Q. How many people typically invest in your projects?
A. I was very lucky and didn't have to raise any money for either Annisa or Bar Q. Annisa was built on a relative dime, and was funded by me and my business partner's life savings, and a family loan. Bar Q had one investor who approached me. It really depends on what you're going for—if you want to do a concept that can be rolled out, many smaller investors make sense. For a single personal "art" project like Annisa, it’s better in my opinion to have fewer investors who have no say in the creative direction of the business. Generally you want to maintain control either way, but in a bigger project it’s not such a bad thing if you have an investor who has something to bring to the table besides money. Be very careful who you get involved with. Do background checks—make sure whoever you get in bed with has integrity.
How long does it take to raise enough money to start a restaurant?
Some people never are able to raise the money. This can't be answered. But the better your resume is (i.e. the more experience you have running a similar project and the better your business plan is), the easier it will be. You should also not overlook Kickstarter.
What skill sets are essential for restaurant owners to have?
Knowing every aspect of the business is always a plus. That being said, it’s not necessary. But the restaurant business is one of the hardest, with an extremely high failure rate which shouldn't be taken on unless you feel obsessed to do so, and will still be ok if your business fails.
What characteristics does a restaurant need in order for it to become successful?
Unfortunately, the answer isn't all that clear. You need every detail to be right to make a successful restaurant. It doesn't matter how good your food is, if your service is bad, or the ambiance isn't right, or your identity isn't clear or people can't identify with it. And you have to be consistent and right for the times. And your location is important too—different concepts do well in different locations. Annisa is different because it is absolutely chef driven and personal. We attract a sophisticated, diverse crowd.
In 2009, Annisa was entirely destroyed by a fire. What business and life lessons did you learn from having to completely rebuild it?
Make sure you insure your restaurant with enough coverage. We had opened Annisa on a dime a decade earlier and never increased our coverage to keep up with inflation, so we had to scramble a bit after the fire. Life lessons? Bad things happen and you just have to pick up and keep going. Sometimes good things come of it. We've had some pretty great years since the fire.
To learn more about Anita Lo and her restaurant, Annisa, visit their website here.
Her cookbook, Cooking Without Borders, can be found on Amazon.
Anita Lo is a chef and restaurateur. Her restaurant Annisa, opened in New York City’s Greenwich Village in 2000, was awarded a Michelin Star in 2009 and recently received a three star review from the New York Times. Ms. Lo has been named one of ten “Best New Chefs in America” in 2001 by Food & Wine Magazine and “Best New Restaurant Chef” by the Village Voice. She has also appeared on several TV shows including, Chopped: All-Stars Tournament, Top Chef Masters, and Iron Chef America, where in Season 1 she defeated Chef Mario Batali.