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Do I spend money on culinary school or on starting a restaurant ( food business)?

I am 41 years old and wanting to follow my passion to make food the center of my career goals. I've been having a hard time finding feedback from people who have gone to ICC (FCI), to see if they felt the knowledge and the experience was worth it. Investing close to $50,000 (which will be mostly debt) in solidifying my knowledge, or taking that same $ (small business loans) and using it as start up for a food business, and "flying by the seat of my pants" and maybe hiring the right people. If money wasn't a concern I'd do the 6 month program at ICC, no question, but between the tuition and finding an affordable situation to live in NY...I'm intimidated and overwhelmed. And starting my own restaurant without that rock solid foundation, seems nuts. I actually have worked in the food and hospitality business for 15+ years off and on, mostly front of house, I' m a damn good cook, and have a great palate and lots of food knowledge. I want to learn from a team of great instructors and beside people who are as passionate as I am. I'm only willing to consider programs that are less than a year and accredited. The cost seems so impractical, but the experience sounds like heaven.....stuck, dreaming and confused.

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  1. Better yet, spend some time studying business, learn how to launch a small business, and try to start using OPM. If you can't find investors to back you, there's a good chance you don't have what it takes to make a go of it (either from a food sense or a business perspective) and you learn a hard lesson without losing a lot of money (or going into debt).

    I don't mean to be a buzzkill, but too many people lose their asses on dreams that aren't well grounded. (Then again, dreams tend not to be all that well grounded anyway, so maybe I'm just naturally a buzzkill. Sorry.)

    11 Replies
    1. re: ricepad

      I have a strong (still a lot to learn) business background, I've been co-running my family business (in interior design sales) for the last 7 years. I've done PR, marketing, and events, been a restaurant manager (not payroll), server, bartender, and expediter, I've also done some private catering ( inconsistently and not plated, buffet and family style) but also because of our business I have access to a good support team ( accountants, bankers, and such). I'm not sure how to find investors, and have not flushed out a business plan mostly because I'm still on the fence about how I plan to move forward (stuck), I don't know what OPM is but I'll google it and I'm hungry to learn anything. Writing a business plan would probably be a productive process for me though. Your not a buzzkill nothing you said hasn't crossed my mind, this is my long calculated journey to throw caution to the wind and put it all on the line;) which line first I guess is the question, and to further kill us with cliche which risk gets the most reward. One more thing in the "top culinary school" column is that if in 10 years I don't want to be an entrepreneur anymore and want a kitchen job at a resort someplace beautiful, that certificate ( along with experience) could make a lot of difference.

      1. re: almaluna

        Wow. 75% percent of new restaurants fail within 6months.
        Yours probably wont' be one of them.

        Find a business plan you like, and go for it. You'll need a bit of flash (but you know that).

        A business is a 10 hour a day, 7 days a week thing. If you want it, then do it.

        I don't think the school is required for that. But if you'd rather just be a kitchen person, go for the school.

        1. re: Chowrin

          " A business is a 10 hour a day, 7 days a week thing."

          And the restaurant business is more like 12-14 hours a day.

          1. re: bobbert

            True that, 13 hours average, easy.

            1. re: bobbert

              <and the restaurant business is more like 12-14 hours a day>

              If someone's serious about making their restaurant work then the day is more like 24 hours with a little rest/sleep thrown in there.
              Eat, drink, work and think nothing but restaurant and then some.

              1. re: latindancer

                I know plenty of owners that have a dumpy little apartment in the back, for the few hours sleep that they ever get.

                1. re: coll

                  <for the few hours sleep that they ever get>

                  I've know far too many owners who give over the responsibility to their managers, look in on their *own* business every few days, and then wonder why their business failed.
                  On the contrary, the owners who put their business before everything else in their life, are consistently present and helping out with everyone from the bussers to the chefs, are the ones who succeed.
                  It's a 'hands-on', never ending journey if there's any remote chance of succeeding.

          2. re: almaluna

            Actually, that Certificate will make no difference at all.

              1. re: almaluna

                I want to share something from personal experience. I was five years younger than you are now when I left a job with good pay/benefits and very high income potential to follow my dreams. I went back to school for a graduate degree. Fortunately, I had the resources to pay for most of the tuition and related expenses so I didn't rack up too much debt. However, I gave up four years of earnings and then (following my dream) went into a field where nearly all the work is in nonprofits so salary range was much lower and benefits all but nonexistent except in the few large organizations in the field. So now I am paying for my own health insurance (fortunately, a group plan through my husband's job in one of those large organizations), have no retirement savings match - 100% comes out of my pocket, though admittedly tax-deferred. But the amount that I can afford to put into that plan is less than I would have been able to rack up in my former career.

                You are 41, so you have about 24 - 30 working years left. You have to start thinking about how you are going to sock away enough to live on after you stop working. You have to balance following your work dream with the fact that there is more to life than work, both after you stop working and even now - don't you ever want to be able to pursue your non-work joys, too? That requires time and money, too.

            1. Do you currently live in NY? Maybe check out culinary programs at different schools in other states where the COL is less...

              If you were to open a restaurant, do you have an idea as to what type of food you are thinking about? Maybe living in an area that specializes in that cuisine might assist you. It will expose you to different ideas of what current places are offering and give you an idea of what the market is for your plans.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Jerseygirl111

                I lived in NY for 10 years ( worked for some of the best, Bobby Flay, Marcus Samuelson) but now I live back in Santa Fe, NM, my home town. I've been researching lots of programs, I feel like if I'm going to do this I want to do it with the best at the highest level. and with access to every cuisine in the world. Also the 6 month program really appeals to me. The prestige of it would also count in this town, if I can back it up.
                Yes I have a couple of strong concepts for restaurant/food businesses, but my overall concept involves global comfort foods, with a lot of mexican, carribbean, and African notes (curries, red chile cream sauce, roasted tomatoes and pesto, wild mushroom cous cous etc. I'm going to have to factor into my future some amount of food related travel to always learn, but in NY I have access to so many flavors. Unless I win the lottery I don't think I would move back but an intensive 6 months to a year seems perfect to me. Just so prohibitively fricken expensive.

