“We figured why put all of that capital into a cafe, when we haven’t proven that it could work,” Karesh said.
Blind Dog Cafe is part of an entrepreneurial movement in the local food scene that is ushering in new restaurant concepts, from food trucks to underground supper clubs, that stray from the traditional model. These entrepreneurs are readily using social media and mobile technology to market their businesses as they go head to head with established restaurants.
That such a spurt of innovation is transforming the restaurant industry should come as no surprise. Pushing a food cart or opening a carryout have always been one of the gateways to entrepreneurship because of the universal demand for food.
But the simplicity of the business model means the competition can be fierce and failure commonplace. Which is why this generation of restaurateurs is seeking out low-cost entry into the marketplace, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, a research and consulting firm.
“When you think about food trucks, the overhead is very low and it allows a certain freedom and flexibility,” he said. “People want to work on their own terms, be more creative.”
In the case of Blind Dog Cafe, Karesh said “necessity was the mother of invention” as the paucity of coffee shops in Shaw inspired him to open his own. He roped in Singer, whom he grew up with in Chevy Chase, and Gilchrist, a line cook at Ardeo + Bardeo in Cleveland Park.
Sharing an already leased and licensed space has saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars in start-up costs. The three pay Perkins about $800 a month to rent the space. Karesh and his partners spent $20,000 to get the cafe up and running in January, most of the money went to purchasing equipment for brewing coffee and baking.
The laid-back atmosphere of the bar, complete with a well-worn comfy couch, already captured the homey vibe they were going for, so they only added a few shelves and tables.
The cafe, named for Singer’s blind Jack Russell terrier Baxter, attracts a mix of telecommuters looking for free Wi-Fi and endless caffeine. Karesh envisions Blind Dog as communal space for entrepreneurs, so he has begun inviting area start-ups, including artisan ice cream makers and vintage stylists, to host events in the cafe for free — pop-ups within a pop-up.
One of the recent events held at Blind Dog involved a 45-person dinner party hosted by Feastly, a company that signs people up for “feasts” prepared by amateur chefs.