December 9, 2017

It's snowing!

I know I've been quiet these days. And the website is up at the old www.witsendbar.com address. But I have not forgotten you! And I hope you don't forget me! I'll post a Grand Opening update soon. But until then, come on by! I'm here. I'm always here! ;-)

And things are going well!



November 27, 2017

Game On! (#18)

We are open! And yes, I am tired!  But excited.  Things continue to get smoother each day. The drinks are awesome. The food is getting great feedback. And eeveryone seems to be really taking to the place. The move symbol wall is challenging everyone. The riddles on the chalkboards are perplexing.  People are wondering whether "Send Nudes" in the Scrabble Bar was just a coincidence! Saturday night, surprisingly had about 8 tables playing all sorts of games, as well.

Next up... marketing and word of mouth.  We need to go viral-ish. So, please check out the article below and share it with your social media networks! Not sure what more to say. Except, come on over tonight! (Yes, I will be there when you arrive. We open at 4:30PM every day!)

Check this article out from today!

And here are some photos.  First one is Wit's End Customer #1!







October 17, 2017

Clearly, I was unclear. (#17)

All:

So much to do, so little time. The place is shaping up nicely. Still looking for a bartender or two! I am delaying my opening until mid-November. But please read this, and if you are so inclined, act now. I would think most of you would - well those of you who like great deals, anyway. It's an email I will be sending out shortly.
-----------------------
Hi everyone,

If you are receiving this, I either know you or know someone that knows you.  I have spent the last 10 months planning to open a bar/restaurant in Cambridge, MA. And the time is very near. Everything is fully funded and ready to go. I would be honored if you would come by for a visit. It's called Wit's End and it's in Inman Square.

I wanted to find a way to give my network a special benefit by giving you a gift card for an amount at least 30% more than the value of your contribution. That's it. There are no gimmicks. If you plan to visit anytime in the future, this should be a no brainer.

You will also get other trinkets, like T-shirts and coasters and - for a larger investment - the opportunity to leave your mark on the bar itself!

I chose kickstarter as a way to facilitate this offer. It is a means to get this out to you in an easy and accessible way. I have heard from people that doing it on kickstarter is confusing and strange - and that my keen business mind is up to something (obviously they don't know me that well - my mind is far from keen). But I think it just might be an atypical kickstarter campaign. There is not much typical in my life these days! 

This is an all or nothing proposition. About 15 people have contributed and will be receiving bigger gift cards than they paid for - some will have left their mark on the bar forever! But we need to reach the $5,000 mark for anyone to get anything (we are 35% of the way there).

So, here it is... Click here now. Contribute. Get more in return. 

Click this ==> KickStart Wit's End

Thanks,
-Pete
----------------------------

October 4, 2017

Getting Social and Kick Starting with the Ghost-to-Ghost (#16)

I can honestly say I may never have been busier with so many tasks than I have been over the past few weeks! But everything seems to be coming together... I think. From cleaning, to construction, to certifications, to hiring, to technology integration, to signing up vendors, to health inspections, to equipment maintenance, to operational processes, to furniture procurement (and selling) to the ever important table and coaster making, there is more to do than there are hours in the day (plus a bit of time reserved for anxiety, anticipation and excitement).

BUT....

For this to be a success, there is one major component that ultimately, I cannot control. And that is you, my... ummm... Wit's Enders.  Without any of you, all of this effort will be for naught. Now, that doesn't mean I can't TRY to control you! So, I am going to ask each of you for a favor. It's very simple. Together, perhaps we can all work to make this a huge success through a tiny, little selfless act. But first, a very short story...(you can skip to FAVOR below, if you must...)

When I was young, I loved to read books from a series called The Three Investigators. The books were mysteries (like the Hardy Boys books) chronicling the tales of three young boys - Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw - as they solved one mystery after another. (I never thought, until now, how convenient it was that they continually had mysterious things happen all around them - enough to fill about 42 books... but I digress.) One "tool" they invented was called the "Ghost-to-Ghost" hookup. You can read about it here, I think - I don't have time. :-)

As I remember, however, the essence is this. Each of those sleuthy dudes called 5 additional friends and asked them to either spread the word about something or be on the lookout for something. BUT, they also asked their friends - because they had influence (which I am certain you have) - to also call 5 more friends and relay the same message. And asked them to call 5 more... and you can see how this, plus a little 7th grade math, makes this the greatest ponzi scheme, errr, I mean communication scheme in the world.

FAVOR
I have started a kickstarter campaign. You can read about it through the link below, but if you are ever going to go to Wit's End, this will be worth it. Wit's End also has an Instagram, Twitter and Facebook account. I am asking for your support and for you to join the kickstarter campaign (again, will be worth your while) as well as like/follow these accounts. Here's the favor, can you do that PLUS, send an email or SHARE the kickstarter campaign with your network, but more specifically, ask them to do the same (between you and me, I think a personal email to 5 trusted friends might go just as far as a "Share," but ultimately, it's your call)?!

That's it.  Please, do it now? I know you are super busy. But if you don't, you'll never come back to it, you know that. I'll owe you one. And, well, you'll know where I'll be for you to collect! Click below for each!

KICKSTARTER
INSTAGRAM
TWITTER
FACEBOOK
(and my new personal Facebook Profile)

In the end, this is  all is being done to serve you, my current and future friends. So I thank you genuinely for helping me to make this venture a success!

Humbly,
Pete

September 16, 2017

Be Careful What You Wish For! (#15)


As of Friday, September 8, 2017, my LinkedIn profile became a lie. I am no longer a future bar owner. I am a CURRENT bar owner! (Or just "bar owner," as we, ahem, like to say in the industry.)

Papers are passed.
Deal is closed.
The countdown has begun...