                1. re: almaluna

                  What kind of works did you do for these chefs? So, you already have a culinary background? Or, were you working on the business side of things?

              2. I had a choice of culinary school, or a bachelors of business in hotel/restaurant management, both at the same college. I chose the business degree and glad I did. Cooking comes easy to me too, but business sense was something I had to be taught. Luckily not the hard way, by loosing my shirt!

                The cooking school was two years, and the business degree four. If you have a real knack for it, learning on the job works for some people too, but you need a great mentor.

                1. I have nothing useful to add, but I have a question. After all I've read and seen as an outsider, I can't figure out why anybody wants to try it! Can you shed some light on that for me?

                  PS I do own a small not-food-related business.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Shrinkrap

                    I'm not sure what to say except that I had that crazy moment about a year ago when I realized my life has always revolved around food, and that I'm happiest when I'm creating in the kitchen and feeding people! I'm deeply satisfied by the feeling of surprising people with my flavors, and finding the "sweet spot" (when everyone loves it). These things make me joyful, and I want my life to be full of joy. I'm not naive, this is a brutal grueling business, many would argue most Chefs are sociopaths, in certain circles noon is dawn, and the odds of a restaurant being successful are low, and successful for a long time even lower, still I feel like I'm finally passionate about something other than music ( reason I was a great waitress lol).

                    1. re: almaluna

                      Are you actually in the business?
                      Because if you aren't... I'd pitch your cooking to the local daycare. Homemade (& healthy) food from the heart makes a great pitch for stressed out parents.

                      1. re: almaluna

                        "I'm not sure what to say except that I had that crazy moment about a year ago when I realized my life has always revolved around food, and that I'm happiest when I'm creating in the kitchen and feeding people! I'm deeply satisfied by the feeling of surprising people with my flavors, and finding the "sweet spot" (when everyone loves it). These things make me joyful, and I want my life to be full of joy."


                        cooking in a restaurant kitchen has zero in common with cooking for your friends and family. zero. nothing.

                        when i was 25 and in possession of a bachelor's i never intended to use, i decided to go to culinary school. this was pre-tv food network and celebrity chefs were not a "thing," so most students' motivation was different than today. i'd been waitressing and bartending for 2 years prior, so "had" restaurant experience, but i was NOT prepared for how grueling line work was. within my first semester i knew i was not cut out for boh. i was also working full-time as a bartender to pay my bills while i was in school. even though i was young and very fit, i frequently had rashes and anxiety attacks from lack of sleep and physical exhaustion.

                        i completed the 2-year program anyway and it did help me in some ways. i wound up staying in foh for 20+ years, mostly as a sommelier.

                        at your age, i can't imagine plunging all that money into a SIX-MONTH program. if you have never cooked professionally, how much do you think you will truly learn? i have had to manage graduates from places like johnson & wales and cia and they were next to useless for their first few months. the hours were so long, the atmosphere so intense and the pay so minimal, many more washed out than kept going, so even in their 20s they couldn't hack it. (btw, i have always worked in fine dining and my previous bosses include 3 james beard award winners. these were not cut-rate joints.)

                        say you go to school. how will you live and afford nyc while there? why do you think a 6-month cert will guarantee you a job or a flock of investors when you return home? in the mean-time that loan will start coming due and you might still be couch-surfing and jobless.

                        you may also want to explore options like becoming a private chef or a caterer.

                        what are the possibilities in your area for food trucks? many in boston have gone on to open b&m locations after enough buzz with a truck. anybody doing pop-ups or underground restaurants to get yourself some name recognition?

                        agree with others who suggest trying to get a boh job NOW, even if it is unpaid.


                        from your post below:

                        "Thank you, you are correct, I am wondering if culinary school should be my first step, if it's better to start in debt but with a "professional" foundation, or just go for it."

                        a 6-month program isn't going to teach you a whole lot. it's a very expensive piece of paper. sorry.


                        just went on their website. it says you get 469 hours of hands-on time. if that was in a real kitchen job? that would be about 6-8 weeks. fwiw.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          The part about not like cooking for friends/family is the part that has resonated with me while vicariously watching others over the last 10 years or so. I used to think it must be really rewarding; now I am glad I can afford the time and money to do it (including classes!$$$$!) for fun. I can see there are niches where people in the industry thrive, but much of it seems like a major "fun sucker"!

                          I used to want to teach pre-school too!

                          1. re: Shrinkrap

                            for the right people, restaurant cooking *IS* wonderfully rewarding. my point was that home-cooking on any scale is apples to oranges.

                            whenever i cook and host people will ooh and aaah and wonder why i don't cook professionally, lol. when i try to explain it's like they don't believe me!

                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                              "For the right people, restaurant cooking *IS* wonderfully rewarding"

                              I believe you, and believe the same is true for being a pre school teacher. For me though, those are two dreams that at age 50+, I'm greatful didn't come true.

                              1. re: Shrinkrap

                                about 15-17 years ago, my mother came into quite a bit of money and was convinced she and i should open a restaurant. "i could do the books and work the door and you could run everything else." she was a competent home-cook and good with people and assumed my schooling and work experience would guarantee success. it took MONTHS to dissuade her from this idea. not that i was convinced of failure, but even then i knew that ownership (not to mention working with my mom!!) wasn't for me.

                                and if we had failed? she would have been a 50-something woman with nothing left for retirement. i could never have forgiven myself.

                                no thanks.

                    2. FYI...I have a Bachelors Degree from Macalester College in Sociology, with economics core almost 20 years ago, not really relevant except for the part that I've already paid off student loans and have little interest in going into a 4 year program, I need practical training not really interested in a lot of class room work, except as it pertains to running a kitchen and developing concepts and seeking investors. There are resources available to help write a business plan and negotiate leases, etc.

                      20 Replies
                      1. re: almaluna

                        Do you want to be a restauranteur or do you want to be a chef? I can't tell from all your posts, to be honest, and that is a bit of a concern.

                        My advice is get a kitchen job. Stay local, try and find a place that you have connections and they will give you a chance to work your way up to real cooking. But you need to spend some serious time on the line and see if it is really what you want to do, especially as we approach the downhill side of mid-life (I'm your age, no offense intended). Everything I've ever heard is that this is a young person's game, with hours and hours spent on your feet in high heat under great time pressure.

