Monday, April 25, 2011

Relieved, Excited & Scared

This is my story of owning a restaurant from Day One. It starts back in 2002 and includes all of my heartaches, triumphs, ups and downs, sacrifices, financial struggles and more.

So I knew that The Philadelphia Inquirer’s food critic had been in the restaurant, but had no idea what he thought, or how many bells he would give the restaurant. I felt relieved, excited and scared. A few weeks later, I was in the restaurant on a Saturday morning doing some clean up. The phone kept ringing with people making reservations. I was confused, but happy for the business.

Then, a colleague called to discuss my review in the paper. I didn’t know that it was coming out that day. And the bastard wouldn’t tell me what it said! I dropped what I was doing and ran to the nearest drug store for an early copy of the Sunday paper, but no luck. Two stores later, I finally found it.

Hallelujah! We earned two bells, the equivalent of “very good.” The worst thing it said was that we were young, stiff and we tried too hard. There were a few nods to the food and a couple pokes (every review has to have a poke.) For the most part, it read very nicely and was enough to entice new business.

I was relieved, I was excited and I was scared. From what I heard, a review like this meant a restaurant would be packed for weeks. Every night would be like a Saturday, for a month. This was just the economic boost we needed.

I thought all my hard work was finally going to pay off. The entire puzzle was now in place: new menu covers, new menu items, re-designed dining room and lots more staff. I had experienced at least one super-busy holiday failure and I had a professional consultant properly train my waitstaff. This was my time to shine.

Well, the clouds must have been out that day. Although the review did bring in business (more than we had ever seen), only a fool could truly believe that one review and a month of increased business was going to erase an entire year of failure. By late October, the review buzz had died down and business was back to normal (my kinda’ normal, read previous posts to understand.) Dinner business was so-so, we stopped serving lunch and each month I struggled to keep the lights on.

It was 4 a.m. on a Sunday when my cell phone rang, and I knew this couldn’t end well. It was one of the tenants who lived above the restaurant. He said there were people inside the restaurant and it sounded like a party. Since the restaurant was alarmed and monitored, I knew it was someone with a key and the code. I arrived only to find my drunken chef, a few other line cooks, a bunch of girls from a bar and multiple lines of cocaine laid out on the kitchen cutting boards. It was at this moment I knew my new idea -- Sunday brunch -- was going to be a problem …