My View: Architect goes from blueprints to blue-plate specials

  • Article by: JERRY GOODRICH
  • Updated: April 2, 2013 - 4:13 PM

Ben Peters' career as an architect evaporated amid the recession, but he and his wife bounced back to start a successful restaurant.

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Artisan Coffee Bistro co-owner Ben Peters, a former architect, is rarely, if ever, seen when he’s not wearing his cap and a smile.

Photo: Photos by Jerry Goodrich • Special to the Star Tribune ,

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The man’s passion was design. He had worked as an architect for 20 years, and then received the shock of his life. He was laid off.

He was not alone. Forty percent of the architects in the Twin Cities area lost their jobs three years ago when the bottom fell out of construction. The firm for which this man worked trimmed its staff of architects and draftsmen by more than 50 percent.

Wanting to remain in the field, he created a website and set up a home-based architectural business. Unfortunately, it brought in only 50 percent of the income he needed.

He and his wife discussed his situation at length and concluded that he would have to change careers — an unsettling proposition given that he was approaching middle age.

Ben Peters is his name, and the man was more fortunate than most because he had a second passion: Ben loved to cook for others.

When he noticed a new vacancy in Prior Lake’s South Lake Village Mall, he thought it would be the perfect place for the restaurant he had always wanted to open.

His wife Nan was all for it, because she also loved to cook. They had hosted many dinner parties when they lived in Nevada. Nan also had managed the restaurant at a large steakhouse in Carson City, and had the requisite accounting background.

Ben contacted the mall’s property manager about leasing the space. He was not receptive. “Restaurants are too hard to put in and take out,” he scoffed.

Not to be deterred, Ben prepared a business plan and did a 3-D computer-graphics rendering of how the restaurant would look. The property manager relented, and Ben and Nan got to work.

Four months later, on Feb. 9, 2012, “Artisan Coffee Bistro” served its first customers.

I asked Ben about his design work and his budding second career as a restaurant co-owner:

 

Jerry: What were some of the highlights of your first career?

Ben: I helped design several casinos in Las Vegas. That was lots of fun. After we moved to Minnesota, I was one of the two designers who designed the McKenna Crossing senior living community in Prior Lake.

 

Jerry: What were the initial challenges when you decided to change careers?

Ben: It takes a lot of money to turn an empty space into a restaurant, to include buying expensive equipment. Then, after the opening, you have to keep putting money into the business for many months. Some restaurants close within weeks of opening because the owners mistakenly expect to turn a profit right away. Also, there are state and city permits to obtain and requirements to abide by. If you don’t do it right, you can get into trouble.

 

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