our restaurant story

not authentic, just delish

Madison Park, again

various marketing numbers on the windows of the space... very interesting

we like the Madison Park location more and more. today Finn and i met with Ken, our architect, to talk about ventilation and noise reduction in the space (and yes, Finny is my Assistant for All Things Restaurant Related :-)).

the leasing office didn’t have the key (shouldn’t that be kept in a set place where the leasing agents could always access it? i’m just saying…) so they couldn’t let us inside, but Ken was fine with examining the building from the outside and just talking through what we need. he is pretty confident that the venting solution he came up with for DelPrado will fit in Madison Park very nicely and solve our problems (this vent stuff is a real Achilles’ heel for us wherever we look!). Ken also said that noise reduction is not a big problem to address – we’ll do appropriate layered flooring and ceiling insulation (to reduce/eliminate noise waves bouncing around), and he said it won’t be terribly expensive. we want to make sure to do as much noise reduction as possible – we don’t want mundo bizarro to be a nuisance to the neighbors in any way. plus noise pollution is still pollution and we want to reduce all kinds of wasteful emissions. :-)

the more we visit Madison Park, the more we like it… we’re doing a credit check right now, and checking on the zoning issues, and if that goes through, then lease negotiations will come next. fingers crossed!

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kickstarter sessions

i’m very excited. this weekend (both on saturday and on sunday) i will finally share the details of the mundo bizarro planning process with my closest friends. i’ve recruited my friends for some critique / feedback / ideas sessions (so like a focus group) to get some outside perspective on the whole thing. some of them already know bits and pieces, but i will fill in gaps and solicit more detailed feedback. i will also focus our focus group discussions on our kickstarter funding issue  – i drafted the pitch, came up with some “backer rewards” and i need serious help to make it GREAT. it needs to be AWESOME to maximize our funding chances and general exposure. the key with kickstarter will be getting strangers to be interested enough to contribute, as well as friends of friends of friends.

updated menus

with the finalized logo and all… :-)

crowd funding

one of the most important elements of this whole venture is MONEY. without it, nothing will happen, no matter how great our intentions. and so we talk about it the most, obviously. we have several ideas as far as finding sources of potential funding for mundo bizarro:

  • our money (plus funds from our families)
  • bank loans (as little as possible)
  • investor funds (our attorney is developing an investor packet)
  • possible grants from the city or elsewhere (i’m researching ideas)
  • kickstarter.com

we’ve been researching the concept of crowd funding for months now. it was discussed multiple times in past issues of Entrepreneur magazine and it’s the new hip way to spread awareness about your project and get financial backing from people who like your concept. there are a few sites that serve up the crowd funding option, like kickstarter and indieGoGo, for example.

the way this crowd funding concept works is simple: you submit a short proposal to the site of your choice, they look at it and if they think it’s viable, you get to post the project details on their site and start raising cash. hopefully. :-) you have to decide how much money you need before you start because you need to set a funding goal. after the funding page is ready you spread the word, send the link to everyone you know, ask them to send to their contacts, and hopefully you stir up enough interest that results in big bucks. it works a bit like a donation, but you offer various little (and bigger) rewards for various levels of financial support (from mugs or t-shirts to free dinners or all out parties). and there’s a catch (with kickstarter anyway): you only get the money when you reach your set goal. if you don’t, the backers never get charged and you get nothing.

we are very intrigued by this whole crowd funding concept. we chose kickstarter, mostly because we really liked many of the projects already being featured on their site. we want to be among them. :-) at this time we’re drafting our page and coming up with the various levels of rewards for the prospective backers. once it’s all done, we’ll be posting links, spreading the word on Facebook, emailing everyone we know. and keeping our fingers crossed!

developer meeting

today we met with the Harper Court developer and his colleague, some kind of expert on restaurants. they showed us detailed plans for the new buildings and we discussed how mundo bizarro could fit into the development. they both showered praise on our business plan. apparently i did a great job writing the thing, we get that from everyone who sees it. :-)

this is the map of the proposed redevelopment, from the Harper Court website. the blue section (A) is the Harper Court frontage, which is where mundo bizarro could be located. more specifically, the developer is thinking of placing us on the east side of the street, within the red oval area:

it’s not the greatest spot as far as visibility or proximity to the movie theater or the Hyatt’s front door, for example. it’s actually hidden from the theater entrance by the Hyatt Hotel building (the light blue rectangle in the center). in addition, the developers mentioned a few possible restaurants/pubs being interested in the venture, and being slotted in the more prominent locations (like the corners). all of that combined with the very high rent makes this less than ideal option for mundo bizarro. plus i would still prefer an old building over new construction (with that unique Hyde Park charm, preferably!) and a corner spot over being lost among a line of storefronts.

