A Restaurant Ruined My Life
November 5, 2017 7:03 AM   Subscribe

A man with a steady job leaves it behind to start a restaurant. If at any point during reading this you think, "Eesh, what else could go wrong?" just wait a few paragraphs. You'll find out.
posted by veggieboy (170 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
Anytime you see a new restaurant open, odds are you’re watching someone’s retirement disappear.

It doesn’t matter if you like food or like to cook. If you can’t run a business and aren’t relentlessly focused on the bottom line with overhead, suppliers, etc. you’re basically doomed.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:13 AM on November 5 [61 favorites]


Well, I'm only a few paragraphs in and I'm thinking what else could he do wrong?:

The next step was to find a space. I scoured listings and realized that my $60,000 could barely cover the cost of a chip truck. I contacted the banks to apply for a business loan, but I didn’t qualify.

All I know about restaurants is that I like to eat food, and I can already tell you you don't quit your day job without having an idea of what your crazy plan costs and where the money will come from.
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:14 AM on November 5 [59 favorites]


I've been told there's a surefire way to get a small fortune running a restaurant: start with a big fortune.
posted by DreamerFi at 7:27 AM on November 5 [50 favorites]


Reading this is like watching a horror movie. Don't rent that space! Don't cash out your retirement! Oh god, no, don't stick your hand in that rathole! It's so blindingly obvious that the knife is coming, but like every horror movie protagonist before and since, this poor man just stumbles right into it. I wish him the best of luck recovering from this -- to be honest, he came out somewhat better than some other folks of my acquaintance. At least he still has his marriage and a place to live.

This story also reinforces my opinion that so-called "turnkey" commercial real estate listings are the greatest trick the devil ever pulled. I see these listings come up all the time, and they all look just plausible enough to con a naive would-be-restaurateur into blowing their life savings. "Oh look!" the poor lamb says. "It already has all the equipment I need! All it needs is a little cleaning and a little DIY remodel!" They don't think to ask what happened to the previous three, five, seventeen failed restaurants that tried before them in this space. And the real estate broker just smiles and nods and surreptitiously tucks his pointy tail back under his suit jacket.
posted by ourobouros at 7:39 AM on November 5 [83 favorites]


It wasn't the restaurant that ruined his life, it was his massive egotistical selfishness. Going on holiday in the first year of your restaurant being open - WTF?
posted by threetwentytwo at 7:39 AM on November 5 [62 favorites]


Just the 4th paragraph, in which he ran a small booth at a temporary market (I'm assuming for half a weekend):

I lost money, but I didn’t care.

Maybe that should have tipped you off?
posted by kuanes at 7:43 AM on November 5 [43 favorites]


A Restaurant Overconfidence Ruined My Life
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:44 AM on November 5 [36 favorites]


Toronto Life has found a niche - find people who have no problem throwing away a lot of money and have zero self-awareness, and write an article about their failures. The ensuring rage from the internet drives clicks. This guy isn't as bad as the people from Parkdale Reno Hell but he's still an idiot with too much money.

He's an analyst who doesn't know how to budget or do any sort of research or projections. He had no clue what the average rent was for a restaurant. After months of empty seats he got a very good review and then once business picks up he decided it's the perfect time to go on vacation and shut the place down for a week. He doesn't seem to understand what debt is - he thinks when his bank account is in the black that means he's got money now and ignore the $100's of thousands of dollars of debt he has hanging over his head. He drags his wife into this and then goes to her parents instead of his for money, more than once.

But the most telling thing here is that the restaurant was/is successful. It got good reviews. The new owner seems to be actually making money. His concept and menu and interior design and everything else worked! But he had no idea how to run a business. Like, at all. I wouldn't trust this guy with a lemonade stand.
posted by thecjm at 7:48 AM on November 5 [65 favorites]


My shifts consisted of a few leisurely hours chopping veg and prepping salad dressings. His chef, a hotshot Grand Electric alumnus, was probably not happy to have a home cook screwing around in his kitchen, but he tolerated my presence and was pretty good about the whole thing. My role was largely symbolic anyway, and after a few shifts stretched over a three-month period, I checked off that box.

No No NO! If you aren't willing to do every part of the business yourself for hours and hours, you aren't ready to have your own business. At the very least you have to know what your employees are doing and how they are doing it. You have to be able to jump in when the shit hits the fan. You need experience at all levels or else it will just go up in flames. If he really wanted his restaurant to succeed, he would have tried all the positions, not just putting in just enough effort to get a liquor license.
posted by jenjenc at 7:49 AM on November 5 [31 favorites]


Oh god this gives me an anxiety attack. Poor guy, what a stupid set of decisions. At least he lives in Canada so they all have healthcare and social services.

It makes me feel a lot better about not trying to live my dreams - I've known all along that I don't have the personality for it.

In re "turkey" real estate: There's a place on the corner of my street that is just fucking doomed. People open diner-style restaurants there, they last a year and then wither. I don't really know why, because it's a busy neighborhood. My perception is that they are usually opened by immigrants from smaller immigrant communities and somehow don't plug into the big network - there are lots of immigrant-run restaurants locally that succeed, but from observation I think that's either because they are tiny Somali community coffeehouses that have a very strong regular clientele base or else because they attract a mixture of the immigrant community in question, other immigrant communities and US-born people from the area.
posted by Frowner at 7:51 AM on November 5 [5 favorites]


To qualify for a liquor licence, I needed at least three months of experience in the industry. So I arranged to work in Jameson’s restaurant over the summer of 2013. My shifts consisted of a few leisurely hours chopping veg and prepping salad dressings. His chef, a hotshot Grand Electric alumnus, was probably not happy to have a home cook screwing around in his kitchen, but he tolerated my presence and was pretty good about the whole thing. My role was largely symbolic anyway, and after a few shifts stretched over a three-month period, I checked off that box

This is the most infuriating bit of this tale. The Government knows you need actual experience to not have a disaster with a liquor licence and yet this fool side steps the modest requirements with a few hours chopping salad. I don't even feel sorry for him
posted by Mitheral at 7:53 AM on November 5 [36 favorites]


What is it about owning a restaurant that draws the naive and the overconfident like bears to honey? Is it because it seems cool and fun? Celebrity restaurant culture? I love to cook, I love good food, therefore, I would make a good restauranteur?

It seems to me that restaurants fail more than most businesses, but attract more wannabes than most as well. I wouldn't compare it to stuff like monetizing a blog, or writing a bestseller and being the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, because writing doesn't really demand start-up capital or even quitting one's day job.

But the dream of restaurant ownership...that seems to draw in an endless stream of hopefuls and/or suckers.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:57 AM on November 5 [4 favorites]


There seems to be a persistent fantasy with owning and operating a bar, restaurant or, gawd forbid, B&B. The easy cure is to go work in one for somebody else. If the hours, pay and toil don't do the trick then the pure joy of working with the public in a servile capacity certainly will. The hard cure is jumping in with both feet like this poor misguided fellow. He will be waking up in the middle of the night in a flop sweat the rest of his life. Fawlty Towers was a documentary...
posted by jim in austin at 7:58 AM on November 5 [23 favorites]


I lost money, but I didn’t care.

he had a fine adventure, and internet famous, and what a great story for an interview.

could have just as well lost his money in vegas

is he dead or on the streets? no? life not ruined.

cute headline is (what do we call bs now days?)
posted by sammyo at 7:59 AM on November 5 [3 favorites]




(Part of my desire for city run free or nearly free cafeteria comes from the fact that the food industry is made entirely of monsters)
posted by The Whelk at 8:06 AM on November 5 [9 favorites]


I was in the hospitality trade for almost 40 years, and during that time I had a two places that did OK, but not good enough to last more than a couple of years. It is a brutal business, and just because you can pull off a dinner party for 24 , doesn't mean you have the chops to serve 24 different selections at 24 different times...apples and oranges.
posted by lobstah at 8:07 AM on November 5 [6 favorites]


There's a place on the corner of my street that is just fucking doomed. People open diner-style restaurants there, they last a year and then wither. I don't really know why, because it's a busy neighborhood.

Frowner, I'd guess that the rent for that spot is -- oh, there are lots of adjectives for this. Excessive? Rapacious? Extortionate? The landlord will no doubt have used the bustle of the neighborhood to justify the rate. I remember seeing one lovely, busy, seemingly successful restaurant go down hard and finding out after the fact that the landlord had been charging a rent that was equivalent to the price of a new car every single month. These assholes don't care -- if their building is rented, they collect a small fortune; if it sits empty, it's a tax write-off (see previously). There's a reason that "rent-seeking" is an insult.
posted by ourobouros at 8:10 AM on November 5 [20 favorites]


In re "turkey" real estate: There's a place on the corner of my street that is just fucking doomed. People open diner-style restaurants there, they last a year and then wither.

There's a place around the corner from me that's now on it's sixth incarnation in the ten years that we've lived in the neighborhood.
posted by octothorpe at 8:13 AM on November 5


Yeah, Ray Kroc found out long ago that being a landlord is the real way to make money in the restaurant business.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:16 AM on November 5 [12 favorites]


Oh man, what this story would look like, if written by his wife.
posted by meese at 8:18 AM on November 5 [170 favorites]


What is it about owning a restaurant that draws the naive and the overconfident like bears to honey? Is it because it seems cool and fun? Celebrity restaurant culture? I love to cook, I love good food, therefore, I would make a good restauranteur?

I think it's the fact that nearly everyone is familiar with the fun parts (cooking neat food, mixing fun drinks), and only a tiny subset of people are familiar with the horrible parts. It's always fun to spitball about "oh, if I had a bar, it'd have X, Y, and Z and I'd do this and that", but I was friendly with a few bar owners in the city where I went to college, and the first time I talked to one of them while he was heading to the bathroom to scoop puke out of a urinal (for the second time that night) thoroughly disabused me of any desire to own a bar or restaurant.
posted by protocoach at 8:18 AM on November 5 [8 favorites]


These assholes don't care -- if their building is rented, they collect a small fortune; if it sits empty, it's a tax write-off (see previously). There's a reason that "rent-seeking" is an insult.

Yeeep, the richest, most valuable part of major cities are turning into urban blight cause it’s easier and cheaper to let space sit idle then rent it out so people are now spending lots of money to live in areas with no services it’s just super great all around.

If I had my druthers I’d say if your commercial property sits empty for a year and six months you have to lower your leasing rate or it becomes city property. Elimate the gaming of the system in favor of opening businesses people want and need.
posted by The Whelk at 8:18 AM on November 5 [77 favorites]


Somebody I was close to sold a crazy busy restaurant to a guy who was looking for someplace to put his early retirement settlement. He wasn't planning to be involved but his wife and daughters liked the idea of running a cute lunch spot in a neighbourhood full creative industries. So there was that "dream" aspect at the start but they had too much confidence and had only worked a bit on the service side of things previously. The first thing they did was have a party where they covered the tables and walls with a black and green sponge paint. In the terms of sale, my friend had agreed to act as a management consultant for 6 months but she was dismissed after about a month. A couple employees stayed on though, so she got occasional updates as the financial situation and family relationships devolved. I think it closed about a year and a half later.

The thing is, the place had been making money but even as busy as it was, it never made as much money as you'd expect...you're dealing with spoilage, employee theft, unforeseen maintenance, competition....the main reason she got out was because so many places were opening up in the area; copying her basic model and undercutting her prices.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:20 AM on November 5 [4 favorites]


My take: How much sympathy you want to have for the guy is entirely up to you. He's not all that different from a lot of other people who have chased their dream (particularly their restaurant dream) right into the ground, making cringeworthy decisions and showing a sometimes surprising lack of self-awareness every step of the way. You tend to only hear about the ones that work out, at least on a large-scale media level. It does help perpetuate the cycle.

In the two cities where I've recently lived, most of the restaurants I can think of that have been successful in any measure in any category above bare-bones/takeaway joint are run by restaurant groups that have several restaurants, big names and big money attached to them. I'm not sure how long this has been the case, but it seems more pronounced than it used to be. Presumably it helps spread out the expense/burden of the back-office stuff and helps stem the tide of losses before the tidal wave of debt becomes too much to bear.
posted by veggieboy at 8:21 AM on November 5 [9 favorites]


My favourite version of this "how hard can it be to run a restaurant?" story was on British TV about 15 years ago. A couple sold their house in London and moved to France to open a restaurant, despite a) never having run a restaurant (or any kind of food service business) before and b) not speaking French. It went about as well as you'd expect.
posted by YoungStencil at 8:22 AM on November 5 [12 favorites]


It wouldn't surprise me to learn his twin brother opened a comic shop.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 8:26 AM on November 5 [17 favorites]


We have moved a few times and have settled into a nicer rental with three bedrooms. We can barely afford the place, but I wanted my daughters to have their own rooms—like they did before I sold our house. I may have to moonlight as a bartender to make sure the rent gets paid, but my girls are worth it.
And he still hasn't learned. Two girls sharing a bedroom is not the end of the world. Moving a few times, now that is disruptive. Having to hold down two jobs so you never see them, continued financial insecurity so he can recreate his former life? And this:
I am going to try and make good on my debts,
doesn't bode well for the mother-in-law.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:27 AM on November 5 [50 favorites]


I had a well-thumbed copy of Kitchen Confidential

yeah, you clearly didn't read the chapter on how going from a keen amateur cook to opening your own restaurant can be a total nightmare with enough attention
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:30 AM on November 5 [21 favorites]


There's a pizza place opening right across the street. I hope it doesn't close before going there, although I doubt it.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:35 AM on November 5 [1 favorite]


We weren’t part of the cool chef club; we were the high school losers.

Talk about blame-shifting. The fact that he took their home equity - in the goddamn Toronto real estate market - and turned it to ash is all you need to know about what a complete and utter liability this guy is to his family, and how uniquely unsuited to running a business he was.

Oh man, what this story would look like, if written by his wife.

Heh. No kidding.

But I think the headline for his telling of it should have been: "If a man approaches you with a proposition remotely similar to this one, run."

In a similar vein, My Coffeehouse Nightmare:

The dream of running a small cafe has nothing to do with the excitement of entrepreneurship or the joys of being one's own boss—none of us would ever consider opening a Laundromat or a stationery store, and even the most delusional can see that an independent bookshop is a bad idea these days. The small cafe connects to the fantasy of throwing a perpetual dinner party, and it cuts deeper—all the way to Barbie tea sets—than any other capitalist urge. To a couple in the throes of the cafe dream, money is almost an afterthought. Which is good, because they're going to lose a lot of it.

Now the author of that piece ends off with:

Looking back, we (incredibly) should have heeded the advice of bad-boy chef Anthony Bourdain, who wrote our epitaph in Kitchen Confidential: "The most dangerous species of owner ... is the one who gets into the business for love."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:37 AM on November 5 [28 favorites]


This is pretty much the unspoken fallout of our culture's love affair with the entire food porn industry. Celebrity chefs, endless foodie shows and blogs, Guy Fieri spotlighting every tiny "soon to close after the show has run" mom-and-pop joint in the land, etc. etc.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:38 AM on November 5 [7 favorites]


A friend worked in a very successful restaurant that got sold to a new owner who managed to fuck it up completely inside three months. Insisted on tripling the menu, every single beef dish had to be made with Wagyu, and making the portions huge so that they were throwing out hundreds of pounds of waste per night. Basically a reverse Kitchen Nightmares.

One of my brothers was a pub landlord for a few years and it was amazing how many people thought he did a few hours of friendly socialising whilst working in the evening - at the time he was working 9am to midnight or later seven days a week. He quit the pub the day his wife got pregnant.
posted by threetwentytwo at 8:40 AM on November 5 [3 favorites]


I know a few people who own successful restaurants. "Successful" as in great reviews, have stayed open for years, and so on. I don't know precisely how profitable they actually are but my impression is that they are basically earning a middle class salary by putting everything they have at risk and working crazy long hours almost every day. There is always employee drama, there is the fun of constant food and alcohol inspections and regulations, and the crazy online reviews. (The amateur reviews are a whole thing in themselves, including ones where the person actually ate at some other restaurant and is angry about everything.)

In movies the bar or restaurant owner gets to sit at the bar or a corner table and sip on a cocktail. In reality, they have been working since 6 am, just had a server quit, and are trying to get a plumber to show up in the morning. Having watched it closely, I'd never want to own a restaurant and am amazed by the people who do it successfully over years.

The guy in the article is lucky that he only lost his shirt, and didn't lose more than just some money.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:41 AM on November 5 [7 favorites]


It wouldn't surprise me to learn his twin brother opened a comic shop.
I have certainly had the occasional daydream of running a highly idiosyncratic bookshop -- it typically takes place in the same daydream-universe as the one where I am a millionaire and/or wizard.
posted by inconstant at 8:43 AM on November 5 [24 favorites]


Not in restaurants but I’ve run a small business for 10 years. We’ve never taken out a loan and manage to (just barely, sometimes) pay our bills. I’m just ALLERGIC to people wanting to be the boss but not willing to do the work, or more precisely, thinking they have the luxury to pay someone to do things like lay rat traps and do the incorporation paperwork. If you can’t make payroll, you do that job yourself, because I can’t even fathom asking someone to work for me without having the money to pay them. I’m also cringing at the part where he had the OPPORTUNITY to work at his friend’s restaurant for 3 months and learn all he could, but completely wasted it.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 8:52 AM on November 5 [16 favorites]


That was brutal and honest. I admire him for trying, it took guts.
posted by davidmsc at 8:52 AM on November 5 [9 favorites]


The next step was to find a space. I scoured listings and realized that my $60,000 could barely cover the cost of a chip truck.

I kept thinking, why didn't he just start with the food truck?
posted by bluefly at 8:56 AM on November 5 [41 favorites]


We have a local celebrity chef who has figured out the "open a place with OPM; Draw salary until it crashes; Repeat"

Not a bad way to pay the bills, when you think of it. If that whole OPM thing isn't a showstopper for you.
posted by mikelieman at 8:58 AM on November 5 [2 favorites]


She took a job at the local nursery school, and I’ve been working at the CBC as an analyst.

I’m glad they are getting back on their feet, but I’m somewhat amazed that after a complete failure to set an accurate budget, notice the terrible condition of the equipment, set prices appropriately, and realize the devestation that one week off would cause, the author moves on to a job where he is tasked with analyzing things.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:59 AM on November 5 [43 favorites]


What I didn’t realize was that I was charging too little—we were producing exquisite, labour-intensive meals and selling them at Swiss Chalet prices. I clearly didn’t have a head for business.

