Tuesday, June 22, 2010


So I have an idea...
And I'm looking for your ideas, suggestions and expertise.

CrossFit has come town and is blowing up. The little gym (a bit more fancy then the traditional box set up) almost maxed out on members, has just leased two new spaces in the plaza where they are located and are expanding their facility. Eventhough the membership price tag is quite high, they are selling memberships like hot cakes. CrossFit has adopted the paleo/primal diet (don't like that word, but using it for point of reference) as their diet of choice. I think...correct me if I'm wrong, it evolved from the "Zone diet", which I'm sure many found to complicated and restrictive.

So here's my idea, with commercial real estate at an all time low here, I'm thinking of opening a tiny space in the same plaza and opening my little "Paleo Grill".
Restaurants (food ventures) are notoriously bad investments, but....there are some that make it right?
So what do you think? I would serve simply grilled meats, seafood and poultry of all kinds and creative veggie side dishes.
Remember, I don't live in a big city. Foot traffic is non existent, so that eliminates a lot of business. The aim would be to create a "hub" or a "cafe" feel for the little community here that eats paleo/primal. Could a smaller community sustain such a business? I have always believed that if you do what you love, the money will follow. This is NOT about the money for me, but doing something you love to do. However, the financial reality is that I don't want to end up being a Walmart greeter at age 70 just to make ends meet together with my tiny social security check.
So what do you think? I appreciate any and all comments.

I would serve this type of meal for sure; marinated grass fed sirloin steak with side of guacamole.

Grass fed sirloin steak thinly sliced and marinated in the following;  fresh garlic,onion,ginger, lime juice, toasted sesame oil and a tiny bit of jalapeno and sea salt.

This batch was made in the cast iron skillet
It cooks nice and quick as the lime juice has taken care of some of the cooking process while it was marinating.

Top with fresh cilantro, red onion and another squeeze of lime juice.


Natalie said...

You've mentioned this as a dream of yours more than once. You certainly have a can-do attitude...I guess it comes down to logistics more than anything else. No question, you could make it work, for sure, but whether it would be self-sustaining is a whole 'nother ball of wax. 'Course if it was successful then you'd have to have a cookbook, and a TV show, and Oprah would go Paleo...there's a thought...I'll be very interested to see what you decide to do.

Mark said...

On an emotional level, I love it. There are so few decent restaurants out there - I would love to have that option. More and more restaurants are popping up that specialize in local and organic food around us. You could be getting in at the right time. If you do it, I will be sure to come in next time I am in Naples.

Do you have restaurant experience? How would you source your food? Can you make enough money doing it? Will you ever have free time again? Tough questions for sure...

Running your own business will undoubtedly increase your stress level - not something to be taken lightly.

Sorry - these comments aren't very helpful.

Son Of Grok said...

You know how I feel about this one. I absolutely think your should open your grill. Any restaurant you had would be an absolute treat and I imagine it would do acceptably in the financial sector as well! Do what you are passionate about and I know you are passionate about food.

Heck, I might even be willing to go in on it with you if you were interested!


AT22 said...

I would think that this type of restaurant would involve pretty high food costs and thus pretty high prices (compared with most run-of-the-mill places). You may want to take a little survey of the CF'ers and poll them on price point and interest. Make sure you get a business plan together - it will answer many of your questions (not sure if you've done your own business before - if not, may want to find a "mentor" to help out with the plan and questions you need to answer).
You are right, restaurants are really tough with a very low profit margin, but if you love it, you never know. I certainly would be in there at least once a week!

Mark said...

Forgot to subscribe to the comments...

Nico said...

Dear Marc,

I've been following your blog for quite a while now, but this is my first post.
I'm a 24 year old undergraduate student from Germany. I can't realy say that I've got a whole lot of experience but still I'd like to throw in my thoughts.
My English is far fomr being flawless but I hope you don't mind.

Now here are my five cents.
I know that many restaurants/bars/cafes are not making big money and maybe never will. Also they mean a lot of work and this might be one of the worst times to open a business like this, as economy is down and people are tightening their belts.

But I believe this is an once in a lifetime opportunity.
You obviously love everything that's got to do with good, healthy food. Be it shopping it, cooking it, talking about it or simply eating it. Also you've got talent and creativity when it comes to creating meals and arranging them.
Now if these aren't perfect preconditions I don't know what would be.
Economywise this might not be the best time to go start a business, but on the other hand you said yourself that the gym which has opened in your town has no problem whatsoever in selling pricey memberships. And this coincides with my image of the average CrossFitter. Most of them seem to be quite successfull in what they are doing for a living and are willing and able to pay a certain price for their health and well being despite of the economical situation.
What I want to say is that I believe that they will be willing to spend money on good food.

