How “real” is business-reality television? Real enough, at least if one local husband-and-wife team is any guide. Chris and Danielle Bjorling own the Copper Hen on Nicollet Avenue’s “Eat Street.” They were selected to participate in CNBC’s Restaurant Startup, where storied international restaurateur Joe Bastianich puts food entrepreneurs through their paces and invests in the ones he likes. He liked the Bjorlings.
The couple renovated and opened The Copper Hen in spring 2014, with $200,000 of seed money earned through rental properties and debt on said properties. They are first-time restaurateurs—she’s a baker, he’s a CPA. Copper Hen was cash-flowing by month six. Chris bit on Startup’s outreach because he liked its Shark Tank, business-driven aspect.
The Bjorlings wanted the investment to create a rooftop patio. “Exposure was part of the motivation, too,” Chris adds. They breezed through two separate competitive hurdles to “win” their episode. Chris describes it as “very staged” and recalls frequently being prompted by producers to say things to fit a narrative they were trying to create. But once the Bjorlings won, things changed. “They pull you aside and say, ‘Now this part is real; you’re negotiating an investment with Joe.’ ”
The taped negotiation is not binding on either party, but Bastianich agreed to put $200,000 into The Copper Hen in exchange for 20 percent equity. Bastianich, who commutes between New York City and Italy, has been a mostly silent partner. “He’s pretty hands-off,” says Chris. “He does get financials every month. He suggested we carry his wines and add Negronis to the menu.”
That’s because in the end, the partners changed the deal to 10 percent equity for $50,000 to establish a “creative cocktails” program for The Copper Hen—and the venture has driven up check averages and margins. (Issues with the landlord’s status delayed the rooftop, but the Bjorlings hope it’s coming. “The ideal would be to have Joe in that,” says Chris.)
“It’s a terrible industry to make a buck, really,” continues Chris. “You are nickeled and dimed, there’s high turnover, vendor complexity, constant stress. It’s good to work with someone who understands the intricacies of your business.”