So you want to own a restaurant? Here are some tips from a pro | Pamela’s Food Service Diary


STATEN ISLAND, NY – If there’s one thing you learn from owning a restaurant, and subsequently reporting on the industry, it’s that there will always be a full supply of those who dream to own a restaurant. Business is alluring for many reasons and is often the ultimate goal of a talented leader. So, after a summer of writing about major shutdowns and transitions in our food world, including a national potato shortage, I present a concept that could have great success on Staten Island.

Let’s start with a warning: please take ideas. As I don’t see ownership in my future, the advice is all yours. And if none of those words are heard due to an eagerness to dive into restaurant life as “The Boss,” that’s OK — no judgments.

Wine in vats at Vino di Vino, Charleston. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)


So this is it. The modern restaurant should be stripped down, cutting edge, and organized legally, yet as free from city regulations as possible – ironic, but doable. Keeping it simple, for example, means no illuminated signs – in New York, it’s a complex matter involving several agencies and the owner.

Inside a building, the “keep it simple, silly” (EMBRACE) results in a fully electric kitchen, ideally without open flames and minimally invasive modifications to an existing structure. The last thing a budding entrepreneur wants to do is get into the construction business or be a partner through fines and red tape with the city – building department, fire department, criminal court and everything else.

With that, I imagine the perfect restaurant in an apartment house in a mixed-use neighborhood with few shops and stores, plenty of street parking, and/or ideally some sort of spot for a small parking lot. The structure of an old place belonging to the the late Peggy Sklenar comes to mind – Sleepy Hollow Inn formerly on Bloomingdale Road, land now populated by several houses.


The street of Jody’s Club Forest moves into the restaurant’s schedule open during the pandemic in 2020. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)


Since my goal is longevity and consistency of the business and ultimately to be a food legacy, the restaurant accommodation should be located on a property of at least 50 X 100 feet, preferably in a corner. It would have to be bought, just like the neighboring buildings — quietly. Remember that renting automatically means your days are numbered. And once professional owners get wind that a restaurateur has ambition, they become like your spouse – for better or worse, forever.

The interior of our modern room would be reserved for staff. Customers only have access to the toilets inside. Otherwise, rain or shine, the rest of the setup would be outside on picnic tables, tented or not – like a Abbott from Noank, Conn.. And the cooking appliance — an electric oven, not gas — would be covered and also in the fresh air.

All food would be served on biodegradable disposable plates with a request for customers to take their waste home. (As Sr. M. Charlotte would say, “No snickers there.”) Red wine and sangria would be served from a tap straight from the tub – unlimited with a flat rate, in the spirit of Patrizia from Brooklyn — and self-serve with a drink brought from home or an eight-ounce paper cup provided at the door. The only other drink in the inventory would be Big Apple water – free for all, disposable cup included.

The roadmap for this preference for the great outdoors grew out of the wobbly world of New York’s open streets and Restaurants open program that is very similar to “playing at the restaurant” in the desert. And customers have proven they will endure whatever al fresco has to bring with it. chance encounters – weird weather, beggars, car exhaust, sirens and the occasional vehicle — all for the privilege of dining al fresco.

West Street, Manhattan, 7:00 p.m.

Looking north on an empty West Street in Manhattan’s Financial District at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 6, 2020. Citywide restrictions calling on people to stay indoors and maintain a distance to curb the spread of COVID-19 are in effect. (Staten Island Advance/Steve Zaffarano)Steve Zaffarano


Our new business would be daily and seasonal like a Ralph’s in Port Richmond, but operational from the first Tuesday in May to the last Sunday in October. My logic here, as we’ve learned from the lack of catering during COVID: people really don’t appreciate things until they have them.

Now for the food schtick – the basic menu has to be cheap. And by cheap, I mean all the ingredients have a low food cost, something like 20% in mind. This comes with a caveat: various hurricanes, a pandemic, and international politics have taught us that a disrupted supply chain eventually makes its way to the consumer. But low food cost means the chef should aim for few ingredients, limited inventory, zero waste, and all edibles sourced as locally as possible.

Or the menu should continually change – daily or even hourly – depending on what’s happening in each season. But who has time to wade through perishable inventory in the markets while still properly running a business?

With all these considerations – customer service is a topic for another day – I came to the conclusion that our super modern and perfect restaurant menu would include pizza, pasta and sustainable fish – herring, anchovies, mackerel and shad , to name a few species.

If you keep an open mind, I promise the dining experience will be wild and wonderful. At the very least, it will make a good dinner conversation.

Pamela Silvestri is editor-in-chief of Advance Food. She can be reached at


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