The last 8 months were a seeming walk in the park. It's sprint time...
  • A real schedule needs to be solidified
  • Construction needs to start (demolition begins MONDAY!)
  • Vendors (lots and lots of them) need to be lined up
  • Servers and cooks and bartenders need to be hired
  • Kitchens and bars (well, one kitchen and one bar) need to be thoroughly cleaned
  • Furniture needs to be ordered (I have too many stool samples! Ummm, bar stool samples, that is)
  • Plateware and glassware need to be ordered
  • Last minute design decisions still need to be made
  • Technology needs to be defined and implemented
  • Back of the house systems (security, music, internet, phone, TV, etc.) need to be turned on
  • Menus need final creation and definition
  • Concept needs a better "elevator speech," and...
  • Marketing needs to begin!
Wait - marketing already began! Unbeknownst to me, a little story was cobbled together from a Craig's List job posting and this very blog! Click Here to see Wit's End's very first press! (As an aside, check out the double possessive punctuation in the last sentence! Which leads to a very Witsendian topic (yes, that's an attempt to coin a new word, Witsendian... give it time, I feel it will catch on): Is the punctuation on "Wit's End" actually correct? Should it be Wits' End? (and... are nested parentheses even legitimate?)).

Despite not being interviewed for that story, my proactive marketing efforts must begin soon! These days, I am told, that means social media. Yes, while I may be a generation (or two) outside of the prime social media using demographic, I do have an expert consultant on staff (and for the right price, too - my 15 year old daughter, Annie)! So, in about a week, I will post my social media sites and I want all of you to get that Instagram account and figure out finally what Twitter actually is used for and friend, like, follow, join or whatever else needs to be done to stay apprised of all things Wit's End! (Don't worry, for you old fogies, I'll walk you through it!)

If time allows, I intend to also literally kick start this effort with an actual kickstarter.com campaign that should enable the mutual backscratching thing (I scratch yours, you  scratch mine). I hope to afford all of you special Wit's End benefits, deals and discounts (consider it a reward for enduring my blog!). And you won't have to do all that much to get them (just a tiiiiny little bit)!

Now, I have to go and finish making these friggin' tables....

Skål!
-Pete


August 23, 2017

Pssst... Want to Know a Secret? (#14)

The time is here. BUT before just blabbing where the bar is going to be and when we are opening, I feel compelled to make you suffer through what I have been doing the past few weeks. So sorry - my blog, not yours. Feel free to jump to the bottom. But you will be missing out on some super great updates!
Fancy Fancy!

I received my Cambridge Business Certificate (and ordered business cards).
("Page 73, Johnson, Navin, R.! I’m somebody now!")

I hired a manager who actually knows what he is doing!
(Dah-da-dah! Welcome, Joshua Dunton!)

I got Cambridge License Commission Approval for the transfer of my liquor license.
(So it is confirmed that I will have alcoholic beverages! Yippee!)

I began working shifts at a real, operating bar - more on this in a minute.
Hiding in the Basement
(So THAT's how it works! It's actually not rocket science.)

I decided to go with "Debate" instead of "Discourse" or "Discussion" in the logo.
(This has proven to be a volatile discussion topic itself... ummm, I mean debate topic.)

I finalized the "American Tapas" menu with dueling small plates.
(Bolstering the "debate" concept - there are two sides to every story and two sides to my menu).
Best. Crushed Ice. Ever.

I went to my first restaurant auction.
(It took me about 4 hours to get a $60 ice crusher - which might not be worth more than $60).

If you have read this far, let's play trick on those who skipped to the end! I'll include a photo that was sent to me of a random bar called Wit's End (I think in New Jersey). That's not my bar... but they won't know that!!! Hah! Classic!

I kicked off a technology project tying in digital signage, an app and a loyalty program.
(Come on, you know me.... there had to be some technology going on here).

I managed to secure oodles of parking in Inman Square all around the bar.
(Now there are NO excuses for not driving in for the night!)

That's a lotta wood.
I decided to build the tables in the restaurant area all by myself.
(And when 900 pounds of wood showed up, I decided I might have over committed!)

I introduced myself at an Inman Square Neighborhood Association meeting.
(However, nobody cared. I was overshadowed by the incoming Medical Marijuana Dispensary). 

I determined that my "Yin/Yang" plates idea is unlikely to come to fruition.
(Ordering plates from China - 4,000 minimum quantity; 2,000 if I pick them up - seems somewhat overkill).

____________________________

So, if you skipped down to here without reading the updates, well, I hope this feels a little like watching Game of Thrones... starting on Season 3. However (sigh), it most likely won't. In any case, here she is in all of her glory!

Inviting, right?

While I don't have an exact opening date, it appears that early November is a strong Grand Opening candidate. I will be taking over the existing space at 1248 Cambridge Street in Inman Square. It is currently Hops Test Kitchen. This restaurant will be closing (obviously), but their sister restaurant in Coolidge Corner in Brookline, Hops N Scotch, is alive and thriving. How do I know? Because that is where I have been staging (new word for me.. rhymes with "Raj-ing"... those silly French). It has also afforded me the opportunity to try their food a few times and it is gooo-oood. For real! Check them out! (I'm partial to the pastas and burgers)!

There it is... Tell all your friends. Seriously. Tell them ALL. Please. Getting people in the door is soon to be my next concern!

Seiradewa!
-Pete

P.S. If you are confused because Google Street View does not show the Wit's End Tavern in the above picture... joke's on you. You'll have to read the entire post now!

August 4, 2017

See First that the Design is Wise and Just; that Ascertained, Pursue it Resolutely (#13)

Yes, I'm back to Shakespeare... or am I? While that quote (this blog's title) is widely attributed to Shakesepeare, it is not found in his plays. Is this then, Fake News? Some think so... I'll leave that up to you to figure out! For me, I'm just trying to say that it's time to talk design!

I am an engineer by training/education. Ask anyone who knows me, "great design sense" would likely not make the top 25 list of traits I possess. Or 50. Or 75. (I am going to go out on a limb and say, yes, it would be in the top 100 - I mean, how many actual traits are there?)  So, from my perspective, "designing" the bar's decor was a daunting task. To be sure, I had lists and lists of ideas, but bringing them all together into a cohesive form? Yikes.


