Want To Start a Restaurant? Currywurst Bros.'s Cautionary Tale
It's common to observe that restaurant rents are sky-high and going up all the time. But we rarely have a way to quantify this, to know just how inflated the restaurant-space rents are. Which is why it was illuminating to stumble on an ad for the space on Bleecker Street that until recently held the hapless Currywurst Bros.
Currywurst Bros. is a German chain that, reacting to the modest mini-fad in NYC of Teutonic sausages in general, and currywursts in particular, decided to establish a beachhead on Bleecker Street.
Opening in May 2011 after a long build-out that took many months, the franchise occupied a spacious storefront on the south side of Bleecker just east of Sixth Avenue in an area always thronged with NYU students, tourists, and Villagers. It was done up with super-graphics, and boasted an inviting backyard.
Unfortunately, Fork in the Road found the sausages way too bland. Accustomed to strongly flavored Wisconsin bratwurst, we found the same sausage at Currywurst, though of greater length, was totally lacking in flavor. Moreover, the curry topping tasted just like ketchup with curry powder sprinkled on top. The gimmick was that you could choose from a range of curry powders with an escalating scale of hotness. The curry powder imparted a gritty taste to the sausage or bun-sausage package. That may go over well in Germany, but not here, and the place closed unceremoniously six months after it opened.
As it turned out, the place's cash outflow on rent alone must have been enormous. A new ad posted at a Village real estate office shows the stats for the space: 900-square-foot ground floor, 900-square-foot basement, 22-foot street frontage (large for the neighborhood), 700-foot back patio.
The rent: a whopping $16,000 per month. Even with a profit of $1 per sausage, you'd have to sell more than 500 sausages a day just to break even. And each sausage, pulled from the cooler, had to be grilled for a tedious 10 minutes before it could be served, which is way too long for the fast-food sensibilities of Bleecker Street.
And the $16,000 per month doesn't reflect things like utilities, upkeep, pass-throughs of real estate taxes, and standard escalations, which cause the rent to rise inexorably each year you're in the space.
Yup, everything in NYC is done for the advantage of real estate interests, including punitive rents that give few businesses a chance to survive and succeed. Can I blame the real estate industry? You bet I can. But there always seems to be some other sucker in line to rent a space that's way too expensive, and real estate owners make a lot more money on revolving-door tenancy.
Can't wait to see who goes for this doomed and way-too-expensive storefront next. And restaurateurs: Find a way to test-market your product before presenting it to the public. If Currywurst Bros. had had more flavorable sausages and faster prep time, it might have succeeded. Who wants to wait 10 minutes for what is basically an expensive hot dog?
Next: The Currywurst Bros. in happier times