Stir Crazy

Causing Quite A Stir

The cost of opening a do-it-yourself stir-fry restaurant may be a little higher than the average restaurant because of the unique interior layout this type of operation requires, according to Addington. Pre-existing locations with large buffet serving areas and an open kitchen where customers can watch the chefs are rare, so the interior of a do-it-yourself stir-fry restaurant is usually custom-built.

"We look for plain, empty spaces," says Addington. "When you go into a spot that was a former restaurant, you end up building around the old setup. We like to have a space that is completely bare and lay out the space exactly how we want it. We've found it's worth it to spend a little extra to start from scratch." Apparently, it has been more than worth it for Flat Top Grill: Addington opened his first location in 1995 with a little more than $400,000 in start-up capital and the chain has since grown to three locations.

So what does it take to make a do-it-yourself stir-fry restaurant succeed? Despite the fact that diners customize their meals, the answer is still quality. "You have to maintain the product, the labor and the service," says Brown. "It's just like a theater. What's [happening] on the stage may change, but the activity at the back of the house stays the same. The rules and service standards that we keep here are no different, regardless of the concept."

The popularity of these restaurants continues to grow unchecked. Nation's Restaurant News has honored a do-it-yourself stir-fry restaurant, Stir Crazy in Chicago, as one of its 1998 Hot Concept winners, and with diners throughout the country getting into the stir of things, do-it-yourself stir-fry just may be here to stay.

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This article was originally published in the June 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Stir Crazy.

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