There are a wide variety of companies to choose from when in the market for restaurant consultation. Blackwood Hospitality has quickly become a staple of what it takes to really bring unique, strategized goals to a restaurant.
Blackwood Hospitality is a full-service firm providing restaurants with a one-stop shop, saving them a lot of time, money and headaches. We sat down with Andre Neyrey, president and CEO to find out how Blackwood came to be and what they do differently?
What was your introduction into the food service industry?
My mother owned a restaurant called “Little Bar and Grill” in the Central Business District in New Orleans. I started by washing dishes at 12 or 13. When I was in high school, I started working for all the fast food places. I started out college to be an accountant and was working in a fine dining restaurant. About a year into college, I got a job as a manager with Popeye’s, and I started developing with them. By my second year of college I was a general manager, and by my third year of college, I already had a couple of stores that I was operating. When I realized I could be in the hospitality business and still crunch numbers I decided to change my major at the University of New Orleans, to Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management.
In the early 90’s I moved to L.A. and took over as director of operations for a yogurt chain. After that, I started out with Johnnie’s New York, where I began my career with them as an operations manager. I got promoted up the ladder to CFO/Vice-president and then to President/CEO. I brought them to 12 units. We sold that in the late 90s and I started consulting and launching my own restaurants as well. In all, I’ve helped to build nearly 40 restaurants in LA.
How did Blackwood Hospitality come to be?
My background has always been in the restaurant business. When I moved to New York, I actually started out in on real estate side, so that I could learn the market and get to know the players. What I noticed is that you have to go out and piece everything together. You have to find a kitchen designer, you have to hire a front of the house manager, an operations manager—and remain focused on the restaurant you set out to create. To really be successful in building a concept, you have to have a constant through line. The concept of the restaurant, the menu, the graphics and design all have to tie in together. So I wanted to create a one-stop shop where a person can come to me and can say “Hey, I’ve got an idea for a steakhouse,” and I would execute the project from beginning to end.
I actually give my clients a turnkey operation at the end. I built a team that includes branding experts, interior and exterior designers, operations managers, beverage and food program developers. Being able to set up the kitchen and do all the drawings is critical. So a client can come to Blackwood Hospitality and just deal with one person, instead of dealing with seven or eight people.
What does the day-to-day look like when you receive a new client?
I’ll appoint a project manager to oversee the project, but everybody gets involved. It depends on the situation, if someone comes to me and says, “I’ve got a problem in my kitchen: my food cost is high,” then I’ll appoint a project manager and a chef. They’ll go in and start tracing it backward to the food source.
If it’s a turnaround situation, then I’ll send a project manager and I’ll go in myself and find out what needs to be done. With a rebranding, I’ll bring in my branding and marketing team as well as the back of the house to make sure everything ties together. Although—especially so on startups—it’s definitely a universal project where everybody gets involved from the very beginning.
What is your most common problem?
Comes down to who the project is for. I’m honest with people up front. This is a brutal business, or can be a brutal business. It’s a tough business and you have to be prepared for that. It requires a lot of hours and it takes a lot of money to start up a restaurant. You have to be dedicated and ready to weather that storm. Just building a spot, going through the process of permitting and execution of the design can be daunting. Then you open and the work really starts. A lot of people get exhausted before the restaurant even opens. Therefore, it’s critical that the person who’s opening the restaurant is actually ready to open the restaurant.
What are the common characteristics to have a restaurant succeed?
I definitely think it starts with the owner. The owner has to be 100% committed and he or she has to take care of the staff. As an owner you’re not going to be able to touch every table, you’re not going to talk to every guest, but if you take care and train your manager then they’ll take care of the employees and the employees will take care of your guests. It all starts at the top.
Any insights on the next hot area of NYC?
I think there are two areas that are hot. For a long time, people have been saying Harlem’s going to be hot. They’ve been saying it for the last 15 years, but it really is time. It’s really taking off right now, and I think in the next year or two, you’re going to see a lot of places up there.
The other spot is Queens. It’s surprising because there are already really hot neighborhoods in Queens. Just look at Kew Gardens and how it has taken off. People are moving out there because rents are lower, and they need the amenities of other neighborhoods in New York City.
I think with both of those areas it’s happening at the same time. I’m actually looking for a spot in Queen’s right now for a burger and cocktail concept that we’re doing for a client, and I’ve seen what’s going on out there. It’s actually tough to find a great space now, whereas as before you could find a space easy. It’s all supply and demand.
What makes Blackwood Hospitality stand out amongst its competitors?
I think it’s our experience and it’s the overall services that we provide because we can help in every area of restaurant development. I think that sets us apart. There are consultants that will just do food or just do the bar or kitchen or just do design. By having it all under one roof and being able to manage the whole process makes it a lot easier on the client, as well as lot less expensive than outsourcing every piece of it. I’m sure that’s a huge relief, you know, they don’t have to go to different people for everything.
To learn more about Blackwood Hospitality, visit their website.