The DNA Required to Clone a Successful Restaurant

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The DNA Required to Clone a Successful Restaurant

 Successful full service neighborhood restaurants are rarely duplicated in a second location, even by their original founder. I have observed this phenomenon over and over throughout my forty years on the New York restaurant scene. Whenever a successful restaurant in one neighborhood tries to expand to another location, it rarely enjoys the success of the original restaurant and often fails completely after a short stay in business. Why? Why can't successful restaurateurs do it again? The failure rate for duplicating successful restaurants is too high! What goes wrong when industry leaders try to repeat their success?

 To find the answer, I decided to interview 25 independent restaurant owners who had tried to open a successful second restaurant and had met with varying degrees of disappointment.

 LOCATION DNA: Jimmy the Greek - Long Island - "My family's nightclub in Freeport was packed five nights a week for thirty years. So we think...hey...if one club makes this much money, imagine how much money two clubs could make. So we open another club in Lindenhurst. Nobody comes. We lose our shirt. Go figure."

 Location is not about geography. Location is about healthy markets and competitive environment. Jimmy's nightclub in Lindenhurst failed because it opened across the street from a police station. Jimmy thought that the police station would be a deterrent for potential criminal elements and bar fights, but unfortunately it was also a deterrent for customers, who were afraid of police scrutiny and potential DUI tickets.

 CONCEPT DNA: Tony the Italian - Bensonhurst, Brooklyn - "Meat balls, spaghetti, lasagna, veal parmesan, chicken cacitore...night and day...they couldn't get enough...we couldn't make enough. My mother's recipes...out of this world. So we go to Uncle Carmine's shopping center in Fairfield...madone...weight watchers those yuppies...good food is good food, ain't it? Whatever...we closed the joint."

 A successful concept fills a need in the market or presents a significant advantage over the competition. Concept development starts with a thorough and unbiased research of the size of the market and the general economic condition of the neighborhood. Next comes a thorough analysis of the competition: direct and indirect, their price points, their strengths and weaknesses. Tony made two mistakes when he went to Fairfield, Connecticut. His understanding of the new market was limited, and his analysis of their needs was shallow.

 CREW DNA:  Tommy the Host - Upper East Side - "So, Angelo, my Maître d', hired and trained the girl for the new Hampton's location. Ronald, our chef, wrote the menu and the recipes and trained the new Hampton's chef at our kitchen in the city. Everybody pitched in and trained the new crew, but it just didn't work. Nothing out East worked like here in the city. I took every precaution...made every preparation...but that crew never was the same as my New York crew. I got rid of them all, and we'll start this next season with a whole new crew again."

 A successful restaurant staff is more than just a pool of dependable labor. A great restaurant crew is very much like the cast of a Broadway show. Working together, they make magic. A delicate balance of competence, energy, and attitude becomes a symphony of service that your customers enjoy and participate in. It takes time and careful handling to create another symphony in a new location. Analyze your exiting crew's magic carefully and take the care and the time to conduct the symphony your new crew will create.

 YOUR DNA: Carol the Cook - West Side - "I started my sandwich shop because my husband ran off, and I had two kids to raise. I could make a great sandwich so I figured I better make a business. So these suits come in and say, 'Carol, how about we back you in another shop down in SoHo? That's where all the action is. You make the best sandwich in New York. We can't miss', they tell me. But who's got the time. They show me a location; I go, 'good'. They ask me to make some sandwiches when they open; I help out. Now I'm a big franchise queen, I guess. They went under in six months. Me, I've been here forty years."

 The DNA of every successful restaurant is made up of the energy and dedication of the founder. If you cannot contribute the same amount of energy and attention to your second location that you needed to create your existing successful business, do not expand. Carol's investors discounted Carol's contribution. Do not discount your own. 

 DNA - A SUMMARY: The following is the genetic make-up of all successful restaurants.


  1.  LOCATION - Location is not geography. It is market. Will your concept service a new market in exactly the same way? Careful market analysis is required.
  2. CONCEPT - Your concept is the unique service you provide that answers the needs of an identifiable market. Your menu is not your concept. Your pricing is not your concept. Your decor is not your concept. You won't succeed by simply relocating these obvious elements of your restaurant to another location. You must create a new concept that services the needs of new customers.
  3. CREW - Your restaurant crew is part of your restaurant's DNA. You cannot relocate the magic that has evolved in your successful restaurant to another location without damaging the original restaurant. You must recreate it. A thorough staffing plan is required. You must write job descriptions, outline training routines for both front and back of the house, identify a person to interview candidates, specify the qualities you're seeking in an applicant, and create an ideal-candidate profile. 
  4. YOU - Almost every restaurant industry study lists the dedication and energy of the founder among the most important success elements.