(Cue the trumpets!) Enter LLM Design (www.llmdesign.com). They helped, and continue to help, me define the entire brand experience - basically, they're wrangling my thousand ideas into a few actionable ones. Oh, and designing the interiors. And doing my website. And logo. And menu layout. And even come up with messaging and some cool taglines like: Wit's End -  Lift a Glass, Raise the Bar, Elevate the Conversation. (Cool, right? Recall the concept is about stimulating discussion, engaging in debate, and having fun!) Well, they've been working pretty hard and things are beginning to take shape...

Here's a preview of some "decor" elements...

The Bar
There are two sides to every story. Two perspectives. Two opinions. So why shouldn't there be two sides to the bar? Covered in tiles to keep it entertaining...



TV Talk
I didn't spend 6 years collecting TV Guides for nothing (almost 300 guides). I just didn't know WHY I was doing it. Until  now. The TV Guide Wall...

Center Table
Enjoy sitting, eating, drinking and playing! You'll be encouraged to do it all, especially as a guest sitting at the Center Table...

Menu Cover
Yes, decisions all the way to the menu cover need to be made...


The Great Movie Wall
I happen to love movies. I love talking about them. I love quoting them. I love trivia involving them. So why wouldn't I incorporate them into Wit's End? I wouldn't... not... umm... I did! Can you name the movies these represent? Got other ideas? This is your chance to be enshrined on a wall (I know, right?!)...

The Logo
The brand is beginning to take shape. The concept is congealing. The operations train is leaving the station. Decisions are being made every day. With all this going on, I will be posting more frequently now. And you'll start to see this more and more... (T-shirts will be on sales soon! ;-) )



Živjeli! Uzdravlje!
-Pete

July 7, 2017

The Light at the End of the Tunnel... (#12)

So... Did you miss me? It has been six weeks since my last post and no, I wasn't sunning myself on a beach in Saint Tropez (I don't even know where Saint Tropez is. Oh, now I do. Thanks, Google. Hah! I also thought it was 'San' Tropez - I hate that place now.)

The last six weeks have actually been more like a roller coaster than a train in a tunnel. But I'm think I'm going to force this Light-At-The-End-Of-The-Tunnel metaphor to work, so... not an ordinary coaster.  More like Space Mountain - you know, the dark one down in Disney World? Anyway, I had some pretty great moments of accomplishment... followed by some pretty tough lows that felt like gut punches (hence, the ups and downs of a roller coaster - oh boy, if I am explaining this, it really is forced). And once or twice, I thought the light at the end of my roller coaster tunnel was indeed an oncoming train (or coaster... you get my drift).

Yes, it was touch and go as I negotiated a new lease and searched for a chef. However, in the last few days, it looks as though it is all coming together and the light might actually be the tunnel's end (and in Space Mountain's case, probably the end of the ride... and since it is not the end of my Wit's End ride, it is the end of my troubled roller coaster train metaphor, which was kind of a disaster, oh well).


I have been working feverishly trying to remove the fly from the ointment (this isn't another random metaphorical idiom... see Post #11). And as of July 3 (yes, it took forever - for reasons I will only share over a cocktail), I have the landlord's agreement allowing me to take over the lease from the existing tenant. (Aside: Buying your own restaurant or bar? Remember Pete's Lesson #425: Discuss a new lease with the landlord while simultaneously negotiating the terms of the purchase agreement... not after!)

Which means... only the transfer of the liquor license from the sellers to me stands in the way of Wit's End becoming real! (Cue the majestic trumpets!) THAT and about a thousand other tasks, which, upon execution, will ultimately answer your most burning questions: What about the chef? When do you open? Where are you located? What else has to happen?


Well... I hired a chef (he wasn't Swedish). And... I was really excited. And... the chef kinda had a change of heart two days after I hired him (in fairness, he never really got started). And... I was really bummed. So... I hired another one. And... I am really, really excited. (See... a little bit of a roller coaster still going on here!)

I can tell all of you (because I know you are super concerned about this), that the food - still small plates - is going to be awesome.  You see, folks kept badgering me into making sure I actually TASTED some of the chef's cooking before hiring him (okay, okay, it was the right call!), so I had him cook for me! (Quick aside: Did you know you can rent time in a professional kitchen pretty easily? I went to www.foundationkitchen.com and Ciaran and Tara totally hooked me up.... and while circumstances dictated that I did not end up using their kitchen, it's a great resource to know about...right in Somerville!) It went splendidly and I am totally confident that the food is going to be fantastic. Better than I would have expected!

With the locomotive, uhhh, coaster (now I'm confused) now moving at full speed, I realize I need to put my MS Project skills to work and develop a schedule (or more likely SmartSheet skills - it's all about the cloud, baby! Wow, I just dorked out. Sorry.)  Some things I need to schedule out (that I'll be discussing soon):
  • my new logo and taglines and other branding
  • my drink menu and beverage program (still need a kick-ass bar manager!)
  • menu design and presentation
  • the interior design and furniture plans
  • an exterior building mural
  • the Wit's End loyalty program (what's your level? Witty, Wittier or Witttiest?)
  • the social media plan
  • uniforms
  • an online platform to standardize operational procedures
  • more hiring
  • training plans
  • liquor license hearings and final transfer process
  • and.... wait for it... an announcement of WHERE and WHEN Wit's End will be opened!
Holy crap. That's a lot of stuff and there is more. Feels like a runaway train (on a roller coaster track)! I gotta get back to work!

Na zdravi!
-Pete


June 12, 2017

Ack! A Fly in the Ointment! (#11)

I should have known.

Obviously titling a blog post "I Love It When a Plan Comes Together" is a recipe for disaster. And disaster is indeed trying to make an appearance. Which is exactly why I am writing this blog entry. In an attempt to stave off disaster and "un-curse" myself, I am going to share what is happening with you (and then deliberately NOT knock on wood). That way, I'll have created a recipe for "un-disaster" which should set everything back on track! Sometimes, my genius surprises even me.


