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Spotlight on George Christakos of ACE Burger Co.: From Pop-Up to Permanent

Lauren Marinigh | March 21, 2016

Since 1956, the Christakos family has been involved in the restaurant business, and when George Christakos started working in the family business at a young age, he would daydream about the businesses he would open when he was older.

Fast forward to when George was 23 and his father took notice to his work ethic, and suggested that the two of them put that effort into their own venture.  From there, Brooklyn Warehouse opened in 2007, followed by Ace Burger Co. in 2012, and a recent venture, Battery Park Beer Bar & Eatery in December 2015. It’s evident that George was bitten by the serial entrepreneur bug.

After the success of their first food establishment, Brooklyn Warehouse, and the trickle down of the 2007/2008 financial crisis which caused many closures of fine dining restaurants, the food industry started to see a trend in top chefs that were laid off, popping up again in less traditional establishments like food trucks, and even illegal restaurants run out of their homes. “The bursting of the sub-prime housing bubble sent the food culture pendulum back towards affordable, yet indulgent, comfort food and simplistic service,” George explained. “We wanted to be part of this, but we didn’t want to be tied to a brick and mortar business to do it. We wanted our new business to be simple, affordable and not conventional.”

George and his father started looking at many locations to make their next food project a reality, and that’s when they found an underutilized kitchen in a long-standing pub in the heart of the North End of Halifax—Gus’ Pub. George explained that their ACE Burger pop-up was an experiment to see if the location was viable for a long-term business. “We picked a one day local shopping event called Open City, where businesses were asked to put on an open house of their wares, and the public was asked to take it all in,” George described. “The pop-up was a tremendous success, with line-ups around the corner and a sold out menu.”

It was evident that the whole gourmet burger thing was trending across Canada and the father-son duo, knew that there would be players in their market soon—so they were going to have to jump into the market first before competitors did. After testing out ACE Burger as a pop-up shop, George and his father felt confident in investing in the equipment and renovations needed to turn the pop-up into a permanent fixture at Gus’ Pub.

But starting a pop-up shop didn’t come easy, George explained that great businesses come from chiseling away at problems and inefficiencies over time where a pop-up, by its nature, doesn’t have that timeline. “Doing a pop-up without knowing the volume of sales you are going to have, or not knowing about that thing (whatever that thing may be) you need to get the job done is a challenge,” George said. “Take the time to do a mock service of your pop-up with friends and family so you can see any potential pitfalls or tools you may need to execute properly on opening day.”

When I asked George what his biggest tips were for entrepreneurs wanting to open a pop-up shop, he mentioned three key things:

1) Doing the due diligence

Do the due diligence to make sure that the operators (pop-up shop operator, and the landlord or business owner of the space of your pop-up) share common values and are clear with who the target markets area. “One of the hurdles a pop-up shop operator could face is working within another business’ space and culture,” George advised.  “You have to make sure that the business within a business is the right fit or someone may not be happy.”

2) Marketing is huge

You can’t just open your doors and think people are going to come in because you feel you have a cool space and a good idea. George explains that you have to create awareness and do it frequently. “Anywhere you spread the word is good—print, online, in person. Let people know what you are doing, and let them know the benefits of coming to visit your business.”

3) Numbers are important

“Nobody is going to give you a medal at the end of the day for how many hours you put in,” George explained. “If you aren’t making your rations then in a way, it’s all for nothing.” Getting comfortable with numbers and the math you’ll need to run your business will help save you the stress and money later on.

With the popularity of ACE Burger leading to another food venture for George and his father, Battery Park Beer Bar & Eatery, we can’t help but wonder what’s next on these entrepreneurs food journey.

For more information about ACE Burger Co., click here.

Written By: Lauren Marinigh, Social Media & Content Creation Coordinator, Futurpreneur Canada