On a hot summer afternoon, Jeff Walewski was outside his new restaurant, the Sharp Edge Creekhouse, working with a concrete contractor on a patio at the eaterys entrance.
For Walewski, who also owns the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium in Friendship, the project has been hands-on all the way. To save a considerable chunk of change he estimates 10 percent to 15 percent on the $650,000 project he served as general contractor for the renovation of the former Maggie Maes Creekhouse by the Thornburg Bridge in Crafton.
The project was completed, for the most part, over a three-month period last winter. In addition to a new kitchen, the renovation required a relocation of the bar, new flooring and carpeting, and the installation of the complex and sophisticated tap system to deliver the wide variety of exotic beers served.
Walewski had supervised similar projects when he worked for a major hotel chain in Colorado before moving to Pittsburgh to open the Sharp Edge in Friendship where he did renovations to a lesser extent so he wasnt a complete novice. Even after the extensive Creekhouse project, Walewski says that if he does a similar project again, hell probably do it the same way, with a few exceptions.
Foregoing the use of detailed architectural drawings saved some money. Walewski made rough drawings of the plans for the building permits, explaining to the subcontractors what he wanted to do and working out the details with them.
Business owners who are considering taking on the job of general contractor might want to consider Walewskis hard-earned experience.
Expect the unexpected
Few such projects move along strictly according to plan, so make sure youre ready for surprises. Walewskis subcontractor dismantled an interior wall and found a gas pipe and an electrical line that had to be relocated to accommodate the design. An area of the ceiling lacked insulation, so Walewski replaced it, even though his plans called for leaving it in place.
Look to vendors to help
In some areas, its better to be pound wise than penny foolish. It would probably be dangerous to leave a major component, such as the kitchen, to chance. Wisely, Walewski used the same manufacturer of kitchen equipment to equip his entire cooking line, a third of the cost of the project. The manufacturer designed the layout, and Walewski got a configuration that works efficiently. Obviously, you dont want to fumble a part of the operation that is that vital to the business.
Add some sweat equity
As a general contractor, you arent compelled to pick up a paint brush or drive a nail. But as when you are remodeling a home, doing some of the work yourself can bring substantial savings. Savings can accumulate with labor-intensive, low-skill jobs such as scraping wallpaper or ripping out old carpeting.
Walewski, for instance, sanded the hardwood floors himself, saving about $1,000. In other cases, its hard to find someone to do the smaller jobs, so you might have to do them yourself. For instance, Who are you going to get to clean your gutters? says Walewski.
Get several bids
Although Walewski had relationships with several subcontractors who had worked for him before, he got bids for individual parts of the work and gathered ideas for possible approaches to the work.
Work closely with the subs
If Walewski made one mistake, it was not making sure that his subcontractors audited the job to make sure that current building codes were met.
Get the subs to come in and work their parts, says Walewski. He advises business owners to work closely with the appropriate government authorities to make sure you have the proper permits and are meeting code requirements, or as in his case, work may have to be done over to meet regulations.
Ray Marano is associate editor at SBN.