By David Rogers. March 27, 2014. BLOWING ROCK, NC — For some, it was a symbolic “last supper” just before noon. For others, it was a chance to use up an all but forgotten gift certificate. For the many, it was a morning of tears and well wishes. One of Blowing Rock’s most enduring business landmarks, Knight’s on Main served its last meal on Thursday.
Photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Tim Knight appreciates his casual dining customers as much as any restaurant owner fortunate enough to operate in the same location for 18 years — and over the years he showed that appreciation by consistently serving up a good meal and great service, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Especially in the winter of 2013-2014 and in a changing business climate, he just needed more of those customers to stay in business.
“This was probably the worst winter we have ever (experienced),” Knight admitted to Blowing Rock News on Thursday. “That certainly didn’t help things. But this is part of a larger trend. The cost of doing business on Main Street has gone up, and the volume of business has gone down or, at best, stayed the same. We take a lot of pride in the meals that we serve, but you can only raise prices so much before customers start thinking about other alternatives, whether it is driving to a fast food restaurant in Boone or fixing breakfast at home, or arranging that business meeting around a cup of coffee instead of saying, ‘let’s talk about this over lunch.'”
That’s a pretty tough nut to crack.
Knight explained to Blowing Rock News that with the current cost structure (including rent, utilities, food costs, labor, maintenance, and furniture and equipment replacement), the restaurant had to earn revenue of about $1,500 per day to keep the doors open. “For a 60-seat restaurant, that’s a pretty tough nut to crack.”
Blowing Rock News calculates that, based on a $1,500 per day requirement vs. 60 seats, each seat needs to produce about $25 per day in revenue. Most per person breakfast tickets at Knight’s average under $10, and lunch is probably a little more than $10, not including gratuities.
“This winter,” revealed Knight, “there were many days when we only served 30 breakfasts and 30 lunches — total. Given today’s cost dynamics of running this restaurant, that doesn’t do it any more.”
A “back of the envelope” calculation by Blowing Rock News quickly concludes that at those levels the restaurant only produced half and sometimes less than half of its average annualized daily requirement (of $1,500). Like many businesses in Blowing Rock’s tourism-dependent economy, Knight’s depended on a robust “high season” — late May through early November — to get through the rest of the year.
One local business owner who requested anonymity noted, “When your lean days are only producing half or less of what your average daily requirement is in terms of revenue, that means that your high season has to be especially robust.
“Running a business is a balancing act,” he added. “In Blowing Rock, it is not sufficient to say that it is just a matter of supply and demand. The seasonality of our economy makes that balancing act very tenuous. If your costs suddenly go up, it really throws a monkey wrench in that balancing act and puts the entire business at risk. And price elasticity being what it is, you can’t just jack prices up to compensate for the increased costs, whether it is utilities, labor, rent, or food costs People have to eat, so there is demand for eating, but there are alternatives (supply), even if it means not staying in Blowing Rock for breakfast or lunch.”
Running a business is a balancing act — and not JUST about simple supply and demand.
More than one Thursday morning customer told Blowing Rock News that Knight’s on Main is going to be sorely missed. “I’m not sure whether any of the other places to get breakfast will be able to accomodate the volume during the summer, autumn, and special event weekends,” said one young woman. “During those times, it was common to see lines out the door and people camped outside Knight’s, waiting to get in. And frankly, even for local folks, there is no other place quite like Knight’s to meet someone for breakfast or lunch. When there wasn’t a line, you knew that there was usually a comfortable booth, that the service would be pretty fast, and that the food would be great. From construction guys and town employees to lawyers, bankers and real estate brokers, Knight’s served them all.”
That Knight’s on Main struggled in recent years was not a secret. Blowing Rock News has heard various rumors involving Knight’s either closing or moving to a new location since at least last summer. The decision to close, permanently, was not made until Wednesday, Knight said. And that was the first opportunity he had to tell employees.
The owner of the building is Mr. Stephen Thomas, a senior financial advisor with Charlotte-based investment company Linden Thomas and Company. By the time of this report, Mr. Thomas had not returned a call from Blowing Rock News to ascertain his plans for the building.