First of all, let me say that thanks to our customers, we have had a wonderful month. I haven’t seen growth like this for a number of years. Part of it is the shake out of new businesses downtown. When a new business opens down here it takes a little from all the rest of us. I have seen this a number of times over the years. Most businesses like mine make their money in the last fifteen percent or so of sales. If a new business opens up close and takes even a part of that profitable area it becomes difficult for the affected business.
The public perception is the opposite, they see the new places and assume that everything is wonderful. I cannot tell you all the times that customers look around on a busy lunch or dinner and ask me if our success is due to the revitalization of downtown. Well, maybe in the big picture or long run but in the end, each business has to stand for itself and mine is no exception. Having said that it was especially nice to have a great month during a presidential race which usually contracts the restaurant business.
At the Rose we have to do more each year to keep up with the increases we get in everything from the electric bill that was out of sight this summer to the run-away prices of red meat. In addition, because we have embarked on the path to being free of chemical preservatives and additives, the additional payroll required when you make everything in house, has raised our breakeven point. Yasmin and I have projected that we need to increase our dollar volume 33 percent over the next two years.
It’s either that or raise prices and raising prices carries its own set of problems. When you do raise prices, it is a disincentive to your customers. Of late years, we all have a little less disposable income, the kind of income we in the restaurant business count on. Especially in Rockford, so price increases are a matter of last resort. The only thing price increases help is the cost of sale and that is usually lost in the overall loss of revenue. Usually you don’t see the benefit of a price increase for more than a few months. Your people have to adjust and part of that adjustment is comparing your prices with the rest of the market.
It’s becoming harder to make money. I guess this is true for a lot of businesses but the restaurant business is affected by the economy more than most. You would think in this kind of climate it would be easier to attract people with low price specials. A few years ago that might have been the case but with prices rising so dramatically, folks look at really low prices with a jaundiced eye. There is a question in their minds about how good it could be especially if the price is very low.
Faced with these new problems Yasmin and I devised a strategy. Rather than lower prices to a ridiculously low level during the early part of the week to get people through the door we decided to concentrate on quality, providing preservative and additive free food. We are the only restaurant to do this in the city and in fact there are only a few restaurants in Chicago that can make this claim but to make the whole thing work we need some pretty big increases over the next couple of years and so it was especially nice to see this huge increase in the first month of our new marketing plan.
The additional benefit of our thirteen or fourteen-month change is that all the food got better. When we roasted our own Roma tomatoes to make sun-dried tomato, the new sun-dried tomato was breath taking. People are always complimenting the new corn chips that come with the Guacamole. It’s nice to know that the corn chips not only taste good but are good for them also. It’s great to be able to feel that way about all our food.
I am in the process of acquiring a new meat supplier. Since Economy Packing and Sam’s meat have joined together to become Fulton Market, it has been harder to get exactly the kind of beef I require. My standards are higher than any other restaurant in town in this department. That’s one of the big reasons I drive to the city. In my search for a new supplier I talk to my friend Tom at Cornilles. He makes a phone call to James Beard rising star chef Sieger Bayer who has a new restaurant in Forest Park. He recommends International Meats at the corner of Harlem and Grand.
Thursday I make my first trip to talk to John Scorza the second generation owner, there is also a first and third generation associated with the business but I have not as yet met them. I do see grandpa sitting at a desk saying very little. Reminds me a lot of myself. I like buying from families. Now all my suppliers are families. I think it should add something overall.
John is going to order and stock for me the USDA certified/tested Angus I require for my Bavette. I like this particular product because the sirloin bib is big and thick and juicy and the trim is excellent. There is a new steak house in Chicago called Bavette. It’s the hottest new steakhouse in the city. In a couple of weeks, we will have its equivalent in the USDA certified/tested Bavette from National Packing in Kansas City that we will be serving. Come in and give it a try.