I'm not set on any one particular neighborhood, or even a specific part of the city, but I feel that I'll know the right location when I find it. I mentioned in my last post that I was going to do a bit of trolling along Southport to see what was there (my real estate contact kept mentioning it), but when I went down there, I didn't really see anything that looked like a restaurant-ready space for lease. Upon further pressing, my real estate contact became less responsive and then stopped calling me back.
I called him again yesterday, and again today, and so he gave me a name of another real estate contact. A friend of his, that deals specifically with restaurants.
I'm not sure why it took him so long, whether he was trying to keep me for himself or what, but I'm certainly glad to be in touch with this new guy, who appears to really be THE guy to talk to about this. He rattled off about four listings that seemed like decent options, and, unlike everyone else I've spoken with, this guy led with numbers. He's a fast-talker, and not shy about sharing the crucial information, and even had the courtesy to break down the $/square foot prices to real monthly net costs.
(The way the world of commercial real estate works--and this was brand new to me just a few months ago--is that the rents are listed in dollars per square foot per year. So you'll see something that says Rent: $25. You have to multiply the price by the square footage to get the yearly rent, and then divide by 12 to get the monthly number.
But then you have to add in other stuff. Most are "triple net", meaning that in addition to your rent, you have to pay taxes (whatever the landlord decides is your share of the property tax on the building), common area expenses (if any), possibly insurance (your share of what it costs the landlord to insure the building) and possibly water, depending on how it's set up in the building. These extras can often add a thousand dollars or more to the monthly rent number.) So you can understand why I was so thrilled that this guy gave me monthly net cost numbers, without even having to ask, right from the get-go.
Later, when I got home, there was an email waiting for me with about 20 listings from all over the city, including asking price, situation, and monthly rent. THIS is what I'm talking about.
Since I happened to be not that far from one of the listings the restaurant real estate guy mentioned while I was on the phone with him, I figured I'd swing by there and check it out. It's in Evanston, of all places. Totally not on my radar at all during this process, but I went and looked at it and it's a very good fit. It's in a very busy downtown area, tons of shops, boutiques, other restaurants, but only one similar concept, and the layout of the place is nearly dead-solid perfect. It's also much more low-key and befitting of the concept that we had in mind. The Western/Armitage space is almost too nice, and the layout is much more problematic.
I grabbed a little food at this Evanston place, spoke briefly to the owner or manager, and cased the place pretty thoroughly, and....I like it. It's a strong contender. I took a walk all around the area and counted restaurants, made some notes, and pondered whether this concept would fly in this location. I think the population of the area is a good fit. Students, the more affluent Evanston residents who are already patronizing the fancy shops, salons, and boutiques in the area, and I also noticed several very tall condo buildings very close by.
I left Evanston, headed south down Lake Shore Drive, and did a drive-by on a second location that Restaurant Real Estate Guy mentioned as well. This place was much more affordable, from a rent and purchase standpoint, but I did not like the location at all. It's on a smaller, almost side street, and the main street that it's just off of is not a busy foot traffic area at all. This place was kind of in a no-man's land between Old Town and the busy North/Clyborn intersection. Either of those areas would be a good fit. Smack dab in the middle of them is not.
There are a bunch of other possibilities as well, plus I answered an ad on Craigslist today about a place in Andersonville that's kind of interesting.
This place is on Clark, about two blocks south of Foster. The really well-developed part of Andersonville is all north of Foster, but it's been creeping south for quite some time now. There are plenty of new construction condos and the salons and boutiques that invariably follow in their wake, but there are still a number of holdouts from when this area was kind of dicey. The space is right at the edge of where the creep has reached so far, so it's potentially a good spot, and it's really only a few blocks from the really busy section of Clark.
The situation, though, is a bit strange. It's raw space right now, so it would have to be completely built out. To offset that, however, the landlord is offering one year of free rent, and the rent he's asking is really low (nearly half what Evanston would cost, about 2/3rds of Western/Armitage). Rent is a big consideration, since that number can ultimately determine whether we survive or fail.
But location is an even bigger consideration, since that will drive (or fail to drive) sales.
The big question on this Andersonville space is how much would the build-out cost and would we have enough left to really make a go of it in that space? The build-out would deplete our cushion, but maybe we woudn't need the cushion with free rent for a while and low rent after that.
The other factor on that spot is how long it would take us to get open. I'm not super thrilled with the idea of waiting 6-8 months, dealing with contractors, etc. The other two main contenders right now are both basically turn-key situations where we'd have to do almost nothing--paint, decor, change the kitchen configuration, get inspected and open. 1-2 months, tops, for either. So that, to me is, worth the price of entry on those places.
It'll come down to location, ultimately. I'll keep looking. I'm thrilled to have my new Restaurant Real Estate Guy in my corner, with his stack of listings....it seems so full of potential. I'm trying to let go of all my preconceptions about Lincoln Square, or Southport, or even the city in general, and go in, open minded, with the mindset of finding the best possible location where I can make this thing work.
I never would of thought to look in Evanston, but maybe Evanston is the best situation. We'll see.