Cooking Up Success

Cooking Up Success

While other children were out playing sports or raising a ruckus, 6-year-old Carl Redding could be found whipping up pastry batter in his mother’s kitchen. Even then, he dreamed about working in the restaurant industry and owning his own eatery.

Some 25 years later, Redding realized his childhood ambition. Thanks to financial backing from prominent members of the Harlem community and family and friends, he raised $150,000 and bought a former fish-and-chips shop on 116th Street in Harlem, New York. On Mother’s Day, 1999, Amy Ruth’s Home Style Southern Cuisine was born. And Redding’s longtime dream became a reality.

Redding is one of many African American entrepreneurs who have successfully launched a restaurant. The restaurant industry, which has estimated sales of roughly $408 billion for 2002, employs some 11.6 million people. The industry has an overall economic impact of $1 trillion (including sales in related industries such as agriculture, transportation, wholesale trade, and food manufacturing), according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association, the leading business organization for the restaurant industry.

But while the rewards of owning a dining establishment can be sweet, they’re not without risk. Startup costs can be high and vary greatly depending on the type of restaurant, cuisine, and geographic location. Leasing existing space can run $2,000 to $5,000 per month while fixtures, equipment, signage, and remodeling average $15,000 to $35,000 per year. Total yearly costs for licensing and permits, including health department and food handlers’ licenses and fire department and building permits, are typically $500 to $750. Advertising and promotional costs range from $600 to create and distribute flyers, to $1,500 for quarterly newspaper ads. Other annual expenses include business insurance for around $3,000, and office supplies, which cost from $500 to $2,000.

Then there are the staffing issues. According to Howard Cannon, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting Your Own Restaurant (Prentice Hall, $19.95), industry turnover can easily be more than 200% for hourly employees and more than 100% for management. Other problems that owners encounter include legal issues, an overabundance of competition, and keeping quality and service up to par.

For Redding, the grand opening of Amy Ruth’s marked the culmination of years of education, dedication, and sacrifice. “All my life I’ve been cooking and learning the ropes of the restaurant business,” says Redding, 38, who worked as a chef at Wilson’s Bakery and Restaurant in New York prior to opening his restaurant. “Many people become chefs because they love to cook, but I was always working toward the ultimate goal of owning my own restaurant.” But he found that opening a restaurant is just one ingredient for success. Keeping the doors open and diners in the seats, while operating profitably, can be a challenge.

Redding, a former chief of staff for Reverend Al Sharpton, didn’t need an aggressive marketing campaign to attract customers. A few radio spots and some fliers were secondary to word-of-mouth and publicity from appearances on The Today Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brian. However, lack of