In their efforts to attract the younger demographic groups necessary to sustain population, small communities across the country have made hospitality establishments a central part of their community revitalization efforts. Restaurants and bars are increasingly taking on the important roles of “community gathering spaces” as well as primary markets for consumer food dollar spend (48% of food dollars are spent in hospitality establishments).
While Oskaloosa has a relatively stable population and multiple community gathering spaces, more than an “eating place” or “traditional sports bar” is an important underlying component for this plan. The desire for a place downtown for people of all ages to socialize, grab dinner or a drink with friends or family was expressed over and over in the visioning process.
This plan, written in conjunction with a group from the Iowa Restaurant Association, was designed to help Oskaloosa recruit an independent owner/operator interested in creating a family-friendly sports bar featuring onsite smoked and/or BBQ of locally-sourced meats, as well as offer upscale casual dishes, craft beers and cocktails, served in an engaging environment. Both market segments incorporated into this plan—sports bar and BBQ restaurant—are showing growth in the number of single owner/operator establishments (versus chains).
In addition to benefits for residents, this new restaurant would be of value to outside visitors in terms of local experience. Oskaloosa already has a good amount of visitors to town for events at the Lacy rec center, George Daily, business in town or at the courthouse. With the upcoming expansion of the Arts Center, new housing developments, traffic calming measures, beautification, and added shared streets, Oskaloosa can also expect an increase in visitors while at the same time presenting the type of community people look for when considering relocating.
The plan, while adaptable, was developed to create an independent sports bar featuring local smoked meats and a gastropub menu based on the specifications of the unoccupied McMillen Building at 208 1st Avenue East.
In 2015 Swims Sporting Goods suffered a tremendous fire which resulted in a total loss of the building. Later that same year, the Oskaloosa Downtown Development Group purchased the building and completely renovated the space, including the 2nd story into four, two-bedroom apartments, and was awarded Main Street Iowa’s Best New Constructions/Infill Project award.
This location is right off the square, ready for buildout and would be perfect venue for a new family friendly restaurant.
Selecting a restaurant name that captures the interest and imagination of a broad spectrum of potential patrons is important. A great restaurant name connects consumers to the experience they can expect. Interestingly, in the world of BBQ restaurants, there is a tried and true methodology to naming an establishment—incorporate the operator’s LAST name. In fact today, 64% of the BBQ restaurants in Southern Living’s definitive Top 50 BBQ Restaurant List bear the founder’s last name.
For the sake of this plan the Association team took a page from Oskaloosa’s history and used the last name of two of the famous explorers tied to the community—Daniel and Nathan Boone. The working name for this plan is Boone’s Ale and Smokehouse.
Boone’s Ale and Smokehouse will offer a casual full-service 120 seat barbeque restaurant/sports bar with a mix of dining room and bar seating along with a well-conceived carryout strategy. In addition to locally sourced meat, smoked and barbequed onsite, Boone’s will emphasize local and seasonal ingredients in an upscale gastropub menu. It will offer Iowa’s favorite domestic beers (Busch light, etc.), as well as local and craft beers on tap rotating seasonally–fully exploiting the state’s growing appreciation for local craft beers. As a point of local interest, experience and pride, all of the beers from Oskaloosa’s NoCoast Beer Co, should always be available, as the brewery does not have a full scale tasting room and will be a natural marketing referral for Boone’s Ale and Smokehouse. Cocktails will also feature spirits from Iowa distilleries.
The causal (albeit upscale) cuisine and beverage approach is in line with trends in thriving restaurants today. In fact, three of the top five items in the 2019 “What’s Hot Culinary Forecast” chefs’ survey feature Hyper-local faire (#1), Natural Ingredients (#2) and Locally Sourced Meat. Boone’s Ale and Smokehouse will be well positioned to offer all of the above.
Opting for locally-focused alcoholic beverages is also supported by strong market data. In fact, four of the top five alcoholic beverage trends in restaurants today are connected to local and regional production. The previously referenced “What’s Hot” chefs’ survey ranked top alcohol trends that will work well in Boone’s Ale and Smokehouse including: Locally produced spirits/wine/beer (#2) Craft artisan spirits (#3), and Regional signature cocktails (#5).
All this being said, to succeed in rural Iowa, a restaurant cannot be pretentious. Consumers still expect value pricing, large portions and an emphasis on protein. Boone’s Ale and Smokehouse must deliver all three—on-premise and for carry-out. Like comparable establishments in the Central Iowa area, Boone’s will have a targeted food to alcohol sales ratio of 75% to 80% food to 20 to 25% alcohol sales.
DEVELOP BUILDOUT CONCEPT
Owner(s), operator, architect, engineers, local bank
Address both interior and exterior recommendations. Acquire property either as long-term lease (at least 10 years) or purchase. Purchase is recommended based on the likely amount of capital investment. Work with a local bank for financing, and look to local community for up-front investment of 25%.
DEVELOP MARKETING STRATEGY, HIRE STAFF, AND OPEN
Design all marketing materials, using preliminary business plan as a starting point. Share photos and videos of construction progress to generate excitement. Hire staff. Again, refer to preliminary business plan for details. Hold soft opening events. Celebrate with grand opening.