It takes more than a good cook to open a restaurant — although it should have that. Grid breaks down what it really takes to get the doors open.
River North is home to some of the city’s top restaurants, and their high prices. But Blackfinn Ameripub plans to give diners a more affordable option when it opens next week.
The restaurant and bar — a sister to Blackfinn American Grille in Mount Prospect — will be run by Michael Schultz, operating partner and veteran of Wolfgang Puck restaurants and Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
We talked with Schultz about his hiring process, Blackfinn’s new neighbors and a promise of 20 lunch options under $10.
“If I decided to charge double for what we’re offering, that would be acceptable in the area,” he says.
Concept. Blackfinn calls itself an “Ameripub” — think dark-wood interiors and a long beer list. Though the restaurant will be open for lunch, dinner, late nights and weekend brunch, it isn’t trying to be everything to everyone, Schultz says. “There’s enough potential business in the area to fulfill all of that,” he says.
But not everyone’s convinced that locals, workers and tourists will translate to filled seats. “It’s really a far reach to get to everybody,” says Jarrett Fradin, a broker with commercial real estate company Kudan Group. “There’ll be something throughout the day for everyone, but I don’t know if that helps you fill up 500 seats for each individual menu.”
Prices. Blackfinn’s menu casts a wide net: salads, steak, burgers and sandwiches. Prices will range from $8 to $16 for lunch and $16 to $22 for dinner.
Fradin says that being surrounded by swank spots like Untitled and Siena Tavern, and not far from fancy Gilt Bar and Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf, could work in Blackfinn’s favor.
“I don’t think that being in an area that has higher-end restaurants or chef-driven restaurants will deter people from going there,” he says. “It might actually draw some people to [Blackfinn] when they’re unable to get into those places.”
Location. In February, Blackfinn started work on an 11,000-square-foot space in a newly constructed building on Kinzie near Clark. “I really think that this is one of the most exciting locations, definitely in River North and definitely in the city,” he says.
Fradin points out that diners generally go to River North in search of smaller restaurants. (Moe’s Cantina being among the larger exceptions.) But if Blackfinn “can get that quality food there, then it seems to me like it might work.”
Hiring. Schultz and his team hired 230 hourly workers and 10 managers right out of the gate. He calculated his staffing needs by looking at how much of that 11,000 square feet is actually revenue-generating: the dining rooms and bar that will seat at least 400, plus a patio for 60. “There’s a mathematical formula and everything is based on assumptions — we assume that this many people are going to come, and we assume that this is what the check average is going to be,” Schultz says. “There are restaurants that are chef-driven that are amazing food, and they shutter because they didn’t look ahead.”
Photo of Michael Schultz by Heath Sharp