                        There is also nothing wrong with throwing caution to the wind and going to culinary school as part of a mid-life crisis as long as you recognize it as for the right reasons: fulfill a lifelong dream, learn something new, take a break for the drudgery of "real life" for a while. But, in that case, I think you need to go into it with the knowledge that it could lead to something more or . . . just be the experience that it is and that's it. Some people have made new careers by writing about such experiences. And I'm sure there are those out there that do decide to make a new career about it. I think there are many more that look back fondly on the fun, but go back to their former lives. And there's nothing wrong with that.

                        What concerns me most about your plan is this idea that you are just going to go to NYC because it is the best and only the best is good enough. NYC is probably the most difficult place in the WORLD to make it with a small business, let alone a restaurant. The competition there is beyond fierce. And while I get that that is part of the appeal for you, the risks that go along with that are potentially devastating. That's what I said start in a kitchen closer to home. If it all "feels right" and you still want to do this after 6 mos. to a yr. of kitchen employment, then go for it.

                        1. re: centralpadiner

                          Before you spend a nickel on attending a culinary school or opening a restaurant I plead with you (as a former small restaurant owner) go buy ALL the Tony Bourdian books and read them. At age 41 no matter how in shape you are you won't last a year in any busy restaurant. 'Back of house' is only for the young. Soon most of them get emotionally /physically burned out and many turn to 'bad habits' just to make it to/through work. (That's one reason so many restaurants fail BTW).
                          At 41 if you haven't already had years experience in business you'll be broke within a year.
                          But then again you may be the literally one in a million who proves me wrong.

                          1. re: Puffin3

                            This post reminds me of the following riddle:
                            Q:How do you make a small fortune in the restaurant business?
                            A:Start with a big fortune.
                            With all the restaurant closings I see in NYC, it's not that funny...

                            1. re: boredough

                              Not just NYC, everywhere. I was in food sales and my motto was "I've seen them come and I've seen them go". So glad I never got around to trying any of my wild ideas, not that I'm talking anyone out of following their dream. Just don't be too pie in the sky, it IS still a business first.

                            2. re: Puffin3

                              More appropriately, read "Heat." That book outlines the writer's year apprenticing in kitchens at about the same age as the OP.

                            3. re: centralpadiner

                              Since graduating from college (finance and accounting), I have worked, in one way or another, with small businesses, mostly banking in credit and problem loan workout. I could write a book on the many way small businesses fail.

                              I agree on getting your "dream job" by working for someone else's restaurant first. If you end up owning your own restaurant, you are going to need to do every single job in the place sooner or later so you might as well round out your restaurant experience by doing the jobs you haven't tackled yet.

                              1. re: centralpadiner

                                If I read correctly, almaluna is not talking about opening a business in NYC, but just spending six months there in culinary school, to take advantage of learning in the NYC environment and then going back to Santa Fe.

                                Almaluna -- I know absolutely nothing about the food business, so don't really pay attention to me ;) -- but I'm wondering if Santa Fe allows for food trucks or pop-up restaurants and, if so, how successful some of their owners have been in using that as a starting point for a successful business.

                                I do think that what you're asking is not so much advice about whether or not opening a restaurant or other food business is a good idea so much as whether culinary school is a good first step toward taking the leap towards that dream - not entirely sure that's the question others are answering, but they are answering thoughtfully, at least.

                                And, since you're in Santa Fe -- I think it's Katharine Kagel I've heard talk about how angry Bourdain's books make her...

                                fwiw, only.

                                1. re: mselectra

                                  The Santa Fe resto market is very active with some excellent chefs, but as in any food crazy city, they come and go pretty fast. One of the hottest restaurants currently is Jambo Cafe located in one of the ubiquitous strip malls on Cerrillos Rd. The Chef is Kenyan and is a beautiful example of an immigrant moving to this still somewhat remote region and making a huge splash in the food world. Point being that almaluna's potential menu and tastes would likely be well received.

                                  Yes food trucks are popular here too, but I don't know what hoops you have to go through for approval. If it's anything like other bureaucratic procedures in New Mexico, it could be a nightmare, but I don't know.

                                  I too was wondering about the OP's age (isn't that terrible--she's only 41), but as someone posted above, it is such a grueling business that it may be difficult to keep up the pace required.

                                  As far as Bourdain and New Mexico goes, his recent faux pax on his CNN show regarding frito pie made the front page of the local newspapers. He did apologize but, IMHO, he was right. Regardless, he's not a New Mexico kind of guy :-)

                                  1. re: sandiasingh

                                    Thanks sandia -- I'm now distracting myself from the work I need to be doing with dreams of Santa Fe. I used to spend a lot of time there (in the long ago '90s!) and Pasqual's is one of my family's favorite restaurants of all time. Realizing this is taking the thread OT, but I was trying to remember where I'd heard Kagel on Bourdain -- looks like it was in this Spendid Table interview from some years ago: http://www.splendidtable.org/episode/340
                                    The interview starts at about 15:00 and the discussion of Bourdain at about 18:45. It's not exactly as I remembered, but an interesting discussion, I think (and even a bit related to OP's question, maybe).

                                    I missed the CNN frito pie faux pas, will have to look that up. Didn't the Woolworth's close though?

                                    HillJ seems to offer some really good advice below. I think the importance of networking -- or perhaps, rather, the importance of collegiality (as, actually, Kagel talks about) -- is often greatly underestimated.

                                  2. re: mselectra

                                    Thank you, you are correct, I am wondering if culinary school should be my first step, if it's better to start in debt but with a "professional" foundation, or just go for it. I AM CLEAR it is a HUGE gamble, I UNDERSTAND it is a business. I am sure that I will be able to put together a good kitchen team and I will not be spending every moment working a sauté pan, I want to know I can and exactly how to execute so I can be a chef, a leader with the skill and confidence to back it up. My food, my flavors.
                                    Katherine Kagel is a friend of my family's you are right I should talk to her.

