Starting your own restaurant isn't easy. It's not just picking the space, throwing up some decorations, randomly throwing together a menu, hiring some help off the street, and opening the doors. Every decision must be thought long and hard about, or else disaster awaits. Because even harder than opening up a new restaurant, is keeping one in business.
Claudio Blotta knows a thing or two about both. Along with his wife Adria, Blotta owns Silver Lake's Barbrix -- a restaurant and wine bar -- and the quickly-beloved Cooks County in the swanky Beverly/Crescent Heights area of town. A few months away from the latter's one-year anniversary, I spoke with Blotta about what goes into opening up a new joint.
Rick: So, what kinds of trials and tribulations came with opening Cooks County?
Claudio: Opening a restaurant is always a challenge, in good economic times and in bad economic times. The biggest challenge is during the hiring process -- it's kind of funny because we have, I think, a little over 11% unemployment in the county of L.A. -- and it's hard to find quite a good staff. That's usually the challenge. Training is important, especially before you open. A lot of businesses have to open their doors when they're not quite ready. And unless you're a big corporation and have a lot of support from other stores, it's usually the case that you open your doors and you're not sure. That wasn't really the case here. We've done this before, so we knew what to expect. But it's always a challenge during the hiring process to make sure you're ready.
Rick: How long before you opened your doors were you getting everything ready?
Claudio: From the moment you sign a lease, it's probably anywhere from eight months to a year-long process. You have to pick the building and go through the design stages, and you should have a concept before you sign a lease because you don't want to look for the concept afterwards. You should have that. You should know what you want as far as your food, service, and what-have-you.
Rick: To talk a bit about concept, have you been comfortable with how yours has translated so far?
Claudio: We set forth to put out quality food for a relatively moderate price point, meaning affordable for everybody. And the concept, I think, has worked. We have a lot of food and wine pairs, a wine list from all over the world, and most of them are available by the glass. What we envisioned, we think we did.
Rick: A year into it, are there any specific changes you want to make?
Claudio: You always want to change things, you never want to stay stuck in one mindset. You have to evolve. The industry evolves, people evolve, and in order to stay above you have to keep creating. Not reinventing yourself, because then it means that your concept has grown old. But with the same concept you just try to do things that are one step ahead. One thing we do is change the menu almost every day, which keeps us fresh and exciting. You never know how well that will work because, changing the menu, there's a cost involved. But I think it's worthwhile doing that because competition is fearless and there's more and more restaurants opening every day, and you want to be fresh and exciting to people.
Rick: What was the biggest headache you had from the first year of Cooks County?
Claudio: Good question. You know, the concept that we had we went with it, and it worked, so we're really happy with what we've done. There's nothing I feel like, oh, I should have completely done something else. No, not really, nothing dramatically. We tweaked here and there, because you have to live in the space to know it, and after you're there for a few months you're smarter for how to use it.
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