Soul food is a staple of culinary menus around the world. Restaurants such as Sylvia's in New York City, Zanzibar Blue in Philadelphia and Soul on the Bayeaux in Houston offer mouth-watering selections. With the right guidance and skill set, you can earn a handsome living as a soul food restaurant owner.
Get your Employee Identification Number (EIN). Complete an EIN application through the Internal Revenue Service (see Resources). Note that you can also apply for your EIN over the telephone by calling the Business & Specialty Tax Line at 800-829-4933.
Contact your state's Department of Revenue or Taxation (see Resources). Register to collect state sales and use tax. Note that many states allow users to file forms and pay taxes directly through their websites.
Create a business plan. Write a detailed business plan for your soul food restaurant. Provide a description for your restaurant, including the types of dishes you will serve. For example, you could serve seasoned collard and turnip greens, homemade sweet potato cornbread, smothered pork chops and shrimp and crawfish gumbo. Note the days and hours that you will operate. Build a concise marketing plan. Map out the steps you will take to alert the media and the public about your restaurant. Consider distributing weekly press releases to local newspaper and magazine editors and the Associated Press. Reach out to print and electronic food editors and request a feature review on your business. Research the physical locations, hours of operation, prices and clientele for other soul food restaurants in the area. Add your annual line item budget to the plan. Identify the amount of capital you need to start with and how you will raise additional needed capital. Refer to the Small Business Administration's "Writing a Business Plan" document in the Resources section of this article to review sample business plans.
Raise capital and get insurance. Work with your bank to complete and submit loan applications to raise capital to open your restaurant. Reach out to the Small Business Administration and complete a business start-up loan application. Include your detailed business plan with your application. Speak with local insurance agents who have experience providing coverage for restaurants. Consider receiving quotes from national insurance agencies that cater solely to the food industry, such as Restaurant Programs of America and CSI Insurance Managemen. Purchase ample property, casualty and liability insurance. Ask about employee-related insurance such as worker's compensation, disability and unemployment to make sure you have enough insurance for your staff.
Contact your city's licensing department and get all necessary licenses and permits (see Resources) such as a food establishment permit or a food and beverage license.
Choose an optimum location. Contact a licensed and reputable real estate agent who is familiar with the demographic your restaurant will serve. Study the physical location where you want to open your business. Pick a location that is highly trafficked by people who appreciate soul food. If you select a popular tourist area, you can include history programs or artifacts at your restaurant to pull in more customers. Consider locating your soul food restaurant near businesses, hospitals and colleges and universities. Major cities such as New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas have had success operating soul food restaurants. Contact your city's zoning code commission to request that an inspector come to the building to assess the property and ensure that it is in compliance with local zoning laws.
Build inventory. Purchase equipment and furniture such as broilers, stoves and hoods, smoke fans, pastry bags, grills, grease drains, freezers, refrigerators, deep sinks, tables and chairs. Contact your local electric and gas companies. Schedule time to install electrical wiring and gas lines so you can operate your stoves, grills and other cooking equipment. Acquire linen for table covers, dish towels and rags and chef aprons. Consider leasing equipment from companies such as Restaurant Solutions and Tiger Leasing for one to three months to assess what types of equipment work best for you. You can contact directories and warehouses such as Food Service Warehouse and Big Tray to purchase restaurant equipment at a discount.
Contact an interior designer who has experience in restaurants, such as Design Space Associates, Maxey Hayes and McNally Design. Remember that a key attraction of soul food restaurants is a down-home atmosphere. Build your business for comfort and visual appeal. Consider adding a private room so that businesses, churches and community organizations can schedule special events at your restaurant.
Hire staff. Reach out to area culinary schools that specialize in soul food meals. Ask school administrators to include an ad for the positions you are seeking to fill in the school's career placement offices. Distribute fliers for cook openings at area churches, as churches can have members who are expert soul food cooks. Post job openings for experienced cooks and cashiers on job boards such as Career Builder, Monster and Simply Hired. Post similar job openings in your local newspaper. Offer area college students the opportunity to intern with your restaurant during the summer.
Market and promote. Create a professional website for your soul food restaurant. Add pictures and video clips from special events at your restaurant, including the grand opening. Post your website's URL on message boards and discussion forums that focus on soul food dining, businesses and entrepreneurship. Include your website URL on all correspondence and emails that you send.
Ensure that your restaurant has a fireproof ceiling.