By Cynthia Washicko
ASTORIA — Nearly two years after they started the process to open their restaurant, Donna and Tracy Black are within weeks of their trial-run opening for their 1920s and ‘30s-themed restaurant, Life in the Slow Lane.
The Blacks have plans to hold a test opening in February to narrow down appropriate pricing and get customer feedback on the restaurant before they officially open the doors. Even this close to their trial opening, changes are still in the works, however, including a new business counselor and moving past the final hurdles to their opening date.
A new counselor
From the start of their efforts to open Life in the Slow Lane, the Blacks have worked with Dick Powell, small business advisor with the Oregon Small Business Development Center at Clatsop Community College.
Now Powell has handed over the reins to David Reid, who took up the post effective Jan. 1.
Before taking over at SBDC, Reid was an independent insurance agent, a role which gave him a range of connections in the community, Powell said. In the months before he took on his new position he worked with Powell to transition into his role as counselor.
His experience has prepared him in particular for this portion of the business planning, Reid said.
“I think I got the easy part of it because... now we’re just looking at final details and getting into — honestly — my wheelhouse, which is marketing,” he said.
The relationship between business owners and their SBDC counselor is an important one, he added. It’s important that business owners trust the counselors’ ability to keep the owners’ information confidential when that’s needed, he said. The transition time between Powell’s retirement and Reid taking over helped to build that trust, he added.
“It’s not different than any other business relationship — you have to start with the conversation and listening and figuring out where the problems are and where, then, your expertise and your tools can help to solve them,” Reid said. “You’re not going to solve them all, you need to figure out the ones that you’re best able to handle, what burdens you can take off (the business owners’) shoulders.”
The small-scale soft opening will give them the chance to figure labor costs and markup into their pricing, which has yet to be finalized.
“(Because) you’ve got a service component here you want to look at markup on the product, you want to look at labor costs and covering those, but you also need to look at what the market bears and it can be very subjective,” Reid said.
The soft opening will give the Blacks the chance to get feedback which can give them a basis for what to charge and, potentially, how many employees will be necessary, but it also poses a challenge, Reid said.
“Soft openings can be challenging, because they’re an opportunity for people to come in and have a bad experience in a restaurant, and usually the people who show up first are your early adopters, and they’re the ones who talk,” he said.
The solution to that is control, Reid said — controlling the quality of food before even the trial run and setting appropriate expectations are key to a strategic soft opening.
‘Slow Lane’ offerings
The Blacks have largely narrowed down the menu for Life in the Slow Lane, Donna said, although there is room to grow and alter it down the line.
The restaurant’s main offerings will include the River Dog — a hot dog lodged inside a hollowed-out, toasted piece of cylindrical bread with toppings lodged between meat and bread — and column fries — a spiral-cut potato on a stick, fried and flavored with optional toppings.
Life in the Slow Lane will also offer varieties of gelato and sorbetto made on site, the product of the Black’s two-day stint at gelato school in 2015.
The menu will fluctuate depending on customer demand, Donna said, and there’s the possibility of adding other offerings down the line, but for now the couple doesn’t have the time or equipment to implement many of the proposed offerings.