|The one business that will thrive in this severe economic downturn (which might very well turn into a depression and last a few years) is a reasonably priced (by this I mean dirt, dirt cheap) family orientated eatery. I call it eatery because it's nothing like a full fledged restaurant but more in line with a souped-up soup kitchen (no pun intended), what we refer to in the trade as a cafeteria, a notch up from a school canteen. And believe me, such an operation has never failed to make a return albeit a modest one but that's the point of this diary: to help one another in the face of a catastrophic credit squeeze with no end yet in sight. As some of you may know I have opened, operated and sold more restaurants than I've had haircuts, on three continents. At one stage, in the mid seventies, I was the chef/proprietor of the most expensive (and quite possibly the snootiest) restaurant in Sydney, and to make my life even more complicated than it already was, as a side bet with myself, I "cooked up" the exact opposite: a nameless, bare bones, down to earth cafeteria run by only two burly lads who had been working as apprentices in one of my previous kitchens.
It did incredibly well within days of its "opening", with no publicity whatsoever and using next to nothing capital. And no rent to pay. I did not make any money out of it, that wasn't the point (I ended up giving away the place to the two lads who did well for several months and with the proceeds opened up an upscale outdoor café in Queensland).
Chances are that you live in a large city or a small town/village and/or anything in between so the first thing to look for is an existing, semi or fully commercial kitchen that is not being used, or is partially used but not to its full extent. You will be surprised at the number of empty premises that lie fallow, quite often at the cost of the taxpayer. This is what I did: I called the local council and asked for a list of all the kitchens, food halls, refectories, canteens, anything and any space that had to do with catering that were on their books, whether operating or not. The list was an eye-opener: it contained well over fifty locations including hospitals, a disused maritime building, an army barrack and a kitchen situated on the fifth floor in the Natural Museum, just past several large skeletons and overlooking the Sydney harbor and the Opera House. I selected the first floor of an old Victorian hostel run by the department of returned soldiers (no kidding) which catered to visiting country folks and retired army personnel and whose large kitchen was only utilized for breakfast. I was told I could have the run of it providing I would put in place a breakfast chef to look after the dozen or so regular visitors. The dining room dated from 1920 and still had the original flowery carpet, paneled walls and trestle tables, probably an addition from WWII. I purchased additional plates and serving dishes from a Chinatown store (pre-melamine days), a few pots, joined the tables in three neat rows and covered them with oil cloths, set up a sparse menu which would rotate every week and consisted of two starters: one hearty soup or a spaghetti dish laced with tomato sauce followed by a choice of three main courses (a beef & potato stew, a fish curry and a vegetarian rice dish), no dessert and no coffee or tea or wine was served. Instead everyone got a free soft drink (two kinds) or a bottle of fizzy local mineral water and a bread roll for the royal sum of $3.00. The word got around and from the third day onwards the place was mobbed, lunch and dinner, five days a week. No waiters, no other staff besides the two lads who bought and prepared the food. Customers lined up to the makeshift counter, put in their orders, paid while they waited and carried it to their shared table. It was hard work and it was the way we wanted it and it paid off. This simple blueprint can be duplicated just about anywhere.
With as little money spent as possible you too can achieve the same results and prosper. If you have a solid job, good for you, but you might know someone who may be in need of an idea to get back to work, even better, you may lend that person a few dollars to start it up. Do a search and inquire about disused municipal buildings like libraries, hospitals, state-run factories etc. Offer no rent but a clean-up and a coat of paint if needed. Borrow cooking pots, plates & cutlery from all your friends, beg for tables and chairs (if none are available on the premises.) Prices must be low, that is the single criteria. The food need not be fancy but it must be tasty and plentiful. For those who want to go the vegetarian way, Farmer's markets offer reduced cost on quite a few items, buy in season and forge relationships with local suppliers. There are of course a few more things to consider like hygiene, legal permits and so on. Additionally here are a few links to my low cost recipes, here, here and here.
What are you waiting for?