                                    1. re: almaluna

                                      I had a similar question once years ago while attending a private art school: was I better off spending the (then - 1990's) $50K on a workshop and just doing stuff or getting the degree? results were mixed. makers returning to school felt they had plateaued in need of a pedigree and DIY-ers felt they were free to go in any direction with little upfront debt.

                                      I kinda wish I'd gone the DIY path. I'd be no worse off than I am now and NOT in loans approaching 6 digits (interest)

                                      1. re: hill food

                                        Me too, I went the management route in college because it was a bachelors degree, while the culinary school was just a certificate of some type. I like to get what I pay for! If you lean towards the kitchen, it's easy to learn on the job and get paid for it instead of the other way around.

                                        1. re: coll

                                          coll: yeah sometimes in the wee hours of gnashed teeth, I romanticized the idea of chucking it all and apprenticing my self to a violin maker (or barring that, then shoe lasts) in the Alps and applying those fine skills to sculpture and furniture.

                                          1. re: hill food

                                            I know what you mean. Too bad we can't live for 500 years or so and do it all!

                                            1. re: coll

                                              If I gave in to thoughts like that I'd feel every bit of my age. I'm still the youngest spirited elder in any room. 2014 I'm working on sky diving and improved Russian skills.

                                              ..join me people!! :)

                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                  oh I'm still scrivening away, just at different or tangential things.

                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                    Don't matter what you do, just do :)
                                                    You rest you rust is a tat I wear proudly.

                                    2. re: centralpadiner

                                      I love centralpadiner's question - do you want to be a restaurateuer or do you want to be a chef? It gets to the heart of the matter. If your primary desire is to own a restaurant I think you should still invest in some culinary management education. Even though you are experienced in front-of-house in the hospitality industry, it sounds like you have no experience in payroll, food costing, stock management - the nuts and bolts stuff.

                                    1. re: HillJ

                                      Great advice, I know of them and have met with the Small Business Development Center but not SCORE. I will follow up on that. Thank you.

                                      1. re: almaluna

                                        I wish you the best of luck almal. If it gives you additional confidence at all, I started a BnB well past my 40's. I can't state enough how incredibly freeing it has been to chart my own vision in the comfort biz. You stay true to your vision, you've got a fighting chance!

                                        Work, if done right, is kick your ass hard no matter whether you work for yourself or someone else. So love it, be happy doing it and the fruits of your labor will follow.

                                        1. re: almaluna

                                          If you do seek out a SCORE mentor come prepared with two things: a rough business plan and your continuing edu goals. Come ready to discuss both options at length because SCORE mentors represent folks who have been where you are and have retired from careers with something valuable to pass on. What they don't know, they'll help you find.

                                      2. I am from the Toronto area. There are a bunch of new restaurants that have opened up in the last few years started by people with little or no restaurant experiences. One was started up by a marketing guy (La Carnita) as a pop-up that sold "Art" but gave away tacos to get around the rules here. It went on to start up a restaurant and now they have a 2nd off-shoot business. There is another restaurant called Rock Lobster. Looks like the owner had some culinary experience before but he went on to start 2 restaurants (with some other partners) and now just launched a 3rd with a different concept - http://www.blogto.com/people/2013/02/...

                                        I don't know if the "pop-up" route would work in the area you are from but it still seems like a viable option to test business ideas around here.

                                        It sounds to me that you are motivated enough that you could come up with the concept/recipes/etc and be successful but you might need to be able to network and get some other people involved with other strengths (i.e. more capital,etc).

                                        1. http://santafeschoolofcooking.com/#st...
                                          Have you contacted the folks running this place for some leads, ideas?

                                          Have you looked into continuing edu scholarships for a business woman? http://www.educationnews.org/career-i... just to brush up, network and have the Career Center at your fingertips.

                                          If your goal includes working in NM, why not network right from there within their own culinary community right from the start. Introduce yourself to the people already in business in that area.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: HillJ

                                            This is not a bad idea, especially being a female chef in SF. There aren't many, of course. The SF School of Cooking recently moved into a new building and has expanded into a real cooking school, from my understanding, instead of a little touristy place. But with Deborah Madison here and several nationally known chefs, we have a very strong food/restaurant/farmers market network which ranks among the top ten or so in the country.

                                            Since the OP is a NM native, I would think she could do a lot of networking starting with people she already knows and with her NY experience (which most of our chefs have, or LA/Seattle, etc) I think she has a pretty good chance. There is certainly room for lots of local PR.

                                            1. re: sandiasingh

                                              Before my partners (now there are 3 of us) got together on an actual BnB property we spent nearly 2 years researching, introducing ourselves to owners both near and far of where we were scouting, we spoke to small hotel operators, the travel pros and of course food folks. We did a great deal of research and networking together and separately before we spent the real big bucks on operations. All that networking has paid off and it also created a welcome mat for our own establishment to be embraced not bothered by what does become healthy competition among owners.

                                          2. Here is what I can tell you as a 43 year old male, with no education who has been self employed for 23+ years. My day job is in financial services, however I grew up in the restaurant business and have been in and out of the bar/club/restaurant business most of my adult life. I have had places both succeed and fail and some that I’ve just invested in. So I have been where you are and this is what I can tell you. You have to have 100% commitment and confidence in your vision and your ability and your drive and ambition. If you have any doubt, you should NOT proceed. The fact that you have posted this shows to me you have doubt, no offense you are looking to complete strangers for advice. So for me it is go to school if that’s what you think you need, do whatever it’s going to take for you to get the confidence in yourself to do this with 100% confidence, you cannot proceed with out that level of confidence.

                                            If you are looking to open up in New York you really need to be sure you have an excellent concept and execution. New York is one, if not the most, competitive market places in the world. Average restaurants can survive in the suburbs just based on a lack of formidable competition…..that’s not the case in NY. Depending on the genera of food you are looking to serve you can be in direct competition with some of the best Chef’s in the world.

                                            As someone else noted it would be great if you could do this with someone else’s money. But without a “new” concept or food type you are going to be hard pressed to lure investors into your “Italian” restaurant.

                                            Well that’s my $.02…..I wish you all the best, but please wait until you feel as if you are fully prepared to move forward with no doubts in yourself.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: jrvedivici

                                              Would just like to note that my understanding (as a woman) is that usually women have a lot more doubts than men do--and studies back this up. If women waited to do anything until they were 100% certain, very much less than we have done would have been done. And many times it would be too little too late.

