Chef Jamie DeRosa and partner Michael Reginbogin have opened more than two dozen restaurants between them.
But this time it’s different. After spending their careers working for celebrity chefs and major restaurant corporations, they are going out on their own for the first time.
On Jan. 29 — Reginbogin’s birthday — they signed a lease for a location in South Beach and embarked on the dream of creating Tongue & Cheek. The vision calls for a restaurant that will be casual enough to attract local residents but creative enough to distinguish itself from the plethora of competition. The name highlights the whimsical nature of the restaurant, which is meant to be a place that is both sophisticated and not too serious.
It’s a tall order to fulfill, especially in a market as finicky as Miami Beach. When the doors open on Monday, they will find out if they got it right.
“Successful restaurants aren’t just about cool food and service anymore,” DeRosa said. “It’s really about brand recognition and identity. It’s about doing something different and still appealing to the masses.”
DeRosa and Reginbogin gave The Miami Herald a behind the scenes look at the process of opening a restaurant. They started with a $900,000 opening budget to cover everything from their initial lease payments to construction, marketing/public relations and pre-opening payroll. Plus, it included $150,000 to cover last-minute issues and working capital as business ramps up.
Finding traditional funding for restaurants is a virtual impossibility in today’s world. The money came from a combination of personal savings and one private investor.
“A lot of new restaurateurs sell their soul to open the first location,” Reginbogin said. “It was very important to us that we have 100 percent creative control, and we own 80 percent of the business. If you own the majority, there’s so much more personal gratification.”
DeRosa and Reginbogin know the risks they are taking. Restaurants have one of the higher failure rates of any industry, but experts say it’s nowhere near the myth that 90 percent of restaurants fail in the first year. The only formal study on the issue was published in 2005 by Cornell University, and it verified that 26 percent of independent restaurants fail in the first year. The three-year cumulative failure rate for independent restaurants was 61 percent.
“You pretty well can tell if you’ve got a winner or a loser in six months,” said Ron Paul, president of Technomic, a restaurant industry consulting firm. “It doesn’t take that long. The most important thing is you’ve got to have a differentiated concept.”
In Miami and South Beach, where new restaurants come and go like customers through revolving doors, the challenge might be even tougher.
“With all these new restaurants opening in Miami, right off the bat there is going to be a shakeout,” said Richard Lackey, a West Palm Beach-based industry consultant and broker.
Opening in Miami Beach wasn’t part of the original plan for Tongue & Cheek, a concept DeRosa has been working on since leaving Tudor House in Miami Beach last August. He originally had visions of opening a much smaller place in the Wynwood or Midtown areas. They actually passed several times on their current space at 431 Washington Ave. in Miami Beach, which was best known as the former location of Tuscan Steak and most recently Kane Steakhouse.