We accidentally opened a restaurant!

Is anyone still thinking about New Year’s resolutions and goals at the end of February? Are you still self-assessing and making plans for 2020? I’ve thought about goals all of January, implemented some changes, and redirected my sails. I have looked back at 2019 to assess the success and damage. I’ve even blogged about them in my head because it hasn’t been until this morning, February 25th, that I have carved out the time to put my thoughts into words on paper- digital paper that is.

Recouping from our first Christmas season at The Burley Market, attacking maintenance projects in January, and blazing through our first Valentine’s holiday, I’ve spent time reflecting on the past ten months (yes, ten!) and have summed up all of my thoughts into one sentence:

In 2019, we accidentally opened a restaurant.

You see, the concept of The Burley Market & Café was a little different than what it has transformed into. My husband, Noel, and I set out to have a market with local products, Kentucky goods, foods from local farms, gift items and coffee items. The plan included a little market with a little café that served a very limited menu, with five or six selections- that would rotate every week or so. We knew from the beginning that espresso drinks, cocktails, and a limited small plate option for evening hours on weekends was part of that concept. So, a market with a little café and bar was the plan….but we quickly grew into a little market with a bigger volume café.

Because the food was highly desired and the local market goods and foods we planned to offer in our market weren’t selling as much as we needed, we adjusted the business model and here we are. In 2019, I accidentally opened a restaurant- and I didn’t want to open a restaurant!

Don’t get me wrong. I am astounded by the response to The Burley Market and never in a million years believed we’d be churning out this many cinnamon rolls, paninis, and burrito bowls! But I am really not surprised at all that Cynthiana has responded to something that is a bit different.

For far too long I’ve heard comments such as “That wouldn’t go over here” or “Cynthiana won’t support it” and I truly hope that The Burley Market remains an example of the opposite thought.

My family knows that there are few things I enjoy more than a challenge to prove someone wrong or show someone that something can be done….well. It’s my biggest motivator. I have always felt that Cynthiana folks have underestimated what can be successful here. The challenge of restoring our building with Marlin and Cheryl Anness and creating The Burley Market may likely be my biggest “I told you so” and I don’t know if I will ever have any more energy left for another project. But gosh, I love The Burley- even though she has brought me more grey hair and wrinkles this past year.

There is a frightening downside to a changing, successful, and unplanned business concept. I didn’t budget to open a full-scale restaurant. Many of you already know that we have been very transparent about the remodeling process and business plans every single step of the way. Well, here is another dose of transparency for you.

Restaurant business is expensive business.

We purchased equipment to run a small café, not this volume of food. So every extra dollar we make is being reinvested in equipment, space, and employees to meet the demand. Yes, this is a terrific problem, but it is scary for any entrepreneur because there is no paycheck for a very long time. I re-read my business plan last week. I had planned to have 4-6 employees the first year. Ha! We have 19 and of those employees six are full-time. That’s a lot of paychecks and taxes! And my $500 I set aside for disposable items our start up month? That turned into $3000 before we even opened the doors! That’s a lot of cups, containers, boxes, sugar packets, to-go bags, lids, coffee sleeves, straws, napkins, dressing containers----the list goes on…..for many expensive miles.

We have not gotten everything right. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve messed up orders. We didn’t think through some things we should have. But you don’t know what you don’t’ know. What I do know is that we are getting a lot right. Our food is fresh and high quality. The experience here is top-notch. We are not sacrificing quality to save a dollar.

We aren’t altering our standards to deliver the product we have set out to provide.

I sure could save a lot of money by serving food and drinks in Styrofoam instead of our paper boxes, but I won’t do it. I could pay employees $2.13 an hour plus tips as that is what the legal wage requires, but I won’t. I could serve deli meats with fillers and preservatives, cutting my cost nearly 50%, but I won’t. I will not, because none of these cost cutting opportunities represent the essence of The Burley Market. Instead, I am getting smarter in other areas. We’re learning as we grow. Perhaps this is ludicrous and a path to failure, but if making these sacrifices is what it takes, then I don’t want to do it.

Why do I share this? Well, perhaps you have a dream or desire to do something that someone has told you won’t work in Cynthiana or elsewhere. Perhaps you have launched a project that isn’t what you intended it to be. I had to redirect my sails and I cried for two straight weeks after our first month of business. True story! I had to acquiesce with what was successful and stick with it- a lesson a friend of mine forced me through, honestly. So, I reconfigured our market into a smaller footprint, added more tables, and we now offer a menu with over 35 options! What I do know is that if I hadn’t been flexible, if I hadn’t hired more help, if I hadn’t expanded seating and our menu, we would have already failed. I am most proud of the fact that we have done so with integrity, authenticity, and love.

It is so important as Cynthiana grows that you support growing businesses. Give them time to get it right and figure it out. It might take second or even third chances, especially if there are new to the type of business they have started. Support your local entrepreneurs. We sure didn’t get it all right in the beginning. But as I tell the Burley staff all the time, we are getting smarter and better every day. Give our business community a chance to show you how they are getting smarter and better. Some of us are just crazy dreamers who accidentally opened a restaurant.

Karey Riddell is the co-owner of The Burley Market & Cafe, located in downtown Cynthiana, Kentucky. She and her husband, Noel, opened The Burley Market in May 2019.

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The Burley Market & Cafe
201 East Pike Street
Cynthiana, KY 41031
Phone (859) 569-3069 
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