Saturday, December 19, 2015

Building cakelava, our new Las Vegas Custom Cake Studio, Part 1

It's been three months since I last documented our life in Las Vegas. At the time of my last blog post, we had already begun the long process of creating cakelava Las Vegas, and had found our perfect location, the Montage Shopping Center. It would be such a nice place to call home, nestled between a nail salon and a surfing/snowboarding/skateboarding shop. I had to question fate. What were the odds that two people who moved their business from Hawaii to a desert environment like Las Vegas  - would end up next to an awesome (and HUGE!) surf shop? This was only one of a number of indications that THIS shop was meant to be! We'll return to those other indications later.
Let's rewind a bit. Our hunt for cakelava's new location had begun many months earlier. Shortly after we decided to move the business to Las Vegas, we got a great referral for a broker and started looking at listings from afar. This process was much more different than moving a business to another location in the same state, where you are familiar with the neighborhoods and roads, and know where to go and more importantly, where not to go. In Hawaii, the "where not to go" isn't nearly as much of a factor as it is in a bigger city where crime is more rampant. So that's how it started, by figuring out the areas we wanted to live and the area we wanted to put our business. Location, location, location was an enormous consideration for us when shopping for a space, and it quickly narrowed down the unbelievable amount of available retail vacancies to... not all that many.

I remember one of the first times we went driving around looking for shop spaces, we couldn't believe our eyes. Almost every shopping center had at least one vacancy, it was like having your pick of spaces, and as to be expected, the less maintained a shopping center looked, the more spaces were available. That was a while ago, and things have a changed a lot since then. You don't see nearly the amount of retail vacancies in Las Vegas anymore, and rents aren't exactly cheap. In contrast, our experience looking for a shop in Las Vegas was the opposite of how we found our shop in Kailua, Oahu 8 years ago. Once we knew we wanted to put the shop in Kailua, we jumped on the ONE restaurant vacancy that was the size we needed and amount we were able to pay, and that was where cakelava would go.
If I were to talk about our experience from the time we began looking for a retail space to when we settled on our current location, I would have enough material to blog for a week! Places were either too far from where we wanted to be, too expensive to lease, if it was an existing restaurant, it was too large or didn't have a grease trap, or the shopping center wasn't attractive. Forget about finding an actual small bakery with equipment still inside. Well, we actually did find a couple. One was in a retirement community, and further than we wanted to be, and another was located in a shopping center barely visible behind the car wash in front of it, on a busy street where a bunch of freeways converged. The rent was nice and cheap and it had a grease trap, so we had to at least consider it, that is, until our broker drove by on our behalf and put the kibosh on it immediately. Grease trap, or no grease trap, we had to keep looking.

About that grease trap. Anyone that owns a food establishment knows that finding a place with a grease trap is like finding a treasure, and that treasure can be worth about $20,000, and that is just for installing a grease trap! It doesn't include sewage fees, which can be enormous. We had a grease trap at our Kailua shop, and it definitely helped make finding a new tenant there very easy. Since there were so few food establishment vacancies that 1) had a grease trap that were 2) affordable and 3) in a location we wanted to be, we expanded our search to ... almost anything. This led us to the "grey shell" and "vanilla shell" territory.
There is no reason the average person should know what a grey shell or vanilla shell is, or the difference between the two. We found out very quickly. A grey shell is essentially a new construction big empty box with the frame and a floor. It lacks heating, A/C, ventilation, plumbing, electrical, lighting. Sometimes there are no ceilings or interior walls. It looks a lot like the photo above. A grey shell is a great option because it can be your blank canvas, but can also be expensive to build out because you are working from scratch. Finding places that are already built out has its disadvantages as well because unless the place is already outfitted for your type of business, you end up spending a lot of money taking everything out you don't need and reworking the place. For example, a pizza place can easily move into another pizza place, but try moving a custom cake shop into a previous pizza space, and that can be a huge headache. You also have to consider the health department's requirements for your type of business and that can require costly modifications. A vanilla shell takes the grey shell a major step forward, and includes lighting, electrical, plumbing, a restroom, heating, A/C, a floor, a ceiling. After considering all our options and "must haves", and looking at both grey shell and vanilla shell options, and places with and without grease traps, we ultimately chose a grey shell that just happened to have a grease trap! Remember those indications this shop was meant to be? This was a huge one! Grey shell it is, and cakelava will be built - just like our cakes - from scratch!

It didn't look like much at the time, but inside this big, empty, beautiful box, dreams, and amazing cakes will be made!

There were many preparations to do in the time between finding a shop and starting the build out of our grey shell. Las Vegas is a highly organized, highly regulated city, and very expensive city to open a business in. Here again, I have enough material to blog for a week just describing the whole educational - for lack of a better word - experience of preparations to open a shop in Vegas. It's something any business owner here can relate to, especially those with food businesses that have to deal with the various regulatory agencies. Three words. High. Learning. Curve. Unless you know exactly what you are doing and which steps to do first - which we did not - there is a High. Expensive. Learning. Curve. This was our second time starting a business - we did it 10 years ago in Hawaii - but Vegas is a completely different animal than Hawaii, and once we accepted that, and rolled with it, rather than fought it, it felt empowering. At some point when the fear of the new challenges and acceptance that no matter what you do,  it is almost impossible to stay on budget during a build, we began to embrace the experience of building from scratch. What an experience it was!

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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