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Ownership. I wants it.
July 22, 2010 9:31 AM   Subscribe

I want to open a bar in San Francisco. This is my first step.

I know it's hard. I know (abstractly) that liquor licenses are expensive, if you can even get one. I know what advice others have given in the past.

I've been putting off thinking about pursuing this for a long time because I convinced myself it was going to be impossible. But I keep meeting folks who have done this and managed to be very successful. I quit my job a few months ago to think about what I want to do next, and this feels more and more like what will make me happy.

Tell me what I need to know. What books should I read? Is talking with a bar/restaurant consultant a good idea? What kind of funding will I need? How can I get that? How can I protect my personal assets if I fail? What are the things you learned along the way that you wish someone had told you? Is there a course here in SF like the one in NY? Am I right in thinking that it will be much harder without a partner(s)? Are you someone who has done this, and can I take you out to lunch?
posted by danny the boy to Work & Money (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Am I right in thinking that it will be much harder without a partner(s)?

How many hundreds of thousands of dollars do you have? If the number is less than "a lot", not only are you going to need a partner in a bad way, but they're likely going to take most of the profits for their investment.

The last bar I know of here, in a city with a cost of living well below SF, invested $1.5 Million dollars. It isn't that nice, and they're projecting not to make a profit for 6 years. That means you have to have enough savings not only to invest in the bar, but also to not have to take money out for yourself for a while too.

Bars and restaurants are hard, unless you have a generous backer or are independently wealthy.
posted by Hiker at 9:55 AM on July 22, 2010


...invested $1.5 Million dollars. It isn't that nice, and they're projecting not to make a profit for 6 years.

Well... there's your problem! ;)
posted by danny the boy at 10:02 AM on July 22, 2010


Have you read about Jamie Zawinski's experiences opening his bar in SF? Not trying to scare you off, but his issues with the ABC would discourage me from trying that without a partner to share the load, and enough money to ride out all the various storms.

I would state it as Bars and restaurants are hard, even if you have a generous backer or are independently wealthy.
posted by DaveP at 10:09 AM on July 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Friend of mine has been in the bar and restaurant business most of his life, has run a few, now works for a food distributor. He tells anyone who will listen that he has a sure-fire way to end up with a million dollrs:

Start with two million and then open a restaurant.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:18 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


2nding Jamie's journal of the DNA Lounge renovation, opening and ongoing celebrations/struggles.
posted by ish__ at 10:18 AM on July 22, 2010


Have you worked in a bar before as a bartender? If not, I would give that a try. Also visit a lot of different bars and note what they do differently and what you like / dislike. Your bar should represent you, not your idea of a different you or whatever.
posted by xammerboy at 10:29 AM on July 22, 2010


Reading JWZ's diary as he was trying to open DNA, and then for the years since he finally got it open made me realize I never, ever want to open a bar, especially in San Fransisco.
posted by togdon at 10:37 AM on July 22, 2010


You need financial backing or collateral. One way that I've known people to start up a bar with little of each is to look for distressed assets; look for a bar closing down and make a lowball bid on it. Will usually have the necessary equipment and licensing (revocation may be an issue) at a fraction of the cost.

You need to do some serious homework. Based upon your questions, you're nowhere nearly ready to dive into this.
posted by Hurst at 10:49 AM on July 22, 2010


Absolutely. Like I said above, I know it's hard. And this is the first step of doing some serious homework on it. I'm working several avenues, in addition to this ask me.

I definitely appreciate all the general warnings about just how difficult it will be; it would be even more helpful to get specific advice from people who have gone through the process.

I have read the DNA diary previously, thanks for the reminder. It's serving as a nice counterbalance to all the success stories I know of.
posted by danny the boy at 11:02 AM on July 22, 2010


Some folks just opened Sycamore, on Missson. You could ask them about the process...
posted by gyusan at 11:18 AM on July 22, 2010


Was actually just at Sycamore, second day they were open. Really nice people, Liz and Tym. Chatted with them just a little about the business. Was definitely in my plan to go back and talk some more. I think it's a great place, because it really fills a niche in the neighborhood. I'm not surprised it was full in the first few days.
posted by danny the boy at 11:28 AM on July 22, 2010


Well for starters, you should work in a bar...especially since you'll need to know how to do everything in your own bar in order to train people, or to work since you'll be the only employee that can legally work for below minimum wage.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:31 PM on July 22, 2010


I'm not surprised it was full in the first few days.

Any bar will be full the first few days. Almost any bar will be full during happy hour, or on Friday & Saturday evenings. But there are seven days in a week, and you have to staff them all and pay rent on them all and pull liquor and do inventory on them all.

I'm afraid what you've asked about so far is so open-ended that it's basically unanswerable. There's forming an LLC, there's getting a liquor license, there's real estate, there's buying equipment, there's staffing...the list is practically endless.

One piece of advice: Have you read Kitchen Confidential? Yeah, it's about restaurants rather than bars, but a lot of the lessons there will still apply, about scheduling and inventory and being an owner and "loving" something vs. actually being able to make something work under almost impossible conditions.

If you have specific questions that you want to ask privately, feel free--I've been in the events/clubs/bar business for a chunk of the last 13 years.
posted by bcwinters at 12:33 PM on July 22, 2010


The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club as recommended by the aforementioned JWZ on his blog yesterday.
posted by togdon at 8:20 AM on August 24, 2010


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