How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Finding a Space is Just the Beginning

The Declaration of Independence wasn't finished until November 1776. We were fighting the British for almost two years by then, and in between drafting the document on July 4th and actually signing the damn thing, it took our forefathers almost five months to declare that we and the British empire were no longer BFFs. Thus began a precedent that getting anything signed in this country takes a long-ass time.

Last week I shared the trials and tribulations of finding a retail space for my restaurant. It was only in my darkest hour that I found 173 Morgan Avenue in the industrial neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. But finding a space is far from the end of the story.

The Bushwick location seemed perfect for several reasons. First and foremost: the 3,000 square feet of outdoor space. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I that I could replicate the outdoor experience of a Carolina pig picking. The rent on a similar-sized space in another neighborhood could have bought a small third world country.

Secondly, 173 Morgan lies on the edge of an industrial business zone. All my neighbors basically go home after 4 p.m. And no one is legally allowed to live anywhere near the site, so I'd have no residents to bother. These were significant advantages for someone whose living comes from burning wood, smoking pigs, and pouring booze. I wouldn't have to worry about my patrons getting too loud or my smoke getting into anyone's bedroom. No one from Community Board 1 would hear complaints from one of my customers pissing on someone's yard.

I could sacrifice chickens or worship Satan outside and wouldn't bother a soul.

Now it was just a matter of getting the lease signed.

I was no one's idea of a dream tenant. The Arrogant Swine is my first restaurant and I wasn't overflowing with money. There were certainly other bidders in the process all offering the same amount. The race for 173 Morgan Avenue began right after Christmas 2013.

Firing up the burn barrel.

My one saving grace was that the landlord was pretty firm on his terms and I was pretty desperate. History has moments where desperation is a kind of strength, and I was ready to agree to anything. If there were a stipulation in the lease that required me to groom the landlord's West Highland terrier every two weeks, I'd be there right on schedule, brush and shampoo in hand, to make Fido sparkle.

It turned out I wouldn't need to wash Fido. But I would have to agree to some painful stipulations, like paying five months' rent in advance: $37,500 up front—above and beyond the three months' rent standard. Another was figuring out insurance.

The lease required that, by a few months in, I'd have an insurance policy on the space. Not knowing jack about insurance, I glossed over that part. So come time to get insurance, I sent the lease to my partner's insurance broker with the request to find a policy to fit the lease's instructions.

In the pecking order commercial insurance, restaurants sit pretty low. You might need a Harvard degree to write a policy for collateralized debt obligations. But for a bar and restaurant? Not so much. The entirety of New York City restaurant insurance policies is just one large copy and paste process. So imagine my surprise when the landlord's broker kicked my insurance policy back as insufficient.

Again, not knowing jack about insurance, I thought our agents were simply not reading the lease requirements, so my partner and I tried another company's policy. That was also insufficient. It turns out that the landlord's insurance broker, who wrote the policy requirements in the lease, decided to pen the goddamn Magna Carta of insurance requirements. So after weeks of back and forth with the landlord, we finally decided to hand the responsibility over to his broker. Here asshat, you wrote the terms, you give me exactly what you wrote and charge me accordingly.


A week or so passed and still no word from the broker. Even the landlord couldn't get in touch with him. Turns out he was having trouble getting what we needed. This genius wrote an insurance policy so complicated that even he couldn't fill it. Our original brokers finally found this tiny little company out in Munich, Germany willing to fill in the missing parts. I'm pretty confident some German dude is wondering, what idiot would agree to these terms? My dear friend, that would be me.

My business partner was getting a bit nervous that I was rolling over to every demand. I'm no Machiavelli, but I do know there's something useful about tapping into a real estate broker's greed. Since I was representing myself, the landlord's broker could take the full commission for himself instead of sharing it with any other broker. This basically ensured that anytime a competing broker was interested in showing the property, the landlord's guy was conveniently busy.

Eventually, after all the hassle, we heard that we had a deal.

On February 10th, I walked into the landlord's lawyer's office. All my work was laid out in four even stacks of documents. I held my breath during the entire lease review, fearful that any sudden twitch would break the fragile deal. But after four quick scribbles of my name, the lease was mine, and my restaurant had a home.

I pictured the signing date differently. I was going to buy the most expensive cigar I could find and have dinner at Keens chophouse—a feast of beast and wine to the victor. Instead, I headed over to the site—my site—and sat there until I was the only soul on that dark corner of Morgan Avenue. For the first time since October, I slept through the night.