We had found the space that was perfect for the business we wanted to open, but unfortunately it was just an empty shell.
On the upside, that meant we got to build it the way we wanted.
On the downside, that meant that we had to actually build it.
After nearly a year of searching for the right space to open the neighborhood bar that we had dreamt of opening, we found a large corner location right in our target area.
Unfortunately, it was a partially demoed out shell of a former office which meant that we would have to clear the space out to the walls and then build up a fully functioning business from nothing.
As if this weren’t enough of a challenge, a few weeks into construction hurricane Sandy struck.
Not only did that complicate the logistics of The Saint Catherine build out, it destroyed my business partner’s bar in the South Street Seaport. What had been one build out now became two and, with Sara splitting her time and attention between the two projects, I became the de facto head of The Saint Catherine build out.
This was already the biggest project I had ever attempted to pull off and now I was being put in charge of it.
Managing a construction project and legally establishing a business are both incredibly complicated processes with numerous moving parts, doing both at the same time is exponentially more complicated.
In addition to the sheer number of tasks that need to be scheduled, performed, and checked for quality it is also necessary to constantly shift one’s focus from the fine details of execution to the big picture abstractions of strategy, often in the middle of the same conversation.
To keep things moving forward, it was essential that I start building systems.
Fortunately, my partner and investors had been through this process before, so they could provide me a very basic outline of the necessary steps, but it was up to me to keep things organized and make decisions on the fly.
On the regulatory front, multiple city agencies required different permits necessitating their own document filings and sign-off inspections before the construction could continue and before we could open for business.
Of these, securing the liquor license was the most essential and the most unpredictable. Unlike other permits that are issued solely based on established guidelines, securing a liquor license requires approval and support for the people in the community.
To get that support necessitated a focused process of community outreach and engagement where we introduced ourselves to our neighbors, talked about our plans, listened to and addressed their concerns.
Meanwhile, big picture questions needed to be asked and answered.
Turning the space into a functioning bar was only half the process, the “bar” needed to be created -it needed a name, a menu, and an identity that would let people know who we were and what we were all about.
That all then needed to be sold to the world, we needed to establish social media channels, send out press releases and engage with the press, and we needed to get people excited about giving an unknown business a try.
None of this could be done if I was busy keeping a construction crew on task.
With the big picture goals already sketched out, I had to break down major projects into individual steps and then sketch out a plan of attack.
For each major item a checklist was put together that addressed everything that was needed to complete it:
Design decisions made
Prerequisites for this construction to start
Vendor bids collected
Permits filed as needed
Structuring out the key construction elements into smaller, manageable steps imposed some order on the process and enabled me to work more efficiently, which freed me up to deal with other planning tasks such as marketing, concept development, and community outreach.
A similar system was developed for the non-construction parts of the build enabling planning and strategy work to be done around the construction and whenever and unpredictable schedule allowed.
After 6 of the most physically and emotionally draining months of my life we finally opened for business. Through a combination of structured planning and sheer determination I had turned a neglected storefront into a welcoming space that would become a neighborhood staple.