When you think of the Dutch city of Amsterdam, you may think of a booming European city, elegant canals, Van Gogh and the Dutch masters — or perhaps the notorious red-light District. Falafels, we dare to guess, don’t spring to mind.
But thanks to a meticulous business model, Arianne and Scott Bennett have permanently linked Amsterdam and falafels in the hearts and stomachs of those who regularly eat in their single-food restaurant, Amsterdam Falafelshop. They’re also spreading falafel fever in franchises throughout the country.
The couple’s booming business was born when Arianne and Scott decided they could travel more if they saved the money they spent on cigarettes to buy plane tickets. In 1998, both smoked a pack a day. So, instead of spending $4.50 each on cigarettes, they diligently put that money in a jar for about 10 months until they had enough for tickets to the Netherlands, where their good friends had just moved.
In the Dutch city, Arianne and Scott fell in food-induced love with the hole-in-the-wall shops that served falafels with self-serve toppings. “Why didn’t we have anything like this in the States?” Arianne thought. They were convinced those in their eclectic Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Adams-Morgan would embrace a quirky top-it-yourself falafel bar that served fresh, healthy food with attitude.
To raise the money, Arianne, who had worked in administrative jobs in downtown Washington firms and had experience keeping meticulous records, wrote a precise business plan projecting potential customers and sales every day over a four-year period. The self-proclaimed foodies knew the neighborhood restaurant scene, and Scott, a local bartender, knew the hospitality and business side of restaurants in the area. The two calculated how many people walked by on a daily basis, how many would come in, what kind of mix the shop would attract and what customers would buy.
They presented their projections and plan to a local bank that was impressed with how much thought and time they put into envisioning their business. Even though the Bennetts didn’t have experience running a business, the bank was willing to support their dream. With backing from the Small Business Administration, $40,000 of their own savings, and financial help from family — about $100,000 total — they had enough to open shop in a row house on the main strip of Adams Morgan in 2004.