If you want to open a small business, consider the fact that food service is a great first small business opportunity. As the old saying goes, “Everybody’s gotta eat”, so opening a small deli is a great way to get customers in the door with a quickness. Especially if you enjoy serving people, creating new food items, prep cook work, building sandwiches, soups and desserts and experimenting in the kitchen.
Why open a deli instead of a full blown restaurant? Delis have smaller menus, simpler items, and give the chef/owner more freedom to try out new menu items. Delis are popular because the service is quick, but unlike most fast food operations, the food has that “home made” feel that just tastes and feels better to your clients.
Knowing how to open a deli is a matter of combining your natural desire to cook and serve good food with a head for running a business. Maybe you just want to handle the cash register side of the operation and leave the cooking up to the professionals — either way, a deli is a low-commitment small business, perfect for a first foray into the world of entrepreneurship.
How to Open a Deli – 7 Steps
Want to learn how to open a deli? I can’t teach you how to cook a perfect egg or brew the best cup of coffee, but I can tell you the basic steps to opening a deli. When you think of a task like opening a deli, it may seem impossible — all these forms to fill out, money to spread around, materials and personnel to hire — but when you break this down into smaller steps it is easy to see that opening a deli is a relatively hassle-free venture into the world of being your own boss.
1. Your first step in any new small business is to find your source of start-up capital. Depending on the size of your deli and whether you will be renting or owning the space that your deli takes up, you’re going to need anywhere from $125,000 up into the millions. There’s lots of factors that go into start-up costs — will your deli be a “high-end” style deli serving fancy versions of deli classics or a standard “greasy spoon” cafeteria where a guy can stop in for a cup of joe and a bagel. This kind of cash usually requires a bank loan, unless you have a private source of income. Talk to banks about small business loans and figure out your options.
2. There are lots of legal hurdles to take on before you can hang out your “Open” sign. First, you need to figure out what form of business your deli venture will be — a corporation, LLC, or sole ownership situation. Each of these forms requires different sets of paperwork towards getting your business license. Also, your local laws about small business operation will be different from those one town over, so getting the proper certification materials specific to your operation is key.
3. It is time to pick a location for your deli. Location is important for a restaurant, and how. To open a deli that is successful, look for high traffic areas with vacant spaces nearby. Finding a spot where lots of people naturally walk by is key to getting your business booming early. You also need to consider that your restaurant space needs to be the right size. Will your kitchen be large enough for the kind of deli you want to run? Maybe the space you’re looking at is a little too large, and you’d be paying too much rent for what is otherwise a small deli operation. You can do yourself a favor by leasing site-specific spaces that are designed for food service businesses — these usually have certain necessary features for restaurant operation installed, like walk-in freezers and refrigerators, counters and cabinets, grills, and any number of other tools needed to put your food on your customer’s plates.
4. Even if you do lease a space that comes with some necessary equipment, you’ll need to outfit your deli with specific items you plan to use. For instance, if you want to include a specialty coffee area, you’ll need an espresso machine and flavoring syrup setups, etc. Now is the time to buy the equipment you need that didn’t come installed in your leased space. Even the best-outfitted purpose-built sites for delis won’t normally include things like tables and chairs, cash registers, cleaning supplies, and any decorations you may want to install to give your deli the right look. This is the step that will cost you the most money out of pocket.
5. With your deli starting to build up around you, it is time to think about your menu. Will you offer a creative menu that changes day to day, or standard diner food? Are you going to serve beer and wine (which requires special licensing) or will you stick to soft drinks and milkshakes. These are just a few of the questions that go into creating the identity of your deli. While you build your menu, you need to look into your future vendors — businesses who supply you with all the necessary ingredients for creating delicious food. Everything from meat, veggies, fruits, soft drinks, condiments, and even your deli uniforms and linens will probably come from vendors, unless you have an awesome farmer’s market right next door or a huge home garden.
6. You are very nearly ready to open your deli — so think about how many staff members you’ll need to keep your joint running smoothly. If this is your first jump into the deli game, you’ll want to hire experienced cooks and servers and maybe even a manager to help you run your new deli. Learning how to open a deli sometimes means paying someone else to take you through the first two trying years of owning a small business.
7. This last step is optional — but if you want to follow the true deli tradition, you should open a section of your deli to sell typical deli items like meats and cheeses or specialty breads. These are great business opportunities, especially if you make this “take away” food in your deli — every item that walks out the door with your deli’s name on it is a tiny advertisement to the world. The downside to operating a deli store is that it requires extra counter space, more overhead, and at least one additional employee to run the deli store.
Owning your own business has its own rewards and trials — but owning your own deli is a relatively safe venture into the world of being your own boss. People gotta eat, and if you put out good food and have a good location, you run a good chance of turning a profit relatively fast. Be prepared for a tough first couple of years, and work hard to get good word of mouth in town. Bon appetit.
For more information related to opening a delicatessen restaurant, see: