The Year of Living Dangerously

How one restaurant persevered through the crucial first 12 months in business

2000, with a $100,000 loan from Sterling Bank (a locally owned community bank), the partners set out to find the perfect location. In less than two months they found what they say will be the right place for their second restaurant. They’ve leased a former bird feed store in the heart of trendy Rice Village. The space is 1,850 square feet at a cost of $2,700 a month. Build-out costs will reach about $150,000.

The restaurant’s general manager, Cedric Fletcher, recently attended two auctions: one at a restaurant that was closing down, the other at an organic grocery store that had built a new facility. He picked up several relatively new ovens, steam tables, freezers, coolers, and other restaurant equipment for $5,000. The new Fusion, which will seat about 85, is scheduled for a September 2000 opening.

Phillips and Lowe, who plan to keep their full-time jobs for the time being, already have their sights set on opening another café in downtown Houston. Under that section of the city is a tunnel that snakes along for several miles. The tunnel has several restaurants, shops, and stores that cater to thousands of office workers who use the underground passageway on a daily basis. The restaurateurs are looking for space there to open a smaller version of their café. They have allocated $120,000 for that site, which will be a take-out location or, as Phillips calls it, “a virtual kitchen concept.”

The food for the tunnel spot will be prepared at the original Fusion, and will arrive hot and ready to go. The costs to run the tunnel café should be minimal since there will be limited cooking at the site. Phillips says that with the constant traffic in the tunnel, revenues should rival those of the original restaurant.

To ensure a steady clientele at the new sites and the remodeled eatery in Midtown, the partners will soon launch a public relations campaign. They will do an extensive mail-out to more than 5,000 people, place circulars in the newspapers, advertise on billboards, and put thousands of flyers on cars and in the hands of prospective customers. They expect to spend about $25,000 on the campaign.

“We want to create something that all people can experience,” says Phillips. “We want to bring together different types of people to experience what we have to offer, and that’s good food from our backgrounds.”

At some point Phillips would like to expand the Fusion concept to other major cities across the nation, but Lowe wants to take it more slowly. “I’d rather have three Fusions running well and being successful,” explains Lowe. “That’s better than having 20 Fusions with chaos and disorganization.”

Since entering the restaurant business just over two years ago, both Phillips and Lowe say they have learned a great deal about one of the hardest industries around.

“Most restaurants don’t make it because a lot of restaurateurs come in and they’re cooks and chefs first and they are businessmen and businesswomen second,” explains Phillips. “They think the food and the

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