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The Build - Podcast

The Build: Spending Time You Might Not Have

The Build takes a deep dive into the process of building up a new restaurant, from signing the lease to opening day. In this episode, not only do you get more glimpses at the fun aesthetic bits, but you’ll also hear about the processes and systems behind making sure customers feel taken care of in the space that Eric and Team Ursula are in the middle of creating. Between architects pointing fingers at plumbers, and deciding on plate ware, you’ll hear about the nitty-gritty required to build up (and out) your brick and mortar world.



If you listen to the first episode, which we hope you did, then you're here for round two. We let you know last time who our mystery guest was that we'll be following all season long, Mr. Eric See. And we learned about his journey in food from a tiny airport where he was working in Albuquerque at the ripe young age of 11, all the way to current day where he is, um, transitioning from Ursula 1.0 to Ursula 2.0. And hence why we're here today talking about it. 

See, the last time you heard from us was in the first episode, so we were glad you listened to that. And you're back for round two. We let you know last in the last episode that our mystery guest was Mr. Eric See, um, a chef in New York who got his start at a tiny airport in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the ripe young age of 11. And that has led him all the way to current day, which is, uh, New Mexican spot in Brooklyn, um, known as Ursula, and he is going from the first iteration of that to a new location, new space, bigger space, added service hours and all that good stuff with Ursula, what we're calling 2.0. And so what are we talking about today, Jen? 

So today we're diving right back in to the thick of it. And we're going to talk about what happens when you spend time that you may not have during this building process when you're trying to bring your brick and mortar dream to real life. 

So we'll be sort of recapping the rollercoaster ride that Eric has had in trying to find a new space, you know, from, you know, finding a great space and then losing it or finding a great space and then not getting to push the lease through and those kind of difficulties that happened to everybody. But it's always good to hear the reality of it in real time. So, um, stay tuned for some rehashing of our own build process from our now defunct restaurant Goods NYC, which was again the impetus for why we're hosting this podcast today.

What are we what are we talking about today, Jen? 

Okay, so today we're going to hop right back into the thick of it. You know, we've been recording with Eric since November, and we're at the end of March here, so we're going to discuss what happens when you spend time that you may not have when you're building out that dream brick and mortar space. 

You'll hear from some of the most respected voices in the New York City food scene as we recap Eric's roller coaster and adventure of finding a location for his new iteration of Ursula. And stay tuned for some rehashing of our own build process as we walk through or actually sprint through our memory lane as we reflect on our time at building Goods. 

If you're one of the brave souls as taking any kind of renovation, be it part of your house, or even felt the effects of every pavement of your work routes, I can bet, you know the distinct feeling of equal parts, frustration and disbelief at just how long things can take.

Even when you're doing DIY style like I do, things get delayed, things get pushed back. Problems arise. Always trouble. 

The piece that you wanted isn't there. Supply chain issues? Yeah.

You got to make another run at Home Depot.

How many runs to Home Depot? Alex's favorite store. 

If you're like me and you have taken on a renovation project, or if you're not like me and you've hired someone to take on a renovation project, whether it's your house or your apartment or your business, you know that it can pose challenges. You know that things can take longer than expected, that permits can be hard to obtain or, you know, go through a process that makes you just want to scream or shake your head or whatever you do when you get upset. But, um, it can be frustrating, It can be challenging, and it can certainly set you back from a place where you thought you were going to be. Thanks. 

So I guess, how does that make you feel when you're in the middle of building your dream restaurant? Right. So like, it's one thing when you're trying to fix your bathroom in your house, but now you're like building your dream. You've got a set amount of time to get open. You've got a set budget that you have sort of put together and, you know, you've done everything you could to get, you know, as much money as you could raised or loaned or borrowed or whatever it is earned in your pocket. And these problems come up. These problems cost money, right? So they really just add to the stress of trying to get your new business open. Um, and what's it like to feel that even before you have the space to, like, do not even get to that point yet to where you're starting to build, but you are spending time and money that you really just don't have and you haven't even locked in a lease. So let's get back to the start with Eric now. Yeah. Sorry. Like to embellish. I'd make it shorter. Okay. All right. 

