How does one start a restaurant in the US with a foreigner?
January 29, 2014 11:11 PM   Subscribe

Long story short: I have a friend here in Japan who runs a ramen shop. His lifelong dream is to move to America and open a ramen shop there, and my wife and I are hoping to help him do this a few years down the road (my wife would basically run the business end of things and perhaps own it on paper, and he'd be in charge of the kitchen end of things).

I don't know much, if anything, about things like how US immigration law or small business ownership law will affect these plans. The planned location would probably be in northern New Jersey, ideally with transit access to/from New York, especially because there's a significant Japanese minority there, there is awareness in New York that Real Ramen is a thing that exists and is not just "those curly noodles that cost 40ยข," and it's a relatively affluent area, which is generally pretty good when it comes to starting a business, I imagine?

Tell me everything you know about how to go about starting a restaurant in the US with a full-time foreign employee. Assume I know nothing beyond "it's 90% running a business and 10% cooking," and you'll probably be right.
posted by DoctorFedora to Work & Money (13 answers total)
Oh boy. This is not a trivial or inexpensive undertaking at all. Immigration law is extremely complicated and you will need to retain the services of a competent attorney who knows immigration issues as they pertain to chefs.

Since you live near NYC you are in luck--lots of highly qualified attorneys.

But once you solve that piece ...what do you know about running a restaurant? Most fail within their first year of operation.
posted by dfriedman at 11:23 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, the guy here in Japan has been running ramen shops for very nearly thirty years, so he at least has a pretty good idea of what sorts of things the job entails. As for where I live, I actually currently live in backwater Japan, and the intended destination would be the greater New York area.

My wife and I are Americans, but he's Japanese. I probably should have mentioned that about us. We also know that this is Kind of A Big Deal overall, which is why we're aiming to start working toward this a few years out.
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:27 PM on January 29, 2014

Well my advice would be the same. Start contacting immigration attorneys in NYC and ask them "hey, how do we bring [Chef] to the United States on a visa"? That will give you an idea of the process. If possible, find such an attorney who also speaks Japanese.

I know a lot of attorneys in NYC, but not immigration ones, but I can put you in touch with these attorneys, who can refer you to good immigration attorneys.
posted by dfriedman at 11:32 PM on January 29, 2014

That could be pretty useful and I would appreciate it!
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:34 PM on January 29, 2014

My email address is in my contact info on my profile page. Please just identify yourself by your screen name so that I know to respond.
posted by dfriedman at 11:36 PM on January 29, 2014

I don't have any immigration advice but just want to mention that the most successful ramen restaurant I know is in a college town (Berkeley, CA). It's been there over 10 years and does really well.
posted by gt2 at 3:45 AM on January 30, 2014

AILA is the main professional organization for immigration lawyers in the U.S. They have a website that lets you sort by type of immigration law (you are probably most interested in "Business & Employment"), languages spoken, and location. To echo the comments above, I wouldn't do anything beyond idle daydreaming without the help of a competent immigration attorney.
posted by whitewall at 3:57 AM on January 30, 2014

Whose money will be used to open this shop? If it's yours, what happens if your employee gets hit by a bus? If one guy is your whole business, and it ain't you, you are at a terrible risk of losing everything!

If your noodle friend is using his money to open his shop, he can get a green card as an investor in a business.

If it's his money then it should be his business, and you can be HIS employees.

You'll need an immigration lawyer and a business partnership lawyer.

And a shit-pile of money. It costs a LOT to start up a restaurant and expect to go a year before seeing a profit (or going completely broke.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:14 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

That investment green card costs a minimum of half a million bucks D:
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:03 PM on January 30, 2014

You will need a half million dollars to start a ramen restaurant in the NYC metro area. It's probably hit peak ramen already, to be honest.

The E-2 visa has a smaller minimum investment (about $100K), but it doesn't lead to a green card.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 5:17 PM on January 30, 2014

This is worth knowing! That said, he takes a rather unorthodox approach to ramen, preferring to avoid established norms, so that may or may not wind up working in his favor in that area.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:21 PM on January 30, 2014

Also, does that half-million value apply to in New York, or the suburbs of central/northern New Jersey?
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:26 PM on January 30, 2014

Another question is: is something like actually worth consideration? Like, buying an existing restaurant and converting the place.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:38 PM on January 30, 2014

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