                                              I think before making a big move you should definitely have an internal Yes. But I'm not sure 'no doubt' is the right standard. The absence of doubt can also indicate the presence of strong illusion.

                                              1. re: jrvedivici

                                                I agree with foiegras that having doubts are normal. Also, asking strangers is pretty normal, too...the entire chow blog is evidence, and there's no indication that turning to strangers for advice is correlated with the chance of something turning out well or not.

                                              2. Am I reading right that the school is $50,000 for 6 months? What kind of ROI do you expect?

                                                I also recall a recent Restaurant Impossible where the wife had great FOH experience as a waitress and the husband was, I think, a CPA. They were failing badly, with no business plan, no idea of food costs, yada, yada.

                                                I agree with some of the posts here about either finding a business partner with experience or checking out lower-cost options for training. Although I sound doom and gloom, I do wish you well.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: pine time

                                                  The places I knew were not going to last for long were the husband who had some kind of money, and the wife who "always wanted to own a restauarant". I watched the money closely, and I was never wrong.

                                                2. I don't know what your personal situation is but first, I probably wouldn't try this plan in NYC. Huge $$$ to start something there. If you insist on culinary school go to a Community College program and save tons of money.
                                                  Actually, the first thing I thought of in your situation is... you already have the foh experience and any restaurant needs someone good in the front, why don't you find a really good young chef who's looking for a partner to start a place? That's the route I'd go. With an established chef, you'll also have a better chance of getting investors.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: bobbert

                                                    My plan would not be to open anything in NYC, school only.

                                                  2. If you really want to own, wouldn't it be much harder to obtain a small business loan with $50K of student loan debt? No matter how talented you are, opening a business with both SBA and student loan debt would be a terrifying risk in the restaurant business, I think.

                                                    I agree with others who advise getting a restaurant job. Give yourself, say, two years, and work a shift in BOH and get another shift somewhere else and save as much money as you can. You'd be working an insane amount of hours but will learn if you can do that before you invest your own money. If you can't handle 14 hours of work, it'd be tough to open your own restaurant.

                                                    Owning a business comes with all sorts of stress. I love it but sometimes wish for a normal job. You sound determined and smart. Best of luck to you.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: KrumTx

                                                      I certainly would have to echo the concern about student loans. One of my other favorite forums is about "college admissions", and school loans seem to thwart some of the best laid plans. This is probably a better place to ask about starting a restaurant, but if you are interested in ROI on degrees, admissions and loans, you might want to check out collegeconfidential. I'm pretty sure they would say a "community college" would be the investment of choice.

                                                      1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                        My student loans (more than the OP is talking about) have definitely thwarted my dreams of owning my own business. If I could do it all over again I would have stuck to the state university instead of a private design school.

                                                    2. What about creating a food product that you can sell at farmer's markets and the like on the weekends, to get your feet wet?

                                                      1. All I can say is culinary school, to learn how to cook, is not a good investment at your age. You can hire many guys in their twenties and thirties who have been cooking for years, for the price of culinary school.

                                                        A few culinary management classes might be helpful, but hiring a consultant might be better.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: jaykayen

                                                          There is a really good book called Small Business Taxes made Easy that's helpful when you're trying to set up a small business. the checklists may help you decide what skills you want to develop.

                                                        2. If you will need financing to open a "food business" you will need a convincing business plan. The Small Business Administration offers courses in business plan development which will help you refine your vision and sharpen your approach to potential investors.

                                                          As a restaurant owner I've seen motivated dishwashers turn into excellent line cooks. I've hired culinary school grads who swore up and down they learned far more from working the line. Culinary school will not prepare you to run a food business, and "flying by the seat of your pants" is an invitation for failure.

                                                          You need to determine your goals. If you want to work for someone else, culinary school will give you credentials that will open the door to opportunities. If you want to own your own business, you need training in business management. Don't invest a penny until you figure out in which direction you want to head. Good luck!

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: elegraph

                                                            Wish I could recall the source, but I read an article about the low, low salaries of many chefs/restaurant owners who spent mega sums on culinary school, yet barely made a living wage afterwards. Of course there are the Big Star exceptions, but it's like sports: danged few end up in the NFL.

                                                            1. re: elegraph

                                                              This is a very good point.

                                                              If the goal is to own their own business, the most important thing will be the ability to run a business well, more so than cooking ability. If they want to make a living cooking food, then the cooking training is central, but the focus is then on cooking, not running a business.

                                                              If the ultimate goal is to run a successful business while indulging a life long love of food and cooking - pile the money on the floor, light on fire, then go back to cooking for appreciative friends and family, and you'll come out ahead, both financially and in your personal life.

                                                              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                                I agree with this mostly. Running a restaurant, doing the cooking and the business, will take over your life completely. There will be no time for satisfying relationships, or enough sleep, and your passion will die or atrophy from exhaustion and how devilishly hard the business is.

                                                                Don't expect to have a personal life, or a good personal life. Restaurants are extremely hard on relationships, because you're always working, stressed, tired, and can't spend holidays, evenings or vacations with loved ones. Nearly all the parenting, running the home, chores, and bill paying is saddled onto the partner. Resentment builds fast.

                                                                Then there's the money thing: Money leaks out of a restaurant 10,000 ways. Only those with the reserve capital to make it for two years succeed, since it takes that long to build a clientele of regulars.

                                                                You cannot expect to be the engine for both the cooking and the business. It's physically impossible. The culinary school I attended required us to attend several business classes, and one class was particularly telling. We had to complete a business plan, and then we played a game -- the instructor came around and said, Oh, oops, just found out your electrical isn't up to code. Find $30,000. Boom. That's the restaurant industry.

                                                                Regarding passion for cooking and food: it goes away by the 50th time you've made something, and restaurant cooking is far different than cooking for pleasure. Were I to advise you, I'd say cook for pleasure, seek out cuisines and ingredients and experiences in your home kitchen, and don't go into the restaurant business. And in NYC? OMG. Yes, nuts.

