The Ones That Get Away



1mi 3mi 5mi
Avg HH income $54,909 $77,013 $92,685
Daytime population 26,706 95,394 163,753
Households 4,823 25,417 58,913
Population 9,012 58,317 138,862
  • Daily traffic counts – 37,856 on Michigan Road and 40,638 on 86th Street
  • 23,525 sf (with contiguous 6,000 sf) available at the primary retail intersection of NW Indianapolis, also drawing Carmel, Zionsville, and Traders Point suburbs
  • Long time anchors of Super Walmart and Sam’s Club in trade area with Costco, Lowes, JC Penney, and other nationals

If you’ve been in the business only a few years and things have worked out  you can’t help but think about your next idea. Maybe it’s an expansion of your current concept or a new one altogether. These ideas will need a location and as we’ve talked about sometimes  locations give you the idea not the other way around.  The picture above is a classic example. It’s gone now but on this vacant lot was our next big thing. It sat at the entrance to a huge strip mall/shopping center on the northwest side of town.  Features and demographics  are from the company’s website.

On this muddy patch of grass picture a rectangular box about 1000 square feet with a drive up window.  You entered from the driveway on the left where about fifteen feet in was signage and the intercom.  You then travelled another twenty feet to the pick-up window after which you easily exited back onto the main driveway you came in on or continued around in a circle behind the building and into the strip mall.  It was strictly a drive-up  but there was room for employee parking in its own lot or in a smaller neighboring strip of shops to the south. The cars you see parked belong to a popular movie theater directly behind the space to the east.

Over the years we remember it being everything from ice cream shops to fried fish and chicken joints to burger/hot dog shacks, 24hr breakfast food and I believe, bbq. I’d driven past it hundreds of times with little interest until recently. It had sat empty and been available for lease six or eight months before we finally said “Hey…”

What usually happens when you find the perfect spot for something  either the rent’s too high, your concept hasn’t been fleshed out, you’re too involved elsewhere or you don’t have the money or manpower in place.  This was a rare occasion when we were ready to immediately pull the trigger on our idea.  It was a welcome departure from the crowded segment we’re currently in, had five menu items, would be all-cash and only had two real competitors in the area, one much further away and the second although closer, had an inferior location and logistics in our opinion.  Our place needed no more than four or five people  on the clock  and being a drive-thru wouldn’t have the issues of a guest dining room. Even the position of the service window allowed a cashier to see how many cars pulled into the lot before they even reached the intercom.  Shooting for a $10-$12 ticket we made a conservative estimate it could do 50k – 70k a month and possibly more if we did overnights on the weekends.  It was old and in rough shape which is just what we look for and the rent couldn’t have been more than $1500 a month. Probably closer to a thousand.


We had our broker contact the owners and arrange a showing.   Inside was an intact 9ft exhaust hood, modest walk-in cooler, mop sink, bathroom and an ample area in front for the cashiers and space that could be creatively used for storage and expediting the oh-so-easy menu.  It needed less than 10k worth of rehab and equipment in our estimation and could serve any daypart. We knew a husband and wife team with a big family who could handle the staffing and after our rehab and about 90 days of working it with them we’d hand over the keys.  That was  the strategy. We’d turnkey it and  ask for “X” amount every month. Everything after rent/utilities/cost of goods would be theirs to keep and they’d pay labor from their end. If they wanted to open 7 days a week twenty-four hours a day or 6 days a week for ten hours a day we didn’t care. It was purely an income stream play and all things considered, a paltry cash investment in the world of foodservice with what appeared to be a huge upside.

The next day we told our broker we were prepared to make an offer on the space.  Menu items and food costs were quickly finalized.  We contacted our married couple and made plans to discuss next steps.  Again, this was going to be totally different and way easier than anything we’d done in foodservice up to this point and if all went well, our biggest professional coup.

A few days later he called and told us he’d talked to the owners. Bad news.  They weren’t interested in leasing the little drive up any more and decided to tear it down.

“Sorry.” he said abruptly and hung up.

This business is the ultimate in highs and lows, celebration and rejection, financial windfalls and total losses.  Most of us wouldn’t trade it for the world either.  In that part of town we’ll never find a similar situation like that and I still have to drive by and look at it several times a week.  We waited too long to pull the trigger and I hate it.

And of course it’s entirely possible the whole thing would’ve failed.

But “if you don’t go you’ll never know.” That’s the thrill of it all anyway isn’t it?


       Tomato-Herb Grilled Cheese Sandwich

  • 2 slices whole grain bread
  • 1 T mayo or prepared horseradish (opt.)
  • 1 T butter/Margarine
  • 1 or 2oz sliced cheese (Cheddar, Jarlsberg or Jack for example)
  • 2 thin slices tomato
  • several Basil, Watercress or Arugula leaves

Lightly spread 1 slice of each side of bread with optional dressing.  Melt butter in small skillet. Add 1 slice, plain side down. Top with, in this order, half the cheese, tomato slices, herbs, remaining cheese and bread plain side up.  Cook until bread is golden. Add additional butter to skillet at the flip if necessary.







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