What if you could own a restaurant for just $125 and 200 words?
That’s the opportunity open to budding chefs and restaurant managers the world over as an unprecedented contest for ownership of The Outside Inn continues through May 15, 2017.
For over 23 years, David and Dawn Bain have built and expanded the fine dining business in Sierra Vista, Arizona, with an establishment they describe romantically as “An Oasis in the Desert.” And with good reason. The Outside Inn’s dining room is set with all white linen, cover plates, crystal and china, and wine glasses. They maintain an upscale menu in French classical style with the rich range of proteins you’d expect from the most formal of restaurants: filets, lobster, veal, lamb, shrimp, salmon, and mahi mahi.
But that’s hardly the only thing that distinguishes the Outside Inn from its competitors. So much of what they’ve become known for in over 23 years of business is how they treat their guests.
“Our restaurant is a place of ‘graciousness,’” David explained. “In this day and age, where everything is fast food, and in-and-out, we have built our niche.”
And that niche, carefully crafted over two and a half decades of work, could be landing in some lucky person’s lap this summer for the cost of a meal for two and a really compelling argument.
How it all began for the Outside Inn
Originally running a restaurant and bar in Tempe, Arizona, the Bains starting thinking about making a move when a friend commented on how much he loved the Sierra Vista area, but that there weren’t any good restaurants out that way. Flash forward a few months and the couple found the property of their dreams in a commercially-zoned, converted house on over an acre of land.
“My wife and I are both firm believers that things in life happen for a reason,” David shared. “We came upon a piece of property up for sale. All we really had to do was accept their payments and then make a balloon payment two years on.
“I didn’t know how we were going to figure out the balloon payment, but I thought, I’ll worry about that one later on.”
Part of that balloon payment came in the form of a merchant cash advance from Rewards Network, money funded upfront in exchange for future credit card sales.
“We really needed that money at the time,” David said. “In its own small way, Rewards Network was instrumental in making all this happen.”
Since then, the Outside Inn stayed on as a Rewards Network client, utilizing its suite of marketing services even in years when they didn’t need extra cash. In fact, the business experienced unprecedented success with over 14 years of consecutive positive guest counts and increased sales.
Even in 2003, when the Sierra Vista area started to boom with restaurant chains like Applebee’s and Outback Steakhouse taking hold, the Outside Inn held its own, with flat sales that saw no losses to the new competition.
So why hand off the restaurant now?
Time for a change at the Outside Inn
After 25 years, the Bains are looking for a change, but certainly aren’t forgetting the good fortune that got them to where they are today. That positive outlook is part of what drove David and Dawn to organize this contest to own the physical restaurant, the land on which it sits, and nearly everything that rests inside of it.
“We really have done really well in our life,” explains David. “We’re very fortunate that we have good health and all of this stuff. I’ve done very well financially. Now, we can work to change someone else’s life — literally handing someone else a restaurant that has a 23 years of good web presence; being known in the area; every pot, pan, dish, ladle, spoon, glass or piece of equipment that you could possibly need. Which is part of what’s so daunting [about first opening a restaurant].”
This is no small operation, but likewise, the Bains have mastered service to such a degree that their offer is frankly unparalleled in any corner of the restaurant industry. On their last Valentine’s Day, the busiest day of their year, the restaurant was fully booked well in advance, turning away over 75 calls that day for reservations, and yet never ran out of a single plate, dish, or sauté pan.
“The person who will get this restaurant will own over one acre of commercial land, the restaurant itself, every piece of equipment you could possibly need, 23 years of web presence, and whatever is left in terms of food and spices (Arizona law prohibits the inclusion of liquor in this case) — all for nothing,” David related.
David has even been convinced to return the $125 entry fee to the winning applicant, so the offer truly comes at a price of nothing. All it takes is writing a winning essay from an applicant 18 years or older about “Why I would operate my own restaurant.” (Technical requirements for the essay can be found here.)
“Our contest has been viewed in 63 countries, as well as all 50 states,” David continued. “There’s an enormous amount of interest. But there’s no ideal candidate for it except someone who really believes in themselves and wants to do a great job — and continues on our legacy of outstanding food and service. We’re one of the highest rated restaurants in Arizona with Rewards Network reviewers and continue to maintain our high standards.”
What’s left to learn at the Outside Inn
When asked about the best lessons of his 23 years as front of house manager and owner of the Outside Inn — and what lessons would be most important for his successor — David Bain couldn’t have been more clear about the secret behind his success.
“One, surround yourself with quality people and treat your people well,” he began. “I have a server who’s been with me since we opened the doors, almost 24 years now. My current chef has been with me for 7 years. My sous chef for 11 years. I’ve had the same dishwasher for 14 years.
“There are three reasons people stay at a job for a long period of time. One, they’re making good money. Two, they enjoy what they do. And three, they feel respected. You treat your people well. You respect them. My wife and I NEVER leave the restaurant without making a point of saying goodbye to everyone who works for us, in any position. It’s a common courtesy.”
His second philosophy, one I’m told he learned from his next door neighbor, is do what you do and don’t change horses midstream.
“I have always remembered that,” David explained. “Believe in what it is that you’re doing. If I’m really good at fine dining, why contemplate shifting to something else that’s not your strong suit? Keep what you have going and people won’t get confused. That’s as much of the key to our longevity and success as anything else.”
“And lastly, you have to really care.” David reiterated. “We get to know a lot of our guests on a first name basis. We’re really familiar with people without overstepping our boundaries. We need to deliver an outstanding guest experience, but we need to be unobtrusive as well.”
“I am an inherent believer that people are good at heart,” David concluded. “It’s a wonderful thing. It’s a very gutsy thing, no matter where you’re from. [By participating,] you’re willing to believe in yourself and pack up your family with the hopes of making your lives better.
“There’s no way anyone can lose on this. It seems too good to be true. But it is true.”
Visit David and Dawn Bain’s website on The Outside Inn Essay Contest today. All entries must be received by May 15, 2017, and be accompanied by two self-addressed, stamped envelopes and a cashier’s check or money order for $125.
Questions about the Outside Inn Essay Contest should be addressed to David and Dawn Bain, c/o The Outside Inn, Post Office Box 1725, Sierra Vista, Arizona 85636.
Rewards Network is not a party to the Outside Inn Essay Contest, nor do we provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.