                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                  I didn't plan on coming back to read this thread until I saw that Maria Lorraine made a post, so I clicked. What ML writes is always worth reading because it is well written and is nearly always very well informed. Thank you for your post.

                                                            2. Lets put it this way. In order to even have a CHANCE at a successful restaurant there are a few basic requirements (beyond the whole subjective "vision" etc)

                                                              1) A mastery of cost analysis, profit margins, how they balance, and when it's a good (or not a good) idea to sacrifice one for another.

                                                              2) Mastering profit margins so that each item you sell is performing to it's fullest potential. That doesn't mean highest profit either- it's knowing when taking a smaller cut will increase the sales of that item. It's knowing how much to decrease (or increase) so that you maintain that balance with every other item on your menu(s)

                                                              3) Knowing how to cut up to 30% of your cost out of an item if you need to without sacrificing quality.

                                                              4) Your prep cook just burned $200 worth of product, how do you make up for that $1000 in lost sales? Or you have a dish that isn't selling, but all the product in house- how do you get rid of it before it spoils?

                                                              5) You can take the worst, meanest negative criticism in stride. Somebody WILL have the worst meal of their life in your restaurant, and they WILL write about it on yelp/OT/CH, and oftentimes, they aren't nice.

                                                              6) What do you want your COGS* to be? Why? Be able to defend your spending and earning to the PENNY to your investors. Every quarter. Balance that with not pricing your customers out.

                                                              7) How are you going to deal with disgruntled ex employees, (and there will be one at some point). Did you fire them with good cause? If so, what happens when they file for unemployment? Do you have a lawyer on retainer? Do you capitulate and cough up the dough?

                                                              8) What kind of market research are you willing to put in, so that you don't pick a dud location? Even high traffic spots can fail if the concept/branding/etc isn't right. Out of the way places can succeed for just the opposite.

                                                              Your rent, bills, insurance, payroll, vendors, etc are all paid by the loose ends you're able to keep tied. Knowing when, and how to do that without sacrificing the quality and vision you want is not negotiable.

                                                              *because you already have a firm grasp of the importance of COGS, and how to be able to figure it out on a regular (read- weekly) basis.

                                                              16 Replies
                                                              1. re: plaidbowtie

                                                                Superb advice. People overlook things that should be obvious. For instance, a local coffee shop was immensely popular but went under because they didn't remit sales tax and the city locked them up. Yes, you can pay someone to do payroll, payroll taxes, unemployment insurance, worker's comp, sales tax, etc. but the point is that you need to know that these things need to be done so you can hire someone to do it. And have to be sure that they aren't stealing from you - it is incredibly easy to do. What about health insurance. How many full-time employees will you have? There is a small business column in the New York Times called You're the Boss that often features experts (people who have actually made it, not academics) explaining the key issues, such as cash flow, how to deal with problem employees, etc. Pricing. Look in particular for articles by Jay Goltz.

                                                                Also find a local peer-peer group to share knowledge and experience. I don't mean Rotary Club or Chamber of
                                                                Commerce. I mean a group of small business owners who are willing to help figure out what you are doing wrong, who can recommend good resources, and so on.

                                                                One thing that worries me is your notion that you could take the 50k and go to culinary school OR use it to start the restaurant. Even in Santa Fe, that isn't nearly enough to start a restaurant business. You'll be starting off without enough to buy equipment, furnishings, refurbish the location, etc. That you think that 50k will do the trick suggests to me that you really are headed for trouble and don't have nearly the knowledge you need to have to open much less run this business.


                                                                1. re: Just Visiting

                                                                  "Yes, you can pay someone to do payroll, payroll taxes, unemployment insurance, worker's comp, sales tax, etc. but the point is that you need to know that these things need to be done so you can hire someone to do it."

                                                                  This is incredibly important. Most small business owners grossly underestimate the amount of time it takes to do the book keeping. They leave it go until tomorrow and then tomorrow turns into a week, a month, etc.

                                                                  1. re: Just Visiting

                                                                    Ah yes, I didn't even think about insurance (that was written after a few glasses of bubbly last night). With the ACA going into effect and changing everything up (for better or worse- that's a different conversation for another board), keeping everything legal there is another hurdle.

                                                                  2. re: plaidbowtie

                                                                    Oh. And don't forget to incorporate and make sure your corporate status is maintained (check the requirements in your state - it usually entails at least an annual filing) so that if you are sued or if you go under, you won't be facing personal liability.

                                                                    Make sure you keep your corporate finances strictly personal. Don't co-mingle your corporate and personal expenses. Not just income though obviously, you should be paying yourself a salary, taxes on the salary, and not just grabbing cash from the register or taking whatever is leftover at the end of the night. Don't pay for anything out of your personal resources, either. Not unless the corporation executes a note of indebtedness to you with payment terms and actually makes the required payments. If you don't actually run this as a corporation and keep it separate from your own finances, creditors or those who might sue you for personal injury could "pierce the corporate veil" and go after your personal assets, too.

                                                                    And don't forget to have plenty of liability and casualty insurance.

                                                                    1. re: Just Visiting

                                                                      Most restaurants like to do their financals as a LLC (Limited Liability Co) however our credit manager always made them sign personally anyway, or else they were strict COD. Hard way to start up a restaurant. Just your opening orders would probably be at least $10,000 for F&B only(food and beverage in case you don't know ;-)

                                                                      Customers that have owned other businesses know they very well might have to walk away for a myriad of reasons. If you can find a food/beverage/paper supply purveyor that's not so strict, that's the one you should probably go with, although I doubt they'll give you rock bottom prices.

                                                                      Now, would they be teaching you that in culinary school? I think not. That's the college of hard knocks.

                                                                      1. re: coll

                                                                        (Speaking from doing business in the North East USA)

                                                                        There is nobody that will extend you (or any start up) any credit or terms without a personal guarantee.

                                                                        1. re: jrvedivici

                                                                          Ha, my potential customers would swear that SYSCO would, and also give them 30 day terms to boot. Since they were new to our area, I had no idea if that was true, you never know.

                                                                          I didn't ask for proof though, I would just say, goodbye and good luck. After you get burned once or twice, you learn.

