I get asked, a lot, for “coaching” or whatever the current buzzword is on opening a closed door restaurant. While it’s hard to distill the nearly 10 years of Casa S and all the dinners I used to do in NYC, plus a couple of decades of restaurant experience, down to anything that resembles the reality, I’ve come up with a few salient points for anyone venturing into this to think about before taking the plunge:
– First, anti-restaurants are restaurants, they’re just in a home or other space rather than a designated commercial building, and they’re not a new movement, they’ve been around for as long as other restaurants have, all the hype is just young people thinking they’ve made up something new.
– Loving to cook is wonderful, but cooking in a restaurant is not the same as cooking for your friends – people who are paying expect far more in quality, timing, presentation, and everything else, and they will be critical of what you do, even when you think you are doing everything right, and even when you really are doing everything right. People like to criticize.
– It’s a lot of work. think about when you prepare a dinner party or fiesta for a big group of people, and doing that every time you put on a dinner – you will probably want to think about getting some help – someone to clean up and help set up before a dinner, wash dishes during the dinner, and help clean up afterwards, you may even want help in the kitchen.
– It will be expensive to get started – less than a regular restaurant, but you still need to probably think about things like new plates, glasses, silverware, table settings, or at least making sure you really have enough of what you will need. Things will get broken, occasionally things will get stolen by your guests, so consider how your home is setup and what they will have access to. You will probably need more storage and refrigerator space than you think you do, not only for food items but for beverages.
– Depending on where you live, and in most places, it’s probably illegal to open an underground restaurant, do your research and find out what the laws are and what penalties you might face if you get caught, and decide if it’s worth it to you. I do recommend taking whatever your community’s equivalent of a food handling safety course is, just so you understand the proper sanitation and storage procedures in organizing your kitchen. Also keep in mind local alcohol service laws (often those are “skirtable” by making things BYO).
– If it’s not fun, and most people who start one of these decide very quickly that it’s not fun, because it’s not like cooking for their friends or family, don’t do it. If you’re not enjoying yourself, it will show in the way you interact with your guests, and in your food. People will know.
– All that said, and despite that you can’t possibly prepare for what’s coming your way, if you’re still interested, go for it, it’s a grand adventure and at least for me, life has gotten immeasurably richer along the twisting path. I have met amazing people, had conversations and laughs and insights into life that likely never would have come my way not doing this.