Everyone starts their timeline from this optimistic place, right? You can't help it. You just you look at how long things take. You stack them up one by one and it can't chart in a spreadsheet however you're doing it. And. You don't take into account all of the things that sort of come in between. So it quickly becomes apparent that no one in the process of the build, even, you know, your contractors, that you've hired, your lawyers, that you've hired your players that you've hired, they just don't quite have the same interest in expediting the process that you will. So and it's a hard thing to sort of to take yourself or to be coached into. You're always going to do that. That's just human nature. But things happen. Permits take time. Inspections take time. Contractors, electricians, plumbers, whoever it is, they all have other clients besides you. And everyone is pushing them to sort of get things done as quickly as possible. And it's really hard to stick to that timeline, even if all of your ducks in a row and even if, you know, big surprises don't happen. So it's basically like you get to the point in your in your catalog, in your activity chart where it says, okay, we're ready now for fire department. So you call the fire department and you are ready for them to come out on Monday, because today is Friday. And they say, Oh, sorry, we didn't have an appointment in six weeks, but there's nothing you can do about that, Right? So it's like no one really quite gets it the way that you do. 

Everyone builds their timeline from this very optimistic point of view. Right. You're hopeful that you're going to get open as soon as you plan to, because, one, you have a certain amount of time, you have a certain amount of money, you have all of these responsibilities to employees, to each step of the process to get open. But what happens is that it quickly becomes apparent that no one in the process is interested in expediting at the same level that you are, whether it's your lawyer, your contractor or the inspectors that need to come out. They just they have other things to do. They have their own priorities. And so matching them up with yours is always difficult and it can really stress you out in the process even more than all the other things that you have to get done. So it's always important to sort of think about that, even though it might not make it into your chart, you know, trying out a few weeks, you know, trying out a month, trying out a few more dollars to sort of get through some of those things. Even if they're not big hurdles, the small things can set you back as well. 

So we recently recapped our experience with our own build timeline for goods. The restaurant that we had started back in 2010, and we touched on some time that we spent that we definitely didn't have. So listen in. 

Jen, why don't you tell us about the the piece that took longer than expected when we were with with Goods.

The food truck took way longer than expected. We thought it was just going to be seemingly simple. It was supposed to be fairly simple, and it turned out to just never be done. It was housed right here in the parking lot behind Roberta's for months while was being refitted with kitchen gear by our contractor. And I think part of the issue with us was that there was one guy basically who did all of the food truck builds. So we had to wait until he and his team were available to take in the trailer. So. That was that. That was what the what the. But the delay was but actually another delay. That was seemingly to have been as simple as the permitting process, which I think there's a lot of synergies that you'll hear later on in the season where we had to take the truck over and over again to get approved and it was by a different guy every single time and it just pushed things back. Another week. Another week, Another week.

Jen, We were talking about how things can get set back on time. Do you remember some of the things that were most crucial in setting back our journey with Goods? 

With goods most of our journey from, you know, groundbreaking to opening was this, like, fly by the seat of your pants um, reactionary way of of going through a project. And it was essentially we didn't have a plan and so we did one thing at a time. And if something didn't go the way that we wanted or something cost too much or permit wasn't there, then we would pivot into something else. And so we ended up, um, very different from like what our initial vision was, um, in the beginning to where we ended up at the, in the end. Um, and I think that that was, you know, the biggest thing in hindsight that I would say that led to closing that restaurant six months after we opened up. 

One of the most challenging parts of it was this idea that we had to go through as a mobile food truck. So it's actually a stationary truck on a property. So it was going to function as, you know, sort of a regular restaurant that had this obviously very unique shape to it, being in this old Spartan trailer from the 1950s. And we had gutted that, outfitted it with a brand new kitchen, you know, beautiful stainless steel walls, floors, ceilings, venting. You know, we had ovens, we had stovetops, we had candy burners, things regular, you know, pass like a kitchen would have, um, all these things that, you know, we seemed... Seemed should have made it right through. But then once you go through and you're dealing with the intricacies of, you know, any, um, permitting process, you know, this one specifically is the mobile food truck department in New York City was was more than challenging. I think we ended up going through that permitting process three different times with again, with brand new, spotless, by the book design... um, that just, uh, that found its way to have errors each time. So it was difficult. 

