How To: Open A Restaurant


Jacky Falkenberg, from last week’s interview, owns and runs our favorite plant-based eatery in New York. So of course, we had to ask her how she did it! We wanted to know the practical steps she had to take before she could open her doors and invite people in. Luckily, she was happy to share.

1. Choose your concept. Jacky went through a few different ideas before settling on a sit-down cafe that focused exclusively on plant-based food. Once your idea is ready to go, you are too.

2. Write a business plan. Now that you have your idea, “write your business plan at that point because it makes you go through the numbers and that really helps you come up with an action plan.”

3. Research the necessary is a subscription-based website, and at the hotel school, for one of our classes, they had us get the subscription instead of a textbook. There [is] an Excel sheet that has all of the different items like ‘permits’ and ‘this fee’ and ‘that fee’ and ‘insurance costs’ and all this stuff. It really walks you through all the different things that you would need, and so it makes you do the research.”

4. Legalize. Jacky says the next step is to get your LLC, or certification, for setting up your business. For her, it took a long time to do. “I’m sure there are faster ways to do it, but with my limited experience–and literally starting a company–that it was a long process, almost six months.”

5. Find a space. “You have to look at the frontage, how many people are walking by, and how many people are driving by. Are the people in the area that you’ve chosen going to like the food that you’re going to serve? If you can find one that has a kitchen built out already that would be fantastic, and what you would want to do is see what equipment they have, and what you can cook using the equipment that’s in there. That would help you develop your menu.”

6. File your permits. While the actual permits vary from state to state, Jacky says the best place to start is with the SBA (Small Business Association) website. “If you put in whatever state you live in and what kind of restaurant you’re starting they’ll ask you all sorts of different questions. Then it gives you a list of all the different permits that you need to have.” She filed permits to serve food, for occupancy, final kitchen inspection, sales tax, electrical inspection, fire safety, signage, and more, as well as getting insurance for the business–which is a must!

7. Book a food distributor. “Normally in big cities there’s going to be tons to choose from. We have, you know, 3 or 4 main food distributors [in Ithaca]. You can either ask around or go to other restaurants that you like and ask who they’re using. Normally other restaurateurs are super friendly. Asking people who own different restaurants and hearing how they did it is super helpful.”

8. Start hiring. “If you already have a space, if you’ve already have the menu together, and you’re just waiting for your permits to come back, you can start hiring people. I was putting up ads on Craigslist and I got my Instagram going. We had a lot of people writing in and wanting to work for us, and that was really lucky too.” Once you’ve hired them, teach them your recipes!

9. Soft openings. You can do practice runs once you’ve gotten your team into place and offer some sort of deal to the community to get them through your doors. Jacky offered 10% off to start.

10. Bon appetit! “We had a grand opening and ribbon cutting with the mayor, which was fun. Then it’s just keep advertising to keep people coming through the door!”

Thanks so much for sharing, Jacky! And, one more bonus tip: at the end of every day, she holds a meeting with her team to hear what worked that day and what didn’t. At first, she wanted to find out what tools she could get to help her staff. Nowadays, it’s just to check in. Such a good way to have everyone on the same page! Jacky, we so admire how you run your restaurant, the delicious food you make, and how good it is for us, too. Readers, come back next week to learn what it actually means to work in shopper commerce.