Two restaurant industry veterans in St. Petersburg have teamed up to help the hospitality community.
Roger Curlin, owner of Club Savor, and Miguel Miranda, chief client relations director at My Restaurant CFO, are providing free individualized consultations to local restaurants that are struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our outreach is for any restauranteur that wants to help themselves and is open to pivoting,” Curlin said. “That’s a big ask because a lot of restauranteurs have had the same strategy their entire life, so we’re asking them to do new things.”
During the consultations, they focus on a wide range of issues, from operations and finance to marketing and customer demographics.
The pair bring years of expertise to their work. Club Savor is a membership organization that offers discounts at participating restaurants and bars. My Restaurant CFO is a financial services agency for restaurants and provides restaurant accounting services. Curlin said he and Miranda have worked with thousands of hospitality leaders and know all the trigger points.
They fear that without some intervention, the local restaurant industry will suffer, with negative implications for the overall area economy.
Survival at stake
Miranda and Curlin earlier teamed on creating a series of 20 videos in partnership with the Hospitality Leadership program at University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Miranda is the lead instructor at that program. The videos, available here, covered every aspect of what a restaurateur needs to consider, including marketing, finance and operations, and provide a baseline for activities restaurants should undertake to pivot.
But restaurants – especially the locally owned independent restaurants that are so prevalent in St. Petersburg – are unique, and the individual consultations are designed to serve those needs.
“We must do everything we can to help our local hospitality community pivot to profitably or we risk losing much about what makes the Bay area special,” Curlin said. He said that about 30 percent of the restaurants in the area could permanently close as a result of the pandemic. “It’s a single-digit profit business on a good day and then to throw what in many cases is a 50 percent or larger drop in revenue is unsustainable. We are trying to find those organizations that have the DNA to survive and help them. We can’t save everybody, unfortunately.”
The area’s economy is tied to the local hospitality scene, with industries ranging from real estate to technology to the arts benefitting from the presence of restaurants.
“The [employees at] companies moving here aren’t just working. They also are living in the area, so what does it look like? Food is the one piece where people come together. If there’s not a vibrant food scene, there’s not a vibrant shopping or arts scene. They all go together,” Miranda said. “From a real estate point of view, for a lot of the developers I work with, food is the anchor. They look to bring in the right food partner for their properties and from there, they grow to retail and arts.”
Miranda said the overall economy currently is being propped up by unemployment checks, while restaurateurs are using funding from Payroll Protection Program loans. “What we’re seeing now will be different in the next few months. That’s when the real shakeout will happen.”
The pandemic has exacerbated long-standing issues for some restaurants, Miranda said.
“First, we look at the strategy from a long-term point of view, not just how are we going to get through the next few weeks or months. In some aspects, it’s more like brand redefinition,” Miranda said.
He cited food supplies and labor issues as among some of the concerns restaurateurs are dealing with right now. For instance, a menu might be redesigned to take into account potential food shortages, while the labor model could be revamped to look at different ways to pay workers.
Other new strategies could focus on adding delivery, takeout and outdoor dining, when possible, as well as hours and demographics of customers.
“Many restaurants in the St. Pete area rely on the retirement community to fill their seats. In the COVID environment, that’s a category that’s tough to grab right now because those folks are concerned. They may not be dining out as much or at all,” Curlin said.
Neither Curlin nor Miranda said they expected their own companies to benefit directly through the free individual consultations. By strengthening the local restaurant scene, there could be indirect benefits for their businesses, but Curlin said that’s not what is driving the consultancy outreach.
Their goal is to provide about 10 consultations each per week. To find out more email Curlin at firstname.lastname@example.org
Curlin and Miranda have drawn support for their consulting efforts from several local businesses, who are helping get the word out. A list of their supporters includes: