But after looking at the costs of building a restaurant from scratch and the time it would take, the partners decided it made more sense economically to convert a failed restaurant space. This way construction costs would be reduced to a fraction and they could open in as little as two or three months, compared to the six to eight months it would take for construction of a brand new space.
“We couldn’t afford to spend six to eight months on a build-out with no revenue coming in,” said DeRosa, a new dad with a 7-month-old daughter. “What happens if there was a hurricane or the economy tanks? Then it could be even longer. It was too risky. We had to find a space we could flip.”
The biggest chunk of the start-up budget was the $250,000 that covered the first and last month’s rent, security deposit and what landlords in hot markets like South Beach call “key money,” essentially a service fee for the privilege of getting a functioning restaurant with things like a kitchen.
Before Tongue & Cheek opens, the 5,000-square-foot restaurant had to be completely gutted on a cosmetic level. The new look included stripping down the wood trim throughout the dining room, adding light fixtures, repainting the interior and installing a white tile wall behind the bar. The kitchen got a new refrigeration system and a second walk-in cooler because DeRosa likes to make everything in his restaurant from scratch.
Gone is the nightclub feel, with the big white tufted booths and black tufted walls that was Kane’s signature. The new look is lighter and more understated with custom-made chocolate brown banquettes and handcrafted wood tables. The art in the main dining room features a series of three paintings showing a 1950s view of the Miami skyline across Biscayne Bay with a Chalk’s seaplane in the foreground. New lighting cost an extra $5,000 when they discovered factories in China were closed for the Chinese New Year and they had to switch to local suppliers that could deliver in a shorter timeframe.
Regardless of how much DeRosa and Reginbogin expected to save by using an existing restaurant, there have been easily $10,000 of unexpected repairs that they didn’t anticipate. The fire control panel cost more than $2,000 to rewire. The restaurant’s back door wasn’t a true fire door and had to be replaced at a cost of $1,100. None of the restaurant’s three existing safes worked, so all had to be ripped out and a new one installed at a cost of $2,000.
The biggest problem: discovering they couldn’t pass the city fire inspection without replacing all the sprinklers. Initial inspections had shown the system was in compliance and operational. But when they discovered that wasn’t the case it meant shutting off water to the building for a day and a bill of just over $2,000.
The problems with the fire and plumbing inspections were just some of the challenges that delayed Tongue & Cheek’s opening, originally planned for late March.
“These are all things you don’t realize until you get in and touch and feel the space,” Reginbogin said. “There’s nothing you can do. You just have to lock your jaw and get through it. We have no choice.”
At the beginning the partners consulted each other closely every time they had to write a check. They compared prices from three different vendors to make sure they were getting the best price. But as opening day quickly approached, the urgency picked up. Then it was just about writing a check and getting the problem solved. There was $150 a day for the people doing the construction finishing work and $800 for someone to clean out the grease traps.