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How and when to open a new bar or restaurant location

Last updated July 07, 2023 · By Dylan Blake

Ben Wiley is an owner of some of the best bars in Brooklyn, NY, like Bar Great Harry and Glorietta Baldy among others.

But it's not like he just had multiple bars when he started his career (in fact, he was trained in the culinary world). He started with one bar and grew his empire from there.

In the multiple openings he's done since then, he's developed a tactical playbook for when and how to open a new place—from deciding where to look to what to do with the space once it's yours. Here are the takeaways:

  • Opening a new location takes a lot of time and effort, so you need to be on the ball at your existing business(es). If you're spending all your time on them, then you won't have the bandwidth for expanding.
  • Places like McDonald's can just ask their computer to pinpoint exactly where to go, but smaller operations need to use a combination of art and science.
  • For the "science" of it, look at demographic trends. First, ID what kind of demographics you're looking for. For Ben and the kinds of businesses he runs, he's looking at where new money is going: where are the 24-year-old versions of him spending their time?
  • Once you know that, look at data from the last 2-5 years to figure out where your target demographic is spending their time. Trends from the last few years are likely to continue in the same direction, so you can see where the neighborhoods or towns you're considering are headed.
  • That exercise will get you to the general location. But that's only the beginning. You then need to find the right space. And that's where the art (and luck and patience) comes in.
  • Next, spend time in the neighborhood you're eyeing. Visit the bars and restaurants to get a feel for what's already there. Talk to the people there. And of course, start visiting available spaces.
  • Once you've gathered all the info you can, it's time for an inclusive cost-benefit exercise where you look for the best total package: the space itself, what's been done to it already, can you work with the landlord, what are the neighbors like, is it close to transit, etc.
  • If, after all that, a winner emerges, then great! Get rolling! But—and this is important—don't force it. It's totally worth it to spend more time looking for a good, doable fit rather trying to make a place work that never should.

Check out all the interview clips below to hear more from Ben about opening new locations, including the importance of rent ratios and specific examples of how he opened his last bar, Temkin's.

Be on top of the ball at your existing businesses so you have the bandwidth to focus

Choosing a neighborhood

Casing the neighborhood (finding a space)

Don't force it—dealing with an imperfect space

Income statements and rent ratio