National Small Business Week begins today, and all week the Catalyst will be celebrating some of St. Petersburg’s (many) success stories. The foundation of every great city starts with its small, privately-owned small businesses. They are the very building blocks of St. Pete’s economic success.
Opening a restaurant at any time is a risky endeavor involving a lot of hard work, dedication, patience, and a little good luck to go with it.
Opening a restaurant amid a pandemic can make the venture exponentially more daunting, but Dan Schmidt took the leap of faith. His breakfast spot and bakery, Uptown Eats, is now celebrating its first anniversary.
Schmidt was a music teacher and band director at St. Pete High for seven years when he decided to make a career change. He opened a chef and catering service, Eat This!, and after the success of that venture, he decided to open his own restaurant. Located at 698-D Dr. MLK St. N. in an intimate, 800-square-foot space, Uptown Eats occupies the original Banyan Café site. Schmidt worked at that café about 10 years ago, so he had a built-in familiarity with the place.
Schmidt told the Catalyst that Uptown Eats had its final inspection on Sept. 11, 2020, and it was open for business that same week.
“It was really fortunate for us actually because we got the space, and then we basically had all summer to work on it because everything was closed,” Schmidt said. “It allowed a very organic process … and right off the bat, we had support and customers.”
Part of Uptown Eats’ success is due to Schmidt’s continuation of his Eat This! meal service. Fully cooked and complete dinners are available for pre-order beginning on Fridays, and can then be picked up on Mondays when the dining room is closed for business.
“As soon as the kitchen was ready, I started doing once-a-week meal service for pickup,” said Schmidt. “So that was actually the best thing that could have happened.”
Schmidt said the most challenging part of opening the restaurant was not having “incredibly deep pockets” or investors and banks to back his project. This left little room for error for the budding restaurateur.
“I didn’t have the liberty to just say, ‘Okay, I’m going to do this, and if it doesn’t work, then I’ll just do something else,'” said Schmidt. “So, I had to make sure my decisions were good and know that they would make money or at least pay for themselves.”
Schmidt said staffing was a challenge, as it was originally just him and one other person running the business. As the business grew, Schmidt would periodically hire more people and now has seven employees. He said the restaurant is not just where he hoped it would be, but has exceeded expectations in its first year of operations.
“I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to do, and the community support has been great,” he said.
Uptown Eats is currently open from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m., Wednesday through Friday. It is open from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. on the weekends, and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Schmidt said that in the future he plans to open on those days as well.
In addition to expanding hours, he is also in the process of getting a beer and wine license so that Uptown Eats can offer brunch beverages. He also looks forward to putting on more events in partnership with the neighboring businesses.
“We’re looking forward to having a whole little integrated block of events and good times,” said Schmidt.
Schmidt has straightforward advice for those looking to follow in his footsteps: Prepare for long days.
“If you’re planning on doing it yourself and actually working in the restaurant, I would say to be prepared for 12-15 hour days, every day,” said Schmidt. “If you are fortunate enough to be able to hire people to do everything for you – then you’re in luck.”
Uptown Eats offers breakfast and lunch, “made fresh in-house with St. Pete Soul.” It also features locally-roasted coffee, housemade pastries, sandwiches and more. For more information, visit its website here.