Everything this week was moving along swimmingly. Final negotiations of the Purchase and Sales agreement were completed [check]. Creation and registration of LLC completed [check]. Met with landlord and charmed the pants off of him [check]. Had discussion of when I would start working in the existing bar's operations [check]. Funded bank account with a check [check]. Checked in on a Czech [check]. (Okay, one of those was fake.)

First, a little review... Upon purchasing an existing bar/restaurant, one really is purchasing its assets, which consist of only a few things: a liquor license, some kitchen equipment and furniture, dishes and silverware, and the right to assume the existing lease. In essence, one is mostly purchasing an "opportunity" to be in a certain location, because rarely is the same name and concept kept in place. So effectively one is buying a lot of air... the American Dream... God Bless America!



Well, a portion of my "air" hit a snag today. It was terribly deflating (get it.. air... deflating... hah! I'm so punny! Oh, oh, you might say my bubble was burst! Hah! Another one!). The landlord, whose approval I need in order to assume the existing lease, suddenly reversed course and suggested he would rather not amend the lease at all, leaving me with just over a year left on the lease and then the possibility of a major jump in rent. (Insert sound effect, in your mind, of deflating balloon here. Heh-heh, it was a funny sound, right?)

"Oh, dear!" is right! And possibly a mistake on my part. Yikes. We shall see.

So now, it is time to work! I am in the midst of the negotiation to save this particular space. I have high hopes an agreement can be reached - after all, I am extremely reasonable and charming (did I mention that already?). But we are at the precipice! The rubber is meeting the road! And I am very, very close to being at my...  wait for it... WIT'S END!

Stay tuned!

Ofa atu!
-Pete

April 26, 2017

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together! (#10)

Oh, Hannibal! Truer words were never spoken!

Planning is everything.  But watching the A-Team growing up showed me that executing against the plan is actually more fun! (As an aside, ever notice that despite bullets flying everywhere, massive explosions, and countless jeep rollovers, no one was ever, ever, ever killed?!)

Hmmm... Let's see... A quick update, perhaps?

Made an offer for an existing place! Offer accepted[YAY!] (well, rejected at first[BOO!]. Offer increased (sigh) [YAY- no, wait, BOO!]. Then accepted[YAY!]). Deposit submitted. Lawyer engaged. Landlord engaged. Designer engaged. Website creator engaged. Architect engaged. Contractor engaged. Kitchen specialist engaged. Bookkeeper engaged. And now you're engaged... err... up-to-date!

So, what is this "A-Team" doing? Everything to get the Wit's End business and location up and running!
  • Designer - Working on the fun stuff: logo, website, messaging 
  • Architect - Figuring out how to inexpensively translate my vision inexpensively into the physical world (the second 'inexpensively' is for emphasis - in case they are reading this!)
  • Contractor - Completed inspection walk-through... with minimal sighs and groans - I could have sworn I even heard a "not bad" mumbled along the way
  • HVAC/Refrigeration - Inspected key building and kitchen systems. Uh-oh, a bad compressor for the walk-in fridge! Negotiations ahead (or a dry-goods only menu - beer nuts for all!)
  • Landlord - Assessing my "worthiness" to take over the lease (I swear I'm the worthiest! - in case he is reading this!)
  • Broker - Pestering me incessantly to push the deal forward faster (just kidding - in case he's reading this!)
  • Attorneys - Spinning up entity, reviewing lease, writing purchase and sales agreement, making sure licenses are clean and spending lots of hours doing what I could probably have done online for about $100 (but totally worth it - in case they are reading this!)
  • Bookkeeper - poised with spreadsheet open and checks ready to be cut (but not too many! - in case he's reading this!)
What is next, you might ask?  Well, how about me waking up at 3AM last night in a cold sweat? Perhaps my subconscious finally believed me that THIS IS HAPPENING! It's Go Time! Sure, it's not done until the ink is dry, but we're getting there fast!  And I need people who can manage the bar and manage a kitchen (if you know anyone, don't hesitate to reach out - in case you're reading this!)

Looks like it's time for another plan!
Da-di-dah-daaah...  Dah-dah-daaaah!
(that was the A-Team theme... obviously)

Skaal!
-Pete

April 5, 2017

Here's Hoping the Bard is Right! (#9)

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet."

How can one argue with Shakespeare? (In full disclosure, I wanted to be sure I knew what I was talking about... so, yet again, hats off to Google! Cliff's Notes: Willie says names don't matter.) If you disagree, answer me this:  Is it Location, Location, Location? Or Name, Name, Name?

Now, I know that not everyone will be satisfied with the selected name because, well, because of the 107 votes cast, only 28 chose it. And yes, a whopping 41 chose "Steins." And in 3rd place, with a paltry 15 votes, was "The Inflection Point."  So, on one hand, I'm totally listening to the people...Inflection Point is out. On the other hand, no one ever said this was a democracy!

Here's my rationale: Steins is a good, strong name (after all, fun fact: Stein is German for "Rock"). And, yes, the pun would be intended (if I have to explain the pun, it's already too late for you). But 95% of the patrons in my bar won't know that I am a "Stein." So they will naturally think it's a "beer bar" and that is not the concept nor reputation I'm shooting for. I hate disappointing people (inadvertently).

BUT... given the concept is about intelligent debate, animated conversation and witty discourse... What better name can there be but (...drum roll...) WIT'S END! (...pregnant pause...cymbal rolling on floor... or... slow clap?).

So, get ready to come raise a glass at Wit's End!  (and if you really hate it... blame Shakespeare!)

Ummm, one small caveat.  And I probably shouldn't be publishing this, but...  So, there IS a Wit's End Brewing Company in Denver, Colorado who happens to have trademarked their name.  That could present an issue, but I am hoping it won't. Lawyers are investigating.  And it's Colorado, so I can only imagine they are pretty laid back folks who realize there is little chance my tiny bar will dilute their brand (or vice versa!)  Besides, I can always sell their beer!