the meeting was quite productive. we talked numbers and money and construction costs and white box versus black box (has to do with how finished or raw the space is) and plumbing and venting and permits and taxes and rent and everything else, really. we ended the meeting with them needing more numbers from us and us being less positive about renting their space. well, me being less positive, Aloke still sees that location as a strong possibility, despite the many issues we’re not thrilled about.

overall, the meeting brought up new things to talk through, clarified some old questions, and opened up new ideas for us. like for me, trying again for Madison Park…

chairs!

since the very inception of the idea for this restaurant, i decided i will do a lot of the interior design and furnishing myself. i love doing things like that, i’m good at it, and it will significantly lower our expenses. plus, refinishing tables and chairs and bringing in funky, eclectic, unique art and decor will create the kind of place we want to have and infuse it with personality. that’s key for me as far as public spaces – character.

over the last few months i have sketched out a few ideas and i’ve been researching upholstery techniques and used furniture dealers. i am going to try to produce the dining room furniture for mundo bizarro and make them AMAZING. i plan to get funky used tables and paint/collage them to make them new and interesting. i will also get vintage chairs, fix them up, paint them, and reupholster the seats/backs in bright, funky fabrics. that’s my goal. :-)

and imagine my delight when i opened up a recent email from Fab.com (my latest favorite online vice) and saw MY IDEAS already taken and turned into an artsy (and very profitable) business, The Divine Chair. i love those chairs! :-) they have lived in my head for a while now and seeing them in living color is just amazing. plus, it’s a bit of a validation for me – people are paying hundreds of dollars per chair to get their hands on these designs! but i will do a similar thing for mundo bizarro and people can sit on my art for free! :-)

in the zone, baby!

as in the TIF zone #105. :-)

the Harper Court development (see map, 53rd and Harper) is within the city’s TIF zone #105, which means mundo bizarro could be eligible for a SBIF grant. we could apply, anyway. no idea if we would get anything, as Harper Court is brand new construction and the grants are for improvements to existing structures, but it’s something to possibly add to the “PLUS” column for Harper Court. so, as we look closer at that whole project, we need to keep the TIF/SBIF thing in mind. if we lease from them, we may have to pay less for building the place out. and free money would be great! :-)

we have a meeting with Chris, the main developer honcho with Vermilion, to talk more about mundo bizarro and possibilities in Harper Court. he liked our business plan, apparently, and he said he may have a space in mind. we’ll see.

some thoughts on Harper Court

Harper Court rendering by Vermilion Developers

since we are now back to talking with the developers for the Harper Court project, i’ve been immersing myself in details, blog posts, newspaper stories, and many public comments about that venture.

the developers call it “South Side’s newest destination” and have very lofty ideas for its success. they are also very choosy about the tenants they accept for the new commercial spaces, both alongside 53rd Street and inside the courtyard they are creating.

we first talked to the UofC real estate guys back in september 2011 where we learned about this huge project. and it is HUGE, especially by Hyde Park standards, as our humble neighborhood is where not much happens: “12-story, 150,000-square-foot office building, about 100,000 square feet for retailers and parking for 435.” and the proposed buildings, all 12 plus stories of them (more with potential future housing units), seem way out of character, architecturally speaking, for the neighborhood.

proposed Harper Court project map

back when we first started taking serious steps toward our business ideas and our meetings with commercial real estate agents, back in early fall of 2011, we were not looking into new construction. we wanted an older building, with character and history, something that embodied the soul of old Hyde Park. unfortunately, as we learned through this process, that’s not easy to find. and even if one finds it, one runs into the issues of zoning and venting and permits, which can nix the whole thing and break one’s heart.

since that initial conversation with the UofC real estate guys, we have talked a lot about the Harper Court project and the future of 53rd Street after it’s completed. and we listened to friends and neighbors and neighborhood bloggers. things are definitely changing in our old, a bit grungy ‘hood. :-) shiny new buildings, new fancy parking options, a remodeled movie theater (wow, we will soon be able to watch movies in our own neighborhood again!!!!), new places to eat… Harper Court holds a lot of promise. of things getting better, of the image of Hyde Park moving toward more upscale and hip, of change and new beginnings.

old Harper Court sign

not everyone is tickled pink about Harper Court, however.

many neighbors and community folks have issues with the University of Chicago’s real estate activities of past and present. many people feel that UofC is eating up historic parts of Hyde Park and converting them to character-lacking glass houses. many feel UofC is destroying the character and soul of Hyde Park in favor of larger profits. the UofC has a bad reputation of evicting local small businesses in favor of large national chains without any regard for the neighborhood opinion.

