You need a business plan to open a restaurant--go figure...!
So here we have two seasoned professionals in the restaurant biz (even at their young ages) who want to open a restaurant. Anyone will tell you--especially a business pro or a "numbers person"--that opening a restaurant is the riskiest business you can get into. But, well, they have a dream. They both needed and wanted their next professional steps.
Who ya gonna call for advice? Jay McSharry for one. He's one of the most experienced restaurateurs around. We all know Jumpin' Jay's Fish Cafe of course, but he has so many more. And they work. So, yes, he helped with ideas.
Then they called a bank and as Jen says, "very naively asked 'What sorts of things do you need to fund a restaurant project?'" If there was silent laughter inside the bankers' head, I would not be surprised. The bank directed them to the SCORE Portsmouth Chapter for advice and mentoring. The organization is made up primarily of retired business people who know what's up.
As Jen tells it, they sat awkwardly across the table from three gentleman who immediately looked at them like they were nuts. This makes total sense. It is a bit nuts. I opened a restaurant at the height of the internet boom in actual Silicon Valley and it was very, very difficult. But the couple understood that "these kind and talented people had seen many budding and hopeful entrepreneurs walk through their doors" and they quickly bonded with George and Harvey, their mentors.
So, they met every three weeks, then every other week, and by the end of it all several days right in a row. They gave up every day off that they had scheduled off from their “regular” restaurant jobs to make this a reality. They haven't taken a full day off from since the last week in December.
Well, George and Harvey at SCORE realized how serious Jen and Ben are. They pointed them to topics they needed to research for their business plan. One day, Jen walked up and down the streets of South Berwick and counted parking spaces while, she says, "looking like a cookoo bird". They visited the town hall to meet with the department of transportation and got an official report of how many cars pass by the new location in one day. 18,000-19,000 cars per day in the closest intersection? Good to know! George and Harvey helped them with financial projections, cash flow statements, profit and loss sheets, the actual business plan and how to talk with the bankers. While they didn't fund the project with the bank in the end (more on that in the future), they knew how to handle it. Now, they have the funding and a sharp business plan.
Next blog post....what color is that you're painting on those walls? And where's the bar going to be? Oh, and which seat is mine?
I've known Chef Ben Hasty for about 10 years, since he was a 19 year old culinary student. I've written many stories about him for The Portsmouth Herald and for magazines because he's a chef who has always been on the culinary vanguard in our area a leader, an innovator. He has always been a talent to watch, full of great ideas and much enthusiasm.
I wrote about him when he was the sous chef at The Dunaway back in 2006. And then when he became Executive Chef in 2008. I wrote about him when When he brought a pig named Lucy to The Dunaway from his family farm. When he headed up the kitchen at Epoch in Exeter in 2010. And when he was Executive Chef at When Pigs Fly in Kittery. He's made a big difference in our restaurant scene.
And so has his life and business partner, Jennifer Fecteau. I've known Jennifer for years, too, primarily as a bartender who not only makes a great drink, but can handle a crowd and bring people together. She gives front of the house service--most recently at The Wentworth By the Sea Hotel and Spa--that personal touch that gets people to come back again and again. Warmth, personality, and professionalism will certainly abound in this new restaurant thanks to her.
I look forward to telling you all about what's going on at the new Thistle Pig Restaurant in South Berwick and how they build, progress, and grow. We're going to have some fun, some laughs, and some great ideas flying around!
Rachel Forrest is the food writer and restaurant critic for The Portsmouth Herald, Seacoast Online and many other publications. She is the co-author of Maine Classics with James Beard Award winning chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier.