Thursday, October 20, 2011

Smoke and Mirrors

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 . 

I was about as clever as they come…or so I thought. The game of manipulation lies and bullshit can quickly become consuming and very dangerous. I began to live and breathe all the bullshit I was spewing. Non-fiction becomes muddled with fiction, invincibility sets in and you become superman.

My marriage was solid, business was getting better and my kitchen was running great. The new chef was kicking ass, the line cooks were falling in line and the customers were happy. The menu was streamlined, cost was down and everything was going to be just fine.

Did it really matter that a few lawsuits were being thrown my way for some outstanding purveyor bills? Absolutely not! I was living in the moment and the moment was good. So what if each week a new major financial issue came up? I would prioritize the issue, finagle my way out of what I could and paid what was most pressing.  The best part was no one had any idea what was going on. The staff was very complacent and anytime I couldn’t pay them for a few days or they couldn’t cash a paycheck, I always had a valid excuse (it was the fault of someone else).
PRIORITY ALERT! Phone company just turned off the phone…no problem pay the bill, get it back on…tell the staff and customers it was a billing mistake. PRIORITY ALERT! Electric company shut us off.” Just use your imagination John”…Gas leak we have to shut down for a few days. “Pay the bill, get power restored…move on.  No one was the wiser because I was so damn clever.

While at work one day I was approached by one of my line guys. At that time a line kid, just 18 years old. He was a giant, gentle teddy bear who stood 6 foot tall, a body builder who also dated one of the kitchen line girls. He was very quiet, usually kept to himself and did his work. This particular day his demeanor was going to be a little different. Without really knowing it at the time, he was going to say something to me that would have a profound effect that I would never forget.

He pulled me aside to chat about some issues. I don’t remember what the argument was about (Probably me not paying him or his girl on time or a bounced paycheck), but things became pretty heated. This wasn’t the first time I had a heated debate with an employee …but it was the first time that I was exposed for the con-artist I was. As the argument started to settle and nothing was being resolved he said a line to me that to this day we still joke about. “John Brandt-Lee, you are all smoke and mirrors” and he walked away….Wow so astute for young man…dead on. This super hero just got his ass kicked with some verbiage kryptonite! I guess I wasn’t as clever as I thought or maybe my staff was that much smarter than I gave them credit for.