Oh my god
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:59 AM on November 5 [20 favorites]


Yeeep, the richest, most valuable part of major cities are turning into urban blight cause it’s easier and cheaper to let space sit idle then rent it out so people are now spending lots of money to live in areas with no services it’s just super great all around.

Oh boy, it's even worse in California because of Proposition 13. Thanks to that law, long-time commercial property owners have very low taxes, so they are under very little pressure to lease their buildings. We have a boom/bust economy, so when rents are rising, lots of landlords figure they'll do better waiting for higher rents than signing a 5-year lease now. And some buildings just sit empty forever -- there's an attractive property in my neighborhood that has been vacant for 7 years because of water damage; the landlord can't afford to fix it, but stands to profit more in the long run by holding the property than selling it.

I'm in the "burn Prop 13 to the ground" camp, which still puts me in the minority, but one thing I would think most Californians can agree on is that it's freaking ridiculous for this law to include commercial real estate.
posted by aws17576 at 9:00 AM on November 5 [26 favorites]


why didn't he just start with the food truck?

Or why didn’t he just start as a line cook at an established restaurant so he could actually learn something about the business? Because “what he lacked in experience he made up for in enthusiasm,” I.e. he was clueless and arrogant.
posted by ejs at 9:01 AM on November 5 [20 favorites]


All I could think while reading was that classic New Yorker punchline: Christ, what an asshole.
posted by Imperfect at 9:01 AM on November 5 [3 favorites]


I had a couple of friends who looked seriously into opening a business some years ago. They spent months researching franchising opportunities, considering that versus opening their own business from scratch. They were both looking to change careers, and weren't wedded to any one type of business, but researched what kinds of things made money and what didn't. When they'd closed in on an option, they spent several months looking at real estate, discovering in the process that there were no perfect buildings, only ones that required varying degrees of compromise, and that rent was going to be higher than they'd hoped for less-appealing locations than they wanted. They put new numbers into their business plan. They consulted with people. They interviewed people who owned similar businesses. Eventually, they decided against it doing it, having gotten to a point where they realized that to cover realistic costs and make anything, they'd have to charge a price people were not likely to be willing to pay, and that, despite the loans available to them, the women-in-small-business grants they could have applied for, and their own resources, they'd be going in under-capitalized and vulnerable to any unforeseen setbacks, which they knew there would be.

As well as their time and energy, they'd invested some tens of thousands of dollars in their research and exploration, and had to write that off, which was too bad. But they did just about everything right, and they opted out before the part of the story where they lost their houses after years of family-destroying stress. Watching them go through the process, I was really impressed, and I was sorry when it didn't work out for them. I especially admired their willingness to walk away from what they'd already invested when it became clear that they were more likely to lose more than to recoup. They did such a good job in the preliminary stage that I thought they'd be good business owners, had it gone that way. They're also a good study in how difficult this sort of thing is even when you do things right.

One of the things that struck me about the article--besides this guy deciding to open a restaurant on what was essentially a whim--was that he didn't even end up doing any of the parts he liked. He didn't cook in his own restaurant. He never mentioned enjoying doing renovations, or managing logistics like ordering supplies and bookkeeping, or schmoozing with people. He wasn't even any good at bussing tables.

I also thought his friends who helped him showed very poor judgment. The three years of fake work at his friend's restaurant, the good-money-after-bad $20k "investment" at the last minute before opening, the friend who was in a position to buy a building for him to lease. Think how much better it would have been if his $20k-giving friend had said expressed sympathy but not written a check--how much less he and his family would have lost.
posted by Orlop at 9:04 AM on November 5 [41 favorites]


why didn't he just start with the food truck?

Or why didn’t he just start as a line cook at an established restaurant so he could actually learn something about the business? Because “what he lacked in experience he made up for in enthusiasm,” I.e. he was clueless and arrogant.


yeah, if he lost money on his pop-up he was never going to magic up a profit on a restaurant where the overheads are much higher. I mean at least read a couple of business books!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:05 AM on November 5 [2 favorites]


I'm still reading, and got to the part where he's already sunk $170,000 into the project, and is only just finding out he's personally liable for the restaurant's debts. *headdesk*
posted by Orlop at 9:10 AM on November 5 [3 favorites]


This thread is making me even more concerned for my friend who recently lost a job and is thinking of starting a bookstore. He’s worked in an independent bookstore before—a very good one—but that was in a major city, not the 100,000 population town he’s in now. I can’t imagine how he can turn a profit as a bookseller starting from scratch, but he’s already scouting properties. I hope he either wises up or beats the odds.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:13 AM on November 5 [5 favorites]


For context, here's the 2014 review of his restaurant referenced in the piece:

Beech Tree brings 4-star dining to Upper Beaches
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:13 AM on November 5 [4 favorites]


Got to the end... starts as a horror story but they guy is such a idiot I lost all sympathy for him. If you're going to start a business do all your research first.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:15 AM on November 5 [1 favorite]


Orlop, I'm truly impressed by your friends -- it takes an uncommon degree of courage and clear thinking to pull out of a plan after investing tens of thousands in it. Irrational escalation of commitment and sunk cost fallacy are black holes that most people would fall into in a similar situation.
posted by ourobouros at 9:16 AM on November 5 [17 favorites]


Orlop, I'm truly impressed by your friends -- it takes an uncommon degree of courage and clear thinking to pull out of a plan after investing tens of thousands in it. Irrational escalation of commitment and sunk cost fallacy are black holes that most people would fall into in a similar situation.

Yeah, they felt like failures but I thought they were amazing.

I said "three years" in my comment when I meant "three months" that the author worked at his friend's restaurant. I did RTFA.
posted by Orlop at 9:18 AM on November 5


'Lincolnshire hotpot' is something he totally made up... unless it was a typo for Lancashire hotpot
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:36 AM on November 5 [6 favorites]


The tel3mum used to throw some great dinner parties. Her friends would say to her "you should open a restaurant".

And she would say "no, that's complete lunacy". Because OBVIOUSLY running a restaurant is not even in the same universe as cooking dinner for friends.

I used to think she was taking them too literally, that "you should open a restaurant" was just something people say.

And now I read this article about some dingbat who decided he liked cooking and therefore would open a restaurant. what
posted by tel3path at 9:45 AM on November 5 [4 favorites]


That's exactly what Bourdain warned against in his book.

You know, the one the owner claimed to have read multiple times.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:49 AM on November 5 [10 favorites]


If anything came through, it was the guy's complete immunity to learning. Because he already knew it all.

I just have to wonder what made his wife say yes to his plan in the first place. If any husband of mine came to me with a plan like that I would knock him out cold and chain him to the radiator, on the assumption that that's what he would have wanted.

Epiphany: is this why I don't have a husband?
posted by tel3path at 9:54 AM on November 5 [84 favorites]


Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahgaaha*gaaaaaaasspp*hahahahahahahhahahahahahahhahahahah
posted by Grandysaur at 9:56 AM on November 5 [10 favorites]


Furtherthought: I used to know a guy who would read something, or be told something, and come away convinced he had read/been told the exact opposite thing.

Boss: "you can go ahead and tell everyone this info now"
Him: "boss just told us not to tell anyone"

Self-Defense Website: "don't get into a fight ever, be assertive but for goodness sake swallow your pride"
Him: "that guy on the website said never to back down in a fight"

Thus:
Anthony Bourdain: "don't open a restaurant just because you like cooking, you idiot"
Him: "I like cooking, and Anthony Bourdain is my favourite author, therefore I'm going to open a restaurant"
posted by tel3path at 9:58 AM on November 5 [26 favorites]


I know $60k is a chunk of money, but I honestly can't imagine starting any business with that little.
posted by primethyme at 10:05 AM on November 5 [23 favorites]


I also used to know someone who would routinely stand me up for the most foreseeable of reasons, e.g. family reunion, grandparent's 100th birthday.

They eventually moved to Vancouver to become a scenario planner.

They hadn't been paid for the freelance work that led the company to hire them full time, but they were convinced the company was "just" disorganized. Obviously by the time they left their salaried position, 13 months later, they hadn't been paid even once.
posted by tel3path at 10:05 AM on November 5 [1 favorite]


All of the Tony Bourdain references crack me up because Tony Bourdain has never owned a restaurant in his life...gee, whatever can we infer from that?
posted by elsietheeel at 10:25 AM on November 5 [8 favorites]


Like the US military so often, it seems like his time would have been better served just shoveling money into a furnace. I love how he starts off spending $50k on the equipment that's there, and then has to chuck almost all of it.
posted by Slinga at 10:25 AM on November 5 [2 favorites]


It's not even that he didn't do any research that caused him to fail. It's that as he "did research" about what running a restaurant entails by running a restaurant, he acted as if he couldn't understand what was happening. He made the most illogical decisions imaginable. He reacted to every event, good or bad, in precisely the wrong way. If you're charging too little for stuff but your bartender happens to be gifted and popular, an easy first step would be to jack up the drinks prices through the roof. But no, he leaves the prices the same and starts paying himself in beer. Way to express that "my girls are worth it" ethic, pal. If there's a sudden unexpected good fortune and money comes in, you don't give everybody raises and a week off with it! For God's sake! He embarked on the whole project because he liked cooking, so I assumed he was going to try to BE the chef, which was idiotic enough, but then he hires out? And spends his tenure at the restaurant getting drunk in the walk-in and getting in everybody's way? WTF, why didn't he just start a carpet-cleaning business?
posted by Don Pepino at 10:26 AM on November 5 [24 favorites]


I have met successful restaurant owners. I've worked in successful restaurants. I've even seen the raw books and accounts for this successful restaurant because an ex coworker and I were thinking about taking it over from the owner, who wants to focus on other projects but is also obviously trying to unload a millstone from around their neck.

The owner is a major stress case. I quit working for them at an unrelated property specifically because I was no longer able to cope with the screaming, the lack of planning and the constant last minute emergency stress.

I wasn't looking forward to the idea of working under/with this person after the takeover, especially at one point during the talks she turned to me in front of my potential business partner and said "So, what the hell are you doing here? You don't have enough restaurant experience." - which, yeah, they were right about that.

The amount of condescension and abuse in their words stung, but the fact that I had already been working with them for several years and I'd spent a lot of that time catching up for their mistakes, their lack of planning or budgeting - in addition to the fact that I had copies of their incredibly sloppy books and receipts in front of me all slashed and highlighted with every instance of wasteful spending and planning failures that I could find - it was super insulting and little more than a thinly veiled potshot, and indicative of the kind of abuse I'd put up with already.

What they didn't know (or kept forgetting) is that I grew up in a family business with even thinner margins than the restaurant industry. That I knew what clean, well balanced books and budgets looked like, except usually with more digits in the columns. And that I knew way more about computers, business, accounting and plain old spreadsheets than she'd ever know, because she refused to actually learn how to use her computers and was constantly calling me for tech help.

OR that I wasn't just one of her minimum wage employees.

The person who brought me into this and who wanted me there to look at numbers and logistics - they had been a chef at this restaurant for nearly 20 years. They also made some of the best, most insanely good food in the region, bar none. That combined with the fact that the restaurant was successful and well known, and that we would essentially be "buying" the restaurant for free in the form of labor, with the only goal to keep it going were the only reasons I was even possibly, maybe considering this insanity.

That and, well, as I said, I'd seen the books. The owner wasted an enormous amount of money shopping for useless crap and decorations that often didn't end up being used at all. They also had a pre-teen kid to support, and made a lot of other really bad last minute financial decisions due to a lack of planning, organization or thinking/leaning ahead. They were constantly driving off to costco for ingredients or supplies. In fact, when I was originally working for them at a different location, stocking seemed to be an afterthought and they'd do insanely expensive things like popping down to the retail chain supermarket to buy ingredients at retail markups.

To their credit, they made up for all of this through constant hard work. I mean, constant. They'd leave the venue where I was their employee and then they'd go work as an owner at their own venue until past midnight, then they'd be up at 6 AM and on the job at my venue at 8 AM. They also worked harder than they should where they should have been working smarter, and they'd probably have more free time with better planning, but... anyway.

And even going into this I'm thinking to myself... "ok, so, you know this means 60-80+ hour work weeks serving, bussing tables, doing dishes, unclogging toilets and mopping floors for years on end. You know this means you're going to be living at work for the next 5-10 years."

I was under no illusions of leading a relaxed life of socializing with my favorite regulars or just chilling out at the bar.

And, well, thankfully none of this takeover ever happened. At some point during the negotiations my potential partner and chef fucked off (as he tended to do) to go surfing in Mexico, probably instigated or triggered by the endless drama with their SO. At some point he texted to say how happy he was and how he was going to marry someone he met down there (never mind he still hadn't divorced his estrange ex), and I just silently rolled my eyes and closed that door and threw the bolt and tossed away the key.

Readers, I might not have a lot going for me, career-wise - but I seriously dodged a bullet with that one.

And that was with a successful restaurant, where I didn't have to gamble anything at all except perhaps my sweat equity and physical and mental health. And that was with a pretty firm grasp on the math, the payroll, the taxes and unexpected costs like emergency repairs.

And even then? It was a horrible idea. A really, truly, horrible idea.

People generally have no realistic idea how hard it is to run a successful restaurant. This likely includes more than 50% of current restaurant owners and every single one of those restaurants that fold within a few years of opening and burning right through their startup funds.

People have no idea how much screaming and verbal abuse there is behind the scenes, too, how it's just accepted as part of the industry. Like, if you took the amount of abuse in a given restaurant and put it into a corporate work environment you'd pretty much have a guaranteed retirement-grade settlement package for emotional distress and a hostile workplace.

But when it happens to a minimum wage prep or line cook it's just part of the business and you're supposed to suck it up.

It's actually not ok. It's super toxic and unhealthy and it's no where near as entertaining as watching Gorden Ramsey lose his shit at Amy's Baking Company on TV.

People also have no idea how hard reliable and good staffing is. The churn and amount of turnover in the kitchen and front of house is incredible. Because of the stress and lifestyle, people call in "sick" all the time because they're too hung over or still partying.

Alcoholism and drug abuse is rampant - and in fact this was among my first investigative questions about the state of the staff, and it will always be at the top of the list of questions I'd ask if I were to ever consider managing or taking over ownership of any restaurant.

That question is basically "who shows up to work drunk or hungover, or calls out sick regularly? Who has obvious substance abuse problems?" and the answer was basically a knowing laugh and "Well, almost everyone. It's the restaurant industry."

This is before you even get to everyday fuckups like "Where the fuck is the Sysco truck? We're out of almost all stock and if it doesn't get here soon the only thing on the menu is going to be booze and pickle spears." or how the ground is constantly shifting beneath you as stuff sells out, gets 86ed for being spoiled or any number of endless crisis.

This is even before health and code inspections, which are fucking terrifying even if you're doing everything by the book and running a clean ship. They just pop in (often in the middle of a lunch rush) and start poking around everything and getting in the way. And then, say, if one of your employees has stashed their personal lunch or something in the wrong place in the fridges, you're going to get dinged. Or if because you're in the middle of the rush you haven't had a chance to sweep behind the counter in 30 minutes, you're going to get dinged.


Hell, I'm starting to realize I can't even write about the logistics, the challenges and stresses of owning/operating a restaurant with any kind of coherency or order. I mean, just look at this post. It's all over the fucking place and even thinking about any of this shit is stressing me out and making me grit my teeth.

And people wonder why I'm not very enthusiastic about going out to restaurants or fine dining anymore. I've seen how the sausage is made. Hell, I've made actual sausage. It's a fucking madhouse.
posted by loquacious at 10:30 AM on November 5 [114 favorites]


Bourdain also writes about locations that have "the smell of death." It sounds like the one this guy chose literally smelled like death.

I would agree with what everybody else here is saying: if you want to open a restaurant, first spend some time actually working in a restaurant. And not just doing prep part-time at your buddy's place for three months. I know enough people who work in kitchens to know that it's the last thing I should be doing.

Also, read Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London.



Not a classy industry, is it?

Not particularly, no.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:31 AM on November 5 [15 favorites]


Also, the place he leased sounds almost exactly like the Mirage, except that he actually wanted to run it as a restaurant, and not a front to catch crooked city inspectors.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:34 AM on November 5 [4 favorites]


Huh. I just realized. My girlfriend used to live down there when this restaurant was open/opening, and we never stopped in. I never even knew it was there.

Besides, why would we go there when we could pop 'round The Feathers, anyway?
posted by Imperfect at 10:39 AM on November 5 [1 favorite]


If you like to cook and entertain, don’t open a restaurant.
Operating a restaurant is a matter of operating a ridiculously complicated just-in-time logistics system producing, from scratch, hundreds of highly perishable items while managing the most drama-prone, high-turnover workforce in the economy.
posted by Floydd at 10:39 AM on November 5 [23 favorites]


If I had my druthers I’d say if your commercial property sits empty for a year and six months you have to lower your leasing rate or it becomes city property. Eliminate the gaming of the system in favor of opening businesses people want and need.

I've lived in the same building in Brooklyn for over three years in a gentrifying area, and there are storefronts on my street that have been sitting empty the entire time, just passively waiting for rents to go up. It's completely ridiculous. At the very least they should be taxed up the ass for doing that.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:41 AM on November 5 [10 favorites]


I am a data analyst and get how one can do this. I am so familiar with some of the programs my organization runs, a logical infrence I make is probably going to prove out. You get a little arrogant about it, being the arbiter of truth. And then one of those inferences doesn’t prove out. Now you look like a complete ass. Then people respect you and your work less. You learn from those mistakes and slowly build up respect by being a good analyst.

This guy has done very little learning from his many, many mistakes.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:42 AM on November 5 [3 favorites]


booze and pickle spears

A+
posted by Don Pepino at 10:43 AM on November 5 [2 favorites]


Also, he had to hire a dude who couldn’t speak English and. T-T-T-Trans woman! Christ on the cross, what a horror!
posted by munchingzombie at 10:45 AM on November 5 [17 favorites]


Ironic that he started the restaurant to escape spreadsheets, but one thing that might've saved him was spending more time on spreadsheets.
posted by clawsoon at 10:45 AM on November 5 [45 favorites]


I do have to say, this guy isn't really all that different from the many people on this site who set their hopes and dreams on their PhD getting them a tenured teaching position.

As a teenager I was an excellent cook and prepared the majority of my family's dinners for years, just because I liked doing it. I can't even tell you how many adults cheerily told me "you should totally become a professional chef!" But, being a big nerd who likes to obsessively research things, I had already read a bunch of blogs and forum threads written by actual professional chefs, talking about how they made $11 an hour and no benefits, worked punishing 10 or 12 hour shifts in sweltering kitchens, were covered with cuts and burns, etc etc. None of the middle-class adults in my life knew any of these things. And sometimes when I told them, they seemed disappointed not that being a chef wasn't actually a dream job, but that I had ruined their pretty illusions.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:47 AM on November 5 [40 favorites]


Also, he had to hire a dude who couldn’t speak English and. T-T-T-Trans woman! Christ on the cross, what a horror!


I just couldn't believe that his next paragraph was "none of my employees actually showed up for day 1." With all the terrible decisions and obstacles he had, and then his employees turn out to be perfect? He really had some incredible strokes of good luck here and there, it's just too bad he had no clue what he was doing.
posted by Slinga at 10:48 AM on November 5 [3 favorites]


"My dream was gnawing at my insides." Aaaaaaaand that's as far as I can get. I get very bad second hand embarrassment, and this is going to be 100x worse with added fear and shame. Especially considering my parents have been through this fucking TWICE, through the fault of my father. They're on their second restaurant. The first time I worked for them I came straight from college, because my mother was forcing herself to work for an empty-of-customers restaurant while bleeding fresh blood from uterine cysts, and my dad would not listen to me to let her get some sort of hysterectomy. You have grown children and your wife is dying; this is not something one simply tries to live through when she needed blood transfusions at the emergency room twice in that post-recession crash year. (Can you tell I'm still pissed?) I'm currently working for them again ATM and going to leave within the month, with not-legal things going on with the workers and my mother having panic attacks (but won't abandon my father) I cannot take it anymore. My father is the type of dishwasher (the only job he knows how to "do" in a restaurant) who thinks its OK to only clean the top face of the plate and leave the bottom oily as fuck.

I have no idea what I'm going to do to feed myself, nearing a decade out with only one job and some volunteering related to the field I got a bachelors in, and I refuse to sign up for graduate school and put my name on loans again. But I cannot, CANNOT with people who drag their families into the restaurant business mess. I recently found notes from that first restaurant, maybe I should go type them out. I worked for two restaurants and massive student catering projects before that first restaurant happened and that was more than enough deterrence. ffffffffffffff now i need to take a walk.
posted by one teak forest at 10:48 AM on November 5 [26 favorites]


On the other hand, this piece does seem like a good reference for his chef Jamie.

Also, he didn't do too bad a job with the reno, considering he basically did the work for somebody else. Maybe he should think about a business rehabbing old dives.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:48 AM on November 5 [8 favorites]


Yeah, he at least gave credit, and he did not try to blame the bullshit on his employees.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:52 AM on November 5 [10 favorites]


I feel for the guy and his family and I admire his honesty about his failings. He is one of a legion who have tried and failed at the same thing but because of whom we are gifted with culinary variety and innovation and why we can on occasion have an extraordinary restaurant experience. And I admire his attempt at achieving his dream however misguided his actions were since I know one couple (both MBA professors) who did everything right in planning for their neighborhood cafe and failed just as quickly and a number of people in the same crap financial shape he and his family are in, working full time jobs they despise and who have never dared aspired to bring a dream to life. So he tried and failed, put his family into some hard times but they're still together and I wish him and his family the best of luck in overcoming the fall out of the experience.
posted by SA456 at 10:55 AM on November 5 [16 favorites]


Oh, and...

But if it succeeded, I could make more money than any office job had ever paid me.

BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHA OW FUCK MY SIDES AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

So, the owner/operator of the restaurant I'm talking about above was taking home well under 1k per month as salary. Sure, there's probably unreported tips above that, and that's one of the reasons they were waiting tables in their own restaurant. Because earning tips is a lot more lucrative than trying to draw an actual salary from their own restaurant as the manager/owner.

And, sure, there's some writeoffs and business expensed things in there, like their car, and the fact that they lived over/at the business in a small apartment over the venue.

But yeah, no. You pretty much always pay yourself last as the owner. Often there's no real salary. You're definitely not going to be pulling down 80,000+ a year like you can in a decent office job.

I mean, sure, you could be Tom Douglas and own/start a whole string of "successful" restaurants, but as far as I can tell that guy is a massive jerk who has pulled shitty stunts in the past few years like adding mandatory service fees and gratuities to checks ostensibly to cover ACA health insurance and Seattle's minimum wage - but then reportedly just pockets those fees and they don't make it to servers and staff as tips or anything at all.

Instead of, y'know, quietly raising the prices on things a little like every other well-gruntled restaurant owner.

(BTW, if we ever have another major Seattle meetup like when jonmc came through - can we please not go to a Tom Douglas joint?)
posted by loquacious at 11:05 AM on November 5 [9 favorites]


Ironic that he started the restaurant to escape spreadsheets, but one thing that might've saved him was spending more time on spreadsheets.

I have a friend that owns several successful restaurants. He doesn't spend his time schmoozing customers on the way in or even busing tables, he spends a lot of time analyzing exactly which dishes bring in both customers and profits and mercilessly cutting anything that doesn't, doing the same thing with his staff, and then figuring out which suppliers he save $0.20/pound on cheese that month, because that's where a good chunk of his profit margin comes from.

He spends a lot of time in Excel.

As others have noted, he didn't actually bring anything to the table as far as working in a restaurant other than a small amount of money (and a few foolish investors). If he'd applied his skill with data to running the business from the beginning, he might have made it.
posted by Candleman at 11:14 AM on November 5 [4 favorites]


this guy isn't really all that different from the many people on this site who set their hopes and dreams on their PhD getting them a tenured teaching position.

I do see some pretty major differences between him and me: I'm not going into debt or asking my family to make sacrifices to fund my "unrealistic" dream. My main risk is the personal opportunity cost (the time I could have spent developing a different career). So while success is unlikely, I'm only gambling five six years of my own life, and during those six years I've gotten to do things that I find personally rewarding anyway.

My negative reaction to this guy isn't because he took a risk. It's because he took a selfish risk and didn't do his homework or do his best. He involved other people in this lark without taking that responsibility seriously.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:25 AM on November 5 [26 favorites]


I agree 60k seems too little bank for this. After Hurrican Harvey in Houston, tens of excellent, fantastic, well regarded, long time restaurants closed due to issues with insurance, renovations, servers needing time off and owners needing time off. A general review is here
"The biggest problem with flooding," Robert "Bobby" Jucker of Three Brothers Bakery says, "as a business, you don’t get paid for any loss of business. They just pay you for damages. So, insurance is a tough, tough deal. It’s not I’m so sorry you’ve been in a flood. Let me write you a check. You have to prove what you’ve lost, even though you’ve got water out the doors. It’s a big process. A flood adjuster is assigned. They have to gather all your information. Serial numbers, models, part sizes. You've got to do all this research, get vendors to price it. God, if you’re not prepared for this and can’t back it up? It’s a long, horrible road. We’ve kind of learned in four floods and one tornado that you’ve really got to be prepared and have your stuff saved in the cloud."

and two other stories are here:
it took some wrangling with their adjusters, who initially only agreed to pay their servers pre-tip wages, to make that happen. “Insurance companies aren’t always easy to deal with,” she says.

In Texas, the tipped minimum wage is $2.13 per hour. “You’re going to make me ask these people to come back and work for less than minimum wage?” she recalls thinking. “One, that’s not legal. Two, that’s not ethical. And three, that’s just not gonna do it.”

posted by beaning at 11:26 AM on November 5 [2 favorites]


This story made my stomach hurt. And I say that as someone who spent several months a few years ago trying to figure out how to buy the record store I'd worked at for thirteen years and literally could not figure out a single strategy that did not end with me starving and homeless that did not also include "Marry Indulgent Bajillionaire" or "Bank Heist." So the store sold to someone else and it's not the same and my weekends involve way less conversations about the relative audio quality on reggae vinyl reissues.

Some days, I'm still kinda sad I couldn't make work. I definitely miss it and I still think it would have been cool to keep it going the way it was. On the other hand, I'm wholly not sad about being able to eat and pay rent. So . . .
posted by thivaia at 11:28 AM on November 5 [7 favorites]


I know $60k is a chunk of money, but I honestly can't imagine starting any business with that little.

I started a screen printing company in ‘92 with literally 10 screens, a gallon of black, 1 squeegee & a promise of 10% of the net to a friend who had a home-made manual press sitting idle in a shed. By ‘98, we were grossing almost a million. It lasted 15 years, & when I finally had to shut it down, I did so in an orderly fashion - we paid off all the smallest creditors who would be hurt the most by our debt, I found someone to assume our lease & I sold the equipment, client list & goodwill to a competitor for just enough zero out the books & walk away clean.

I had to declare personal bankruptcy because of some bad decisions trying to float the place on credit cards the last year it was open, but when enough was enough, it was kind of blindingly obvious.

I cringed throughout this article, partly out of embarrassment for this poor guy, but also partly at that twinge of pride that I recognized that kept me from calling it quits when I should have, 9 months before I did. Being emotionally invested in your small business is a powerful force for bad decision-making.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:46 AM on November 5 [36 favorites]


as a business, you don’t get paid for any loss of business. They just pay you for damages. So, insurance is a tough, tough deal.

Maybe this is beside the point, but this is a pretty common thing for business insurance policies to cover, right?

(And yeah, insurance is a tough deal regardless, it's not like they love giving away money.)
posted by ODiV at 11:52 AM on November 5


I doled out $3,000 to hire a lawyer to oversee my incorporation. He later told me that I could have done it myself online for a couple hundred bucks.

What a sucker.

That said, the article generally has the feel of something intentionally produced to elicit exactly such response: whatever we all are, we are not as stoopid as this guy.
posted by Laotic at 12:00 PM on November 5 [8 favorites]


I doled out $3,000 to hire a lawyer to oversee my incorporation. He later told me that I could have done it myself online for a couple hundred bucks.


Yeah, judging by how well this guy ran a restaurant, he's probably better off paying a professional to do that sort of thing. Not to be mean, but seriously, come on.
posted by Slinga at 12:17 PM on November 5 [7 favorites]


I agree that one of the few things this guy seems to have done right is delegation/outsourcing.

If he'd only budgeted for any of it in the first place.
posted by tel3path at 12:21 PM on November 5 [1 favorite]


Seems like the moral is: don't open a restaurant, buy one from a sucker who's already been bled dry.
posted by borges at 12:23 PM on November 5 [8 favorites]


Eeeee this article made me cringe. I'm going to guess that he didn't have a business plan at all. It's a shame because there are new business non-profits at the municipal or provincial level that will offer free or low cost training. I bet a few visits would have saved him a lot of trouble.
posted by Calzephyr at 12:27 PM on November 5


I know a failed restaurant is a tale as old as time, but does anyone else get the whiff of some other underlying issues? He was so underexperienced and undercapitalized, and he ran with his plan, such as it was, so quickly that it makes me think there's something going on with him besides too much confidence.
posted by stowaway at 12:32 PM on November 5 [7 favorites]


That said, the article generally has the feel of something intentionally produced to elicit exactly such response: whatever we all are, we are not as stoopid as this guy.

Well, sure, schadenfreude-a-go-go. Except that I've seen other articles by people who start out by saying that they weren't going to be that kind of sucker, and then the craziest thing happened. Three-card monte, trying heroin, thinking that they could make a living counting cards, even marrying in haste and repenting at leisure. (That last one is me.) Quick--who's the sucker at the table? Oh, hey, guess what.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:49 PM on November 5 [6 favorites]


Speaking as someone who eats at restaurants, I think the important question is "What's the best way to find these places with great underpriced food before they go under?'

I do wonder about that guy. It seems as though he was functioning fairly well-- good job, didn't miss a mortgage payment, solid marriage, friends-- until he broke himself by going outside his safe zone.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 12:50 PM on November 5 [6 favorites]


as a business, you don’t get paid for any loss of business. They just pay you for damages. So, insurance is a tough, tough deal.

Maybe this is beside the point, but this is a pretty common thing for business insurance policies to cover, right
?

I agree this is probably an aside but to wrap up the discussion:
Business interruption insurance is different from property insurance in that property insurance only covers the physical damage to the business. Business interruption insurance can cost an additional thousands per year and so often is skipped given the tight margins of most restaurants/bars. Per wikipedia, the following are typically covered under a business interruption insurance policy but would not be covered under a property loss policy:

-Profits. Profits that would have been earned (based on prior months' financial statements).
-Fixed Costs. Operating expenses and other costs still being incurred by the property (based on historical costs).
-Temporary Location. Some policies cover the extra expenses for moving to, and operating from, a temporary location.
-Commission & Training Cost. Business Interruption (BI) policy essentially covers the cost of providing training to the operators of the machinery replaced by the insurer following the insured events.
-Extra Expenses. Reimbursement for reasonable expenses (beyond the fixed costs) that allow the business to continue operation while the property is being repaired.
-Civil Authority Ingress / Egress. Government-mandated closure of business premises that directly causes loss of revenue.[3] Examples include forced business closures because of government-issued curfews or street closures related to a covered event.[4]
posted by beaning at 12:59 PM on November 5 [5 favorites]


oh god all his "rookie mistake" and "how was i to know?!?" stuff is agonizing to read.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:37 PM on November 5 [3 favorites]


This is a fun read and a cool story but even without the premise being made apparent up front, as soon as I read "I had $60,000" I would still have been all "oh no what is you doing".
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:08 PM on November 5 [6 favorites]


I'm in a local homebrew club. There are really good, talented people in it, who brew a ten-gallon batch of excellent beer every weekend and take home boxes full of medals from the state fair every year. Making that much beer you can economize pretty well: buying grain in bulk, washing yeast for reuse, etc. Invariably, these people's friends suggest on a regular basis that they should open a brewery.

They do not open breweries, largely because adjacent to the club are a number of professional brewery operators in the area who are happy to share their knowledge of just how much bullshit is involved in going from a money-losing hobby to a money-making business. There really is a lot more to it than just doing the same thing, only bigger, and selling what you make.

And the brewery biz is much less logistically and financially complicated than the restaurant biz! Licensing and distribution agreements are a major hassle, sure, but licensing a brewery has fewer pitfalls than passing a restaurant inspection, and you're spared the logistics involved in the storage of perishables or just-in-time preparation of fresh food. A restaurant will completely cease to function with enough no-shows in critical places; in a pinch the owners can usually run a taproom solo.

So it's a business far less prone to catastrophic failure than restaurants, and no less a labor of love, but it's still one that smart people avoid unless their management skills are the equal of their passion. Why? Because business, even a relatively simple business, is a skill unto itself, and not one that everyone has. And running a restaurant is definitely doing business on "Hard Mode".
posted by jackbishop at 2:29 PM on November 5 [6 favorites]


Yikes. This is like if one of the three stooges tried to open a restaurant, just the perfect storm of bad decisions. It's almost too perfect, part of me wants to believe this story is made up. I know the restaurant industry, and lots of lifers in it, and I cannot WAIT to show some of them this story. My favorite bits:

1) $60,000 is not enough (in American dollars, let alone Canadian) to start a restaurant. I mean, it's not even in the ballpark. You have to expect to fail, which means you need a bunch of spare cash to cover fixing it when you do.
2) "I would be front of house, designing the menu, signing cheques and glad-handing customers." That is not what a restaurant owner does. It's what an idiot thinks a restaurant owner does.
3) This guy's solution to every problem was to drink? Warning sign. I'm surprised his staff didn't run for the hills. That's not to say lots of service industry folks don't have, erm, suboptimal relationships with substances, but they generally counterbalance that with, you know, skills.
4) Did he not to check to see the state of the appliances before he picked his location? I don't understand why he seemingly chose a rat infested shit hole without working appliances. He basically spent his severance and home equity renovating a building for Jameson.
5) His friend Jameson is either impossibly nice or a brilliant con.
6) That restaurant is tiny. Six people is overstaffing it except in the busiest of circumstances.
7) The author/owner is depicted in the article wearing a fucking fedora. Or trilby. Whatever.
8) "How was I to know that the dining room AC unit that came with the building pumped thousands of litres of municipal water through its pipes?" The same way that all that other shit you didn't know about, you should've known about. Ask! Do some research, dickhead!

I only feel bad for his kids, and maybe a little bit his wife. What a jackass.
posted by axiom at 2:47 PM on November 5 [31 favorites]


I’m always bracing for something like this cause my brother is taking control of a very successful local taco joint and I’m like aaaaah the rate of failure on these things are baaaaaaad.

But he’s got a background as a line chef and server and bartender and co-ran a food truck before being invited to take over the storefront soooo
posted by The Whelk at 2:52 PM on November 5 [2 favorites]


Plus to me the most frustrating aspect is that had he been more competent it sounds like the place might've had a chance! Not that it was guaranteed by any stretch but at the very least it's better than half the stories you hear. Mad not just because of the shit he's put his family through but also if he'd done more actual, you know analysis, he had a shot.
posted by Carillon at 3:06 PM on November 5 [1 favorite]


My mother was a certified master chef, a thing which has existed long before Ramsey and the fucktwads tv show.

Her last professional gig was running a Michelin starred kitchen. As a teenager, I filled in on the line when sous inevitably didn't show, and I learned to make all sorts of things, but I moved away, and spent college working the front of the house because there's so much more money being waitstaff and bartender than there is placing tiny leaves with tweezers on a plate.

Her kitchen was not a screaming drug fueled nightmare, but it's the only kitchen that I've been in where that was true. Most of them are horrible. And I thank the stars that I learned early that the restaurant business was no place for a rational human. Any time I get the urge to open my "dream" bookshop teahouse, I just call my mom and listen to her laugh at the idea.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 3:27 PM on November 5 [26 favorites]


And I thank the stars that I learned early that the restaurant business was no place for a rational human.

I'm searching for a response to this that doesn't break the guidelines.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:34 PM on November 5


As it turns out, no one invests in first-time restaurateurs, no matter how mind-blowing they think their cooking is.

WHY WOULD THAT BE
posted by thelonius at 3:44 PM on November 5 [7 favorites]


The restaurant industry is brutal, for sure. It's one of the few situations where the consumer really does get the better end of the deal. In a competitive market like NYC, bad restaurants fail quickly. As a result, there's sort of a minimum bar for restaurant quality. Yeah, the food here is expensive, but you'll rarely have a bad meal.
posted by panama joe at 4:20 PM on November 5 [2 favorites]


MeFi's own Ghidorah has the first two of a series of six articles up about opening a restaurant in Tokyo. Clear-eyed and practical.

