Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Floundering & Prophecies

Disclaimer: This blog is a chronological story that outlines some of my past struggles and triumphs over the years with building a successful restaurant. If this is your first visit to my blog I suggest starting with the oldest post for a better understanding and more enjoyable read . 

 Confused, overwhelmed, exhausted, fat, tired, in debt and just plain looking like shit… I didn’t know where to turn. I had done everything my chef asked me to do.  I brought the right people in for training, I worked very hard to make this place successful and yet I continued to struggle. For the first time I had no real sense of direction.

 At this point the restaurant was opened 6 days a week and my only day off was Monday. My wife’s verve and ability to stay true to the course hadn’t wavered. Her faith in me was immeasurable and she was always there for support.  We had three children who had sacrificed so much and I was about to ask for more….Sunday brunch. Eggs, bacon and pastries…how could we go wrong with that.

I can safely say that I had not one fan of this decision – not family, not staff. After lots of convincing it was time to open up for our first brunch. We had a simple menu that was a combination buffet and sit down ordering.  You could order appetizers and entrees while enjoying a buffet table of pastries, fruit salads, and breads. 

I was there at 7:30 a.m. excited and ready to go. The staff was instructed to arrive at 8:30 a.m. and brunch was set to start at 10. I spent an hour or so creating a beautiful buffet table with multi level displays and fresh cut flowers. As the rest of the staff slowly arrived, most were late and partially hung over, but functional -- everyone except the chef. When he finally arrived he looked pretty banged up and not ready to cook at all.  The biggest indication was when I  found him fast asleep on the dirty kitchen floor. I nervously laughed and woke him up. Looking back I find it hard to be believed that I was that submissive with this chef. I had balls of steel and never did I take someone’s shit. But when it came to chef, my lack of restaurant knowledge created real insecurity. I later found out he and some of the servers were out partying pretty hard ‘til 3 a.m. He showed up at one of the server’s houses at 7 a.m. still drunk. He hadn’t slept and asked her to make sure she kept me away from him.

But, the show must go on and with the helf of my other “inmates” – it did. The first table was seated and I noticed it was a well known, local French chef. He had somewhat of a celebrity status in the Philadelphia area and was considered one of my competing restaurants. I informed his server to make sure special attention was given and service was spot on. It was important to me that a good impression was made. My ego could really use a boost and a well known restaurateur and chef giving the nod of approval was just what the doctor ordered.  As I stood at the table saying hello, my hung-over server grabbed his bottle Dom Perignon champagne and proceeded to open it. As she “popped” the cork the champagne started spewing everywhere. She stood stupefied, like Hermione just hit her with a spell in a Harry Potter movie. The now clearly annoyed French chef quickly reacted. Grabbing his glass and holding it under the now fountain of champagne in order to save any he could. Over a quarter of the bottle had spilled to the floor before  the champagne geyser stopped. It was the ultimate in embarrassing moments. As I stood there red in the face I tried to make light of the situation with a nervous laugh as I helped clean up. The chef gave a smirking “it’s ok” smile (which was clearly a “ leave me the hell alone” smile). I felt the pit of my stomach rise to the back of my throat and with my tail between my legs I headed to the kitchen. As if spilling his champagne wasn’t bad enough, we were now going to serve him food that the inmates prepared --since my chef was basically propped up in a corner of the kitchen and useless. At the end of the meal he was somewhat polite. He never said anything bad, but was clearly not impressed, at all. I am sure it made him feel quite elated to go into his competitor’s restaurant, have his champagne dumped on the floor in front of the owner and then be served sub-par food.  I sat thinking to myself, “Could  life really get any worse than this?”

Brunch wasn’t the answer.  If I had a bigger budget for advertising (any budget really) and the ability to sustain food and labor losses for a few months it could have been successful. Unfortunately I was not in that position and my already profusely bleeding restaurant took another hit. Another small vein was now bleeding weekly. Suffering from costly additional payroll and wasted product.

And then, another prophecy:  My chef gave his 2 weeks notice and my wife gave me 37 weeks notice – she was pregnant.