One Year Out: An Interview with Meri Dahlke of Ten Bells Tavern, Including Some Advice for Budding Restaurateurs
In this is semi-regular feature here at the City of Ate, we talk to restaurant owners one year out (or there about) to see how business is treating them. This is in no way an attempt to cajole you into opening your own place, but rather an appreciation for how hard that first year can be. In this interview we chat with Meri Dahlke of Ten Bells Tavern about her Anglophile-ish restaurant and bar in the Bishop Arts District.
Meri Dahlke and her favorite pooch, Jack, who passed away in 2011.
What have you learned about running a restaurant and bar after one year?
I think the biggest thing is it's not easy to open a business in this city. I've also learned I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was when we started this project nearly two years ago.
Stronger in what sense?
Stronger emotionally, like dealing with all the overwhelming things required in taking that leap of faith in opening a business. And physically, we built this place ourselves so a lot of physical labor went into it.
Ten Bells Tavern Did we mention the food is pretty awesome?
What kind of an impact has the community, specifically the Bishop Arts District, had on the success of Ten Bells Tavern?
I was told Oak Cliff was like Mayberry when we first got here, and it is! It's definitely got its own culture, and then you throw in the BAD and it becomes its own very unique part of Dallas. Everybody knows everybody here. We are on the fringe of BAD and the new kids on the block, so it's been interesting to say the least. I'd like to think the people in the area consider Ten Bells Tavern an asset to their neighborhood. We work hard every day to make our place a solid addition to the great line up of places already here.
What's the single most difficult aspect of running Ten Bells Tavern?
The single most difficult thing is time. Besides Ten Bells Tavern, I also have a 2-year-old, so my days are full. I am a mom during the day and a bar owner at night. I am lucky to have my mother close by so I can spend the time I do cultivating the business.
Have you taken a vacation in the past year?
What's that? No. I haven't had a vacation in three years.
Anything you'll do different in year two?
I would like a vacation in year two!
What three pieces of advice would you give a budding restaurateur who is thinking about opening her own place? (Let's assume you like the person, so it's really golden advice.)
Three pieces of advice:
1. Have your money in order. Whatever you think you need to open your place double (maybe triple) that amount.
2. Spend your money in smart places. You don't have to have mahogany bar and fancy tile in your bathroom. Hire a good accountant, attorney and somebody to deal with all the permits you'll need from the city and TABC.
3. Make sure you get a lot of rest before you start this! You won't after things get rolling.