West Bridge Restaurant 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02139
Ten years ago, after realizing that the corporate world in New York City was not her path to fulfillment, Alexis Gelburd-Kimler landed a job in the restaurant business in Boston and knew she was on the right track. Owning her own place was never the goal, but life happened, and when Gelburd-Kimler found a space and approached chef Matthew Gaudet, they took on one of their biggest challenges. Kendal Square’s West Bridge is now in its second year, and Gaudet was named one of Food and Wine Magazine’s Best Chefs of 2013. From finding the right location and investors to negotiating a lease and designing the space, Gelburd-Kimler and Gaudet share their journey and offer tips to anyone who is considering embarking on one of the most arduous, yet rewarding careers in the city. Gelburd-Kimler says the Kendall Square eatery would never have come to fruition without her business partner David Hadden, who she says is known in the industry for taking a chance on people he believes in and guiding them along the way. At the time she was 30 years old with no real savings, but a passion that was priceless. Gelburd-Kimler began her career at the Beacon Hill Hotel and Bistro, then went to work with Tony Maws at the original Craigie Street Bistro as his general manager. “It was the hardest and most rewarding job of my life up until opening West Bridge,” says Gelburd-Kimler. “There was never a day where I didn’t want to go to work. And no matter how tired I am, even to this day, I’m always happy once I get into a restaurant.” She left Craigie Street Bistro for The Blue Room to learn more about the Front-of-the House, like how to place orders and manage staff. After a brief stint in Austin Texas, she quickly realized that no one there knew who she was, or for that matter, cared. “In Boston, people had seen what I’d done and the results that I’d had,” says Gelburd-Kimler. “I missed being a part of that community and came back immediately.” It was while managing Aquitaine in the South End where she learned the business side of running a restaurant and met Gaudet. Thinking about life in the restaurant business?
Here are Gelburd-Kimler’s top eight things to keep in mind before getting started:
Finding the Space: When researching locations, go at different times of the day, says Gelburd-Kimler. Sit in the neighborhood and see who walks around. Is it busy? Dead? What types of people inhabit the area, and at what time?
Lease negotiations: “Having a leasing lawyer that’s used to this level of work and protecting you is worth everything,” says Gelburd-Kimler. “And have a nest egg of sorts, whether it’s $50,000 or more, as all of a sudden the bills are no longer a few hundred dollars, but in the thousands.” Lease negotiations took about six months, a little longer than they had planned, but Gelburd-Kimler says it was worth it. “Everything has to be negotiated,” says Gelburd-Kimler. “Who is paying for the HVAC, or the black pipe that may have to go up to four flights on the outside? Who’s designing the bathrooms? Will I be able to have a patio? Will that be included in the rent?
Calculate what sales must be reached: Once you find the right space, you can figure out how many seats can fit, determine what you need for sales, and then calculate how much you can spend on the build-out. “You have to work backward,” says Gelburd-Kimler. “A little is a guessing game.”
Getting investors: Make a list of every person you’ve ever met that you think would want to be involved in a restaurant, either as equity investors or debt investors. Think of your regulars, business owners, friends and family. Gelburd-Kimler admits that while 90 percent of West Bridge investors were not actually on the list, it was an important exercise, and advice she was given and continues to share. “I was meeting people for breakfast at 8 am at the Four Seasons, coffee shops- whatever it took,” says Gelburd-Kimler. “And that was while working full time.”
Designing your space: Do your research. Look at other restaurants and have a clear idea of what you want to build before going to a designer. The hardest thing about furnishing a restaurant is that everything must be decided and purchased before you start construction. And that includes tables and chairs.
Remember the little things: Everything from uniforms, To-Go containers and salt shakers must be ordered prior to opening, so make lists. Plates, glassware, cleaning supplies, soap, linens, light bulbs, matchbooks, menus, sign design ¬¬– even getting the restaurant’s sign passed by the city if it’s hanging over a public sidewalk. “I forgot steak knives,” says Gelburd-Kimler. “When deliveries began arriving it was overwhelming. And pallet shippers do not carry deliveries past the sidewalk.”
Remain Calm: You must keep the peace with everyone: general contractors, leasing lawyers, business advisors, business partners, the landlord, even a designer that goes out of budget. Gelburd-Kimler says having mentors is critical, and anyone who thinks they can do this on their own is making a mistake. If you want to do it right, she says, surround yourself with people who have done it. “I’m one of those people who decided we’re either doing this 100 percent with both feet in or we’re not doing it at all,” says Gelburd-Kimler. “But if we’re going to do it, we’re going to have the best freaking team possible. That’s the only reason I’m here today.”