Were you both in agreement that you wanted to do this particular type of food?
Alissa: Sabrina was originally thinking of a juice bar and she said she wanted to have some food, so I was like, “Oh, I just finished culinary school and I’m not doing anything, I’ll help you. It was already in the realm of natural wellness since it was a juice bar, so we’re not going to have fried chicken. But it was also very organic. We opened with that short menu, and I remember thinking that we were never going to do sandwiches, but then we were open for a week and people were like, “Why don’t you have sandwiches?” so we thought, “Alright, gotta start making sandwiches!” We listened to our audience and responded to that. We started out doing grain bowls and salads and a market lunch.
Sabrina: It was basically just what we wanted to eat.
Alissa: We felt that it wasn’t really being represented in restaurants at that point–eating a nice, fresh, seasonal, easy meal.
How long did it take to get from the seed of the idea to opening the space?
Alissa: A little bit more than a year. We got back from Patagonia in April or May of 2012, we started working on the business plan, and opened the space in September 2013. So a year and a few months.
How did you find the space? Had you saved up money so you could sign a lease?
Sabrina: It was really hard. We wrote this business plan that we were really proud of.
Alissa: We showed it to my friend who knew about writing business plans and he laughed at it. And so we rewrote our business plan with information he said was the right information to put in a business plan. We were actually looking for a space in Soho. We thought that there would be so much foot traffic there, but we were both living here [in Chinatown], and looking at spaces in Soho that were all really expensive. We were looking at one place there, and a week later Sabrina looked out her window here and said, “There’s a space available across the street, we should go look at it.” We went and saw it and it just felt right. We thought, Why didn’t we think of looking here? It’s the place that we know, it’s where we live, and at that point, there wasn’t really anything going on. The neighborhood was pretty different than it is today.
Sabrina: I also feel like the rent was a lot friendlier and it was somewhere we could take a risk and be true to our voice. Opening something in Soho, you have to do exactly what the neighborhood wants.
Alissa: When we ran the numbers and thought, What do we need to make to keep our doors open? it just seemed a little less scary to be here for our first business.
Sabrina: We tried to get investors to raise money and they laughed at us. They told us we would fail. And so we looked to friends and family and that’s how we raised the funds.
How many people did you initially have to employ to get the restaurant up and running?
Sabrina: It was just us and one dishwasher.
Alissa: It was at the old space across the street and it was much smaller. It was about 6 tables and we didn’t think we’d be busy, so it was Sabrina doing coffee and waitressing, and I was doing the cooking and I had a dishwasher to help. But that changed pretty quickly, within the first week we had to call friends to come help us out and we started building our staff from there.
How do you prepare for how much produce you need to buy? Do you estimate how many people you’ll have coming in?
Alissa: In the beginning, we would do projections of how many covers we would do in an hour–a cover is a head, so how many people we’d be feeding. We did that by common sense from working in comparable restaurants. Some people will go outside and sit in front of a restaurant and count the number of people who come through during a certain time of day. But since we had both been working in restaurants for so long, we knew when our busiest time would be and how many people we’d serve. We started small, because we didn’t want to have a lot of waste either, so we thought in the beginning it would be better to run out than to have product left that we couldn’t use. It was sort of market research just by functioning as a business and saying, “Okay, so we ran out of everything yesterday, so we need to order more for tomorrow,” and just taking it from there. Now it’s been open for long enough that we just know our numbers for every day, so we know exactly how much we’ll need for a week.
Did you have to do any marketing initially to let people know this place existed or was it organic?
Sabrina: Friends did the marketing for us. I am so thankful for that–we have friends who work in all different types of creative fields who spread the word.
Alissa: And especially people who live in this neighborhood, they would tell their friends. It was really word-of-mouth, and it was before Instagram was the way that it is today. It wasn’t so established then as it is now where you have to have an Instagram to share information.