Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Windsor reformats, and the Publican prattles.

The Tribune's Daniel Suddeath reports the cessation of the Windsor restaurant's regular dining hours* and its conversion to an "event facility" in conjunction with the Grand, next door.

“We were open for two years and unfortunately I believe the economy has played a large part in our decision to make this change,” said Windsor co-owner Jane Cravens.
The good news for the Windsor's owners is that they're still doing business at the Grand, and if the daily trade isn't there to justify a restaurant, it's a good tactical move to scale back and buy time. An eatery in the Windsor space could be rebranded and return later, perhaps when the economy improves and prospects for the future use of the two upstairs floors (preferably as a hostelry or residential space) brightens. I wish them luck.

The same article refers to the impending arrival of La Bocca, an Italian eatery in the former Connor's Place space on Market, and of course the advent of La Rosita's downtown draws ever closer, just around the corner on Spring and Pearl. I'm told that the Liquidz bar and club is progressing toward fruition on Main Street.

Failure junkies take delight in closings, but their focus is errant. The right question isn't, "do we need any more restaurants and bars downtown?" It's this: "Will the restaurants and bars opening downtown have what it takes to survive?" The story never really changes, because first and foremost, survival means being damned good at one's chosen mission, and then being agile enough to adapt if being good isn't quite enough. Most of us believe that the success of La Rosita's is all but assured owing to the former, while the Windsor's owners are practicing hard-headedness via the latter.

A brief digression, then.

Those readers who genuinely are close to NABC's principals already know that this year has been the most difficult in the company's history, bar none. It's been brutal. We haven't been able to get the various components of the business working well at the same time, there have been a thousand and one small reasons for this inability to achieve synchronicity, and they've added up to major annoyances.

And yes, a flat economy certainly does not help matters.

The upshot to me is that irrespective of the exact cause or causes, knowing that there's precious little margin for error from day to day is psychologically taxing, to say the least. I thought I knew all about stress until 2010. I've gone from AA ball to the majors.

However, and significantly, very little of it reflects adversely on our decision to invest in an expansion of brewing capacity and the location of a second unit downtown. Had we taken half the investment required for the new brewery and put it into our original location, we'd have achieved a costly renovation with the same number of seats as before and solved none of the larger issues of business life there.

Conversely, albeit expensively and at times maddeningly, NABC's investment downtown has increased brewing capacity, permitted an important brand extension in terms of on-premise dining, expanded our reach in terms of off-premise beer sales, created a platform for growth, and achieved revolutionary results in terms of a list of intangibles pertaining to attitudes and progress in downtown revitalization.

So far, our investment has failed to exceed expectations in only one way, and it's a biggie: Profitability. Even the most reluctant of capitalists understand the imperative of profit, and so I'll note the obvious and concede it. At the same time, despite obstacles now, this investment and expansion downtown is a better risk long-term because the returns will be greater. NABC has been profitable before, and we expected a hard slog the first couple of years as a market for the beers is built.

There can be no ambition without hard work, and vice versa (that's the bit that my councilman never will grasp, and so be it). Harder times are making us leaner. There's actually greater cohesiveness as a team, and we have top quality people, which in the end is more important than anything else. Most of the overall indicators are good, if les good than we'd hoped, and slower to grow than we'd wished.

But downtown remains the right place, and this is the right time, even if there doesn't seem to be a happy and well-adjusted individual in all of mad-as-hell America, and the daily business effort sometimes resembles trench warfare at its worst and goriest.

I believe these labors are aiming at something good, and that the best is yet to come. Next Tuesday, August 3, is my 50th birthday. During the day, weather permitting, I'll see if I can make a 50-mile bicycle ride. My evening plans are modest. We'll stroll down to Bank Street Brewhouse for a meal, and I'll enjoy some of the special beer that Jared Williamson brewed for the occasion: Ancient Rage, a Smoked Baltic Porter. There may be cigars involved on the patio. If you're out and about, come down and we'll tipple together.


*Here's the Windsor's posting at Facebook:

"The Windsor Restaurant and Garden would like to thank everyone who shared their celebrations with us, or just been a "regular" through the past 2 years. Unfortunately, we believe it is time for us to take a break and close The Windsor for normal business hours. We will be booking small events & parties. If you would... like to join us for a party, please call 502-773-4105. Thanks again!"


Jeff Gillenwater said...

A whole other but perhaps related conversation:

Are current NA commercial real estate prices a sign of success or are "we" pricing ourselves out of a market?

Debbie Farmer said...

It's quality that counts which is why your investment will pay off. Your commitment to quality is apparent - and I can vouch for it as I ate at Bank Street last night - great dinner. As we work on and promote Buy Local Campaigns it is just vital that local business owners make the personal commitment to quality product and exceptional service and demand it from staff. All of us can promote and promote but it is quality and service that brings the customer back.