1. The do’s and don’ts of opening a restaurant or bar in Japan
2. Accessibility, visibility and foot traffic are key ingredients to a restaurant’s success

posted by Gotanda at 4:27 PM on November 5 [20 favorites]


Plus to me the most frustrating aspect is that had he been more competent it sounds like the place might've had a chance!

Yep. Of all his awful stupid mistakes, closing up to go on vacation just as "lines were down the street" was the most stupid and awful of them. Imagine destroying everything in your life just to build a successful business, and as soon as that success is realised you decide to take a holiday. ALWAYS COAST ON SUCCESS.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:27 PM on November 5 [13 favorites]


My neighbourhood also has restaurants that open up and close down at a startling rate (including the jinxed corner that just keeps turning over.) My husband is a guy who loves to cook and dreams of winning the big lotto and opening a restaurant. I'll show him this article. Next lifetime, big guy.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:30 PM on November 5 [6 favorites]


I work in craft beer and the number of times the story I hear about how they opened is inevitably "well, I was really good at homebrewing so my friends and I were just like what the heck". Obv, usually white guys who can secure bank funding etc. And yes, I definitely roll my eyes because I see the behind the scenes work these craft breweries do. It's insane. When it works, it works, and I am proud of them. But I feel the lasting ones aren't homebrewers who had a dream, but smart business owners who love beer, can secure good backers, and hire very very good brewers who can garner them worthy beers.

I feel bad/not feel bad for this guy. At the very least, I can push this towards my amazing husband who wants to start a standalone veggie sandwich shop to cater to vegans and vegetarians who don't have easy options in our city. I love him and don't want to discourage him, but I know it's not as easy as it sounds.
posted by Kitteh at 4:36 PM on November 5 [8 favorites]


I grew up with my parent's failing small business and could not bear to finish this. I know too well what it looks like from home: Parents gone or home fighting about money, no money for back to school or Christmas or whatever, eating the cheapest possible food, bill collectors at the door, every unexpected expense a household tragedy. I feel for the guy's kids.
posted by LarryC at 5:55 PM on November 5 [19 favorites]


Yes, this was hard to read, but he came off more as completely clueless and somewhat irresponsible than being an asshole.

Also, it's pretty impressive that the restaurant got a 4-star review. The renovations were impressive too. He must have been doing some things right.

He seemed pretty honest in the write-up, too.

(yeah, I'm somewhat trying to balance out all the "bwahahaha what an idiot" comments from people here.)
posted by bearette at 6:06 PM on November 5 [12 favorites]


My father was the kind of person that constantly got told by other people that he should open a restaurant or bar. He loved to cook and host.

He got together with two friends, a musician and a bartender. They pooled together the money they could afford to lose, some 45k between the three.

They found a cheap place and second hand equipment and opened a gastro pub kind of deal. The three of them loved being owners.

I went there a few times and it was always full of interesting people, they opened Thursday to Sunday and it was always crowded. You would have thought they were making tons of money.

The 45k ran out after 9 months and they closed with a huge 'until every bottle is finished and the fridge is empty' party.

My father said that was some of the best 15k he ever spent, considering how much fun he had and all the friends he made.

Considering they were all semi retired I think it is the only sane way to do it.

I am waiting for the day I have enough extra money for something like that.
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 6:11 PM on November 5 [28 favorites]


I'm very late to this party. Sorry I was working. I'm a third generation F and B guy. When I was younger I dreamed of owning my own place, now I'm happy to just be a FOH ninja timelord.

In a way this guy could have ended up worse. I worked in a place in NYC where they hired a new chef, it was not a good fit, so before they could fire him the chef rented a truck, stole everything he could, and drove back to Montreal. Another place where a manager walked away with 40,000 dollars. Yet another where I found 8000 cash that the previous night's closer had left unsecured, and could have walked away with. Theft, especially in the form of free drinks, or all the drinks this fella seems to have drank, can cut into profits and erode operations enough to cripple even a seasoned proprietor.

That said, the straunt biz can be rewarding in ways that are kinda cool. When the kitchen is on point and groovy people are in the place, it creates an energy unlike any other. High risk, generally meager income, hard conditions. No net no helmet baby.
posted by vrakatar at 6:16 PM on November 5 [10 favorites]


Thecjm, that article was insane. I'm not proud of this, but damn if reading about people making dumbass financial decisions like those just me feel great about my boring middle class life. So yup, cheap linkbait, no doubt, but if you happen to know of any similar articles...?

I forget if I read a comment here on Reddit, that said something like the following (rather similar to the Slate pullquote linked above): dream of owing a coffee shop? Great! Go be a barista for a year. Want to open a restaurant? Super! Go be a dishwasher, a line cook or a server for a year. Sound good? If you dream of opening your own romanticized business, but then balk at the idea of doing the grunt work, then you're more in love with the idea in your head than the reality.
posted by queseyo at 6:25 PM on November 5 [9 favorites]


An investor I know started by opening a bar in a college town. He went to the bank for a loan and the loan officer said, why do you want to open a bar? This investor replied that he did the math and calculated how much beer costs wholesale and how much he would need to charge to make a profit and the numbers worked out. The loan officer said that was the first time he had asked someone that question and not gotten a speech about how someone has always wanted to run a place where people could hang out, etc.

I’m no expert but it seems like people get into the restaurant business not realizing that it is a business.
posted by kat518 at 6:44 PM on November 5 [13 favorites]


I wonder if this would have worked better if he had started as a mostly silent partner to Jameson (the landlord friend) and Helder (the guy who ended up buying him out).

He could have contributed a few recipes and watched how the pro chef made them restaurant-practical, maybe helped out with the renovation and seen all the unexpected things that went wrong. Maybe he'd help out chopping veggies or tending bar if someone called in sick, plunge a toilet now and then, figure out what parts of the business he's actually good at.

Worst case, he'd hang around the bar playing his favorite music, buying rounds and telling people he's one of the owners, which (depending on his restraint) wouldn't even conflict with his office job.
posted by smelendez at 6:59 PM on November 5 [2 favorites]


Yes, this was hard to read, but he came off more as completely clueless and somewhat irresponsible than being an asshole.

If you look at it from his wife's POV tho, he's definitely a major asshole.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:39 PM on November 5 [9 favorites]


Also, homeboy is obsessed with fish cakes. Fishcakes are fish-scrap-food-cost-saver-Friday-specials.
posted by Grandysaur at 8:12 PM on November 5 [3 favorites]


What I lacked in experience I could make up for in enthusiasm.

If I had a nickel for every time I failed horribly going in with that attitude...
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:48 PM on November 5 [1 favorite]


I worked at three successful owner-operated restaurants in my callow youth. It was clear to nyone paying the slightest bit of attention that they owed their success to being crooked as fuck.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:28 PM on November 5 [15 favorites]


The tel3mum used to throw some great dinner parties. Her friends would say to her "you should open a restaurant".

I knit, a lot, am quite good at it and am currently a SAHM homeschooling her kid. If I had a dollar for every person who says "you should sell your stuff on the internet" I would be richer than if I actually sold my stuff on the internet.

That said, the whole 'follow your dreams/be your own boss is the best thing/do what you love and you will never work again/owning your own business is freedom" mantra of the past decade seems to be dying now. I think people are realising that actually, making money off what you like to do is still hard work, has a good chance of sending you in to debt, and will probably kill your love of it. Craft, cooking, flower arranging - they can be great jobs. But if you are doing it to make a living, it is a job with all the attended demands and stresses.
posted by Megami at 9:35 PM on November 5 [13 favorites]


A big part of Toronto Life’s business model is running these upper-middle class financial horror stories for other upper-middle class people to gawk at. It being Toronto, real estate is often involved.

I have a co-worker who was a cook in Toronto restaurants for a decade before she decided to get out and pursue a life that didn’t mean constant toil for lousy pay under shitty and often abusive working conditions and being surrounded by drug addicts. One of her stories is about a guy who came into work out of his mind on LSD because he wasn’t able to secure his usual dose of coke or ecstasy and had to be high on *something*.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:02 AM on November 6 [5 favorites]


I once called a vendor rather late in the evening and expressed some surprise at actually finding her in the office. (I would have been happy to just leave a message.) She said, "Yeah, that's the great thing about owning your own business; you get to decide which 18 hours a day you're going to work."
posted by Bruce H. at 1:24 AM on November 6 [14 favorites]


I'm a mite confused about the mockery of this guy - I mean, his article is basically "I was clueless and almost lost everything; learn from my errors" and a lot of people seem to be piling on going "hey look at this clueless asshole!! who does he think he is???".

