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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Just Turkey: Requiem for a dream

The former Just Us Turkeys restaurant on Tuesday in the rain.

It was sad to see a post on someone's Facebook page recently that the Plainfield restaurant "Just Turkey" is closed.

Making a go of it with a small business is tough (I have experience to prove it). Making a go of a small restaurant is even tougher. Most restaurants close within a year of opening.

For anyone with an entrepreneurial streak, the dream of making a living doing what one loves is alluring.

In the case of Just Turkey, I have some thoughts about what may have made its success even more difficult to achieve.

Though the restaurant was known a Just Turkey, the actual name on the sign is Just Us Turkeys, though the "us" and the final "s" are in tiny letters.

Many may have thought, as I at first did, that the menu was solely based on turkey. The number of potential patrons that would find that compelling must be almost infinitesimal.

It's a cute name, but probably dinged the possibility of someone eating there from the get-go.

When I went there for lunch with a couple of friends, I was pleasantly surprised to find a BLT on the menu, and ordered it. It came on artisanal multi-grain bread, with luscious tomato slices, crispy and cold lettuce and perfect bacon -- neither limp nor carbonized. Not only was it excellent, I would say it was the best BLT I have ever eaten.

Unfortunately, it was barely weeks before the restaurant closed.

My suspicion is that the name failed to properly advertise the experience awaiting inside.
The old real estate cliché certainly holds true.

Restaurants need to be where other retail activity is going on. Even having other restaurants nearby is a plus as they help to make the neighborhood a dining destination.

However, this location was unfortunately in a bleak stretch of South Avenue with no foot traffic and no adjacent retail stores.

The two large and vacant factory buildings across the street made passersby want to keep going, not stop to check things out.
A related factor is to consider the fate of the previous occupant of the property.

In this case, it had been a once-popular Italian bakery, known for its bread and rolls.

But it had gone out of business several years earlier as the market for bread-based bakeries dried up (the Johnston Avenue Bakery suffered the same fate). Supermarkets now offer many different kinds of freshly baked breads, rolls and pastries -- to the detriment of the older, smaller standalone businesses.
An acquaintance from my Brooklyn days and his wife opened a small restaurant on Atlantic Avenue years ago.

Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue was a busy street, already known for its ethnic restaurants. Their food was excellent and the venue attractive. The place eventually became a true success story. I use the word "eventually" advisedly.

The owner told me that the best possibility for success in the restaurant business was to have the resources to run the business for five years without making a penny!

While one may just make ends meet with the restaurant business -- including rent, wages and supplies -- it leaves the owners trying to figure out how to keep their family housed and fed in the meantime.

No wonder so many restaurants fail before they can succeed.
But the dream never quite dies. And another adventurer will eventually try.

And perhaps succeed.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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