This case study is part of Inc.'s Reinvention Central Special Report.

The Dilema: Big crowds, or no crowd at all?

Company: Bread & Cup restaurant

Founded: 2007

Location: Lincoln, Nebraska

Co-founders: Kevin and Karen Shinn

In August 2007, Kevin and Karen Shinn opened a bistro-style restaurant called Bread & Cup in Lincoln, Nebraska. Over the next three years, they built a loyal following; customers came regularly to enjoy locally sourced delicacies such as pan-roasted, bacon-wrapped quail and pork, lamb, and sausage cassoulet. The restaurant also had a full bar, with many local craft beers on tap, and an eclectic wine list. Its future appeared bright, and got a further boost in 2011, when ground was broken for the new, 15,000-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena just two blocks away, part of an expanding entertainment district.

The arena, which opened last August, certainly had an impact, but not the kind the Shinns were expecting. On event days, crowds flock to Bread & Cup, but on days when there are no activities at the arena, business plummets. Regulars have begun to stay away, complaining that the new construction makes parking difficult. And the arena events attract a different sort of clientele, one less smitten with the high-end menu offerings that the regulars love. "There was a monster-truck event at the arena a couple of months back," Kevin Shinn says. "We obviously didn't get that crowd."

So the arena giveth and it also taketh away, and right now it appears to be doing more of the latter. "Our lease is up this summer," Shinn says, "but we don't want to move and start over. We also don't want to cut our loyal staff. Karen and I haven't taken a paycheck in months so that we can continue to make payroll. None of us saw this coming. Our old guests aren't coming in as often" due to all the changes in the area. 

The Experts:

Norm Brodsky, a veteran entrepreneur who has founded and expanded six companies, including two restaurants, Brodsky writes the Street Smarts column for Inc.

"The Shinns have email addresses for about 750 regular customers. They should reach out to them with special offers."



Danny Meyer, the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group has launched nearlya dozen restaurants, from fine-dining establishmentsto Shake Shack.

"Any great business has to figure out how to turn adversity into advantage, by determining what is good about the new situation."


The Advice:

Turn this apparent obstacle into opportunity. That's the word from both expert advisers, who offer very specific ideas about how the Shinns can do just that.

"The opening of the arena gives the Shinns, in effect, two restaurants, each with a clientele that has tastes and needs different from the other's," says Brodsky. He and Meyer agree that the Shinns should use email marketing to extend special offers to regulars. Meyer recommends the Shinns "reach out to the regulars and make sure they feel loved." An invitation-only dinner or cocktail hour could serve as a focus group. "They should say, 'We've seen a lot less of you lately and we've missed you. As excited as we are about the arena, how can we make it easier for you to keep coming here?' "

Brodsky says the Shinns should consider offering a different menu on the 80 to 90 days a year when arena events coincide with Bread & Cup being open, perhaps emphasizing quicker, more casual fare. Because many events take place on Sunday, when the restaurant is closed, the Shinns might consider closing Monday instead. "That leaves about 225 days for the 'old' Bread & Cup," Brodsky says.