true.
The restaurant business is tough! Why do so many people think they are special enough to make it work? With no real experience? With no proven concept or menu?
I am anxious to hear what you think. Be sure to leave your comments below or hop on over to our West Fort Worth Chatter Facebook page and group. See you there!
This blog first appeared on www.westFWchatter,com.