Risky Business

It takes more than a dollar and a dream to develop a storefront— but the rewards can be priceless

"Listen to the people and they'll tell you what they want," Ethan said.

Now they serve, among other things, wine, Irish oatmeal, and teriyaki cheese steak, depending on the time of day. "Now we have Mike and a whole bunch of cooks," Adrian said. "Mike's right arm is worth about $40,000 a year to us. Right now we don't have enough money to buy a $4700 Hobart mixer for stirring the cookie batter. My Hobart right now is Mike's right arm. Mike's gigantic. I can't reveal Mike's salary but it's less than the Hobart."

Adrian and Ethan got an education while shopping in the restaurant supply stores on the Bowery. "There we were with our clipboard," Adrian said. "We said, 'Oh boy, we can get everything we need for $20,000.' Well, why don't you give a bandit $200 in cash? It's like an open market, no holds barred. Everything comes with no warranty or a 30-day warranty, which is like no warranty."

"When spring came, we needed an ice machine," Ethan said. "We got the most affordable. Well, the one we bought didn't make any ice. It chilled other people's ice. So we were always having to buy ice. We make 35 iced coffees an hour! Do you know how much ice we need? We traded our ice machine to the exterminator for free service.

"I spend at least one day a week down on the Bowery now. I've established a relationship with some of them so now I don't feel nauseous every time I pay for something."

Adrian and Ethan estimated that about $40,000 of their $130,000 start-up costs went to buying equipment. "The rest covered the $25,000 five-month rent deposit, a $3000 deposit to Con Ed— we remember the day we got that letter— and about $7000-a-year insurance."

Restaurants require daily outflows of cash much greater than those of, say, a gift shop. "And at any one time, there's $3000 worth of produce, dry goods, sitting in the basement," Ethan said. Stocking canned goods alone can run $1500. "Food is 30 percent of the gross. About 25 percent goes to salaries." The restaurant currently has at least nine employees.

Adrian and Ethan could not say how much the restaurant takes in but they estimated that neither brother "is making more than $40,000 a year in salaries"— and they did not take much salary for the first nine or 10 months. "We're probably doing so well because we probably make the least amount of money of any [restaurant] owners in the city," Ethan said. "That's because we're constantly reinvesting into the business," Adrian said. "We're more interested in building something that's going to be extremely valuable one day. There are times we invest for the business in the stock market, put a couple of thousand in Microsoft. A lot of businesses do this. It's like a 401(k) for the business."

They said they do not plan on opening up other restaurants. They have begun catering. "It would be nice to make over $100,000 a year each," Adrian said. "It all depends how hard we're willing to work. And how hard our girlfriends are willing to work." Both girlfriends work for not-for-profit organizations. "Most of our days off, we're waiting for 19-year-olds to show up to wash the dishes. If they don't, we do. We love this but it makes us feel very old."

They will never forget December. "We made $5000!" The champagne flowed. Then came cold, bitter January.

For 22 days, the rings and bracelets and necklaces sat sparkling in their cases, alone, ignored. For the little store at 188 Orchard Street, the 300-square-foot store that is smaller than the owners' apartment, time froze and "nobody bought a thing."

Owners Jelena Behrend, 31, and Maria Luisa Mosquera, 29, who opened Oxygène Collectif in November, shrug off climate concerns. Behrend, who learned to forge gold and silver from gypsies in her native Serbia, knows that for a jewelry store to be successful, it has to be beautiful, like a movie star, and $10,000 months will follow. "I have a very good product," she said, speaking of her sterling rings that run $60 to $250 and necklaces from $200 to $1600. "You also have to develop your own clientele. You cannot depend on people walking by."

Even so, the Orchard Street location is good, in good weather. "Of course, we wouldn't want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere," said Mosquera, a Miami-born Wilhelmina model. "We opened here because every couple of weeks someone is renting another space, someone of our genre."

"But the street is not Soho yet," Behrend said. "There are lots and lots of people we will never get."

Orchard Street, the Lower East Side's main retail artery, went from being a street of pushcarts in the 1800s to a center of discount clothing to most recently a street of fabric stores, leather jackets, and socks. Now there are bars like Kush with its golden Moroccan light and stores with Eero Saarinen womb chairs and French T-shirts that cost hundreds of dollars.

There is a changing aggregation cluster. Just ask Oxygène Collectif's neighbor, J. Hauptman ("You name it, I sell it"), who sells boxer shorts in thin cardboard boxes piled high on old wooden shelves— because "underwear, that's how you get people in the store!" His father opened the store in 1959. Ask Hauptman how business is. "Terrible. It's a nighttime business now. People who come at night aren't interested in Fruit of the Loom."

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