                                                                          1. re: coll

                                                                            The 'SYSCO' in this area requires a new customer to supply a complete financial statement with the credit application. Should 'SYSCO' agree to extend credit it is on the bases that each order be payed for fully in advance for a certain time up to a year, depending on credit score before a 'line of credit' is extended. Some restaurants never get a line of credit no matter how long they've been in business. For 'newbies'? Forget it.
                                                                            SYSCO didn't get where they are today by extending unsecured credit to a portion of the business sector with an endemic failure rate, visa vi restaurants.

                                                                            1. re: Puffin3

                                                                              That's what I assumed, but since there's plenty of other fish in the sea (that won't lie to me) I just moved on. Our credit checks were personal only, looking for bankruptcies and mortgage/high credit card expenditures. But thanks for the info, although I'm out of that line of business now. Thank God!

                                                                            2. re: coll

                                                                              PFG or Performance Food Group was always a little more "workable" with terms than Sysco. They would still require personal backing but they just seemed more client friendly with terms than Sysco.

                                                                          2. re: coll

                                                                            Good point. Should have thought of that. Of course, if OP has little/no (or bad) credit history or worse - no assets, the personal guarantee won't help. A personal guarantee is valueless if there is nothing to seize. At least there is equipment in the restaurant - assuming IT has been paid for and there are no liens, they can be seized to satisfy a judgment.

                                                                            I would have guessed that most start-ups were COD or 30 days net.

                                                                            1. re: Just Visiting

                                                                              30 days net was only for the most worthy! Like winning a prize.

                                                                              COD for most in the beginning. 7 days if you were decent, 14 if you were stellar. But watched like a hawk, no matter what. The food business isn't about honor or a handshake anymore. I was supposed to be out selling, but almost half of my job was collecting.

                                                                        2. re: plaidbowtie

                                                                          That's some strong advice you're providing. Advice that a percentage of any business already running decades deals with. Text book advice is beneficial when you're confronting a major life changing decision but many businesses fail to measure up to that reality and still operate. I'm impressed by the blade you're waving around though.

                                                                          First of all, you've got to decide if you've got the stomach for a gamble. If you don't, this numbered list won't even cross your path. As hard as it is to start your own businesses, I'm not a fan of wiping the smile off of someone else's face. Time spent investigating the pros and cons of what the OP is considering will be information enough to provide those answers.

                                                                          1. re: HillJ

                                                                            I'm not into naysaying dreams either, honestly. I managed restaurants for years, which was solid enough proof for me to never want to open my own. You can set up a pristine business plan, but unless you have the savvy to go to plans B through Z and still maintain what you're goals are, it's an uphill battle. Heck, you could even have that, and STILL not succeed.

                                                                            Running a successful restaurant in good times is hard work. Running a successful restaurant when something doesn't go as planned? Well...

                                                                            1. re: plaidbowtie

                                                                              I don't believe anyone contributing to this thread or the OP herself doesn't understand those points very well. Many of us come to the idea of a business venture with experience under our belts and plenty of stories of failure and disappointment...and success.

                                                                              I appreciated your remarks. I appreciate them a bit more knowing where you're coming from ie: I managed restaurants for years, which was solid enough proof for me to never want to open my own.

                                                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                                                Ditto. I was enlightened beyond compare.

                                                                        3. My sense (as an outsider) is that Culinary school is OK knowledgewise, but absurd cost wise. $50,000 may be an underestimate. Adding that to the cost of restaurant start-up isn't smart. And you are losing potentially productive years...41 isn't all that young.

                                                                          Community colleges offer cheap courses. You could take one or two to shore-up your weak areas. I suggest you go heavy on the business side. Cost of food, payroll, business law as it pertains to restaurants.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: sal_acid

                                                                            I hadn't realized you are a woman Almal. Please don't take this the wrong way. I know nothing about you obviously. I do however know quite a bit about what pretty much every woman goes through at 'back of house' It is not for the faint of heart. Woman are second class citizens during any intensely hot/close/coarse/loud/frantic service. The dudes who work in these places WANT to see you fail. Most of them are themselves failures in their personal lives and they'll be damned if they'll watch some woman show them up. It's how they 'get the shift in'. And they will do ANYTHING to watch you turn into a crying ball of nerves running for her locker never to return.
                                                                            If you aren't twenty years old with a HUGE attitude known to be likely to stab the next guy in the hand who grabs your butt as he runs past forget about it.
                                                                            Obviously I'm generalizing to make a point.
                                                                            The videos of pretty young women perfectly groomed floating around a spotless kitchen in an atmosphere like the inside of a church like the French Laundry taking ten minutes to decorate a beautiful entree with edible flowers are NOT what 99.999% of commercial kitchens are like. If you don't mind standing in an inch of food in 130 F temps getting screamed at by a 'twenty-something' 'Beamer' listening to Metalica full volume for 12 hours a day sometimes seven days a week go for it.
                                                                            If you decide to open your own restaurant, unless you have a couple of million bucks to watch go down the drain you will walk into your kitchen one day and see the same case of characters I just described working for you b/c they are willing to work for what you are able to pay them.
                                                                            Last point: When you do own your restaurant and a nice 41 year old woman walks in the door asking for a job holding a culinary school certificate will you hire her?

                                                                          2. Have you looked at some of the courses offered via the Culinary Arts and the Hospitality & Tourism programs at CNM in Albuquerque?

                                                                            They offer classes that cover some of the nuts and bolts of restaurant management: purchasing and cost control, adapting recipes for different scales, marketing, safety & sanitation procedures, operations. I think maybe you could cobble together your own, better and cheaper, training program through classes there and kitchen work at a Santa Fe fine dining restaurant.

                                                                            I once met David Salazar, the owner of El Farol in Santa Fe, and he seemed like a lovely approachable guy. He also got into the restaurant business kind of late (after serving in some capacity on the Carter administration, I believe!). Maybe he's another person you could speak to in person.

                                                                            The people who ran the now-defunct Le Pod (remember the great French food sold out of a silver Airstream?) are very nice, too, and could probably tell you a great deal about the ins and outs of running that kind of operation. I think you can still contact them through Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LePodSantaFe .

                                                                            Good luck with whatever you choose to do. I really hope you can make this dream come true (without getting in too much debt!).

