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Revolving restaurants

The life of a restaurateur might appear fun and easy when sitting in a booth. In reality, there might be fun to be had, but there is nothing easy about it.

Making a living running a restaurant is challenging. The hours are long, the margins are slim, staffing is difficult, and the customer, regardless of how seldom they frequent your business, is always right.

It takes a special calling, and even with the correct work ethic, ambience and menu, it doesn't always work out. Diners remain a fickle lot.

This past week, no less than three restaurants in Hays closed their doors. Montana Mike's, Napoli's and the Pita Shack are no longer. One need not go back very far in time to expand that list with Al's Chickenette, Cafe Semolino, Rooftops, Professors, Smoothie King and Coffee Rules. Each eatery was unique while open, and all had their own reasons for closing. We would offer none had problems so insurmountable that a regular crowd wouldn't have fixed, but that's the nature of the industry.

On the other hand, there have been a number of restaurants opened in the same timeframe, with more on the way.

K's Homestyle Diner is reopened after its setback with a fire. Al's Chickenette has reopened with new owners. Cancun Mexican Grill is serving customers, as is the Smoking Barrel, Paisley Pear Cafe, Rose Garden Banquet Hall, Fiesta Mexican Food, Rick's Rollin' Roadhouse and a second Wendy's. The Trio Tap Haus is extremely close to opening. Following that venture will be TK's Smokehaus in the Semolino location and a Qdoba Mexican Grill on Vine.

Aaron White, executive director of the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development, recently said there are even more to come. Just nothing official yet.

"We've actually got a number of retailers that are looking at Hays again," White said. "I guess it's partly a sign the economy (is better), partly a change in comfort in the Hays market, confidence in the Hays market, the ability to draw clients."

A retail survey the Coalition conducted earlier this year had Italian, seafood and steakhouse restaurants on the list of missing businesses. Barbecue was mentioned the most, but it appears that want might be satisfied with the addition of two such restaurants since that time.

And we haven't even mentioned the vast number of restaurants that have been operating for years, with steady clientele and presumably good profits.

Restaurants might be hard work, but there are enough success stories to be found even in this active sector of the local economy. Is there room for more? Absolutely.

We would recommend, however, that one needs to complement their culinary capabilities with a strong business plan. Not the kind that looks good on paper, but that will withstand the scrutiny of a lending institution. Even the most talented chef will need enough capital to purchase or lease a building, equip it, and survive the initial growing pains.

If you think you've got the talent but lack the financial acumen, we would recommend contacting White at the Economic Development Coalition. He likely has the advice you need; he certainly has the contacts you require. Have an idea for the next big dining experience? Give White a call at (785) 628-3102. He would rather help expand an existing restaurant or encourage local talent before looking outside.

We would, too.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net