According to the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, 60 percent of restaurants flop in the first year of service. Another 80 percent of those go under in three to five years after opening their doors.
Over the years, an abundance of neon signs have flashed in Waxahachie — most not for long. There have, though, been a few that have found their niche.
The Waxahachie Daily Light spoke with the longstanding College Street Pub, revisited The Boxcar after its makeover, checked in on The Hideout after one-year-plus of service, and then talked with Big Al’s Down the Hatch for its fresh take on the industry.
After discussing the key to a successful restaurant, local owners pointed out being unique, managing money and staff. They all also agreed that an ambiance is vital.
Three out the four restaurant owners interviewed said their advice to those opening an eatery or bar is, “Don’t do it.” And all agreed that it takes years to make a dime in profit.
College Street Pub is the longest standing bar in downtown Waxahachie, running a little over 15 years old. Managing a restaurant wasn’t the owner’s most considerable concern at the beginning. Instead, it was moving beyond the stigma of a pub being in town.
Owners Tammy and Wayne Strickland recalled residents driving by and shouting at them after their opening. They even attended two Waxahachie City Council meetings before receiving the okay to serve British-style food with a full bar.
The couple always remained positive. When they purchased the building in 2003, it was dilapidated and required a ton of work.
A common reasons restaurants don’t make it is because owners put too much money into remodeling and furniture. Wayne and Tammy spent six months on their hands and knees chipping away decades of paint and other renovations. They even refinanced their already-paid-off home to fund the startup of the pub.
“There were bars on the windows, drop ceiling, there were sticky tiles on the floor,” Tammy recalled. “The basement was super scary. You walk out the back door, and it was like a six-foot drop to nothing, but I knew it would be a beer garden.”
Reflecting on the first year of service, Tammy said it was tough, often having to pay employees before themselves. She mentioned that it took about five years before the business started putting money back in their pockets.
Employee morale is significant to how they run the family-style pub. The pub has rarely lost an employee, and the owners can always be spotted behind the bar, in the kitchen window or socializing with guests. Tammy joked the only reason why employees leave is on maternity leave, but they almost also come back.
“Several — especially my wait staff, and most of the cooks have been here since we’ve opened,” Tammy elaborated.
Other than the British flare, the pub has its go-to menu item, the “French Burger,” which was made famous by chef Joe Garofano who has since passed away. The burger even has a patent on it. Having a unique go-to option is essential to bring in around-the-clock service.
Wrapping up how the pub has lasted for a decade and a half, Wayne said, “You need to appeal to a broad cross-section of customers. Like I said we are a family oriented business; keep the pricing of the products you offer at a price to where guests can come once a month.”
North of downtown Waxahachie on Interstate-35 toward Dallas sits The Hideout. Though many experts claim "location, location, location," co-owner Jay Sanchez has made the somewhat-hidden lot work for the past 15 months.
He also recently received the go-ahead to relocate the bar and grill into central Waxahachie between to the Verizon store and Schlotzky's at 507 US Highway 77.
Now, he’ll be working with about 9,000 square feet instead of 3,500.
Sanchez and his several partners are comprised of friends and family who have put thousands into renovations.
Statistics show 60 percent of bars go under the first year, but for Sanchez, he’s built a reputation as a music venue with a sports bar feel that includes an appetizing menu.
“We have been known more for our bar than anything, but I’ll stack my food against anybody. If you want to stack wings on a table, let’s do it. Let’s see who has better food, burgers, pizza — my pizzas are phenomenal,” Sanchez assured.
But Sanchez admitted that he couldn’t do it on his own financially or in the back of the house. He gives major props to his brother-in-law and head chef, Jake Landa. He has an extensive background cooking a variety of meals from hibachi to Italian to barbeque.
The location he’s at now isn’t the best for passersby. Sanchez claims the bar has survived because of the outstanding food and personal service. The entertainment alone sets the bar aside from other local establishments with its dueling pianos, karaoke, live bands, and DJs.
He also promises an owner will also be available to greet and chat with guests on any given night.
Sanchez’s advice to those starting out is to be knowledgeable about the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Association and taxes. For instance, a liquor license is going to cost about $10,000. He noted that’s why a lot of restaurants don’t make it. He and his partners put in $250,000 in renovations — easily. And that was just to start up.
Fortunately, money isn’t everything to the owners at The Hide Out.
“I’ve leaned on some people, and we always came together to make sure we are doing the best we can. We all still have full-time jobs. None of us make money here yet. None of us,” Sanchez emphasized.
Sanchez hopes the new central location will open in May. The restaurant will have the same vibe but with a more extensive bar, dining room and lounge area. Being located closer in town, Sanchez is excited about hosting benefits and sponsoring local sports teams as well.
ONLY THE BEGINNING
In downtown Waxahachie sits the newest player in the local nightlife game — Big Al’s Down the Hatch.
Even though Big Al Mack has opened other locations, this destination was a more significant project since he had to start from scratch.
He admitted that he might have spent too much on the renovations and still has a wish list to complete. Al said the building was empty with no bar, no kitchen, not even a chair. Fortunately, he has experience opening up restaurants.
Al disclosed the toughest part of opening a new bar or restaurant is the first few months. He said training an entire staff that has never worked together could be tricky.
When opening his newest location, he knew Down the Hatch had to serve in a growing city, so Waxahachie was ideal. He also knew the challenge he faced with establishing a successful brand in the corner of downtown that has seen about half a dozen upstarts fail.
“It might be cursed,” he joked.
The Waxahachie location has an upscale taste with a slap of western, which is evident from the cowhide booths and vaulted ceilings. Down the Hatch also offers entertainment every night of the week with a trivia night on Mondays, karaoke on Wednesdays and Fridays, open mic night on Thursdays, and live bands playing on Saturdays.
“We give people the chance to get out and do something without having to make the trip to Dallas,” Al elaborated.
Al, though, said he has seen the ups and downs of owning a bar. His location on McKinney Avenue in Uptown Dallas recently went out of business after the rent outgrew the sales.
Al admits he can’t be everywhere at once, which makes it hard to always be at the restaurant, but he puts his faith in the people he hires.
A HAPPY ENDING
Even when a bar is about to hit the deep end, sometimes there is a saving grace. The Boxcar in Ovilla received somewhat of a makeover in 2013 when Jon Taffer and Spike TV's “Bar Rescue" featured the then-struggling establishment.
Co-owner of The Boxcar, Stacie Conte, said the family-owned business didn’t take all of the suggestions but the ones that were incorporated boosted sales.
The most significant transformation the bar had was converting into non-smoking. Conte said the change had a ripple effect on higher liquor sales, a positive impact on clientele and brought in more female guests. All of which resulted in an uptick in profits.
Along with the non-smoking suggestions, “Bar Rescue” encouraged the bar to have a theme. Owners went with a Texas roadhouse theme. In the past, The Boxcar had different themed nights in an attempt to be “everybody’s bar.”
“We are still everybody’s bar, but now that we’ve picked a theme and we have a direction to gear events and promotions towards this,” Conte explained.
The Boxcar has had three record years financially, and Conte said largely credits to change to non-smoking. Though the family is always looking for new opportunities to improve.
Conte’s advice to people opening a bar is, “Don’t do it.” She also advised any prospective owners to be at the establishment as often as possible. Conte also added that not one member of the family has drawn a paycheck in past 14 years.
WHAT WE LEARNED
After feedback from the local owners, one thing is certain — owning a bar, restaurant or similar establishment requires unparalleled dedication. And most owners have day jobs.
What they do all possess is a passion for people and hospitality. Each restaurant or bar also offers something unique, whether it is a signature dish or entertainment.
Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450