Amir Hajimaleki | Crain's Austin

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Amir Hajimaleki

Background:  

Amir Hajimaleki is the Executive Chef and Owner of District Kitchen + Cocktails and Oasthouse Kitchen + Bar, two restaurants that have both received recognition in Austin for their farm-fresh, culturally-inspired cuisine. District was included in Opentable’s list of “Top 100 Neighborhood Gem Restaurants in America,” and Oasthouse was recognized as the “Best New Restaurant” in CultureMap’s 2016 Tastemaker Awards. 

The Mistake:

Not studying potential clientele as well as we should have.

We opened our first restaurant about five years ago. Two years after that, our second concept opened. We thought it was going to be a home run. But it really wasn’t. It was a struggle – especially in the first year. Before we opened the second location, we did our due diligence in terms of demographics.

The customers turned out to be the complete opposite of the clientele that we were looking for when it came down to the actual food and pricing. Looking back, we realized we should have dug a little bit more to understand better before creating a menu and opening up the restaurant.

It turned out that this demographic was more concerned with portion sizes than well-executed food. And, it turned out that people were going out more with their families, and bringing kids more often.

At our first location, it was more couples. That was probably the biggest difference. They were looking for more value. They didn’t want to spend $20 per meal for a teenager to eat. They were looking to spend more like $12-$14 per meal.

Basically, a family of four didn’t want to spend over $100 to eat out – more like $60. So we worked to create dishes that are filling, quality and still profitable.

Going back, I have examined other successful restaurants in that area and what people were doing differently and studying it a bit more rather than just looking at demographics. Numbers can show different things.

Even if people move out to the suburbs, they do still want the same quality food and atmosphere as they get downtown without having to deal with the hassles and expense of parking. They didn’t just want to eat at corporate chain or fast casual restaurants. We recognize that just because they moved far out doesn’t mean their tastes have completely changed, and we wanted to give them another option.

We had to re-think the way we were doing things. But once we did, we have been able to create more regulars and started moving the needle. 

The Lesson:

Fortunately, we realized our mistake pretty quickly and revised the menu. We had to take a step back and figure out how to keep the quality of the food where we wanted it to be and offer more of it, while keeping our prices competitive to the prices around us. It was a big challenge. We had to re-think the way we were doing things. But once we did, we have been able to create more regulars and started moving the needle. Our second year was up 25 percent and we’ve been receiving positive feedback from our guests versus what we saw before.

Now that we’re actively looking for our third location, we’re not rushing it. We now know that we need to spend a ton of time studying the clientele in that area, and going to other restaurants to see what people are ordering, their dining habits and what’s popular.

 

Follow Amir Hajimaleki on Twitter at @AmirHajimaleki.

Pictured is Amir Hajimaleki. | Photo courtesy of District Kitchen + Bar.

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