ASTORIA — A bulldozer moves gravel across what will soon be the parking lot for Life in the Slow Lane, months after owners Donna and Tracy Black had originally planned to open the 1920s-and-30s-themed restaurant.
But they’re not worried.
The Blacks have been working on opening the restaurant for over a year, and they’ve faced delays and hurdles that spanned everything from finding the right contractor to tracking down vendors for their products.
The original plan was to open the restaurant in May, but finding the right contractor took longer than expected. The opening date had to be pushed back. The extra time means they’ve missed the traditional busy season, but Donna said that shouldn’t be an issue — tourists aren’t their target market anyway.
“I’m thinking we’re going to be mainly for the local people,” Donna said. “That’s what I’m counting on.
With help from Dick Powell, a small business advisor with the Clatsop Small Business Development Center, the couple has seen their restaurant take shape. The lot that now hosts the two-story building was once home to a closed-down dry cleaners, which the Blacks tore down to make room for their business.
In the months leading up to the start of construction on the building, the Blacks, with Powell’s help, shepherded their building plans through the Historical Landmarks Commission in Astoria and the city Design Review Committee. After approval from both groups they moved forward with their building permit. After all the appropriate city departments had their say, construction began on the two-story building in April.
Now the restaurant is back on track. As of early September the parking lot is on schedule to be done within the month, equipment for the restaurant has been ordered, and the Model A Ford that will be the centerpiece inside the restaurant sports a new coat of red paint. After many phone calls and even more samples, the Blacks have found vendors for the specialty meat products they plan to sell in the restaurant.
Both Tracy and Donna are pulling from their backgrounds and skills learned at earlier jobs to get the business going. Tracy’s first job was at a Mexican restaurant, and he’d later spend years working for craft services in Hollywood, catering to the stars and set hands of the movie industry.
“A lot of it is that customers have to be No. 1,” Tracy said. “That’s how it was with the studios, you had to make sure all the stars were happy and everyone was happy.”
Donna has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in business and experience as an accountant, although working in the restaurant won’t leave her with enough time to handle the books for the business on her own. She also ran a student store in Alaska.
Together, Donna and Tracy ran the concession stand at the Astoria Armory and they both have experience catering events as well.
Despite the delays, the restaurant is moving forward now. The plan is to hold multiple soft openings to work out the kinks and find out how the restaurant will run with customers coming through the doors. Donna and Tracy plan to use the soft openings as opportunities to test out their system, inviting a limited number of people to taste their food and give feedback to improve the restaurant before it officially opens.
“I don’t want people to come in and think we don’t even know what we’re doing,” Donna said. “I don’t’ care how many soft openings...we’re going to know exactly what we’re doing and if it takes longer than that, that’s fine, because we want to do what’s right.”
There’s no date yet for either the soft or grand openings.
Those openings will also help them determine how many employees they need to hire. Originally Donna and Tracy had planned to be the only employees in the restaurant, but that plan was scrapped once they realized how much work would be involved.
The bottom floor of the building has space to be leased to two businesses, although one business could take the whole space if they chose to tear down the dividing wall, Donna said. The lease spaces remain unoccupied for now. They have had businesses express interest in renting the spaces, but city parking rules put the kibosh on moving forward with any agreements so far.