Jordan Schor catered to the many college students, inebriated or otherwise, who wandered up and down Main Street every weekend. They needed late night food and he wanted late night profit.
At Jordan’s, a pizzeria previously known as Fat Bob’s, Schor could sell 1,000 slices in one weekend night, during the school year. Lines would form out the door, the place would fill with kids, and they would just keep coming and coming until closing at 4 a.m. The best part was they were all paying customers. The worst part was that Schor only got three hours of sleep. No, not three hours a night. Three hours the whole weekend.
Each day into night he worked 16 hours, opening for lunch and staying open for late night. He prepped food, made pizza, cleaned the shop, and dealt with customers ― sometimes welcoming them with a smile but other times calling the police.
This went on for just over nine months while Schor paid “insane” Main Street rent ($4200 per month) until school let out, things quieted down and Schor could rest a little. About three months later and the routine would kick start again. At least until this past June when Schor sold the corner spot and began to concentrate on a new venture.
He opened the Italian and French restaurant End Cut just off of Main Street, New Paltz, on Church Street, about a 50-second walk from his former establishment. He now opens at 4:30 p.m. for two hours of “happy hour” drinks and tapas, and stays open until 10 serving dinner — reservations and cash only.
Not exactly the place for the late night crowd, is it? That’s because Schor needed the change. Although the pizzeria was profitable, he said it was becoming too much work and did not offer him the opportunity to do what he wanted to in a restaurant.
“Anyone who goes runs a pizzeria is going to make money,” Schor said. “But it just became too much work for me. Now with End Cut, I can do what I want in a much more relaxed environment.”
Jordan’s became one of a baker’s dozen of restaurants to change hands since the beginning of 2013 out of over 50 in the Village of New Paltz. Schor himself became one of many restauranteurs who find themselves selling their place or changing their business model to stay operating comfortably or open at all.
While adapting and changing with the times are a necessity for any business, for restaurants the winning formula for success is not set in stone. Some succeed by offering the latest and greatest, while others appeal to customers by virtue of their consistency.
New Paltz’s microcosm of restaurants is a prime example of this.
With so much competition, a large customer base disappearing for a quarter of the year and only one main road through town, owners need a strong business model that attracts customers.
According to the National Restaurant Association, an average of 60,000 restaurants open nationally each year. During that time, 50,000 close. Additionally, about 60 percent of those that open don’t make it past their first year and 80 percent won’t last past five.
Aside from those 13 turnovers, five restaurants in the Village closed in the past few years and have yet to come under new ownership. That means a third of the Village’s eateries are not the same store as they were when New Paltz survived the Mayan-predicted apocalypse of 12/21/12.
But restaurants can close for any number of reasons and they are not all profit driven. The industry is unique and complicated in that sense. There are multiple strategies that can lead to a successful business and many challenges sprout from struggling to find the one that works best for the establishment.
“One of the biggest challenges restaurant owners face is keeping their concept fresh over an extended period of time, especially in a town like New Paltz with so many diverse competitors,” said Bill Guifoyle, associate professor of business management at the Culinary Institute of America.
North Front Street sprouts off Main Street and dips down to Route 32 North. Its short one-and-a-half blocks are home to the Elting Memorial Library, a couple of antique/gift shops, a barber, pilates studio and of course dining options.
H.D. Dicks occupied a small storefront, closer to Route 32 than to Main Street. James Galafaro opened the shop with his wife in July, 2012 to make and sell all the artsy, oddball hot dog and burger creations Galafaro came up with when he was younger, along with some new ones he knew people would love.
With the intent of satisfying the broad community, Galafaro’s wife had the idea to not offer all of his concoctions from the start, but go simple and let the people decide what they favored and what they would never buy again. Over the course of the two years that H.D. Dicks was open, they changed with the demand again and again until they were offering gluten free options, veggie dogs and burgers, pure Angus or turkey burgers and salads.
Locally grown ingredients and health conscious options such as dairy or gluten free are becoming more and more popular, according to Guifoyle. A 2012 Student Health and Wellness study, titled Positive Attitudes Toward Organic, Local, and Sustainable Foods Are Associated With Higher Dietary Quality Among Young Adults, analyzed students’ feelings about organic, not processed and locally grown foods.
The study, which surveyed 1,201 young adults, found that 10 to 17 percent of the students cared strongly that their food is organic and not processed.
Guifoyle graduated from SUNY New Paltz in 1977 and began his 20-year career in the hospitality industry working right in town at a place called The Quilted Giraffe. He began teaching at the CIA 15 years ago. In all that time, he’s found pairing local ingredients with seasonal options can really draw people in especially the many tourists who frequent the Hudson Valley in search of that local, seasonal flavor. This can be anything from adding squash or pumpkin beer to the menu in the fall to offering special salads in the spring and summer.
“This community is very in touch with shopping local,” said Kathy Prizzia, the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce director. “Be it vegetables, cheeses, wine or ciders, people want to know that it is supporting families in the community.”
Galafaro sold the business in June of 2014 almost two years after opening but not because he wasn’t making money — it was part of his plan from the very first day. After changing his business plan and modifying his options multiple times to please his customers, Galafaro ultimately fell back on his original plan.
“I talked it over with my wife and we agreed that if it was viable we would attempt to open more of them if we found the right people to manage them, or we would sell it after two years,” Galafaro said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t find the right person to take on the role.”
Guifoyle said it is important to have reliable, confident and competent employees and good management.
Yes, closing was part of his business plan. H.D. Dicks and Jordan’s are not the only restaurants to close for a reason other than a lack of profit. According to Prizzia, local bar and pub Shea O’Brien’s closed because of an issue with their landlord and Italian restaurant A Tavola switched hands because the owners wanted to move to Miami.