i really loved (and miss) the old Harper Court. i miss the days of delicious fried green tomatoes at Dixie Kitchen and the relaxing Caribbean vibe of Calypso Cafe, and i especially miss the really old days of the Medici on Harper (which is too old for links, apparently) where Penne Funghi stole my heart and to this day has no equal (it’s been like 18 years now).

but times change. even in Hyde Park. and the lofty ideas of the new Harper Court do have some potential. potential for growth, potential for change for the better, potential for creating new community spaces that will enrich this amazing neighborhood and once again cater to its diverse needs.

so maybe it’s fitting that we pursue this option again. we’re all about new beginnings and community building. :-) maybe we can be that rare local small business that will make it within the not-so-friendly landscape of UofC real estate developments. we’ll see.

rendered view of the main UofC office building on the corner of 53rd and Lake Park Ave, from the Harper Court project website

we lost DelPrado

maybe it's is for the best...

CRAP.

while we were looking forward to tomorrow’s conference call between our architect, Ken, the leasing agent, Peter, and the DelPrado building engineers, “our” corner space got leased to someone else.

we understood from the beginning that the leasing game was based on who brings the cash first. we were totally aware of “first come first served,” but we were also under the impression that the leasing agent understood our issues (lack of building ventilation) and our efforts to get it solved. he was the one who set up the conference call with the building engineers and our architect for TOMORROW, so it seems a bit odd that he went ahead and leased out the space to someone else TODAY. but, i’ve been saying from the very beginning that he’s not the best person to work with, so i’m not terribly surprised at this unfortunate turn of events.

this is a big setback. we are quite disappointed.

and yes, we didn’t have very high hopes for DelPrado working out anyway, since the ventilation has been such a huge barrier for two prior architects and a fancy restaurant consultant. but we were looking forward to that conference call that Peter set up for wednesday. just to make sure once and for all…

but we already started working on another option (i bet because on some subconscious level we knew Peter was not to be trusted) – the Harper Court developer called us back. i was working on edits to our business plan all morning. before we even heard back from DelPrado, we were already exploring new options. or rather, exploring the prior-DelPrado options, as it was the UofC and Harper Court leasing people that we spoke with first, back in the fall 2011.

we sent the business plan over to Chris at Vermilion Development just moments ago. fingers crossed. :-)

SBIF grants

the SBIF grant program seemed promising. i researched it and found lots of information, found the appropriate city of Chicago site:

  • quote from the city of Chicago website: “The City of Chicago’s Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF) helps make improvements to small business properties in select Chicago neighborhoods. The program uses tax increment financing (TIF) revenues to help owners of commercial and industrial properties within specific TIF districts to repair or remodel their facilities for their own business or on behalf of tenants.”

then i read even more on the actual application site and our hopes got squashed. in order to even think about applying, you have to be in one of Chicago’s TIF ZONES. i looked it up on the zoning map and it was painfully clear that it was bad news, but i even called their office to make 100% sure. spoke with a lovely woman named Sylvia. she was very helpful and said that unfortunately, the DelPrado building does NOT fall within the TIF zones and therefore will NOT be eligible for any amount of grant money. i was told not to apply, we will be denied just based on the geographic location. of course, my neighbor D told me about this grant thing a few weeks ago (well, she told me about some grant program that DelPrado wouldn’t qualify for, but i didn’t connect the dots until now) but i was hoping it was a different thing.

damn it. it’s ONE BLOCK away from the TIF zone boundary. a freaking short block!

architect meeting, take 3

we went to meet with yet another architect at DelPrado this evening. Ken, this time. and as they say, it seems that third time is the charm – this was the best architect meeting of the three. this man was not condescending or patronizing, he didn’t just glance around and run away. he was helpful and informative and willing to give it a try. he talked to the building engineer, George, who just happened to walk by, and got lots of information on the spot. he came up with a few ideas to address venting, seemed to be willing to take this on and see how well we can do. on top of that positive turn of events, we also learned about a possible city of Chicago grant program for small businesses that we may want to look into for some funding.

finally a positive development. finally we meet someone who doesn’t scare easily, someone who isn’t feeding us a bunch of bullshit, someone who seems to get it. happy Valentine’s Day indeed!

after this rather uplifting meeting, we got a new wave of enthusiasm and came back with “let’s do this!” so, off to more research i go, this time about possibly getting a bit of small business improvement money from our great city – the SBIF grants.

