1561 Second Avenue
Upper East Side
As far as new restaurants go, Spigolo is that rarest of things: an out-of-the-gate success. In a city where roughly 60 percent of new establishments fail within two years, Scott and Heather Fratangelo are an example of first-time owners who did everything right.
Opening the cozy Upper East Side Italian eatery plunged them into a world of wily contractors and arcane city ordinances, and it wouldn’t have been possible if they weren’t filling the highest-paid jobs themselves. With Scott in the kitchen and Heather juggling the duties of pastry chef, wine consultant, and hostess, they save at least $100,000 in annual salaries. “When you’re as small as us, you have to be the operator,” says Scott.
Even with no advance publicity, Spigolo is already a hit with well-heeled locals, owing in part to its location on an affluent, underserved strip and a two-star Times review six months out. Ironically, the restaurant’s most-praised qualities—its intimate vibe and easy access to the owners—are accidental.
Spigolo was designed to be more than twice the size it is now. The Fratangelos entered the lease hoping to enclose the sidewalk space into a year-round sitting room. Only after they ran into a web of byzantine regulations (can’t use steelwork, can’t drill into the pavement) did Spigolo assume its current shape: an intimate, 32-seat space with a curiously oversize kitchen and bar. The second bathroom doubles as a great coatroom. The Fratangelos live right above the restaurant; taking the 1,100-square-foot downstairs space got them a measly $200 off the apartment rent.
A typical shift—Spigolo is open only for dinner—consists of two dishwashers, one prep cook, three cooks, one pastry assistant, two servers, one runner, one bartender, and, in the winter, one coat-check person. Besides tips, every server gets $20-per-shift base pay. The credit-card tips rotate through the restaurant’s bank account first, thus going on the books.
Scott has instituted some fairly severe rules: He makes employees purchase their own uniforms (“They wouldn’t take care of them otherwise”) and fines them $1 for every dirty napkin that misses the laundry basket.
Spigolo burns through $4,000 in foodstuffs a week (“The goal,” says Scott, “is to have absolutely nothing left by the end of Sunday”), $1,500 worth of wine a week, and $500 in liquor. They keep inventory low, because the State Liquor Authority demands that receipts be paid in full at the end of every 28-day cycle—no exceptions, no extensions.
The Fratangelos approached their enterprise without an elaborate business plan, having calculated only the two main benchmarks: the daily break-even point ($3,000) and the average check needed to get there ($52). At the rate the restaurant is going, Scott predicts the original investment of $480,000 will be paid off by the end of 2007. After little more than a year, Scott and Heather claim they’re already making a none-too-shabby monthly profit of $8,000 to $9,000—a sum that would vanish if the duo stepped aside and hired chefs.