Culinary-Go-Round

When one restaurant leaves, another opens. Here are two restaurateurs who did it right.

Fort Worth restaurants like Mercury Chop House and Waters have been riding on a carousel of sorts.

When Vivo 53 closed its location in The Tower last year, Mercury Chop House moved in, picking up from its previous location at 301 Main St., where it had been for more than 15 years. Then Waters moved to Mercury Chop House’s old space, leaving the seafood restaurant’s former location in the West 7th development up for grabs.

Whoever occupies Waters’ former space is yet to be seen, but nonetheless, the trend of restaurants moving around in Fort Worth doesn’t make the process any easier. It’s a big deal, with many factors and logistics to consider, not to mention the money and employees that can be lost in the process.

That is, unless you do it right.

Take Mercury Chop House, for example. Owner Zack Moutaouakil first opened his steakhouse at 301 Main St. in 2000. But in the course of 15 years, he says, things like the air conditioning and plumbing in the space had aged, making it difficult to stay.

“It was time,” Moutaouakil said.

He figured that the best way to keep customers was to not move too far. Since Mercury Chop House had become somewhat of a downtown institution over the years, Moutaouakil said, he was determined to keep the restaurant downtown. Fortunately, Vivo 53 left a vacancy in The Tower, just a six-minute walk away.

Getting paperwork done quickly was another important factor, Moutaouakil said. He began applying for a liquor license and other permits early – even before the lease was finalized. It was a gamble, Moutaouakil said, but it saved a lot of time during the moving process. He said the move happened in “record timing” – Mercury Chop House closed in August 2016, got the lease in November, and reopened to the public in December, just in time for the holiday rush.

The new location turned out to be a perfect fit, Moutaouakil said. No longer would Mercury Chop House have to rely on The Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel to bring in customers; the restaurant now serves a more consistent customer base with The Tower’s residents.

“People live there,” said Moutaouakil, who is currently planning a second Mercury Chop House location for Arlington. “These are well-to-do customers that every restaurant wants.”

And in turn, the space left behind by Mercury Chop House eventually became Waters’ new home.

Sundance Square had approached Chef Jon Bonnell about the possibility of moving his restaurant from West 7th to downtown, almost serendipitously, as Waters’ lease was almost up at West 7th.

“West 7th was a great spot. We really enjoyed our time down there,” Bonnell said. “But when we got an offer to go to Sundance Square, it was just too hard to pass up the amount of foot traffic, the amount of office space down there, the hotels, the plaza, the convention business – it just adds up to one of the most high foot-traffic areas in the city.”

The downtown audience seemed like a better fit for Waters too, Bonnell said.

“[In West 7th], a slightly more casual, bar-oriented place might do a little better because it’s become an extremely young, hip and trendy area,” he said. “We typically shoot more for the fine dining crowd.”

So Waters closed its West 7th location in August 2016. The move wasn’t without its struggles, though. Since Mercury Chop House’s former space was an older building (it was built in the early 1900s), the project faced delays due to construction. Eventually, Waters was able to reopen downtown and celebrate its grand opening April 10.

Bonnell’s advice for moving? “Make sure the move is worth it.”

“It’s very similar to closing and starting over,” Bonnell said. “To move a restaurant really takes more than most people would probably believe, financially and physically. It’s a whole ‘nother opening. A whole new set of problem-solving.”

 

Ready to Go?

Waters’ Jon Bonnell and Mercury Chop House’s Zack Moutaouakil offer their tips for moving a restaurant.

1. Be transparent with your staff

Moving a restaurant often means being closed for several months, and being closed means employees will be out of work for the same amount of time, which poses the risk of losing them to other jobs during the moving process. Moutaouakil says openly communicating with your employees about the move, as well as offering additional benefits, builds their trust and encourages them to stay when the restaurant reopens. “The good thing that happened to me was, I have all my staff,” he said. “Even though I was closed for four months, they all got jobs somewhere else, but they all came back. Every single one of them.”

3. Start your paperwork early, if possible

Paperwork for things like permits and liquor licenses can be time-consuming. Moutaouakil took a risk by filing the paperwork before finalizing the lease, but it paid off. “If you don’t get [the lease], you’re going to lose money. Well, that’s a chance we take,” he said. “But if I get it, I’ve gained three or four weeks. For me, a week was a lot of time.”

4. Weigh the cost

Moving also means leaving behind money spent on things like kitchen equipment and the finish out of the previous space, Bonnell said. “If it’s a spatula or a pan, and I can pick it up, I can take it with me,” he said. “But the walk-in refrigerator and freezer, which are very expensive and have to be installed and engineered into the building, you don’t take those with you, but you’re going to need a new one at the other place. You leave some money on the table when you decide to leave a spot.”