Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Question: do we need an architect?

Yesterday afternoon, we met with David and Derrick from SODA, the architecture/design firm in Downtown Los Angeles working on the Umami concept at 9th & Broadway. Yes, it's across the street from our proposed location. We haven't had to determine an architecture firm yet (though we've obtained proposals from two of our architecture friends or their firms) because we are waiting to secure our construction loan. Since we're moving forward with the loan process (tomorrow is our first official meeting, cross your fingers!), we will need to decide on an architecture firm by next month so that construction can coincide with the disbursement of funds. Fingers crossed!!

Our time-line and our budget are very tight. Time-line because we have a limited rent abatement and the goal is to open before the abatement runs out. Budget because...well, just because. As with all things, we are asking a lot of questions and talking to as many people as possible so that we can make an educated decision. In this case, our homework has definitely paid off. Schematics, health department code, we gotcha. Oh Lisa at the Department of Buildings? Yea, we met with her a few months ago.

Ostensibly, the SODA guys are our type of firm: young, ambitious, hospitality-focused, located and connected in Downtown. Our meeting went well. They seemed to understand our time and budget constraints. We will get a proposal for services by Friday. At the end of the day, however, I guess the question is whether we need an architecture firm. Start-up restaurants have the luxury of choosing to forgo higher professional fees by hiring an engineer to design kitchen schematics. The design of the restaurant would then be up to the contractor and owners. Architecture firms provide experience, construction oversight, and design savvy, all useful things when you can afford them.

Whether we can afford an architect isn't so simple as whether their fees fit into our budget. If, for example, we can save a month in the permitting process because of an architect's knowledge about city processes and another month in construction time because the architect's project management skills, we've effectively saved $7k in rent (and potentially earned 2 months of restaurant revenue from an earlier launch date). If the architect manages to save us another $10k in furniture and fixtures because of a relationship with a vendor, the professional fees would take care of themselves. None of these things are guaranteed, however, so you get our quandary.

Answer: I don't know!

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