San Francisco Business Times

Local restaurant group serves up new spot

After success with restaurant Fat Angel in the Fillmore district and Stones Throw in Russian Hill, restaurant group Hi Neighbor recently opened Trestle in Jackson Square. The concept is a $35 three-course prix fixe menu, open for dinner only, at the 49-seat restaurant. Hi Neighbor partner Ryan Cole sat down with the Business Times to talk about building a restaurant group.

How did you decide to open another restaurant after Stones Throw?Financially, we (had opened Stones Throw) correctly — we were intelligent about how we spent our money and were able to pay back the whole thing in 15 months. So, we thought about looking for another project. In August of last year, my friend called me and said, I bought a building. It was Great Hunan, a Chinese restaurant, for 60 years.

The concept is a standard price — $35 — for a prixe-fixe menu. Why was that the model you chose? That just came to mind — good, comfortable food for $35, and the kitchen only has to deal with eight dishes. We just kept talking about value. There is a void in the city to be able to get a proper meal for $35. We never have more than four front-of-house staff and one manager at a time. The efficiency is built in with eight dishes a day and not much overhead. The less (food inventory) you bring in, the less the food costs are.

What’s the main difference between this and Hi Neighbor’s other restaurants? What you find here is more simplicity — for efficiency and for the comfort aspect. We can’t make duck here, for example, for this price. This is comforting and delicious, where (Stones Throw) is more like, let me challenge you.
How do the challenges of opening a restaurant evolve as you open a second or third restaurant? The first restaurant is about getting systems in place. (With the second,) the business side is taken care of so people can focus on service needs. You have to get prep work figured out so people don’t run out of stuff. How do we train staff to know what standards are? Once you establish that, to open a second one (you need to know) how do you use those standards in a new place? What mistakes did you make and how can you correct them?

What’s the biggest challenge facing the restaurant community right now?Minimum wage and staffing. If I could go pick people from other restaurants (around the country) that I’ve worked with, I could create the best restaurant. Not enough people can afford (the Bay Area).

What’s Hi Neighbor’s future like? We’re always looking to expand. We’re trying to find a concept we would copy. The trick is, I need to have a couple months to figure out if the financials are working like I think they are, before we could copy (this restaurant model). You’ll definitely see growth from us — I’m just not sure how fast. It’s just finding what can we do right, what’s the next idea, the next neighborhood.

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