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Eateries struggle to open on time

BY BILL FREEHLING

Beth Black and Joy Crump spent a year planning the details of their Caroline Street restaurant. They looked at numerous locations, developed a business plan and met with local farmers. In 2010 they quit their stable jobs in Atlanta and moved to Fredericksburg to pursue their dream.

Though Foode’s story has a happy ending, the owners had some tense moments in the summer and fall of 2010 as they worked feverishly to get the downtown restaurant open.

The women started their lease on Aug. 1, 2010, and planned to open within about a month. But it wasn’t until January 2011 that Foode opened.

During the revenue-free months in between, Black and Crump blew through their savings. Many times they thought about throwing in the towel. Days before opening, they realized they had no money left to buy food. Luckily for them and the many fans Foode has since developed, Black’s father handed them enough cash to get started.

Having never previously opened a restaurant in downtown Fredericksburg, Black and Crump were unfamiliar with the many permits needed. They’d work on getting one before learning they should have done a different permit first. Ultimately, they said, their landlord and city officials Steve Smallwood and JoAnn Locklair helped them navigate the process.

Black and Crump aren’t the only people who have struggled to get a restaurant open on time and budget. Many eateries open later than their owners wanted, often significantly so.

That is particularly common downtown, where independent restaurateurs must often turn historic buildings into modern, functional eateries. Many of the restaurants now in the works downtown will open later than expected.

One of those is Blake and Aby Bethem’s Vivify Burger Lounge on William Street, which is now shooting for a January opening, many months after what was originally planned.

The delays are due in part to the Bethems’ decision to add the city’s first rooftop bar into their initial construction plans. Aby Bethem said the process of obtaining financing and getting city approvals has also slowed down the project.

Restaurants face a lot of regulations that many businesses don’t have to deal with, said Fredericksburg Economic Development Director Karen Hedelt. Those are in place to ensure everyone is safe, but it adds up.

“There’s a whole lot more that comes into play with restaurants,” Hedelt said.

She said the city offers plan reviews in which members of many key departments such as economic development, building and development services and planning meet with owners to help them through the process. Doing that upfront often saves time in the long run, Hedelt said.

Hedelt said it can also help to hire a contractor who is experienced with all the various permits needed to get a restaurant open on time. Though people who try to do it on their own can save money up front, it’s sometimes not worth it when setbacks delay openings.

Capital Ale House President Matt Simmons attributed part of the reason why his Caroline Street eatery opened on time to the company’s experienced contractor, Abby Construction Co. Inc.

Even so, Simmons said the Fredericksburg taproom is the only one of Capital Ale’s five Virginia locations that has opened on time. The others have been plagued by problems including plumbing, sprinkler systems, disability access and more.

Despite the delays, Simmons said he always sets a best-case scenario date when he announces a new Capital Ale location.

“I get my wishful-thinking hat on,” he said.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405

bfreehling@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/business/2012/08/08/eateries-struggle-to-open-on-time/

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