Chilly Willys: The Making Of A Mexican Restaurant

Victoria Klarfeld (VK) – What is the restaurant going to serve?Preston Burnes (PB) – We will be serving fresh, made-to-order Mexican food made with traditional recipes and ingredients. The items will include chicken, steak or veggie burritos, tacos, tostadas, baked nachos, quesadillas, taco salads and a rotating daily special, such as enchiladas, soups, taquitos, etc. All will be topped with a variety of ingredients from our Subway-style assembly bar, such as peppers, onions, cheeses, tomatoes, salsas, guacamole, corn and cilantro.

VK – What is the decor going to be like?PB – The theme of the restaurant is a beachside taco stand, so the decor is decidedly California surfer-esque. We want to try to bring our customers into a different world than they might encounter outside of the restaurant in snowy Central New York. This will probably include music, lighting, surfboards, art prints and uniforms that will be within the theme of the 1950s California surf scene.

VK – Where is the restaurant going to be?PB – We will be located in the renovated basement of the Palace Theater downtown. This location has a separate outside entrance, and also connects to the Palace when it is open for events. However, we will operate on our own schedule separate from the Palace.

VK – How did you come up with the name?PB – The name is a bit of a secret, but we mainly just thought it fit well as an Americanized Mexican restaurant name. It also allows us to have a really cool penguin logo on all of our merchandise.

VK – How did you get the funding for the restaurant and how did you come up with the idea?PB – We funded much of the restaurant ourselves, but we also received help from the school, as well as a major investor, alumnus Mike Martin. We are all members of our LLC partnership and will share in the profits of the business. The idea came from general interest in and lack of good ethnic food in the Hamilton area. Despite the fact that 18 restaurants operate in Hamilton, none are ethnic and of a high quality. Also, being from California, I have craved Mexican here for the last two years, and it was time to do something about it. The idea was continued through the business plan competition the school held last year, and we were lucky enough to win after writing several editions of our 30-page business plan and creating a final presentation.

VK – Where are you getting your food supplies from?PB – We have several suppliers in the CNY area, from Schiza Brothers for meat, to Mento Produce, Sysco and Usfoods. We will be using many distributors to get the quality and variety we need.

VK – Who is the chef and what are his/her credentials or work experience?PB – We have decided to design a system that will be based on original recipes developed with the help of Multicultural Coordinator Christine Miller-Kelly, who works here on campus and has been a professional chef in her career, as well as two to three other local chefs. They will not need to work in our restaurant during operations, but they will assist us in developing reproducible flavors that will remain consistent over several years.

VK – Who will work at the restaurant?PB – We are looking for a variety of Colgate students, local high school students and local adults that will give us flexibility on hours and skill levels.

VK – What are its hours going to be and when will the restaurant be open? For example, will it be open in the summer and over vacations? PB – We look to be open all year, but we may have to close over certain breaks, especially winter break. We plan to be closed on Mondays. We will then be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m., on Wednesdays and Fridays from 4 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., on Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. and on Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 12 a.m.

VK – When exactly will you open? PB – Right now, we are experiencing a series of delays beyond our control, so we have had to push our opening date goal back significantly. We will certainly be open this semester, but we can no longer guarantee when that might be.

VK – What is the price range going to be? PB – We plan to compete across the price range from $1 small quesadillas, tostadas and basic nachos to a $9 burrito that will set size records and be topped with the works.

VK – Will there be student discounts or other incentives for Colgate students to go to the restaurant, or are you hoping to develop a wider appeal? PB – We will be accepting the ‘Gate Card and offer some promotions on campus throughout the year, but we want to ensure that the local market is attracted to us. We will offer a significant senior citizen discount as well as bonus cards and a birthday club.

VK – Who will take over ownership of the restaurant after you all graduate and who is there to do the day-to-day management during the year?PB – We will begin as day-to-day managers, splitting the time between the three of us, and we would hire a possible prospective future manager and partner. In our second year, we will bring that partner into an ownership stake and shift management responsibilities to them, including once we graduate. However, we will still be involved with this restaurant for many years to come. We created it mainly for the benefit of the Colgate community. We do not expect to make much money on it – though it will be profitable – but we do expect to bring something new and exciting to Hamilton that everyone can enjoy. That is our main reward.

VK – What kind of atmosphere do you want the restaurant to have?PB – We hope to change the atmosphere based on time of day and other factors, but we will have music that is softer during the day and louder at night, as well as variable lighting for lunch, dinner or late night. We hope to be a comfortable location with high-backed booths, and good decor so that people will want to hang out and study, or bring larger groups for parties, etc. Still, we will do all of this while keeping the local market in mind, not trying to scare them away with too much of a student atmosphere.