So the thing that was really challenging is that the opening was fantastic. There was press that came out. We had New York One on the first day recording with Alex and my brother, and there were lines down the block and the concept and the food were super well-received. And everybody we had regulars for that fried Green Tomatoes sandwich basically on like day one. But things turned pretty quickly as we realized that no matter how busy we were, we were having a hard time paying the bills and the team. It was extremely stressful and all the partners essentially kept pulling whatever cash we had accessible onto the business to keep it going. And again, even though we were busy, it was a money pit that wasn't able to become cash flow positive.

On that note, let's go and check back in on Eric's timeline so that we can avoid talking about that painful moment in history anymore. 

Do you remember what we thought the timeline for goods was going to be? 

You know, I don't 100%, to be honest. I think that, you know, just like everything we did with that process, it was reactionary. So I do remember that, uh, your brother, who was our partner at the time in the business, took a lease on the space. Um, and I feel like it was at the end of the summer, and the goal was to build it over the winter and then open for the spring. The following year, which I think sort of did happen. Right. I think we were a little late to get open because we didn't open until June of 2010. Um, so we're probably a couple of months late, but in, you know, in the grand scheme we. We opened, you know, without a lot of the things that we thought we did. Because, again, we when we started that project, if you remember, we started with the idea of like four shipping containers that were built out into this like elaborate restaurant with plumbing and gas and all these things. And so while we kept timeline, we extremely downgraded what what the actual business was. So it was this giant constructed building that turned into a food truck on a on an empty lot with some like picnic tables up. So in that sense, I guess we you know, we stuck to a timeline, but we dramatically changed our concept. 

We didn't quite six time we went over their original timeline. But and it's not always the case. It's like you start building, you're like, I have to get open for spring or fall. Those are like the magic seasons and everybody wants to get open to math, but then it ends up being like the height of summer in June when nobody is in town and your restaurant's going to be dead or right smack in the middle of the holidays, which is always the busiest time for restaurants. Anyways, moving on. 

Do you remember how we felt about... How we would react if there were delays and stuff?

I don't think we had enough foresight, but I do remember being frustrated. 

I think that what I remember of it was that because the lot the the lease on the lot was so inexpensive that that's what attracted us to space. Right? Because the lease on the lot was like 1500 dollars a month. It was something silly for the neighborhood. Um, but then, you know, obviously once we went into it, we started to understand why it was so inexpensive. But, but I think that we didn't have the same pressure to get open as when you're looking at a lease that's ten grand, 20 grand a month. So it was I think because it was so inexpensive, we didn't really think about, um, what would happen if we didn't make it to our finish line on time. 

Jen, do you remember? You know, where where in the process we started to, like, break away from this big concept and break it down into, you know, what eventually became was the food truck on the on the lot. 

I remember going through a whole process with an architect who had drawn up plans for the shipping containers and then with the shipping containers. I think the breaking point there was that the plumbing was an issue, and that's when the pivot to the mobile food truck happened. 

So it was the plumbing rather than the foundation. Cause I thought I had remembered it as something about the foundation. Because the other thing about this law was that it was it sat over a subway station. There wasn't an actual subway entrance there, but I think there wasn't enough space below the property to do a proper foundation for building, which is why it had been empty for so long. 

My recollection was that it was something with, um, that the shipping containers actually needed more foundation than we anticipated, and that went beyond what was allowed for the property. But the plumbing also makes sense because there was no plumbing on the property and there was no gas lines in the property either. So I think that that could have been it as well as that. The scope of the project that we initially had was would have been too big to get by on some sort of, you know, mobile plumbing situation or, um, propane situation, which we it was eventually how we got open with the food truck.