Its 3 stories feature ground-floor fine dining and an upstairs tapas lounge. Sandwiched between them is a second floor, home to office space and a selection of wine production equipment, allowing the property to be accurately classified as a winery! The multi-use property was developed from the ground up by owner-operator Robert Reyes, with support from consultant Greg McNally of Food Power, Inc. It was Greg who was responsible from helping to bring in Southern California Restaurant Design Group (SCRDG) to help with the buildout.
Greg McNally was, himself, an owner-operator of multiple restaurant properties for more than a decade before transitioning to consulting and business development. Chef’s Roll recently spoke with Greg to learn about his journey, his interest in this project, and his time working with SCRDG.
1. Let’s start by talking about the project itself! Tell us about the concept and how it came to be!
The concept was all Robert Reyes, the founder of Reyes Winery. He’s both a winemaker and a real estate developer, and this project was an attempt to combine these two professional expertises with an additional passion: his love of fine food and dining.
The actual Reyes Winery is out in Agua Dulce, about 25 minutes from Newhall. It’s a rural community best known for Western movie backgrounds. Most of the visitors to the winery come from that Newhall / Santa Clarita area. Instead of bringing people to the winery, the goal was to bring the winery to them.
2. What initially attracted you to this project?
I loved the uniqueness of 3 businesses on one property. I’ve worked in properties like this before, but only previously as an operator and as a consultant for other operators. I’ve never had the chance to build from the ground up with a developer. I once operated two lounge areas that shared a common bar, so I’m intimately aware of the challenges of separating revenue in a situation like that, and the importance of design in making it work.
3. Tell us more about yourself. How did you first get involved in the culinary industry?
I’ve loved food and beverage about as long as I can remember. When I was in High School, a friend and I wrote a business plan, raised capital and eventually opened a restaurant in our early 20’s. Over the next decade we just kept developing and expanding. This was in the Bay area though, and eventually we couldn’t shake this feeling like we were in an oversaturated market, in a bubble. So we sold to a competitor. Turns out we exited just months before the Dot Com crash.
4. All chefs love cooking, but many want to be aware of career options outside of the kitchen. How did you transition to the business and development side of things?
I’d say that I’d been preparing for that kind of transition my entire career, whether I knew it or not. I started in high school as a busboy and definitely knew by college knew it would be my career path. I worked as a server at fine dining restaurants, learning more about the front of house. Once I opened a restaurant I attended culinary school to strengthen my understand of back of house. I also pursued a basic sommelier certification and became a ServSafe proctor. And then, of course, had the actual experience of building a successful restaurant business. All of these certifications and experiences helped me start my consulting practice. I’m still always learning, but when you’ve spent a couple decades pushing yourself to learn and to do, that expertise simply becomes valuable to others.
6. What sorts of challenges have you faced in the development of this specific property – Reyes Winery on Main?
With a project of this scale, there are so many moving parts and parties involved. The first challenge is always making sure that there is a shared vision between architects, designers, contractors, and ultimately, of course, the customer. We had to build while recognizing that the businesses are complimenting, not competing – as might often be the case in a property with multiple F&B storefronts.
This goes a bit beyond the property itself, but in developing the business side, there will also be some crossover of staff between the lounge and the restaurant. Working through different perspectives and levels of experience as we developed the customer experience has been challenging, but that’s just because we’ve all been challenging ourselves and each other to make the best experience possible.
7. What has it been like developing a property in the face of COVID-19?
With other clients, it’s been a top focus, making this a really difficult year, however this project was financed and planned before COVID. The only real disruption we dealt with was a tragic development when one of our construction workers passed away from the virus. These supply chain issues did affect us when it came to some furniture and fixtures. We had to make choices to go with other inventory and some custom builds due to original orders being out of stock.
8. How did you come to start working with Michael and the SCRDG team?
I know I’m not an expert in every field, but I’m really good at finding people who are. So one of my most valuable services that I offer as a consultant is that I’m able to bring in the best; the best bookkeepers, suppliers, designers. I always provide an owner with 3 vetted options based on my own research. I brought in SCRDG as an option for this job. They provided the best service and pricing and won the attention of the owner.
9. What was your overall experience working with SCRDG? Would you recommend them to others?
Because the project started years ago, the architects had worked with a separate kitchen designer for the original design. After being brought in to actually build the thing, SCRDG was able to modify the layout to better suit the menu and the chef’s vision. They also replaced certain equipment with equal quality and better price – saving the owner a tremendous amount on the budget.
SCRDG CEO Michael Benson is one of the hardest working business development people i’ve ever known. They talk a great game, and he has the team to back him up.
11. Thanks so much for your time Greg! As a last question, what advice do you have for people inspired by this project who want to get started on something of their own?
Reach out before the design process begins. A lot of restaurateurs design a concept backwards, where they find a location, build out space and only then try to put a menu in. But great concepts start with the menu, then the design, then the buildout. That starts with knowledgeable teams from the start. Kitchen design people should be involved from day one.