IBJNews

INSIDE DISH: Saffron Cafe surges in second year

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Inside Dish

Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”

Our subject this week is Saffron Cafe, which has filled a void for Moroccan cuisine downtown since opening in March 2009. Chef and co-owner Anass Sentissi broke off from his family's Bloomington restaurant, Casablanca Cafe, in hopes of finding more consistent business in a local economy not dependent on the September-May school schedule.



"It's not consistent business; it's dead in the summer," said Sentissi, who hails from the Moroccan city of Meknes. "Just by staying open, you are losing money."

Sentissi and his wife, Anne, staked out a locale for Saffron Cafe—so-named for the expensive and extremely potent Mediterranean spice—in the former home of the near-north favorite Canary Cafe. Left with the free-standing structure's shell, they spent three months rebuilding the interior and decorating with tile, light fixtures, pottery, photographs and other materials directly from Morocco.

Stricken with a tight budget, Sentissi and a handyman did most of the work themselves, apart from electrical wiring. They were able to open the restaurant's doors with $150,000 in startup capital from a variety of sources, including a $25,000 Small Business Administration loan, a $25,000 line of credit, and $50,000 obtained by refinancing the Sentissis' home mortgage.

In the early going, the cafe's marketing strategy relied on word-of-mouth referrals. To that end, the Sentissis staged a grand-opening night in which they comped the meals of about 120 diners, hoping to generate a critical mass of early buzz. This spring, they invited about 20 of the city's hotel concierges to the restaurant for free meals in order to stay front-of-mind with those vital links to the city's tourists.

Unlike many small, locally owned eateries that increasingly rely on cost-free social media, Saffron Cafe now also takes the more traditional route of advertising on an area radio station (for which they pay $550 per month) and in local print publications.

"At first you want to see if the product is working or not," Sentissi said. "If the product  is working and people try it and love it, they come back and generate word of mouth. We see a lot of repeat customers. But you also want to reach people [through advertising] who have not had a chance to hear about you."

Saffron's gross sales have grown markedly since the March 2009 opening—from $250,000 over 10 months in 2009 to an estimated $400,000 for 2010.

In the video above, Anass and Anne discuss their challenges in opening the restaurant, amassing financing, the cafe's cuisine, and the importance of achieving consistency in dishes based on family recipes and the chef's instincts. 
 

x
x
x
Saffron Cafe
x
621 Fort Wayne Ave.
x
(317) 917-0131
x
x
www.saffroncafe-indy.com
x
x
x
Concept: Moroccan and Mediterranean-region cuisine focusing on fresh ingredients and authentic spices.
x
Founded: March 2009
x
Owners: Anass and Anne Sentissi
x
Start-up costs: $150,000 (including a $25,000 SBA loan; a $25,000 line of credit from the same bank; $50,000 from refinancing the owners' home mortgage; personal savings; and financial support from family).
x
Gross sales: $250,000 (2009); $400,000 (projected for 2010).
x
Seating: 50 (14 tables), with enclosed and heated outdoor seating expected within several weeks.
x
Employees: 15
x
Goals: To increase catering business, and grow sales through the A La Carte Delivery service, which takes orders for and delivers food from several downtown restaurants. The Sentissis also are contemplating expansion options, such as adding rooftop dining at their current location or opening a tapas-style eatery on the far-north side.
x
Good to know: Chef Anass Sentissi is an accomplished Middle Eastern percussionist who grew up in Meknes, Morocco. He's an expert in Moroccan Andalusian classical music and in 2005 co-founded the Moroccan  Andalusian Classical Music Orchestra of Bloomington, Indiana.
x
x
x
ADVERTISEMENT

  • The BEST
    Great food!
    Love the delivery service: www.alacarteindy.com
    Bringing Chef Sentissi food to my dinning room table is priceless.
  • to clarify
    not really complaining about not being able to walk-in on the weekends--i'm very happy for the owner that saffron has become so successful. it just means i have to plan ahead!
  • one complaint
    the only complaint i have is that i can't walk-in on a friday or saturday night...can't get a table until 9:30 w/out a reservation!

    great food, very nice chef/owner who wanders the dining room to meet the patrons, and GREAT FOOD! if you haven't been, it's a must try (but make a reservation for the weekend.)
    • Love it
      Our Masonic lodge group dined there several months ago. Anne and Anass Sentissi made every minute of the evening entertaining, and a completely unique, memorable and personal experience. The food is wonderful. Go. Eat.
    • Great food!
      The only place I have found that is better in Moroccan food is El Yacout, in Fez, Morocco. It is a great place to stay while in Fez, too. (Meknes is not far from Fez--we have been there).
    • Worth A VISIT
      amazing flavors and service not surpassed. A true class act to downtown.

    Post a comment to this story

    COMMENTS POLICY
    We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
     
    You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
     
    Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
     
    No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
     
    We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
     

    Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

    Sponsored by
    ADVERTISEMENT

    facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

    Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
    Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
     
    Subscribe to IBJ
    1. I am a Lyft driver who is a licensed CDL professional driver. ALL Lyft drivers take pride in providing quality service to the Indianapolis and surrounding areas, and we take the safety of our passengers and the public seriously.(passengers are required to put seat belts on when they get in our cars) We do go through background checks, driving records are checked as are the personal cars we drive, (these are OUR private cars we use) Unlike taxi cabs and their drivers Lyft (and yes Uber) provide passengers with a clean car inside and out, a friendly and courteous driver, and who is dressed appropriately and is groomed appropriately. I go so far as to offer mints, candy and/or small bottle of water to the my customers. It's a mutual respect between driver and passenger. With Best Regards

    2. to be the big fish in the little pond of IRL midwest racin' when yer up against Racin' Gardner

    3. In the first sentance "As a resident of one of these new Carmel Apartments the issue the local governments need to discuss are build quality & price." need a way to edit

    4. As a resident of one of these new Carmel Apartments the issue the local governments need to discuss is build quality & price. First none of these places is worth $1100 for a one bedroom. Downtown Carmel or Keystone at the Crossing in Indy. It doesn't matter. All require you to get in your car to get just about anywhere you need to go. I'm in one of the Carmel apartments now where after just 2.5 short years one of the kitchen cabinet doors is crooked and lawn and property maintenance seems to be lacking my old Indianapolis apartment which cost $300 less. This is one of the new star apartments. As they keep building throughout the area "deals" will start popping up creating shoppers. If your property is falling apart after year 3 what will it look like after year 5 or 10??? Why would one stay here if they could move to a new Broad Ripple in 2 to 3 years or another part of the Far Northside?? The complexes aren't going to let the "poor" move in without local permission so that's not that problem, but it the occupancy rate drops suddenly because the "Young" people moved back to Indy then look out.

    5. Why are you so concerned about Ace hardware? I don't understand why anyone goes there! Every time ive gone in the past, they don't have what I need and I end up going to the big box stores. I understand the service aspect and that they try to be helpful but if they are going to survive I think they might need to carry more specialty parts.

    ADVERTISEMENT