L'chaim!
-Pete

March 21, 2017

Location, Location, Location (#8)

Sitting down to write this entry, what popped into my head was "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" and "Where's Waldo?"  And then I thought, "What the f*** does that have to do with anything?"  And then I thought, well, finding the right location takes a little bit of a) intellect (i.e., Ms. Sandiego) and b) time (i.e., Mr., errr, Waldo).  (And then  I thought, a) why I am talking about children's games, b) this is a bar blog! and c) this blog post is going to suuuuck...)

Shaking off that last thought and applying my intellect... my search for the "right" location seemed pretty straightforward to me (I do feel I have a handle on some things!). Desiring to be a neighborhood bar, find a location that is close to where people live or work. And being around other bars or in a place where there is some regular "foot traffic" is not a bad thing - a "destination" bar seems more challenging to me. And since (per Blog Post #3), the concept of the place is to "promote lively discussion and intelligent debate," what better location exists in the WORLD than being in close proximity to Nerd Central - Harvard and MIT.  Cambridge, here I come!



And then that striped, skinny, cane-carrying, bespectacled fellow, Waldo, reared his head. Or rather, did NOT rear his head. Finding a place has been more elusive than I would have thought. (Also, I tend to get distracted... did anyone else start thinking about where the phrase "reared his head" originated? Well, apparently no one knows - and by "no one" I mean no one in the first three Google listings I read... where was I...?).

I reached out to my real estate team - yes, now I have a team - and told them precisely what I wanted. And the listings poured in... Newton, downtown Boston, Brookline, Beacon Hill, Faneuil Hall, Needham... uhhh... guys?  Maybe I need to brush up on my brokerese... where's Cambridge? Or even Somerville?

Given the situation, I considered -  strongly - other locales. I checked out listings of existing bars/restaurants that are interested in "selling" their assets such as their lease, their kitchen and bar equipment, their furniture, and the most coveted thing of all... their liquor license! (As an aside, it is much, much easier and cheaper to find an existing place and "convert" it, rather than build out a place from scratch... called a "vanilla box" in the industry - good thing I'm a chocolate fan.) And - shocker! - nothing "felt" right... this one's too small; this one's too gross; this one's too touristy; this one's too expensive; this one doesn't want me because I have no experience (ouch!) - I felt like Goldilocks, only without the hair (or the girl parts).

Maybe I have developed a bias.  But I have seen 2-3 places in Cambridge and they spoke to me. They "fit" my vision. I even...wait for it... made an offer on one place!  It might not come to fruition (offering 60% of the asking price might not be the most winning strategy), but hey, I broke through that psychological barrier. Wahoo!

And there you have it. Cambridge or Somerville, here I come. Unless, of course, I find Waldo and Ms. Sandiego doing shots together in a bar in Brookline...

Sei gesund,
-Pete

March 3, 2017

The Greatest Show on Earth (kind of)! (#7)

Barnum & Bailey might be giving up, but not me!

I just attended my first restaurant and bar industry trade show.  Perhaps not the Greatest Show on Earth, but it was definitely the greatest show... in the Boston Convention Center... last week. The New England Food Show, sold to me as "Any industry person or vendor you want to meet will be there... and tons of folks you might not want to meet." With that kind of introduction, how could I say no? My friends at Toast (a point-of-sale system for restaurants) hooked me up with a registration (hey... my first shout out!). And so I ventured forth...

 


Holy crap is there a lot of restaurant/bar stuff out there!  From food and ingredients of all sorts, to furniture to glassware to kitchen equipment to software systems to consultants and vendors and even an insta-freeze-your-cocktail-glass-with-liquid-nitrogen machine! It was a little overwhelming for a newbie like me, so I was happily distracted by a quick glance at the education sessions and decided to attend a few - which I was sure would TOTALLY be a replacement for decades of experience!

Ok, perhaps not a replacement, but they were pretty good... and I think they helped reaffirm that I am actually learning something about this industry! Here's the brief summary...

Engineering Your Menu - or stated another way (by me), Know Your Costs.  It was heart-warming for me to hear the presenter say, "This is a business first. The goal is to make money."  And while I'll forgive him for suggesting that Management by Excel was not the best way (I believe Excel is ALWAYS the best way), his point about knowing the full, true cost of each menu item - food PLUS labor - was well received. He suggested ordering menu items by most profitable within each section, so think about that the next time you order from the top!

Loyalty Programs.  The presenter highlighted great points on Simplicity, Relevancy and Value of the program. I have big, wondrous, probably impossible-to-implement ideas on a Loyalty Program for the bar.  (Hmmm... so much for simplicity.)  For example, I want...
  • my loyal patrons to be recognized when they walk in (think: "NORM!!!")
  • a buddy system (come with your "buddy" and receive discounts)
  • special treatment (cut the line - oh yes, there will be HUGE lines!; or send a tweet to the Big Board!; or get priority status in the drink-making queue - oh yes, there will be a drink-making queue!)
  • and yes, of course, a free dessert on your birthday! (no free drinks in Massachusetts :-( )
Personnel.  Finding great people is tough now in Boston - the market is super tight. The panel emphasized many ideas that are totally consistent with my thinking (Yay!): hire people based on cultural match - most anyone can be taught; beware of primadonna chefs (sorry primadonna chefs, if you are reading this!); find folks hungry to learn their craft and empower employees to own the customer experience. For me, hiring staff is still the most daunting part of this endeavor.

Technology.  Finally something I can easily wrap my head around!  Only 22% of restaurants have "pay-at-the-table" technology, but Gartner says it should go up to 50% in 2 years.  I want to have not only pay-at-the-table, but order-at-the-table, as well. And don't get me started on the location-based technology the presenter was pitching... My inner nerd was all abuzz during this presentation!

Equipped with my newfound knowledge of nearly all things bar/restaurant-related (or, well, 4 things), I felt pumped up and jazzed to hit the Show Floor!  Oh boy, it was huge!  I did a quick spin through the booths.  Spin is the operative word.  It was dizzying. It was like a 3 ring circus out there?  Get it, "circus?" (pssst... remember the opening to the blog?!) I have now just come full circle. With that, until the next post...