If you are not sure about them accepting paleo food, just try it out. Put together a nice combination of some of your favourite dishes, prepare them and place yourself in front of the gym and simply have people trying your food. Engage them into a conversation and ask them if they would like to have a place selling this sort of food next to their gym. I'm sure they'll love it!

Well this has gotten a little longer than planned but you got me excitetd.
I hope I could help give you some new perspectives.
I'd love to see how this turns out!

Erin said...

I thoroughly believe in following one's passion....I think it is a great idea as long as it is done with a good deal of research.

Like for example, how many other food places are in the area you are looking at? Are they busy, or slow? Is there enough people in the area to sustain another food establishment? Would it cater to evening/weekend diners, or is it more of a business district so lunches and early evening meals only? Items like that are my first questions.

One thing I think that is really successful is sort of the 'chipotle' style restaurant. A new Mediterranean place opened up here in Colorado with that theme, and they are now popping up like CRAZY all over CO....identical concept, just with hummus instead of guac. There are a ton of 'chopped salad' places that do a similar concept that are doing great around town for the lunch crowd.

I think keeping things simple, focus on a few options but do them REALLY well. Since you will be offering higher cost foods, by keeping it simple I think you can keep the meal costs reasonable. You will have less waste, you can work out better purchase deals, etc.

Another angle, is providing 'local food supplies' as well in your establishment. Not only meals, but maybe a mini farmers market section.

Good luck if you head down the path!!!

Jeff said...

Hey Marc,

I thought about the idea as well but haven't thought of a good way to make it work where I live or will live. I think, due to the extra costs of properly raised veg and meat, that it would be hard to turn a profit. Looking around my area you see lots of pizza shops and pasta restaurants. This is for the simple reason that adding value to simple, cheap, unhealthy carbs is the easiest way to make money.

I think this could work in Naples, Greenwich CT, or any other high end rent area. With proper training in the why's to do it(who better than Marc?) and with the financial means this could work.

A shop that also has a restaurant would seem to be a good fit. Shop could sell similarly themed books and equipment for Paleo/Primal/Ancentral living. Prepared foods could be sold to those on the go. The restaurant would serve those with a bit more time.

I also had some other ideas(possibly cooky or of dubious legal status) that could make it fun and draw attention. Let me know if you want to hear more on that.

Great post.


Jeff said...

Channeling Mark and subscribing to comments. Wouldn't let me do that at same time as commenting the first time for some reason...

Don Wiss said...

The restaurant business has long hours and has a high failure rate.

But the reason I'm posting is to point out that the paleo diet was around long before The Zone was created. Generally people consider the start to be Boyd Eaton's article published in 1985, though Walter Voegtlin self-published The Stone Age Diet back in 1975. Then The Paleolithic Prescription was published in 1988 and the first Neanderthin in 1995.

I believe The Zone first appeared in 1997. It had nothing to do with the paleo diet. It was only later that people (i.e. the Crossfit crowd) decided to merge the two.

How about writing a cookbook? Mark Sisson's ranks #676 at Amazon and it is still three weeks away from being published.

Here is what I collected more than a decade ago: Paleo Diet Recipes.

Don Wiss said...

Correction. The first edition of Enter The Zone came out in 1995.

Aaron Blaisdell said...

Great idea Marc! Of course, many of the commenters pointed out the perils of the restaurant business, so I won't mention them. But, could I convince you to move to Culver City, CA (in the heart of LA, and close to Venice and Santa Monica) to open your restaurant? I'd be there every day for sure! And every Tuesday there's a farmers market where you can get great produce AND pastured beef, lamb, goat, and chicken, and wild caught fish. What more could you ask for? :)

Marc said...

To Everyone,

I'm humbled by your great comments.
All of you took the time to give my question some serious thoughts and then commented accordingly.

All of your comments have salient points. Instead of me commenting back...I'm going to do a post with your thoughts, ideas and suggestions worked into a type of "game plan". Sound ok? If you have anything additional to add, please let me know.

Miscommunicated that paleo/primal evolved from the zone... It was meant that the choice of the crossfitters of diet went from Zone to paleo. They first touted Zone as they preferred diet. Thanks for the good link to all those recipes. Awesome.

I love California... ;-)


epistemocrat said...

Hey Marc,

Is there a way to do this via the-dentist-writing-novels-on-the-weekend startup business model?



Zach said...

I have owned a restaurant overseas, it's a tough business anywhere. If it's a paleo grill the size of a hot dog stand than that's one thing, but as soon as fixed costs and employees enter into the mix, let alone inspections, there's a lot of variables.