architect meeting, take 2

we got another architect to meet with, Jeff. since the first guy literally ran away from DelPrado wanting nothing to do with it (chicken!), we needed someone who wasn’t easily intimidated by the property limitations. so Aloke found Jeff, spoke with him on the phone, the guy seemed very reasonable, interested and willing to come out to the space and meet with us.

and so we met. we talked. we looked at “our” corner spot, then we walked over to the awesome DelPrado ballroom (it’s an amazing space…if only it was ready for occupancy!), and even drove out to Madison Park to see the alternate idea for comparison. he offered to go, which was impressive. he seemed willing and able.

but then as we talked further, about the first location and its issues (DelPrado), then the second location and other issues (Madison Park), he got more patronizing and more expensive. his fees kept going up, his estimates for the build-out costs kept rising, his general opinion of the project kept getting more and more complicated. he kept saying things like “you can’t afford this,” and “this will be way too much” and “you don’t want to get into that.” our initial opinion of Jeff was quite favorable, but by the end of our meeting, we felt he was questionable at best (kept saying “i’ve got some tricks up my sleeve” but wouldn’t explain what he meant) and quite patronizing (as if we were teenagers).

we both agreed we won’t be working with Jeff. so, we still don’t have an architect.

random idea: collage table tops

so i’m obsessed with collage.

long time ago i decided that i will take on the interior design of the restaurant. it started with the mosaic bar and progressed to furniture. i will be “making” the tables for mundo bizarro. the plan is to buy old, rustic-looking, worn-out tables and refinish them. i will strip old paint, cover everything with new paint to match the overall theme (purples and reds?), and then make cool collages on the table tops, covering them with multiple coats of clear varnish. i did some research and i even found step-by-step instructions. :-) here are some tables that inspired me:

my ideas are a bit different, as in very specific in image themes. i want to keep the “bizarre” thread front and center, and i have started collecting images, postcards, and magazine cutouts.

ventless possibilities

portable ventless hoodi’m doing more research on ventless hood options (example on the left) because the DelPrado corner is still our first choice. apparently, this is a possibility as long as the cooking equipment is fully electric (no gas stoves). i talked to Tom Nolan, the equipment guy at Schweppe Inc. they don’t stock ventless hoods, as they are not very common (regular ventilation is preferable, obviously), but he referred me to another guy who can answer questions in more detail. so i talked to Ed Wachowski, some major restaurant supply vendor, and he said ventless hoods have been working in a few Chicagoland restaurants (he gave Northwestern University as an example) and they wee able to get necessary permits. it depends on the menu and equipment. and they’re expensive, louder than regular venting options, and need filtration that has to be replaced regularly.

but possible. that’s what we need. a possible solution.

not the 53rd Metra stop

proposed Bike Station on 53rd & Lake Park

we have to look into other locations, since solving the venting problem is not looking too promising. Hyde Park is not necessarily filled with spectacular vacant commercial real estate spots.

for some time now (at least 6 months) we thought the spot under the 53rd Street Metra station could be an interesting location for a bar. there used to be an old cigar shop there years ago. so we thought we’d try to find out if this could be an option for us for mundo bizarro.

so i just called the Metra Real Estate and Leasing Office. and found out a lot of interesting information about how the Metra manages and leases their under-the-tracks spots and the various issues these locations have to deal with (structural problems, leaky ceilings, etc.). i also learned a lot about the relationship between Metra (they own the west side of the tracks) and Canadian National Railway (they own the east side of the tracks), which i never through i needed to know, yet found quite interesting. :-)

and finally, i also learned that the spot under the 53rd Street station is already taken. the UofChicago is planning to do a bike share venture out of the spot. it’s a good idea for the neighborhood. hope it’ll work out. and it sucks for us – need to look for other possible locations!

menus, updated

until i get the permanent logo image issue finalized, i “borrowed” the image from the business card (and cleaned it up in photoshop) to use on the updated menus. looks nice, i think. they’re here: mundo-bizarro-menus and they look like this:

  • food menu
  • drinks menu

meeting with a contractor

we’re simultaneously working on DelPrado as well as Madison Park.  we figure it won’t hurt to have options.  so we got a name of a general contractor from the Madison Park leasing agent and met him at the space today.  his name is Cornel, he seems nice, down to business, no bullshit kind of guy.  we brought the drawing i did (he asked over the phone, so he has an idea what we’re looking for), with our ideas for layout and placement of the various parts (kitchen, bathrooms, bar, etc.).

it was a good meeting.  we’re seriously considering Madison Park now.  it’s still at a number 2 spot, but looking better and better.  that space has great potential, it’s bigger, spacious, has a side door, those cool fat columns…  we like it more and more.  we’ll see what kinds of numbers Cornel comes back with and move from there.