It has been about two weeks since Mark Seeley closed the doors of his popular restaurant in the Village: . The closure happened somewhat quietly, leading to some customers showing up for a meal only to find the doors locked.
Seeley, a Grosse Pointer, made the decision after his worst month since opening--September--strictly from a business standpoint.
He speaks highly of the overall experience of designing, constructing, opening and operating a restaurant. Ultimately he could not continue pouring money into a business that was not yielding a return on his investment, he said.
He loved interacting with customers from behind the counter and loved being "an important part of the Village" and community. He already misses it, he said.
Burger Pointe's closure marks the third business to shutter its doors in a matter of months. although ultimately the Ann Arbor based company ended up declaring bankruptcy. Then as part of going out of business.
One of Seeley's reflections on business echos that of Connie Bukowski from Cavanaugh's: The Village is lacking the foot traffic to support and sustain small businesses.
Without significant retail anchors, the Village offers little reason to reason for Pointers to visit, Seeley said. He noticed a significant drop in business in absence of Borders--a retailer bag he often saw in his own business. Customers often read a magazine while enjoying lunch or dinner, he said.
Unlike Cavanaugh's who lost foot traffic during the closure and new construction of Kroger, Seeley said as a restaurant he was not affected by the grocer's remodeling.
Customers who are in the Village for grocery shopping, he said, are not those who are going to stop in for a meal before or after their shopping.
Weather only further negatively impact foot traffic, Seeley said, noting the hot summer and the especially rainy spring that kept pedestrians at bay.
Foot traffic was not the sole problem however.
The prices for the supplies were continually rising at a pace that Seeley was unable to pass along to the customer, he said, explaining he was most recently paying $75 for a case of tomatoes and had paid $26,000 for shortening for french fries. The average guest check was $7.82, Seeley said.
Selling burgers for $4 a piece was what his customer liked, he said, noting that increasing it by $1.25 would not have gone over well.
Rent was Seeley's only fixed cost and while it was fixed, which made planning a tad easier, he said the amount was ridiculous. Ultimately, he said, he believes he could have converted the same sort of space in Birmingham for less money and had he picked that location, he would not be talking about why he closed.
When he expanded his menu earlier this year, Seeley said that was truly a move to better serve the customer and to give returning clients new options. It was not any sort of move to prevent the closure, he said, noting he was not thinking about closing at that point.
Burger Pointe's closure surfaced in the 's court last week during a hearing in an unrelated case and Judge Russell Ethridge said he was not surprised to see it close considering the number of burgers one would have to sell to pay rent in the Village. He also stated he believed the business plan was flawed from the start.
Village Association President Mike Kramer said any time a store leaves the Village it's sad. He's hopeful the space will not remain vacant for long and that some arrangement will be reached for another restauranteur to move in.
Similar to what happened with the former Cavanaugh's space, Kramer said, noting it's nearly after the invitation specialty store closed.
Meanwhile, Kramer said the Village businesses agree with Seeley's thought about having an anchor store but there is still a need to be wise about what kind. He believes a housewares and accessory store, such as Crate and Barrel or Sur Le Table, would be a great fit for the Village and the community.
Seeley does not have any immediate business plans and said the decision to close was tough but an eight or nine week absence from the restaurant leading up the closure helped bring clarity to the situation, he said, noting he had knee surgery.
He is working with the landlord, who has been very supportive and helpful during the closure to find a vendor to come in and take over the lease, Seeley said. He could not divulge much information but said there were two companies with whom he is talking.
Seeley is hopeful an arrangment will be finalized in a few more weeks.
Meanwhile, construction on another locally owned future restaurant, Green Zone Pizza, is underway in the Village. Work has been ongoing for months on the space that will houe the pizzeria with an organic ingredient and gluten-free focus. Seeley believes the new pizzeria will be a nice addition to the Village and wishes the owner well.
According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, approximately eight percent of all food service workers in the U.S. are self-employed. The outlook for for the food service industry is positive and showing predictions of growth in the coming years.
While concrete restaurant failure rates are hard to nail down and apparently often grossly overinflated, the National Restaurant Association published a Chef's Survey: What's Hot in 2011. Among other things, locally grown and organic ingredients and gluten-free products are in the top 10 of the list.