Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”
Our subject this week is Eggshell Bistro, the creation of 53-year-old fledgling restaurateur Larry Hanes. A designer and art director by trade, Hanes brought the same kind of attention to detail to the decor, cuisine and overall mission at the Carmel eatery. Working within the palette of breakfast and lunch, Hanes stuck to an expansive, uncompromising vision that turned some early-morning conventions on their heads.
“We’re going to lose some customers, as we should,” said Hanes, a longtime Cincinnati resident who recently moved to Carmel and opened Eggshell Bistro in December 2011. “They have some other needs, and there are some great places that do exactly what they want.”
If there’s is one meal for which diners feel a certain amount of entitlement, it’s breakfast. The expected norm is big plates of the basics – multiple variations on simple eggs, salty meats, griddle confections, and toast – outlined on a billboard-sized menu with more headings than an iTunes contract. A bottomless cup of coffee will wash it all down. And we’re not too picky about the surroundings; in fact, most folks enjoy a greasy spoon (the place, not the cutlery).
Hanes had his own ideas. “I didn’t have any preconceptions of what had to be a certain way,” he said.
He wanted adventurous, global-fusion cuisine with singular dishes that could all fit on a small, one-sheet menu. He envisioned reasonable portions on 9-inch plates. He designed an eclectic, intimate environment recalling tightly-packed, knee-to-knee bistros in Europe and New York City. He found high-end coffee that required painstaking preparation – and an extra charge for a refill.
His ideas had been brewing over the years as he helped other restaurateurs with branding and design. While his wife, Kim, battled the auto-immune disorder scleroderma in the mid-2000s, Hanes did all their cooking at home. He focused on eateries in the thesis for his master’s degree in design from University of Cincinnati, which he earned in 2009.
Kim passed away in 2008, and Hanes started working on a business plan for a restaurant. He became familiar with Carmel some time later, after developing a relationship with a woman in the area. Seeking a possible location for his eatery, he was drawn to the Carmel City Center project, a massive residential-and-retail development that was looking for distinctive, independent businesses to become street-level tenants.
“Eggshell really is special, in that Larry focuses on different offerings, and it’s chef-driven, which gives people something to connect to,” said Melissa Averitt, VP of marketing and sales for Pedcor Cos., which developed the $300 million project in partnership with the city of Carmel.
“Larry had put a lot of time and energy into the look and feel of the concept,” Averitt said. “We knew he had something special that would be a real gem.”
Pedcor handled a great deal of the work and expense for the buildout of the cozy, 982-square-foot Eggshell space. Hanes estimated the value of Pedcor’s contribution at about $110,000. He and a silent partner then invested about $125,000 to cover startup costs, including some mechanical work, decor and purchase of equipment (including some vintage kitchen items Hanes had purchased earlier).
Hanes was adamant about avoiding taking on any debt. “We wanted to stay really lean – a smaller space, no bank loans,” he said. “There are a lot of things that you can’t foresee happening, like equipment breaking down. It happens. So if you don’t have bank loans to deal with, you can invest that money into repairs and updates.”
Diners can interact with a sizable chunk of Hanes’ investment. Accentuating the bistro’s European vibe, he purchased 53 Tolex cafe chairs designed and manufactured in France. Sourced through a dealer in Chicago, each chair carried a price tag of about $500, bringing the total cost to more than $25,000.
Other major design elements were procured on the cheap. He found a multi-section espresso bar – potentially worth $100,000 – on eBay for about $5,000. He bought a wall-sized antique mirror likely worth thousands of dollars for $100 online.
Even the point-of-sale system has a design element. Provider POSLava offered an order-taking and patron-payout system run through linked iPads, which allow servers to show customers detailed images of the finished dishes.
Gross sales at Eggshell have grown steadily, from about $15,000 per month in the early going to just a shade less than $20,000 in recent months. Total gross sales from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31 amounted to $193,000, leading to Hanes’ prediction that the bistro could pass $230,000 for the full year and exceed his expectations.
The next step is to begin opening on Friday evenings, with patisserie-style offerings or a prix fixe menu.
“We’re going to test it to see how it works,” he said. “The beautiful thing about a small restaurant is you don’t have all these corporate constraints. If I want to try Friday night or change the hours around on a particular day, I can just do it and see what happens.”
In the video at top, Hanes spells out his vision for Eggshell Bistro, and how his sense of design influenced many of the decisions he made as a restaurateur. In the video below, he focuses on the bistro’s upscale coffee offerings and the time-consuming methods of preparation that go into a single cup.