Kippis,
-Pete

February 15, 2017

Calling All Foodies! (#6)

I am not a foodie.  I love (and live by) the saying, "Some people live to eat... I eat to live." So when I fully grasped that this "bar" needed to serve food, I started getting nervous. Even more concerning was that if I found a venue that was near a ton of commercial buildings, I might need to have an entire lunch menu (a consideration I am seriously trying to avoid).  Ack!

Ok - food is a given.  So what do I want to do? (I want to just serve bar nuts).  I need to develop my food program (see, I am totally picking up on the lingo!) Here's what I know... the food has to be great.  I never understood going to a bar and ordering wings or a burger and getting anemic looking wings dripping with just Tabasco sauce or a burger cooked to death whose bun disintegrates because it has been sitting in its own juices. Blechh.   So food must be great. (I also heard more than once that Cambridgians - is that what they are called? Cambridgites? Cambridgerians? - demand quality food).


I am not striving to be a destination restaurant.  This is bar goddamit!  For lively discourse! So, following the universal rule of, well, everything, I intend to Keep It Simple, Stupid!  Great, simple food.  And that means.... ta-dah!  Small plates.

The Idea:  Lively discourse - to me - conjures up images of heated discussions, (cordial) arguments and fierce debates!  Two sides to every story! So, one idea is to have all of the small plates come in two "preparations" - a "pro" and a "con"; a "for" and an "against"; an "aff" and a "neg" (those are fancy debate terms I have just learned from my daughter).  One can order from either side of the menu - or both!  Each portion will be served on a semi-circular small plate, at a reasonable price. Order 2 plates for a full portion!  Food program coming together!

I kinda thought these would be neat.  And fit nicely on a table!

So, what am I going to serve?  I am a simple man with simple tastes.  But I know what I like!  Here's my working list of options... But I need your help.  Using comments to the blog, tell me what you think about all this.  What "plates" would you like to add?  What don't you like about any of this? Let's get this right the first time!  And remember, KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid)!

Salud!
-Pete

Bar Bites / Appetizers
Fish (Ahi) Tacos
Crab Cakes
Deviled Eggs
Calamari
Chicken Wings
Queso
Beef Sliders
Tuna tartar
Meatballs
[Just noticed!  Need veggie suggestions!]

Salads
Beet Salad
Green Salad

Sides
Truffle Fries
Cole Slaw
Fried Pickles
Noodle pasta salad

Entrees
Lamb chops
Short ribs
Fried Chicken
Steak

Dessert
Cheesecake pops
Mini devil dogs
Fruit tart


February 7, 2017

Bar Starting for Dummies: The Research Begins (#5)

As I mentioned, having never started a bar before, I needed help.  So I sent out the bat signal and asked close friends and family if they knew anyone who could get me started.  Ummm, turns out everyone knows someone in this business! Over the last 30 days, I have met with bar owners, general managers, investors, operators, insurance guys, contractors, engineers, millworkers, POS system vendors, city licensing people, bouncers, bartenders, accountants, real estate brokers and attorneys (I only list attorneys last because, well, they're attorneys).

I'll touch on some of the more interesting meetings in future blogs, but here's a taste of some of the key takeaways from my initial discussions with owner/operators:

General Manager, An Upscale Restaurant, Boston: My first foray into understanding the space started with a meeting at a Starbucks. I learned that... well, I learned that I am NOT going to open an upscale restaurant any time soon. Man, does that sound hard! However, highlights were:
  • Drinks and food do not get served or poured without a ticket.  Be a stickler.
  • Kitchen layout is key to efficiency and lower costs.
  • The Boston Alcoholic Beverage Licensing Board is in room 809 of City Hall!
  • Theft exists, sure.  But it really can be mitigated through vigilance.  
Owner/Manager, Gastropub Restaurant, Suburbia: Talk about a deluge of information! Huge gratitude to this owner, who continues to help me as my journey proceeds! Names and introductions for realtors, licensing attorneys and insurance brokers.  Suggestions for POS, scheduling systems, reservation systems, recruiting, payroll systems and music licensing.  Lists of the best bars to visit in Cambridge, Boston and Somerville.  Extended rant on the challenges of finding good workers (combined with a touch of "all employees suck!").  And high level metrics on cost of food and cost of alcohol.



Part Owner, Trendy Restaurant, Suburbia: My conversations here steered more towards ownership and partners.  Taking on partners is tough.  Sometime, it doesn't turn out as you might have expected (to which I may have coughed, "Sometimes?")

Owner, Family Restaurant, Suburbia: "It's all about the numbers" was the refrain I took away from this business-oriented owner.  Food/liquor and labor costs (the Prime Cost) should be less than 60% (of revenue).  Rent: 6-8%. Total occupancy: 10-11%.  Net profit... well 6-9% is the national restaurant average.  But bars should do better.  Shoot for 15-20%.  Nobody does 20% consistently.  These numbers have been reiterated to me - with slight variation - by a number of folks.  That's good. I like numbers.  I'm shooting for 20%.

Oh, and another nugget from this guy... www.restaurantowner.com is worth its weight in gold (The snide me thought: it's a website - it doesn't weigh anything! But I bit my tongue.)

Founder/Owner/Operator, Bar, Boston:  "After 3 years, I'm tired... and I kinda hate people."  Well, this had a slightly different tone.  But the gracious owner was very open with his experience and financials of building the entire bar out (including kitchen) from scratch ($1.3 million for 4,300 sf), as well as sharing some fun tales of cutting off patrons, a law suit and cleaning-up puke in the bathroom.

Doorman, Bar, Cambridge:  "Pay your people well.  Create an atmosphere of mutual respect.  You will be rewarded with long tenures and great workers."  I like this philosophy. I intend to embrace this.

