Tourism bureau hosts annual meeting; Michael Chiarello opens eateryNorth Bay restaurateurs confirmed last week the definitive arrival of the recession in hospitality, and though some have joined the ever-lengthening list of eateries looking to sell, others are doing what they can do to embrace the change.
“In the past six months we have definitely really been suffering with the economy. We are down about 50 percent year over year, and we knew we’d have to make a change or sell the restaurant,” said Sara Langley, co-owner of Langley’s on the Green in Windsor with chef and husband Fred Langley.
But instead of closing their doors, the pair decided to shift the focus of the establishment from fine dining to more of a lounge with small plates, a la carte options and entree specials. Mr. Langley, who travels often as a restaurant consultant, also recently transformed another local bistro from an ailing fine dining Italian restaurant to a now-popular family pizza kitchen called Pizzaria DePaoli.
“You just have to learn to adjust when times change,” Ms. Langley said last week at the debut of Langley’s renovated space.
For the same reason, Santa Rosa fine dining Kabob & Curry House owner Anil Bembey said he resolved to shift his business model and will debut the new brand, the Maharaja Lounge, sometime in the next few weeks.
“We are changing from fine dining into a more casual lounge. … It’s completely economy-driven. There’s just not enough subscription for fine dining,” he said.
“It’s been an awful struggle since about October of last year, and for us it’s out of necessity.”
Redwood Empire Small Business Development Center restaurant specialist Betsey Fischer said nationally fine dining is expected to decline by about 15 percent to 20 percent this year. “There is no question we are in for a bumpy ride in 2009. I don’t think anyone is immune to it,” she said.
A study released by the National Restaurant Association on Jan. 30 reported that industry activity hit record low numbers in December, slumping to a 96.4 performance index, down from an average of more than 100 between 2003 and July 2007.
The small business center, which provides no-cost consulting for restaurant owners and other small businesses, has experienced more than double its normal traffic in recent months. Ms. Fischer said the most common problem is teaching food lovers to become just as savvy and vigilant with their businesses’ numbers.
“The restaurant industry operates on such a slim profit margin anyways, and many of the owners here are small, independent, they are having the toughest time toughing it out,” she said.
Corte Madera-based Restaurant Realty Co. owner and former restaurateur Steve Zimmerman said he has experienced a flood of new businesses on the market in the past six months, but for those with financing it’s a buyer’s market.
“Prices are really low right now, and for those with financing, now can be a great time to get into the industry. … Forget the high-end – deli, breakfast and lunch places are still doing well,” he said.