How to Open a Restaurant 101: Gina Campisi Talks

OK, Dishers. We certainly learned a lot about the food reality TV business over the last week, didn’t we? Lord, I’m glad that soap opera is over. Let us now turn our attention a bit closer to home where another lovely lass in our fair city is attempting fame and fortune.

I’m talking about Ms. Gina Campisi, who is now in the process of getting the doors to her first restaurant, Fedora, open to the public. Last time, she shared some of the problems she faced securing permits. This week, she focuses on the finer points of how to find a location for a restaurant. Gina, you go girl.

“The Road To Nowhere”

Most people who want to start their own restaurants go about it in a systematic and somewhat logical way, with the starting point being a location. Perhaps somewhere they have seen that looks like a high traffic, highly visible, or under developed area, or even a new area that has a buzz surrounding it. Not me. (Jump with her, now)

My partner and I set out on a cold Dallas morning, at noon, the crack of dawn for those of us in the restaurant and bar business. We knew that Plano and Addison were a no as the one caveat for the location was close proximity to family and friends. (After stuffing yourself on complex carbs, no one wants to drive more than 15 minutes to find their pillows. Or at least that is our family credo).

Choice number one was McKinney Avenue. Starting at the north end, we endured the numerous orange cones and strangely Formula One-like curves and geometrically challenged configurations that define new construction, all in the spirit of looking at For Lease signs. And while we spotted many, it took several attempts at circling the block to actually be able to decipher the cryptic symbolism of the “REAL ESTATE SIGN”. Suffice it to say that these signs were clearly based on the SnellenChart for visual acuity used by an ophthalmologist. I needed better glasses, or a visit to Dr. Booth…that much was clear. Or perhaps the realtors might want to consider using a font that those of us who haven’t studied iconography are familiar with and sized larger than an electron. Just a thought.

The next challenge is to start making the calls……my first message to the realtor was a series of ums, short periods of silence, followed by another um. And I always felt I was an articulate person. Clearly, there were questions to ask that the giggles from my partner in the seat next to me told me I had not articulated. Not even close.

The four important questions to ask are as follows:

How much leasable space is available?

How much per square foot?

How much is triple net going to be? (A Triple Net Lease is also known as Net NetNet Lease or NNN Lease. This is a type of net lease in which the tenant pays all or part of the taxes, insurance, and maintenance associated with use of the property. These fees are paid in addition to the tenant’s regular monthly rent)

When will the space be available?

Well, I did receive a call back rather quickly, but perhaps it is because the only relatively coherent thing I had mumbled was CAMPISI.

Needless to say, as with everything I have learned in the last few months, I quickly became a pro at talking the talk, and was soon spewing forth such gems as Load Factor, Building Core, and BOMA. Sexy, right?

This search continued for several weeks, and many “almost deals” went belly up for a variety of reasons. Discouraged and ready to forget the dream, my broker asked me to look at a downtown space, in spite of my earlier reservations. And thankfully, I did so.
One Arts Plaza.

One Arts Plaza is the spot! From the cool people at the development company (Billingsley Group) who were truly interested in the concept, to the amazing tenants such as Paul Pinnell from Dali Wine Bar, who actually has given me wonderful help and advice, it all just came together, and I knew we had a winner. So I signed on the dotted line, and my adventure began. To say nothing of the anxiety, sleepless nights and the nail biting. But the road to nowhere is no longer.—Gina Campisi

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35 comments on “How to Open a Restaurant 101: Gina Campisi Talks

  1. She’s right about that not being systematic or logical. No visibility from a major thoroughfare, no easy access, no convenient surface lot for self-parking, no pedestrian traffic, no established residential density. The choice defies all conventional wisdom about location selection. Time will tell whether Campisi should be teaching or taking “How to Open a Restaurant 101.”

  2. Other questions any potential restaurateurs should ask include:
    - How much tenant improvement allowance is offered? Is it negotiable?
    - When will lease payments begin: upon lease execution and/or space occupation, or upon actual business opening?
    - Is percentage rent levied on the lease? Is the percentage rate negotiable? (Some lessors will assess “rent” on your gross sales – taking a cut of your profits.)
    - What are the terms of early lease termination if the lessor elects to “evict” the lessee but not for non-payment of rent or other financial condition?

