Many cooks start a restaurant with a passion and skill-set that has given them confidence in the kitchen. This is an essential part of the heart of running a food business.
But the reality is: It takes so much more that that.
The business of food is about costs and margins, customer wants, needs and feedback, marketing, staff training and retention, long hours, and years and years before you break-even or turn a profit.
This is just the shortlist.
If you have ever fallen victim to “Eatery Closure Syndrome”, where one day you are raving about your new favorite hole-in-the-wall that serves up the best dish of you-fill-in-the-blank, to come back the next day and find it closed for good, then you know what I mean. Restaurants don’t usually struggle from lack of passion. Its the overwhelming nature of the rest of the show, that leaves owners ragged-out and ready to pack up shop.
So now that I have painted this picture, are you still dreaming of a corner bistro?
Javier and Michelle Castellano are, and they are making it work in Downtown Belize City
The pair own and run KC’s Restaurant; the “K” is the first letter of all four of their daughter’s names, the “C” for the family surname.
KC’s sits at the end of a bazaar-style shopping mall, on the busy Albert Street. The mall is filled with perfume, makeup and electronics booths, along with a peppering of low cut club-style clothes, perfect for hot weather when you are a size 2. The pulsing music flowing from the shops, serves to push you down the hall towards the good-food smells at KC’s and the intermittent waft of their fried chicken.
As soon as you step in the door, its that fried-chicken-skin-bliss that hits you. You see plate after plate of freshly cut up, crispy and sauced tips and drums pass over the counter and into the booths. The restaurant is full of the quiet sounds of chewing and finger-licking.
“Our wings are the most popular,” said Michelle. “We had no idea that they would become what people would want the most.”
KC’s was a dream of Michelle’s when she worked in Belize City’s Tourism Village. “I wanted to branch out on my own and be my own boss. I knew from the management side I had all the pieces down. It was making sure I found someone with the right hand at cooking.”
The were candid about what they have sacrificed to make the restaurant work.
“Everyone has a different hand at the stove, as I mentioned. Its not just about style, but being able to do the same thing day after day to keep the customers happy.”
“We have made sure, working with three different cooks, that we have the right balance. We are here, six-days a week and work twelve to fourteen hour days,” says Michelle.
They talked about the shakedown and lift up, that has been their first three years in business: getting good staff, getting consistent products and using their space wisely. Like many small business owners, they mortgaged their home, and borrowed money from the credit union to have seed money.
“We wisely added pastries and breads to our selection and people can come to buy both Belizean and Spanish specialties, like cinnamon rolls and pan dulce,” saysJavier. They have dedicated a half-moon shaped case that is filled each day with a selection of breads and sweets, all made by a local baker. Its the perfect passive income.
“We wanted this so much and we are making it work. We are making sure that we are delivering on all the sides of the business,” said Michelle.
KC’s is open M-Sat for Breakfast through the late afternoon. Breads and pastries arrive mid-mornings. Their menu includes Belizean specialties like rice-and-beans with stewed chicken, as well as pizza, burritos and their crunchy chicken wings. All the food is fresh, from scratch and made-to-order.
Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons