A guide for obtaining permits and licenses for your restaurant, designing a space to meet city codes and negotiating restaurant leases with landlords.
FE Design and Consulting is a one of a kind firm that helps restaurant businesses obtain the the licenses and permits they need and help restaurants design their restaurant to meet the city’s zoning and health codes. Eddie Navarrette, also known as “Fast Eddie” is the founder of FE Design and Consulting, getting his start in the business as a bartender and kitchen design. When he realized how much red tape restaurant owners have to go through to get a liquor license, he started the business to help expedite this process. From there, Eddie became familiar with all of the city factions and laws surrounding planning, building and health codes, therefore he expanded the business to help with everything from health department standards and permits, to building and safety standards, to overall business consulting.
With 19 years of experience in the business, Eddie and his team have quickly become the experts on the issues that truly matter to restaurant businesses. His experience and sage advice is a crucial element to get restaurants up and running and functioning efficiently. In a two part series we’ll find out from Eddie what restaurants need to know before opening and how advocacy is essential for the future of restaurants.
What made you decide to start FE Design and Consulting?
When I began working in the industry, I realized that the hardest obstacle for restaurant owners was going through the bureaucratic process of getting everything approved for the business. Time and time again, I’ve seen restaurant owners have a timeline to open, but get stuck with the process. It’s the most important part of starting the business and it’s the most confusing and difficult. I knew people needed help. They needed someone who knows what the laws are, who to contact, what forms to fill out and how to get the process approved as fast as possible.
When it comes to leases with landlords what are most common issues you see and the most important thing to look out for?
First of all, it’s important to understand the terms of your lease and the agreement on rent increases. If you can get a good agreement on rent for the long term, it is a more sound investment. However, there are other things to look for. A restaurant, because it uses so many resources, such as gas, water and electricity, has more needs from a building, then let’s say a retail store, so things to look out for are:
Electric wiring: Who pays for electrical upgrades?
Exit System: proper ingress/egress system?
AC: Is there a proper air conditioning unit provided? Can it handle the long use? How long ago was it installed and who pays for repairs?
Plumping and Waterline: What is the restaurant’s plumping system? Is it adequate for your restaurant’s operations? What is the drainage system like? Are you sharing a water meter with your neighbors? Is the size adequate? Who is going to pay for the upgrade? How much is the upgrade going to cost?
Permits are always a big issue for restaurants, why is it so difficult to get the proper permits? What do you see as a common problem with permits?
There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t find something related to permits that are not accurate of what they are intending the space to be. What I mean by that, is that people often take over leases of spaces that have patios, sidewalk seating, live music etc. thinking that these spaces are permitted for such things and then they come to find that those permits don’t exist. The business that was operating before, were doing certain things without permits. So, people are often leasing a space thinking it can be used for one thing and then they come to find out that it can’t and that’s when people can be really setback.
Also licensing is an issue, why and how can restaurants avoid it?
Licensing is probably the biggest problem restaurants face when opening, especially with an alcohol license process. This always takes longer than a restaurant expects and they take a big financial hit if they operate without being able to sell alcohol, especially if a restaurant is dependent on those sales. It’s basically that the process is confusing, there is a lot of red tape, and people get really confused. It’s hard to navigate what to do in order to get the right license and you constantly have to stay on top of it. I would say that up to 50% of my work is for alcohol licensing alone.
What is the most important things to consider when designing a restaurant, as far as designing a restaurant for code?
Your restaurant wont get approved if it’s not built to code and the hardest agency to please is the health department. Make sure you know what their guidelines are and that your developer is familiar with them so that they can ensure that the space is fitted properly. There has to be handicap access, a proper exist system, the correct bathroom facilities at the predetermined size. Remember zoning and city planning to allow alcohol even beer and wine only can be very expensive, it costs up to $14,000.
If you’re opening your restaurant do you think it’s important to hire a consultant?
To be honest, eventually I hope that my efforts to change laws and lower unnecessary restrictions will help small businesses so not everyone needs a consultant. However, at the moment I think it’s a smart move to hire someone, even at the preliminary stages, to make sure that you can operate legally.
A good consultant can provide owners with an idea about what is actually permitted in the space and help submit the necessary plans for licenses. Most importantly your consultant can give you a more realistic idea of how long it will take to get your place up and running and how much it’s going to cost, so that you don’t go into a lease without this information and get stuck with a space that is limited.
What qualities make you good owning and operating a restaurant?
If you want to open a restaurant you need to be caring. You have to care about your employees, your guests, your neighbors- it’s essential. Having experience and cross knowledge is key as well – the more you know, the more likely you’ll be to succeed.