Freshlab teams ready plates, plans

Jan 12, 2018

BATAVIA — The six teams competing to open start-up restaurants in downtown Batavia are almost ready to present their plans and plates.

The FreshLAB Boot Camp contestants have three weeks to go before they serve a demo dish and a business outlook to the judges. Two will find out next month that they are the choices for 18-month incubator spaces at the Eli Fish Brewery.

The Boot Camp started in October with seven entrants and reached the final month with a full menu of options. Contestants are planning to open restaurants based around seafood — Rob Rudnicki; creole — Lisa Pies; two takes on vegan — Chris Hysek, Judy Hysek; crepes — Lisa and Sandy Casey; and Puerto Rican — Victor and Michelle Figueroa.

“That they are still with us is a compliment to their interest and passion for what they want to do,” program coordinator Barb Shine said before Monday’s final Boot Camp class. “Our goal is to figure out the two that are going to be the most successful.”

Shine said the contestants are well along in developing their restaurant plans, but pushed them Monday to think of it as a competition. They’ve worked alongside each other all winter, but now they have to think about winning. Sam Campenella, a certified business advisor, urged them to consider that time is running short.

“We have only two weeks or so left,” Campenella said. “You want a kick-ass plan ... the executive summary is where you say who you are, how you are set up to run the business and how you will get funding ... you need to have menus, logos, everything in place — so it looks nice and pretty.”

Meeting with Campenella is one of the last tasks for contestants. The Boot Camp has provided access to experienced minds from the lending, accounting, insurance and food service industries. The level of rigor and insight goes beyond what most restaurant openings receive.

“I think this program has so many positives — the ability to walk in with a business plan in particular, and how industry-specific it is,” said Shine, who also said having Alex’s Place owner Matt Gray as a mentor is another advantage.

Sourcing ideas

The FreshLAB is a U.S. Department of Agriculture-backed program meant to give Batavians more dining options and options that provide fresh, locally sourced food.

How to do that was up to the restaurateurs-in-training.

Rudnicki said his previous investigation into opening a restaurant gave him insight into what he needed. He said he’s found seafood recipes that are available nowhere else in Batavia.

“It totally changes now from what I was going to do — this is a totally different menu,” Rudnicki said. “The prices have all gone up — that’s a huge challenge ... it all depends on what’s in the water.”

The Wild Rican, the Figueroa team’s proposal, has been in Victor’s vision all along for the 2017 Foodie Challenge winner.

“I learned you needed a lawyer, an accountant, the insurance right at the beginning — the rest I already know,” he said, before describing his logo. “It looks almost like me, with a hillbilly hat and an empanada in his hand, just sitting there chilling by the ocean ... it’s real flashy.”

Chris and Judy Hysek still plan to present separate vegan proposals, but the husband-and-wife duo have pulled closer in concept.

“I’m mostly concerned that I want to have food that’s fun,” said Chris, whose concept is focused on healthful fare.

“And as much as fun food, I do want to have healthier stuff, because vegan doesn’t always mean healthy,” added Judy.

Creatif Crepes, the Casey team’s proposal, started out of a Boot Camp note.

“Pies are common, everyone does pies,” Sandy Casey explained. “There’s not a creperie near here. They wanted an idea that was different and as we sat here one night, I wrote crepes on a paper and shoved it over to her. That’s how we got it.”

Lisa Pies is developing a proposal based on the flavors of her native Mississippi. She was all business as Shine laid out the upcoming schedule.

“We need our dish, our menu ... anything else?,” she asked Shine.

Shine has asked teams to plan ahead for both the initial FreshLAB situation and a year past their graduation from the Main Street food hall. Their restaurants would open in the spring needing both a tasting menu of six to eight options — hopefully dishes that could be the main attraction of a new restaurant.

“It’s one of the differences I see, they have to figure out how to hone in and put together dishes that can be their signature and a (business) that can pay for itself,” Shine said. “Not only does it have to taste good, they have to make some money on it.”

Competitors described their business plans as nearly complete — “99.9 percent” done in Rudnicki’s case. But all said they have either spent long hours figuring out financial plans or are still developing them.

Six steps to start-up

• Jan. 22: A final Boot Camp class will give contestants a chance to practice their business pitches with Barb Shine, Matt Gray and Julie Pacatte.

• Jan. 29: Contestants will prepare a final dish at the Genesee Valley BOCES culinary program’s kitchen and present their business pitch to judges.

• Feb. 2: Final day for contestants to deliver their full business plan.

• Early February: Judges will come to agreement on two choices. Winners will be contacted and offered a spot in the incubator.

• Late February: The winning choices will be presented to the Batavia Development Center’s directors for final approval.

• Spring: Restaurant start-ups will open in the Eli Fish Brewery.

Category: Food & Dining