    I have faced these questions or situations in the past and in my latest venture, including my group’s own negotiations with One Arts Plaza.

  3. Other things that are fun to discuss with developers/landlords:

    - Exclusivity for a particular food type (i.e. no other Italian)
    - Phase Up rent, especially in a new development: the landlord should give you a discount on rent and percentage rent for the first 1-2 years to build traffic to his development
    - Landlord’s work: make sure to have your GC look at the landlord’s build out responsibility…they can save you thousands (free grease traps, run copper wiring to within X feet of premises (copper is expensive!!), etc.)
    - Signage: get very specific about what you can and can’t do…such a headache to change it after the fact. Can you have a logo, a tagline, or just restaurant name??
    - Dedicated parking – try to snag a few dedicated spots for “take out” directly adjacent to your front door

    It is seriously a beating to open a restaurant…especially an independent. Most developers want tenants who will not default on rent = big companies = soulless chains.

  4. Much, much better picture. I am interested to see whether her restaurant makes it and, yes Gina, I will try it.

  5. Another great read for anyone considering going into the business. Pay particular attention to the additional info furnished by Nate and Jay. Also, get a good lawyer who is familiar with restaurant leases to help you navigate the lease – it is a treacherous document which can have you tied up fianancially for years if you close before the lease term is up. Don’t be your own lawyer and don’t be penny wise and pound foolish here.

  6. As an asside, if you read today’s Sidedish post about the closing of Kitchen 1924, you’ll find that a great and popular restaurant can fail due to being undercapitalized. Not having adequate capital to start with leads entrepreneurs to try to save money on things like a lawyer to help negotiate the leasing process. Cut enough corners and you’ll cut your own throat.

  7. Just a quick note on startup capital needs: you can minimize your startup capital spending if you look at leasing any and all equipment. Some vendors for POS equipment offer leases, which have advantages of quicker service repairs and easy equipment upgrades. Other companies for your non-fixed assets (ie TVs, A/V equipment, rolling fridges/freezers, etc) can offer leases as well. It is creative financing, but it is surprisingly effective and beneficial.

    Put it this way. Suppose that you have quotes totaling $200,000 for various equipment going into your restaurant. By using an “operating lease,” you would make monthly payments like on a car lease. That initial $200k to buy everything turns into about $6k/month payment to the finance group of the vendor. Then the $200k in your bank account and/or budget can go into a separate holding account as emergency or backup capital. The lease payments would be paid out of your regular monthly revenue. Yes, your monthly profit would drop by $6k a month, but you still have a healthy reserve of cash for emergencies or saving up for your next location or concept.

    Yes, this is all legal and legitimate. This is part of my profession in Finance, but it has been handy in my entrepreneurial ventures. All you need is a healthy credit history (investors, yourself, etc) and proof of sufficient capital. That gets you 90% of the way to reduce how much capital you need in the beginning.

  8. Great tips! Also remember that you should absolutely try to limit any personal guaranty a landlord will try to force on you.

    Most principals don’t realize that they have personal liability on the restaurant lease until they get into trouble.

  9. Oh yeah, the other thing: create an LLC, LLP or LP for your business to minimize/eliminate your personal liability. That protects you from creditors, etc. taking away your personal assets. It’s a matter of legal paperwork, IRS and other governmental agencies…and some money.

    You want that safeguard from having your home, savings, investments, kids’ college funds, etc. repossessed. Opening a business is tough enough, but not protecting yourself and your family makes it more stressful. Take the few minutes to apply and send in your application fee.

  10. What an incredible amount of amazingly helpful information. Thanks!!

    E Channel, you are an i-d-i-o-t.

  11. Call me biased, but while LegalZoom might work when one person owns the business, if investors are involved the transaction becomes too complicated for that service. Moreover, you have to use the entity properly once the paperwork is filed.

    The cost of properly preparing the entity is absolutely worth it for limited personal liability, tax management and etsate planning.

  12. I hope to God your partner is not the chick from TRYST…Britney O’daniel…

  13. like a stewart and post his or her name and not be such a lame coward hiding behind fake initials, this is restaurant 101 not a gina bashing party or whatever partners she has

  14. all I can say is this chick is a freaking dog. And no matter how many pics she tries to put up trying to find one where she looks half decent she fails.

