John and Treva Chadwell
The Approach: Test the Waters, Trust the Results
John and Treva Chadwell, owners of Smorgasburg favorite Beehive Oven, and transplants by way of Texas and Louisiana, are in the process of opening a permanent space. The husband-and-wife duo moved to the city in 2012 and began discussing the possibility of opening their own Southern eatery. Initially, they played with the idea of opening a barbecue joint, but found the market was saturated. So instead, they narrowed their focus onto one of the more basic and infinitely popular parts of Southern cuisine: biscuits.
“We try to stay away from the word ‘artisanal’ as much as possible,” says John. “We felt that by doing biscuits and heritage recipes, we were making a more emotional connection to our consumers.”
The Chadwells rifled through Treva’s collection of family recipes and cobbled together a solid menu before submitting an application to the ultra-competitive Smorgasburg. Beehive Oven made the cut (according to the Wall Street Journal, only 8.5-11.4 percent of applicants are accepted) and their booth, which features treats like ham-and-brie biscuits and homemade jams, was an instant hit.
“In June , we kind of realized this has strong enough legs to be able to go to the next step,” John says, and by August, the Chadwells were searching for locations. They settled on a well-sized and affordable space at 743 Driggs Avenue in South Williamsburg and found a great architect who connected them with an experienced contractor. Further research led them to the New Business Acceleration Team, a service of the Department of Small Business Services that helps people like the Chadwells take control of the rigorous inspection process new restaurants undergo.
“It is a big decision to commit to opening a small business,” says Robinson Hernandez, the Deputy Commissioner of Business Acceleration at the DSBS. “Not only is it a lot of work from setting it up, but just from a personal investment. You’re going to be working a lot of hours once you have your own business.”
“Due diligence,” is Hernandez’ mantra. The DSBS expedites inspection processes with the Department of Buildings, the Fire Department, the Department of Health and other city inspection units and can shave as much two and a half months off the opening process, which amounts to major savings, especially in New York City. What’s more, the service is completely free.
“When you’re building a restaurant, you bleed green,” John says, laughing. “Every time you talk to somebody, it’s expensive.”
Still, the process has been less expensive than it would have been without the help of the DSBS. “You have to rely on people around you for support, for encouragement, for advice, for direction, for challenging and critique,” says John. “[The DSBS] wants us to be successful. Their success is based upon our success.”
The DSBS has been a savior for the Chadwells, but it doesn’t cover every aspect of opening a permanent location. The program won’t pay your rent and they won’t negotiate with your landlord. They’re not menu specialists or real estate experts and they specialize in food and drink rather than retail. Still, the Chadwells feel prepared to face whatever challenges may come their way.
“We have to discipline ourselves to slow down and make a more intelligent decision [and] find out what our gut is telling us,” says John.
This measured approach has made the building out experience exceedingly positive and Beehive Oven is coming together, notwithstanding the usual hiccups new businesses experience. The restaurant is on track to open its doors by Mother’s Day weekend. The eatery will compete with Southern food behemoths Briskettown and Pies ‘N’ Thighs, which are both a few blocks away, but the Chadwells are proud of what they’ve done no matter how the cards fall.
“The number one piece of advice we received from everybody was don’t do it,” says John. “If it fails, which I don’t think it will, it’s been the best year of my life. Exciting and challenging and exhausting. And I’ve been happy the whole time.”