Thinking about Starting Your Own Restaurant? A candid conversation with Il Coniglio…

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It’s no surprise that Chicago is consistently rated one of America’s best food cities. Renowned chefs like Dirk Flanigan, former executive chef of the Gage and Henri, have put this town on the map. After years of nurturing his passion for food, developing superior skills, and receiving countless accolades,  Chef Dirk has planted the seed to feed a restaurant company of his own. Partnering with his wife, celebrated artist, designer, and hospitality industry veteran, J.B. Gerolium, the duo plans to launch their first concept together in early 2016 – Il Coniglio.

Starting a restaurant from the ground up takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but with passion, knowledge and experience of cooking, training and operating, and a solid team in place, you can turn your idea into a startup.

Nail your concept.

“First, you need to have a really solid concept that you stand behind,” said Gerolium. “We wanted something that was unique, yet unpretentious, and would highlight Dirk’s pioneering playfulness in the kitchen by giving nods to Italy and France with forward momentum, while upholding a sense of tradition.” Il Coniglio, which means “The Rabbit” in Italian, will expose guests to a culture that exudes casual elegance, refined rusticity, and novel twists on beloved standards. Think seasonal menus featuring fresh farmed ingredients, unique accoutrements, new techniques such as sous vide cooking and vacuum marinating, combined with solid butchery and charcuterie.”

Get a plan in place.

A solid business plan is key when juggling the numerous tasks necessary to get a restaurant off the ground. It should include a general overview of the new restaurant, with detailed research, insight, and background to support the overall concept. The plan should also include general information about the planned location, even if no lease has been signed. A solid business plan is essential to gaining financial support from potential partners, investors and lenders – which is perhaps the most important step to getting the doors open.

Bring in the right team.

“You can’t do it alone,” advises Gerolium. “You need to bring people into your concept who can help you think outside the box, counsel you on issues you aren’t well-versed in, and help you make lasting connections to other people in the industry.” The team at Il Coniglio called on Lema Khorshid, co-founding partner and attorney at Fuksa Khorshid LLC, to provide sound legal advice from the onset, but to also support their business venture by developing legal and business strategies that work in tandem to help Il Coniglio ensure long term success. “Lema and her team have been instrumental in getting our concept off the ground. From expediting permits, to providing sound advice on locations, to intellectual property and branding needs, and raising capital, her team has been there every step of the way. True partners.” Aside from a solid attorney, bringing in other professionals such as accountants, architects, builders and realtors can help to lessen the load when starting up your own restaurant.

Raising Capital

Unsurprisingly, restaurant owners require a healthy start-up fund to get moving. Before you can get started raising capital, you need to get an idea of how much your new business endeavor is going to cost, and it’s important to keep in mind everything from new construction to renovation to wages to inventory and working capital. A lot of this should be addressed in your initial business plan.

Tips for raising funds? “Every cup of coffee is worth having, every hand is worth shaking,” notes Gerolium. “We have our concept clearly defined, and now it’s time to show investors why our restaurant is going to succeed. Developing a solid Private Placement Memorandum, hosting private dinners to give investors a taste of what is to come, and clearly outlining why Dirk and I are a team to be reckoned with here in Chicago has helped us move the needle on our fundraising efforts.”

A solid Private Placement Memorandum (PPM) is an essential legal document provided to potential investors to ensure that regulatory protections are in place. It is an important step in early-stage financing and an experienced attorney can help to create the PPM so it includes all necessary legal structure, investment details and returns, and information and background on the overall concept. “Lema was an integral part in helping us making our concept come to life in our PPM. She was able to help us articulate how we wanted our restaurant and vision to come across, but also how essential our backgrounds will be to its viability and success, while wrapping the necessary legal and business information throughout for potential investors”

How to Manage it All

Opening a restaurant is a huge undertaking, no doubt. Trying to keep a work/life balance can be tough, especially when starting a new restaurant consumes your everyday thoughts – but successful entrepreneurs find ways to make it work.  “My first tip – don’t turn any other rooms into your office. Keep your home your home and your office your office,” said Gerolium. “Also, set up specific times with your business partner to discuss what you’ve both been focusing on that day or week. And make those meetings mandatory.” Finally, Gerolium says that you need to have complete trust in your partner. Gerolium handles operations and design, while Chef Dirk creates beautiful food concepts and manages production/post-production. Both can rely on the other to put in 110% effort, so that each may individually focus on tasks at hand and not have to stress about micro-managing. “Everyone is passionate, and the entire process is shared,” noted Gerolium, who just celebrated her 10-year anniversary with Chef Dirk this past July.

In order to find success, new restaurant owners need to invest a lot of time and money, so make sure that starting a restaurant is your passion, not just a business venture.

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