    PS From what I recall she even has a man voice to go along with that ugly mug. Oh and did I mention she is HUGE?

  15. What does a person’s appearance have to do with his/her ability to open a successful business? Honestly, the petty, spiteful comments about her appearance are very embarrassing when we should be supporting local restaurant owners. As we all have seen in the last several weeks, more restaurants are closing down. Even in the midst of a difficult economy, we should at least verbally support entrepreneurs like Gina for doing something like this.

    It does sound like Chris tried to get Gina’s attention but wasn’t attractive enough to get it…or she dumped him once she realized how immature he is. Either way, he’s got a major grudge against her.

  16. I agree with Nate. Only a begrudging individual would go to that level of insults. Cheap shot!

  17. Damn. I was reading a couple great and HELPFUL points people were making and then – WHAM! – straight to shit talking, again. Some people just suck at life and, I guess, feel the need to make things suck around them? I don’t know. Cause I don’t suck. Gina’s restaurant will be kick ass I’m sure. “Chris,” so far you’re the face of the resident idiot. Enjoy it much?

  18. Another very entertaining blog. I’m sooo excited for Fedora and really proud of you. Stay on top of your game girl and everything will be fine!!

  19. Gosh, it is hard enough to open a restaurant…but some of these blogs notes are BRUTAL and transcends anything that has to do with opening an eatery!! It’s enough for a girl to have “tough skin”, but in this case-beautiful skin–and both will come in handy when the doors open. Also brutal–Dallas diners usually only give you “one shot to open correctly”…so have your concept well thought out including all details. Success is yours–so send all over-flow over to your good neighbor across the plaza who respects you much–DALI WINE BAR & CELLAR!! (One Arts Plaza rocks!!)

  20. I can’t give any advice on the restaurant business, but I can say Gina is a beautiful person inside and out. So ignore the idiots and keep up the good work!! We are looking forward to supporting Fedora. And I say “we” because there are many of us who support her!

  21. We are so proud of you and will eat at Fedora’s as much as we eat at Campisi’s!! Yeah!! No more cooking for mama!! You are doing a great job with the blog. I had no idea what it took to open a resturant.
    Ignore the mean peole. I think they are jealous.

  22. Seriously. Anyone who has enough time in their day to talk shit about people on a blog need to take a long look in the mirror and realize what a loser they are ( this means you Chris ). Gina probably got more accomplished while you were typing that bs than you have in your whole life. Your are a f’ing dork. Get a life.

  23. Seriously people, can we have an adult conversation here. I am taking down some comments and will turn them off if you can’t carry on a conversation without foul language.

  24. Hey, Gina, I’m hungry. Open them doors already! (Haha don’t beat me. I know these things take time.)

  25. What up Gina, what the hell did you do to Chris, lol, he must really be hurting, he seems miserable!! He must really have self confidence issues or something, he sounds insecure as hell!! Anyone who takes or wastes that much time trying to degrade or hurt someones feelings is just a bitter person who is obviously not realizing that they are just holding themselves back from their own success or TRUE internal joy with their actions… Stay focused and go after your dream…. And dont let the people like Chris, whom Satan will place to discourage, phase you at all……. cant wait to grub… cc

  26. Hey girl, you look smashing as always…looks like things are coming along…you couldn’t be more right about being located in one arts plaza, it looks like the place to be!

  27. Go! Gina! Go! Keep up the good work! Your doing great… You already have some great real estate people behind you so i know you your good on that. Your concept and Chef are awsome… You have always been a hard worker, keep it up and you will make it! Some one as gifted as you could open a fried chicken shack in Gun Barrel Texas and make it!!! Just take your time… Dont rush it… I need to reserve a table for 6??? Your place is going to be packed so I better ask now… Also; Please ask “Chris” to come by my place, I want to have a little talk with him about a difference in opinion. Dont worry “Chris” Im easy to find and so are you…

  28. Gina-

    Best of luck; I know you will succeed. It’s in your blood! Can’t wait to try it out. Fedora–love the name! :-)

  29. GIRL! I am so excited for you. When Charlie and I come back to Dallas, we are definitely going to stop by :-) Love you.