I have met and spoken with a number of additional folks.  Everyone has their story... and their opinions. And we all know what those are like (yes, A-holes... everyone has one - if it's not yours, they stink).  But all information is useful information. I learned that for one place, turning off the TVs actually increased their sales.  I learned salary ranges of managers and general managers ($50k to $70k and higher).  I learned that a Boston liquor license is valued in the $400k+ range and a Cambridge one in the $200k+ range. GULP!  I learned that fewer bars are "free pouring" these days, instead going with the more precise jigger pour (might be a function of hipster bars).

All in all, this preliminary research has given me a shot of confidence that I can actually pull this thing off!  Which is a good thing, seeing as the name of the place seems to be materializing!  Thanks for voting everyone!  Next up... I need a menu...

Kanpai!
-Pete

(And Go PATS!)

January 30, 2017

What's in a Name? It's Time to Vote! (#4)

How do you come up with the name of a bar?

After coming up with the "Inflection Point" philosophy (see Post #2), it dawned on me that it was kind of a cool phrase.  While I may have a predisposition for nerdy mathematical terms, I felt that the combination of the geometrical and philosophical components would make for a decent name for the bar.  Sure, it lent itself to a bar with a concept that might be more intellectual (think: debating the best movies of all times with your friends!), mentally stimulating (think: strategy games like, umm,  Cards Against Humanity!), and technological (think: robotic waitstaff with cocktail delivering drones!) which, I fully understand could be perceived to possibly target too narrow of a demographic.  But nevertheless a good name!  "Let's meet up at to the Point!" I could hear them all saying...

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am in the research phase of this bar endeavor.  Over brunch a few weeks ago, my father mentioned a new website where you could pay lots of people almost nothing and get real feedback on ideas, marketing concepts or any "human intelligence task."  It's called Mechanical Turk and it's an Amazon service (www.mturk.com).  And the kernel of an idea began to form... I had gotten a B+ in Market Research class at business school (which makes me like a total EXPERT)!  So, without too much forethought, I went to the site to test it out (cost me $22).  I used wikipedia to find old bar names from movies, I made up some new bar names (turns out, I stole a few existing trademarks accidentally) and even threw some real bar names into the mix. And I asked 200 people to weigh in. [Funny side note: if you type "bar" too fast, it comes out "bra" - so for a moment I got distracted trying to think up new names for bras!]




Ummm, last place?  WTF?

Even worse... first place was... The Blue Parrot? (the rival bar in Casablanca)  The Blue Parrot???

Who were these absolute morons taking this poll?  I had a flash to the fundamental rule of market research: If you are not going to use the results, there is no need to conduct the research.  But thankfully, I also just remembered the second rule of market research... a new study means new results!

So, I have decided to conduct a new poll... a more accurate poll.  Based on you - who I hope to be my future demographic!  Feel free to answer as honestly as possible. Feelings will not be hurt! And besides, the poll is totally anonymous (if I can even figure out how to find the results it will be a minor miracle!  Blogging ain't as easy as it looks!)  What should the new name be?


What's the best name?

Rabble Rouser
The Inflection Point
The Provocateur
The Point
Steins
Wit & Sass
Wits End


So, not that it needs to be said, but when the bar opens, if you called the name right.... no free drinks!  I can't have hundreds of people claiming to have named the bar and demanding free rounds all night.  I have a business to run!

I doubt this will be the last discussion about the name, but I feel we are off to a good start.  Feel free to add other suggestions in the comments section! And now, the real work is about to begin. Until next time...

Proost!
Pete

January 24, 2017

Conceptually Speaking (#3)

When I was in college, I took a class called the History of Technology.  The first assignment was to write a short paper on How Something Works.  Really? Anything? Can't we have a tiny bit more guidance?  Nope.  So I began to think. And to think and to think and to think.  Days went by and I came up with an endless number of "things" to write about... and then rejected each one as foolish. I ended up writing a paper on... how a beer keg works.  Yup, of all the "Things" in the world, that's where I landed.  And, surprise!, I got a terrible grade.  I'm not sure I even knew how a keg actually worked! (No Google in those days!)

So when I decided to embark on this bar journey, people started asking me what the "concept" for the bar would be. I would begin to stutter about how it was still in the works and my inner voice would say, "Uhhhh, it's just a... bar?"  Uh-oh.  That was a problem. I needed my hook. My angle.  My "thing."  But coming up with that one perfect idea from the vastness of all potential ideas is not as easy as it would seem - and I was immediately transported back to my History of Technology class. I was screwed.

I really do just want a great neighborhood-like bar that is warm, comfortable and relaxing.  A place to enjoy with your friends, spouse or co-workers, and a place that can foster new relationships.  A place to drink, laugh, tell stories, play some games, ponder life's deepest questions and debate noteworthy topics of our age (like, "Is it possible to swim through a pool filled with mayonnaise?"). And maybe drink some more.  Oh, and I want it to have cool, neat technology embedded throughout.

I also knew that I wanted the bar to be a reflection of my personality. So, for example, a music venue is waaaay out of the question.  But who am I?  Well, without too much soul searching, as it turns out, I am kind of a nerd.  Some who know me would say that I also like to argue - I prefer to use the word "debate" or "engage in witty banter."  Regardless, I wanted some of that to filter into the concept. Oh, and I'm super cool... and Voila! The "nerdy, but cool" bar concept was born.



Alas a "nerdy" bar (even a "cool" nerd) is also not really a complete concept.  But it's the beginning of one. Being the nerd I am, I thought about a way to refine it.  I made a list of desired characteristics:
  • Comfortable
  • Fun
  • Conversational
  • Laughing
  • Witty
  • Lively
  • Debate-y
  • Smart
  • Friendly
  • Cool
  • Thought-provoking
  • Energetic
(Which, in hindsight, kinda reads like the Boy Scout Law.)  In looking at this list and thinking hard, I unearthed the basis of a concept:

The bar will have a decor that is comfortable, cool and relaxed; a place where people can let down their guards and be their true selves.  The general environment will promote lively discourse, encourage debate and will always be thought-provoking.  There may be profound questions or topics posted around the interior.  I imagine a wall with an ever-changing list of the best movies, songs, actors (for example) of all time.  The rules of debate will be known.  Brain-teasing questions will be asked. Strategic (or otherwise) games will be played.  The cocktail and food menu will propagate the theme.  A joyous time will be had by all (yes, even if you are not nerdy nor a debater yourself)!

