Every now and then, a restaurant or a pub catches Jean Seguin’s fancy.
The food is good, the atmosphere is great, and perhaps, the commercial realtor thinks, he can buy it for himself. Maybe there’s an opportunity for him to invest.
“I dream about it,” Seguin confessed in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight.
As a realtor who focuses on the selling and buying of establishments in the food-and-beverage industry, Seguin knows the deals. He’s the founder of the Restaurant Business Broker agency.
What distinguishes him from other realtors in this business is that he used to be a restaurateur. Seguin knows both the joys and heartaches of running a restaurant. He can relate to his clients on a personal level.
“When I was an owner-operator, I loved watching the setup of my restaurant prior to getting busy and then simply watching the evening unfold with patrons coming in and out,” Seguin said, relishing the memory.
Seguin was a real-estate investor when he bought the Smoking Dog Bistro in 2004, a popular French establishment in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. The realtor sold the bistro after six years, in 2010, and returned to real estate.
Although he said he had the time of his life as a restaurateur, Seguin doesn’t think he’s coming back, although he’s tempted every now and then.
According to him, the food-and-beverage business is a tough one. The margins are too tight, he said.
For those thinking of entering the food and beverage field in a world ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, the realtor noted that areas in Vancouver that do not depend on tourism are good places to look at.
“I’m not getting phone calls for Gastown anymore,” Seguin said, to drive home the point.
The top three locations on his list are West 4th Avenue between Burrard and Yew streets, Main Street, and Commercial Drive. These areas have good foot and car traffic, a mixed clientele, and little dependence on tourism, according to Seguin. Plus, leases there are generally affordable.
In addition to his top three places, Seguin mentioned others, like Kerrisdale and Fraser Street at both King Edward Avenue and Kingsway. Davie Street in the West End is also on Seguin’s list.
Outside Vancouver, Seguin pointed to the Lonsdale neighbourhood in North Vancouver. “These are all good areas to start your next food and beverage concept,” he said.
If food-and-beverage was a tough business before the pandemic, it’s going to get even more difficult now, according to Seguin.
“In the next three to nine months, we will see many operators not able to carry on,” Seguin predicted.
He said it’s all about leases and how establishments can generate enough revenue despite the pandemic’s physical-distancing requirements.
Under the federal Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance, small businesses are entitled to a measure of rent relief for three months, from April to June 2020.
This is for business tenants paying less than $50,000 per month in rent that have temporarily ceased operations, or that have experienced at least a 70 percent drop in pre–COVID-19 revenues.
Seguin does not expect full capacity to return in September or October this year. He also noted that a number of leases come with personal guarantees from operators, and this is also going to be a problem.
A personal guarantee means that an individual is required to pay an outstanding obligation if the person’s business collapses. “I was talking to a restaurant owner from a very popular group in Vancouver, and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a personal guarantee on two or three,’ and he’s got seven or eight leases,” the realtor related. “What is he supposed to do?”