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Restaurant expansions add revenues, headaches

Rob Sabo

More locations in the Truckee Meadows mean more revenue, restaurant owners are finding, but the added income often comes with serious growing pains.

Time or lack of enough of it is the biggest challenge to overcome, say the owners of a growing bagel bakery concept and popular pizza parlor.

Hiring new employees, finding contractors, plumbers and electricians during expansion, making everything work smoothly, and of course, capital, present additional headaches.

Zak Gilbert, owner of Rounds Bakery, is expanding into two locations at the same time. Gilbert purchased a bagel store at the corner of South McCarran and Longley Lane in December of 2010. He currently is in construction on a full-service bakery at the old Napa-Sonoma site in Independence Square on Moana Lane, and he’s weeks away from opening a second storefront at the revamped Sierra Vista building at Sierra and Court streets. He’s using savings and funds from the Longley store to finance his expansions.

Splitting his time between three operations has been the biggest challenge with his plans, Gilbert says.

“We used to be open (at Longley) until 2 p.m. but I had to cut back to 1 p.m. because by the time I was getting out of there it was 3 or 4, and I couldn’t get stuff done before the rest of Reno shut down at 5 p.m. Now I get out at 3 to make sure all the work and tenant improvements and buildouts at the other locations are going to plan.”

Gilbert is tackling everything himself and he feels stretched thin. A trusted manager oversees day-to-day operations at the existing Rounds Bakery while Gilbert spends much of his time hiring and training new employees and overseeing construction at his two new locations.

A 1,400-square-foot location at Sierra Vista is expected to open in April, and the 5,000-square-foot site at Independence Square is expected to open in late May. Gilbert plans to close the Longley location once the other stores are up and running.

Gilbert wishes he had an operating partner with which to collaborate and share some of the workload.

“My biggest issue is time; I just don’t have enough hours in the day,” he says. “My deadlines get postponed because of me handling so many projects.”

Dean Christopher, owner of Blind Onion Pizza and Pub, opened his flagship 5,000-square-foot location on Los Altos Drive on Feb. 26. Christopher, who also privately funded his expansion, says he tossed aside everything he’d learned over the past five years running two small locations in Reno and Sparks once the new location opened.

The volume of business at the new Blind Onion has been unexpected and a little overwhelming, Christopher says.

He went from managing 14 employees between the two locations to managing 14 employees per shift at the new store. It would be nice to see this place full sometime, he mused while working to open the new eatery, but he had to add 20 additional seats the first weeks as well as revamp the kitchen several times to streamline cooking operations due to high volume of customers, which have filled the restaurant on many occasions.

“In one week I do more business than my best month ever at my Victorian Avenue location,” Christopher says.

Demand led the owners of the Squeeze Inn, a breakfast concept founded in Truckee, to expand into two additional locations in Reno with a fourth eatery on the way, says Misty Young, president and chief executive officer of Squeeze Inn. The restaurant, which got massive public relations exposure through an episode of Throwdown! with Bobby Flay on the Food Network, started out as a 1,300-square foot location in Truckee. A second location in northwest Reno followed in 2008, followed by a third in South Reno in 2011.

Young, who focuses on marketing and strategic research, says that the restaurant started a birthday club in 2006, and by analyzing data she realized 65 percent of the Truckee location’s clientele were locals or people driving up from Reno.

“We were looking at Auburn for a second location, but we realized the business was in Reno and decided to look there,” Young says.

Growth hasn’t proved as difficult for Young and her husband because they brought on Young’s daughter, Shila, and her husband, Chad Morris, as full partners. The young couple handles day-to-day operations for the three restaurants, freeing the Youngs to do other work and to grow the brand.

“Yes we have a lot on our plates, but we have four people to share it with, and we each get to work in a way that is meaningful to us,” Misty Young says.

The Squeeze Inn employs more than 70 employees between the three locations. The Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation says there were 12,800 people employed at eating and drinking establishments in Washoe County in January, up 500 jobs from a year earlier, but down 200 jobs from December of 2011.

And despite the (still) sluggish national economy, the restaurant industry is expected to see record sales of $632 billion in 2012, the National Restaurant Association’s 2012 Restaurant Industry forecast says. The restaurant industry is the nation’s second largest private sector employer, with overall industry employment at 12.9 million in 2012, or 10 percent of the total U.S. workforce.

“Restaurants continue to be a vital part of American lifestyles and our nation’s economy,” says Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association. “We expect the nation’s nearly one million restaurants to post sales of $632 billion, and combine that with the fact that restaurant job growth is expected to outpace the overall economy for the 13th straight year, and it’s clear that the restaurant industry is proving to be a significant economic stimulant and strong engine for job creation.”