“Owning a business really is like having a child,” Prizzia said. “You need to be able to put all of your time and effort into it if you want to see it succeed.”
Prizzia herself sold her restaurant, 36 Main, after having her daughter because it was just too much work.
Know Your Target Market
At Jordan’s it was all about the young kids. Offer deals, host live music, have late hours and of course a cheap lovable product: pizza.
Now with End Cut, Schor has set his sights on all the tourists and local families who enjoy a quieter setting and more culinary variety. And over Columbus Day weekend, when many college students returned home for a few days of relaxation away from New Paltz, Schor celebrated his “best weekend ever.”
He said he never did as well any weekend in Jordan’s or any of his previous locations as he did serving tourists and townsfolk over the holiday.
“Over Columbus Day everyone made money, you know, the whole town,” Schor said. “I had all my tables full each night.”
Ideally, according to Guifoyle, the best way to go is not target any one market specifically but try to appeal to as many as possible. He cited P&G’s on Main Street as a good example pointing out that they offer consistent good food at fair prices and while they are perfect for a nice family meal, they function very well as a late night bar welcoming students with drink deals and popular music.
P&G’s has been a staple in New Paltz since it opened in 1947. Through the years many influences found their way into the “cornerstone” and remain to this day. Customers can be sure that Stormy’s chili will always be on the menu and “Tower Hour” is every Thursday night.
“I would say consistency is probably one of the most important traits for most restaurants especially here in New Paltz and P&G’s is a perfect example of that,” said P&G’s’ manager, Jake Back.
Back has also found P&G’s’ involvement in community events such as sponsoring softball teams and the annual Turkey Trot helps spread the name and appeal to the local community.
Working as general manager of P&G’s for 15 years, and then owner of 36 Main for four years, gave Prizzia a good understanding of the industry and the town. Her experience has taught her that this town is smart. Residents want to feel a connection with the business owner when they go out to eat and like to know where their money is going.
She said that although P&G’s is not farm-to-table, doesn’t exclusively use local or organic ingredients and keeps their menu fairly stable, they offer comfortable food on a reliable and consistent menu in a comfortable setting that keeps people coming back. Her own restaurant, 36 Main, was much pricier, but it gave off a similar neighborly feel. She described it as “very warm and welcoming” ― the kind of place where customers entered to find they knew someone else already there.
One establishment that continues to attract students is the restaurant and brewery Bacchus. Co-owner Linda Bradford said all types visit the two-floor location on South Chestnut Street, especially artsy college kids. Bradford and her husband Wayne opened Bacchus in 1974 and it has expanded a lot since then, gaining a billiards hall in November, 2005 and an outdoor patio the following summer.
Along the walls of the pool hall, local artists display their work. The gallery features a new artist every few weeks and, along with live music, is why Bacchus appeals to creative minds. Within the dark and intimate tavern there is a unique flavor fueled by weird additions like a miniature tin man hanging above the bar.
“We opened it because we thought it would be fun,” Bradford said. “We’ve expanded a lot but the overall feel is still very much the same.”
But that’s not Schor’s strategy. End Cut’s small, dimly-lit, seven table room seats 35 to 40, and is more of a site for the date night crowd. Students do show up here and there, but Schor said the prices are generally too high for student budgets.
Although the students have moved further from the center of Schor’s radar, SUNY New Paltz still impacts local business in a big way.
“The college brings in a new dollar to our community, that is huge and vital to keeping the community fresh and thriving with good energy,” Prizzia said.
This small town feel is why the small, single proprietor restaurants in the Village can thrive even with chain eateries just up the hill, Prizzia said.
The Varied Landscape
Local competition is fierce. McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway are less than five blocks from the Village’s border and there are a number of independent eateries in the surrounding town of New Paltz.
Why Restaurants Fail? Part IV, a 10-year study published in Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, looked at restaurant failure rates in Boulder, Colorado (another, much larger, college town). It compared them with various demographics such as age, income level and the surrounding environment, including the level of competition.
This study found restaurants fail more often in areas with a high concentration of them. As anyone who has walked around the village knows, New Paltz falls into this category, with over 10 bars, many of which serve food; four pizzerias; three coffee shops; two Thai places; two Mexican eateries and many other dining options.
Additionally many of these are located on Main Street. This can be essential for a restaurant’s success because all of the people drive and walk past, according to Prizzia.
Some restaurant owners feel this pressure as well. Jamaican Choice was originally located in the Stop & Shop plaza but moved down behind the Mobil gas station to be closer to the action. Considering they too cater to college students with late hours, specials and live music, this may not have been a bad move. But others disagree.
Galafaro said he liked H.D. Dicks’ location on North Front specifically because it wasn’t Main Street.
“The location and the style of the building made all the sense in the world to me,” Galafaro said. “We were a little bit out of the way which brought people off of Main Street to us. We would get people from Connecticut coming to us, from Long Island and of course all the locals.”
But the final frontier for these restauranteurs is not on the hill but in the media. Advertising and marketing are essential for successful restaurants, according to Guifoyle. With limited local advertising options, owners look to positive reviews in newspapers and magazines, as well as online marketing.
A website and Facebook page are a simple necessity, according to Guifoyle. Schor said he has found success on the Web as well indicating that multiple customers tell him they learned of End Cut through reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor.
So do restaurants succeed because they change it up? Because they stay consistent? Do they only close because they can’t make money? What is the best business plan? Who is the best target market?
Bill Guifoyle said it like it is: “The real difficulty of the restaurant business is the complexity.”
All photos by Nate Sheidlower unless otherwise indicated.