Defining and executing a concept is a balancing act.  Too much "concept" and you end up potentially too schticky and narrowly focused.  Too little "concept" and you risk not having an identity.  Ultimately, what will dictate success is not the nuances of the concept.  It comes down to a fantastic environment where you are infinitely comfortable not only in the space, but with the people around you.

And now that we are circling around a concept... it's time to revisit the name...

Salud,
-Pete

January 16, 2017

The Inflection Point (#2)

Before I begin regaling you with the trials and tribulations of my actual bar R&D pursuits, I would ask that you indulge me this one pedantic post as to how I arrived at this moment in my life. I promise subsequent posts to be more light-hearted (and ideally, good enough for a few laughs)!  But not this one!  This one is profound.  It is compelling.  It is the culmination of years of peer-reviewed research (well, maybe not years, and definitely not peer-reviewed, but definitely a few weeks-worth and, umm, I did drunkenly share the concept with a few guys on a ski trip once).  But I digress...

In everyone's life, there typically comes a few moments of self-assessment – moments of introspection and contemplation. "Am I doing what I want to be doing?" In many instances, the question is little more than rhetorical, as circumstances may dictate the need to continue on the path one is following.  But frequently, the answer to that question is a resounding “No.”  And if other life conditions are right (as mine happen to be right now), an individual can, at a specific moment in time, choose to alter the current direction of the arc of their life, and pursue a different path.  This all-important moment is The Inflection Point (in reality, it is not an instant in time, but rather on the order of many months or even a few years).


“Inflecting” first occurs during during your 20s and could lead to a variety of pursuits, like post-graduate study, a marriage proposal, joining the Peace Corps or enlisting in the military. I know folks who even decided to attempt to write screenplays for a living (let's call this one, more aptly, a brief inflection, followed by rejection, followed by more inflection). I would classify these decisions as life’s first major inflection (say, the leftmost point of the blue curve above). A monumental choice - a decision or group of decisions to guide the next phase of one’s life for years to come.

As one approaches their 40s, however, another moment of self-reflection often occurs (yes, for boys and for girls!).  Cynically referred to as a mid-life crisis, this moment is not necessarily a “crisis” defined by a new car, a new career, a beard, earring and new girl/boyfriend. No, in my story, it is rather a well-thought through decision to pursue something fulfilling in the next phase of life, that which the previous phase might not have afforded (ummm, and a new car).

It is at this Inflection Point, I have decided to (happily) leave corporate America behind and pursue a venture that will allow me to express myself and enjoy myself to the fullest.  I imagine I will be leveraging the skills I have developed over my first "life phase" in a new way.  I intend to maximize the opportunity to achieve the sense of accomplishment I crave, while ideally minimizing other stresses of life along the way.

At the change in the curvature of the arc of my life, I intend to pursue the opening of this bar, tentatively, but appropriately called, The Inflection Point (see how it all comes full circle?).

As mentioned, but definitely worth repeating, I have no experience in this!  So, my first step is research.  And the first step in my research is to go to a bar and get a drink!  Just kidding (I need to go to many bars and get many drinks)! I intend to talk to everyone I know in the industry.  And they'll both probably laugh and laugh at me. But it's where I am starting - good 'ol market research (maybe business school wasn't a complete waste of time and money!)... and, with that, excuse me, I have some work to do.

Cheers,
Pete

January 1, 2017

I'm Sorry, What Did You Say?! (#1)

"So, I think I want to open a bar."

The screech of the needle on the record was heard far and wide when I uttered those words to my family.  And the enthusiasm for the idea was, let's just say, slightly underwhelming.  My twelve year old responded with, "Aren't you going to lose all of your money?"  Hmmm... talk about getting right to the point.  I explained to him that it wasn't about the money.  My wife suggested that it was a hard business, which I may have misinterpreted into her saying she thought it wasn't a respectable profession.  "You'll never be home," said my fourteen year old daughter.  To which I replied that lots of jobs, including respectable ones like doctors... and, ummm, carnies, do not adhere to "corporate" business hours.

Skepticism persisted.  

I needed my ace in the hole.  And then it dawned on me, I showed them some scenes from the critically acclaimed standout of all bartending movies (or at least in the top 10), Cocktail (Coyote Ugly was a close second):


And who wouldn't want that kind of life?  I could tell - even though they insisted I was still nuts - they started coming around. I could tell.

But the truth is I had done my research.  Kind of.  It was not the research that would provide me any knowledge in the area of whether I could actually successfully do this (my only bar experience - aside from the ample time sitting in front of one - having been working for a lazy summer at The Cactus Club in Boston, ummm, 20 years ago), but the research I had done was more introspective.  A self-assessment, if you will:
  • I like people
  • I like having a sense of accomplishment 
  • I like multi-tasking 
  • I like beer
  • I like hard work with a commensurate reward
  • I like solving problems
  • I like process and technology 
  • I like cocktails
  • I like creating something from nothing
  • I like chatting, debating and laughing
  • I like beer nuts
  • I don't like sitting all day
  • I don't like being alone
And if that list doesn't scream out "Open a bar!" Honestly, I don't know what list will!
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So, here my journey begins.  If you have ever thought that one day owning a bar would be "cool" or if you find it wildly humorous that someone who has spent about 20 years in the corporate world with zero restaurant/bar/food services experience would decide that this was their new path, and you just need a good hearty laugh at someone else's failures and poor lack of judgement - whatever your curiosities - I invite you to join me on this journey.

I expect it to be enlightening, humorous and even introspective.  And with any luck, 12 months from now, you can grab a drink with me and we can discuss how you foresaw the wrong turns I took, but decided not to add a comment on this blog (at which point, I will call you a wuss)!  And we can have that discussion... at my bar.

Pete