                                                                            -- ninrn

                                                                            1. You have to be able to figure out what the customer wants and if you can give it to him so as to make a profit. The rest is commentary. School , whether it is cooking school or restaurant management- generally will not help in the basic decision. It may even hinder- the concept of the educated idiot.
                                                                              If you can't do the basic task, have fun running a little catering business out of your home kitchen. And you will be profitable!
                                                                              Maybe you will evolve and become larger.

                                                                              I am horrified by what seems to be your thought that you will be commander of a brigade right from the start.

                                                                              1. I completed an 18 month associates program at a culinary school and found it to be a giant waste of money. If you already have a lot of food knowledge I might suggest instead working back of house in a restaurant for a few months and maybe taking some supplemental classes at a culinary school. Many accredited schools offer recreational classes as well.

                                                                                1. There are many good points of caution posted here from people with experience. Please listen to them. I would first strongly urge you to do something else because your chances of success are minimal. it's not you, it's the business.Given your age and financial situation spending 50K + on culinary school is crazy.If you have a specific concept in mind I'd get a job, any job, with someone doing something similar, successfully.There are plenty of books and online courses where you can learn about the business. I had the luxury of going to the CIA in my early twenties but I really didn't really learn how to cook until I worked alongside master craftsmen out in the field. I can't stress enough the importance of working for someone else for awhile. You'll see what they are doing right but more importantly what they are doing wrong so you won't have to make the same mistakes.

                                                                                  1. Almaluna, could something like a professional internship or work-study program work for you? Myriad Restaurant Group (Drew Nieporent's company) offers a management training program, and Momofuku has a business-end internship program called Papercut: http://momofuku.com/careers/internships/ .

                                                                                    It seems like getting a foot in with the money and management side of a highly successful restaurant or restaurant investment group might be a way to get contacts and insights you probably won't get from a 6 mo course at the ICC.

                                                                                    1. As a current culinary student in a much cheaper program (on the west coast, at a price less than half at FCI) I wanted to note that culinary school IS heaven, but if you are already dead set on this career and have some experience/knowledge, then culinary school probably isn't worth your money. What you NEED, if you are already confident in your cooking ability, is some business know-how. Knowing how to price your menu and cover your costs is a crucial component of success in the industry. If you don't know this stuff yet, try to get some work, even if it's unpaid, in the kitchen at a restaurant you respect in NYC and get the chef/manager to teach you. If you show up at enough restaurants and offer to stage for free, you'll find a place that will take you. That would be less expensive and more worth your time than culinary school at this point in your life. Good luck!

                                                                                      1. It depends on the style of restaurant. If you want to make it simple then I would invest in the business. If you have been in the industry for 15 years then you should have picked up on the systems that control the business unless your experience has been in family run restaurants. You can create great products but if you can't control your costs and make money then it's all for nothing. A six month program will only teach you some techniques. It won't teach you how to plan and control your business, create a menu, market your business, cost your products or create a market for your prices and product. If you want to invest $50000 in a business I would suggest something more stable and buy a restaurant when you have more money to throw away. If you think you are hiring the right people then you have to still have systems in place to make sure its profitable. A restaurant for $50000 is not going to afford the "right people" unless you are opening a hot dog stand. I don't mean to be negative. I have been in this business for 30 years and there are lots od great cooks that have this idea. I just want you to be realistic.

                                                                                        1. It's been about six months since your original post, and I wonder what you decided to do, or if you've made a decision yet, almaluna.

                                                                                          Hope some of the more extreme responses to your post didn't hurt your feelings.


                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: ninrn

                                                                                            If this kind of stuff hurts someone's feelings, I feel bad for them if they go ahead and start a business ;-) Talk about fun times!

                                                                                            1. re: coll

                                                                                              any business person in any field needs a thick and scaly skin worthy of a Komodo (and the potentially lethal, yet supple tongue to match) and a beating heart.

                                                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                                                I agree with both of you, coli and hillfood, that running one's own business and working in the restaurant business require a thick skin. I think the advice given on this thread is excellent, and, to tell the truth, it worried me that the OP thought a 6 month course at the ICC (or a 6 month course in anything anywhere) would be a "rock solid foundation".

                                                                                                But even the most thick-skinned people probably feel a bit vulnerable when they're telling a bunch of strangers about deeply held dreams and goals, don't you think? And 99 responses in two weeks, most of which call for a total rethinking of everything, are a lot to digest. That's why I hope it all didn't sting too much.

                                                                                                I'd still love to know what she/he ended up doing.

                                                                                                1. re: ninrn

                                                                                                  It's been almost six months since the original post, for all we know the OP could have graduated culinary school by now!

                                                                                                  1. re: coll

                                                                                                    Hopefully, they got a good civil service, Mon.-Fri. job with little stress and paid benefits..

                                                                                            2. I'd say that culinary school at your age is a bad idea, and I am older. If you really want to have a restaurant and feel like you need instruction, perhaps check out some good, adjunct-taught, RHI type courses at a local juco - accounting, cost control or whatever. Juco is cheap and can be good for practical instruction depending on the class, it is important to do your homework, don't take a class if it's some just-graduated and otherwise unemployed idjit trying to make $2K, you want somebody teaching it with exp in the biz.

                                                                                              1. I read this somewhere. Someone said he wanted to open a restaurant because he loved to cook and he loved people. The person writing the advice column told him to give a party.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                  ha! yeah let somebody else bankroll it and run (cook?) the books

                                                                                                2. As someone with a Culinary degree, I will tell you that if you love to cook, and experiment on your own, then you should just skip the "formal" education" and just open your restaurant.

                                                                                                  Trust me, you'll be 2-4 years ahead and not have those pesky student loan payments to worry about.

                                                                                                  There were very few things taught in culinary school that I didn't already know. And the things I did learn could have easily have been acquired on youtube or cooking websites.

                                                                                                  Sock away your money, keep cooking, and start that business ASAP.

                                                                                                  1. If you haven't already made up your mind, almaluna, this article is probably something you should read: http://eater.com/archives/2014/07/15/...

                                                                                                    Apparently, some students are suing the ICC for extravagant and fraudulent claims made in part about the 6-month program you mention.