Read as Scott Ascher talks about his career as a Restaurant Architect.
What do you do for a living?
I design, build, and operate restaurants and brew pubs.
How would you describe what you do?
I serve as the owner’s agent. I take my 35 years of experience: designing, building and operating restaurants/brew pubs and “educate” the owners in reference to their facility.
I am brought into projects at various phases. Sometimes I assist in selecting the site… other times I am brought in just to organize the facility in the final stages of construction. I prefer the earliest phase… that way I can control the evolution of the project.
What does your work entail?
Depending on what the client’s needs are…
Typically, I begin with a preliminary study which gives the customer an overview of the project:
My first meeting is to determine what the customer needs from me and the customers expectations of the project.
1. A preliminary drawing of how I see the space laying out.
2. A construction estimate based on the preliminary layout.
3. I then take a scenario which balances investment dollars to equity and debt. This gives us a starting point to see if the client has a realistic view of what he/she is financially committing to.
4. I prepare a proforma which indicates what the dollar figure needs to be to reach a “breakeven” scenario. You need to do $24,000 a week to break even.
5. I then show the client, based on the previous information just what percentage of seats they need to fill on a daily basis in order to hit a “break even scenario.” You need to fill 50% of your lunch time seats Sun – Thu and 45% of the dinner seats, while on Fri & Sat you need to fill 60% of your lunch and 110% of your dinner.
From there, the client has a real feeling as to what needs to be accomplished.
What’s a typical work week like?
My work weeks are as varied as the projects I handle.
Time needs to be spent designing projects, creating construction estimates and proformas as well as visiting potential clients all the while focusing on jobs in progress which all have different needs from supervising construction to ordering fixtures, furnishing and equipment.
How did you get started?
My father designed commercial kitchens for restaurants and Industrial facilities. One summer, he needed some help. I was teaching school and had the summer off. I came up from St. Louis to Chicago to help him out. I realized that all the years I had spent in his office and visiting job sites with him, I had picked up a great deal of knowledge. So, I was able to fit right in and go right to work designing kitchens, selling equipment and supervising installations.
After a a year I decided to begin laying out the front of the house during the design phase. I had seen the flow in the kitchen was excellent but once the food got to the dining room it was a disaster. Clients began hiring me for both kitchen and interior design.
Next I began supervising more that just kitchen installation. I would supervise the entire installation including the bar and dining room. Soon, I realized the construction needed my input and I began contracting that portion of the project.
In 1980, I had a customer ask me if I would design, build, own, and operate. I had no experience operating but knew many excellent GMs so I took on the challenge. I opened a California/Italian (Cal – Italian Restaurant) and began.
In 1985 I was approached by someone to became a partner in a brew pub. I did a lot of research and went through a great deal of trial and error but we created an extremely successful project.
What do you like about what you do?
I have accumulated a great deal of knowledge over the years and I enjoy executing these projects and utilizing that knowledge.
What do you dislike?
I always say “Your strengths are your weaknesses…” What makes you good, is what makes you bad…” so I guess having the knowledge about certain things and having a client not recognize the importance of that knowledge. Having them not realizing what IS important and what isn’t.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
My fees are based on the amount of work I am expected to do.
A $1,000,000 project that I handle everything for the client on, usually 20-25% of the cost is my fee. However, the client saves at least that amount by utilizing my services. I was brought into the end of a project and in four weeks I saved the client $7,000 on the fire alarm system, just by reviewing it and making some changes, $10,000 on the HVAC exhaust hood changes and $30,000 on the walk in coolers.
How much money do you make?
My annual income has been as high as $250,000 and as low as $85,000 (not counting expenses). Depends on the projects .
How much money do you make starting out?
$105 a week take home.
What education or skills are needed to do this?
Background in architecture, some engineering, finance, operations and management of restaurants/bars and some brewing experience. Psychology, would help a lot also…
What is most challenging about what you do?
Convincing the client the things don’t “just happen…” they need to be not only planned, but EXECUTED.
What is most rewarding?
Seeing the finished product:
National Historic Trust commented on one of my projects “…took a pile of urban rubble and created an architectural jewel.”
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Take the time to get experience in each of the areas you intend to oversee… do the drawings, saw cut the floor, lay the pipe, wash the dishes, do the financial paperwork, create the systems, oversee the project. Watch and learn from everyone… how to do it as well as how not to do it.
How much time off do you get/take?
There is downtime between projects, so you don’t “take time” you “take the time you get.”
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
Everyone thinks things get done just because you expect them to or wish that they will get done. Nothing could be further from the truth. Plan, design, specify and then the real work begins… seeing that all of the plans are coordinated and things are executed.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
In the past I designed and built for others, 10 years. Then I only would do my own projects that I owned 20 years… I guess I am “in my future.” Once again, I am designing, building and operating (for short periods of time… as long as my client needs me) for others.
What else would you like people to know about what you do?
It ain’t easy… but it is fun.