You can look at a lot of numbers regarding profit margins, tweaking cost of ingredients sold, etc., and it could really look good on paper. Probably the best thing to do, is really think how many hours you're going to put into it. If it's less than 70 hours per week, than the cafe is just a "pet", and you should consider the opportunity cost of investing money elsewhere.

Also, whether >70 hours, or <70 hours of your weekly time, realistically given your best & worst case profits over the first year, how much would you make an hour? Let's say you estimate 50k annually. But remember, you're going to not be working 40 hours a week, you're going to be working 80 hours a week. So, how much are you making an hour?

Again, I really enjoyed the experience of owning a place. After a lot of hard work, probably was lucky to make back our initial investment. So, considering the amount of sweat equity, I probably lost money. Bottomline advice, if you've had managerial experience at a restaurant and this is first time opening a restaurant, only if you're prepared to lose your investment and possibly make $10 hour (or less!) for the first year or more, considering how many hours you should be doing... then and only then should you consider doing it.

Be prepared to lose your sunk cost investments, and if you're not prepared for that, then don't do it.

TrailGrrl said...

It is a difficult business. However, the "eat local" rather than paleo per se, seems to be a selling point with a lot of people now. Would you be able to get your meats and produce locally? People also love the simplicity of good real food and coffee. One local place that does this well always fills up for lunch at 11am and doesn't have many tables and only one waitstaff. But people swear by it. It is Wildflower Cafe and here is the website. They put their food philosophy right out there. No soda is served, and everything is local or organic. More of a Weston Price idea. http://wildflowercafeandcoffeehouse.com/


Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

Just a quick caveat for you, I have read most of the comments (but not all, so apologies if this has been mentioned) and they have covered most areas of advice, except one thing you might want to consider.

Often our passions are best enjoyed away from work life. They provide an escape from pressures of day to day life, which are sometimes unavoidable. Turning your passion into your business might ruin your enjoyment for cooking and also what is a clear passion for enjoying people's company.

I hate to be negative but I would hate it more, if your clear love for cooking became a chore. In the end, only you can decide.

All the best and thanks for your inspirational blog!

Aaron Blaisdell said...

Marc, one more thing. Dr. Mike Eades had done a post on his blog about a month or two ago about his experience in owning and operating a restaurant. I think you'll find it informative.

Anonymous said...

Long time lurker! I enjoy your food pics and your recipes. I think you should try a small scale operation for a year or so. Some sort of a food truck or cart or even a part time catering gig that would supply food for parties at CF. This way you can keep your overhead very low and test the waters.

Secondly, from what ive seen you tend to use some of the more "popular" (read expensive) cuts of beef. One thing I notice at the "specialty" restaurants like the hispanics and indian spots, they use the cheaper cuts and are probably making a better profit and most of those cuts are foolproof in terms of mitigating the leaness of GF beef.

Either way, I think youll do great! And youll have some well fed folks out there walkin round with happy belllies!

GiGi said...

I wish you would open that near me... the problem with opening such a place though is since so many people aren't following this type of diet, think it's a fad or really have no clue what paleo is... it would be really hard to get business thus wouldn't last too long. Plus grass-fed, etc is a bit more expensive than that CRAP from McDonalds which is another reason why your idea would unfortunately not fare well.
It's a bummer though because I think your idea is awesome and I would certainly be your number one customer!

Anonymous said...

I agree with N. Lienas. I would approach the Crossfit facility about working wiht them and providing a service to their clients. Maybe you start out with a menu of the week with 2 items per night and take orders.

I would love this type of thing at the Crossfit I go to in Tampa. I would buy dinner every night! :) Goodluck.

Yavor said...

Marc, sounds like a good idea. There's a restaurant below the gym I work at and some of the trainers eat there. Also - some of my clients go eat at nearby food joints after a workout at the gym.

So the proximity and the paleo profile are a great for your biz idea...

Anonymous said...

Awesome idea! I'm so glad I stumbled upon your blog! I am always experimenting with food, and you got some great ideas up your sleeve! I am so putting you on my blog roll:).

Kirsten said...

Hey Mark-- Love your blog; have been reading it for years. I'm a paleo eater and new Crossfitter. Anyway, my husband and I have looked into the restaurant business, and it looks like a tough way to make a living. What if, instead, you hired yourself out as a healthy cooking coach and/or personal chef? I'd stop by your grill (I wish you'd offer one here in CO!), but I'd also pay for you to come into my home and figure out how to shop, eat, and cook healthy meals OR cook them for me one night a week. (Or give me a bunch of soup and other frozen things that I can pop in the oven during the week.) You'd have less overhead and more flexibility, and you'd probably make more on a per-hour basis. Depending on the laws in your state, you might need access to a commercial kitchen, but that's less taxing than a whole dedicated space.