AARON BELEN, 32
October, 10, 2015 | Crain's Detroit Business
BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT: Realizing annual revenue of $3 million in just one year with the success of his restaurant, Bistro 82, and nightclub, Sabrage.
CURRENT GOALS: Expand through launches of more restaurants and venues, acquisitions of commercial real estate in prime downtown areas.
After graduation from college, Aaron Belen expected to work in commercial real estate.
Things didn't go as planned and he ended up falling back on his party planning experience — something he did in college to earn extra money. After owning and operating restaurants and bars from 2009 to 2012, Belen had the idea of bringing a one-stop dining and nightclub experience to metro Detroit.
He formed AFB Hospitality Group, which operates modern French restaurant Bistro 82 and the nightclub upstairs, Sabrage, in Royal Oak on the corner property that formerly housed Sangria and The Sky Club.
The endeavor gave him the chance to merge his passions for real estate and hospitality. Belen also owns and manages AFB Investments, a developer of commercial property that owns 100,000 square feet of real estate.
Belen invested $5 million in Bistro 82 and Sabrage, which opened in February 2014 and now employs more than 100 people.
"I was approved at the age of 30 to do a very large development," Belen said. "I put my own money on the line."
Bistro 82 has received numerous awards and accolades, including the Detroit Free Press Readers' Choice Best New Restaurant designation this year. On a more personal level, Belen was voted Businessman of the Year for 2015 by the Royal Oak Chamber of Commerce.
Revenue for AFB Hospitality last year was $3.1 million, and this year's total is on track to reach $3.5 million. Belen expects to triple revenue in the next 24 months as he buys more properties and opens more venues.
Additional revenue from his real estate holdings, which total six properties, yielded another $1.5 million last year.
Belen recently closed on 511 S. Main St. in Royal Oak, the location of a former high-end liquor store. Belen's plans for it include a "cool modern American concept with live rock and country music, and food at a very approachable price point."
The as-of-yet-unnamed establishment that will go into this 7,000-square-foot space is tentatively scheduled to open in spring 2016.
"With all the hotel and office projects coming down the pipe, I'm bullish on Royal Oak," Belen said.