He doesn't seem to be blaming anyone for his downfall/failure other than himself...
posted by modernnomad at 1:54 AM on November 6 [11 favorites]


Helpful hint: do not open a restaurant unless you have already worked in pretty much every position in a restaurant. Cook, server, busser, floor manager, kitchen manager, bartender, etc. Because if you haven't, you WILL fail, because you have absolutely no idea how much work is involved - both in terms of long hours, and in terms of being able to do five things at once while simultaneously be thinking three steps ahead on all five of those things. (That the industry attracts a lot of people with both ADHD and abusive childhoods is not a coincidence.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:38 AM on November 6 [6 favorites]


The thing that blows my mind is that he actually had amazing luck so many times— the many friends who were willing to help, the chef being so good, the bartender turning out to be amazing, the review that brought crowds to eat there. And yet he took all that good luck and repeatedly squandered it.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 3:31 AM on November 6 [5 favorites]


So the guy knew nothing about the restaurant business, about running a business, budgeting, etc, etc, but he thought hey, I know about food, I can run a restaurant!

Except he clearly knows Jack about food. "Thrice cooked English chips"?! Take your "thrice cooked" Belgian nonsense and shove it up yer arse, Toronto dude. English chips are potatoes, cooked in oil once, getting it right the first time. "Thrice cooked chips" would have me rolling my eyes, but whatever. "Thrice cooked English chips" is bloody slander.
posted by Dysk at 5:09 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


And yes, I know Heston developed an acclaimed recipe for thrice cooked chips, but that does not make a jot of difference - the molecular gastronomy nerds are in no way representative of national cuisine.
posted by Dysk at 5:11 AM on November 6


UK chip shop chips are cooked twice. I have no opinions on whether that is a good thing, but having worked in a seaside chip shop in the 1990s, they are definitely cooked twice. And the place I worked was not the kind of place to cook chips twice if it wasn’t necessary.
posted by tinkletown at 5:42 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


None of the traditional chip shops round here (midlands) do, but a lot of the kebab shops and other takeaways that do chips absolutely do.

It isn't necessary, unless you want your chips to be golden-brown and super crispy - nothing like chip shop chips, in other words.
posted by Dysk at 5:54 AM on November 6


I associate double cooked chips more with gastropub fish and chips than chip shop stuff - but it's probably regional (My local chippy is amazing - they've won awards - and I'm pretty sure they don't double cook)

Triple cooking is just bollocks
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:01 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


The luck thing is interesting because if he hadn't had that look he would have just crashed a lot earlier... 'I tried to open a restaurant but because I don't have any business skills/sense I burned through all my cash just trying to do up some sink hole and didn't even make to opening night' would not really make a story (though I'm sure it happens to lots of people)

I imagine non-suitable people have tried to start businesses for like forever but I wander is shows like Gordon Ramsey's have make it worse - who seems to imply a new paint job and a change up of the menu = instant success.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:07 AM on November 6


I should look into these triple-cooked chips on my wife's behalf, because she inexplicably prefers hers what I would call "fried to a crisp." She'd pay top dollar for an entire basket of the charred little bits you find at the bottom after you've finished all of the actual fries.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:44 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


I'm a mite confused about the mockery of this guy - I mean, his article is basically "I was clueless and almost lost everything; learn from my errors" and a lot of people seem to be piling on going "hey look at this clueless asshole!! who does he think he is???".

For people who are familar with Toronto Life (or other publications of its ilk), there's an element of hate-reading going on here that has as much to do with a fit of pique at the genre as its subject. For some folks, I think, that makes it a bit more of a "Oh gawd another story like this one featuring entitled, insufferable people."

For a pisstake on this strain of Toronto Life piece, check out:

We bought a $3 million bungalow full of bats and were not happy with the result
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:58 AM on November 6 [14 favorites]


I think it's the fact that nearly everyone is familiar with the fun parts (cooking neat food, mixing fun drinks), and only a tiny subset of people are familiar with the horrible parts.

That's the thing: anybody who has worked at a restaurant at ALL has at least
some
sense that most of it is not glamorous. (My mind flies immediately to scrubbing dried jam off of a laminated menu and to picking up pizza crust thrown under a booth by a toddler.) As someone with just a few years' experience as a server and prep cook, I don't even think "mixing fun drinks" is the fun part of restaurant work. I think the fun parts are greeting people when they arrive, and doing the final wipe-down after bussing the bar or table. A clean, empty table that either just served people or is about to -- to me, that's peace and happiness, restaurant style.

I really give this guy props for trying, and for putting his failure out there honestly like this. But yeah, there were so many alarm bells. (Don't cash in your retirement just in general! Wait, what, you don't even have three months of experience?!) It seems like being a good restaurant owner is 50% being willing and able to do not only every job in the place* and also all the stuff like trying to repair the broken fridge, and 50% the spreadsheet and payroll stuff that's so hard to focus on during the dinner rush. It seems like this guy didn't exactly do either. (* And I wrote this before I read MexicanYenta's comment "do not open a restaurant unless you have already worked in pretty much every position in a restaurant." In fact, my first draft of this comment included a long rant about how few of the jobs it seemed he could do, in contrast to the owners of restaurants where I've worked.)

He did do a good job, it seems, at creating a restaurant's identity and getting the word out about it, and with enough business, things were profitable. That's not enough, obviously, but it's something. I feel bad for the guy and his family so I want to acknowledge that he did do some things really well. He had a vision, got several rounds of financing, and used it to successfully build a thing; he just couldn't consistently monetize it. I hear that's a huge success in certain industries. And if he'd had a business partner who was all about the spreadsheets, it might've worked out. I mean, yes, to those of us who've spent months on end wrapping bar taps at the end of the shift to prevent fruit flies, there's a certain schadenfreude in thinking about all of the things that we learned from others who learned it from others who learned it the hard way, and how dare someone try who didn't know 5% of those things; of course they're going to screw up. But for someone who jumped in the deep end unprepared, he did pretty well. And even that vacation he took, well, the one thing that survived this dream is his marriage, so maybe he did do a thing or two right.*
posted by salvia at 7:14 AM on November 6 [3 favorites]


* AND he had a really long-suffering wife and family; I don't mean to imply that the survival of his marriage was all or even primarily his doing. But that one decision? Might've been right.
posted by salvia at 7:16 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


I've been baffled by this trend of the past few years for people to "follow their dream" by, essentially, working their asses off in a marginal-income job that will consume just about all their time. Food-related jobs, from farming to baking to catering, to restaurants seems the most popular. But anyone who's worked in the food industry knows it's all brutally hard work. Same goes for just about any small business: you will put in a lot of hours for fairly small returns.

There used to be a radio talk show host called Bruce Williams who would summarily dealt with these dreamers by asking the obvious questions:

You'll be putting in how many hours of work a year?
And what will be your projected annual income in return for all that time on the job?
Now, why is it you think having to work basically all the time for poverty wages is a good idea?

I've worked for a number of small family-run businesses, and of them, the only ones whose owners made out well financially were those whose funds came primarily from their parents or spouse, not the business, and those who were cooking the books/engaging in all kinds of unsavory business practices (charging all their living expenses to the business, screwing over their employees and the gov't) and pocketing the proceeds.

I did have a friend whose business was legit and so profitable it was practically like coining gold, but it involved constant employee turnover and she just got burned out with having to deal with the kind of sketchy guys doing that kind of work for her. She gave up in exasperation and shut the business down.
posted by Lunaloon at 7:47 AM on November 6 [4 favorites]


First of all, thrice-cooked chips are DELICIOUS. I was in Edinburgh last week and had a bowl of chips that were so beautiful, I cried. I'm tearing up now just thinking about them.

I asked the waitress HOW this was possible and she said maybe it was cooking them three times that did the trick.

Anyway, yes, I haven't really commented in the right spirit in response to what was essentially a confessional piece. Whereas I most definitely *was* analyzing it for what mistakes he made in case I ever start my own business, so I remember it and go "but wait! do you want to be the person you made fun of three years ago for doing this thing? don't do this thing!"

What I find curious about this, which others seem to have picked up on, is that he seems to skim over the exact mistakes you would have expected him to have anticipated and avoided, having been an analyst with spreadsheets and all.

Could that be *why* he was so eager to give up the day job? Presumably he was good at that kind of analysis to have held down the job so long. But maybe he felt it went against his nature, even though he was (presumably) good at it, and that's why he was so eager to drop it all with a satisfying BOOM and stop using the mental functions he'd been using up to then? ISTM the shittiest jobs are the ones you least want to waste your experience of having done, but maybe not everyone thinks that way.

And yes, it is remarkable just how many things he did right. Regardless of *why* he ended up disregarding his own love of cooking as a motivation for doing this in the first place, he at least had the sense to hire a great chef. He picked staff who were both talented and reliable, and who stuck with him when the going got tough, so he obviously is good at hiring. He managed to make his godforsaken rathole into a kitchen that was fit for purpose and a dining area that looked inviting. And all this in an out-of-the-way spot.

The things he managed to pull off, in other words, were the mindbogglingly hard parts of running a restaurant. Clearly the enterprise was a success in itself. It's only from a business point of view that it flopped. Which was the exact part you'd have expected him to do *right*.

As for why TF people do stuff like this, well, there was a trend about ten years ago for programmers to fantasize about giving it all up to become carpenters, or take a job in a bakery or whatever, as a way of getting out of the corporate bullshit environment. Usually it was a result of their not ever having had a real blue-collar job and not understanding what that kind of work environment is like - especially if you're not the business owner yourself. I knew people who'd supported themselves through uni by doing jobs related to their hobbies - writing for hobby magazines, or whatever - and those were the ones most likely to think it would be "fun" to work in a store.
posted by tel3path at 8:20 AM on November 6 [4 favorites]


Thanks, Gotanda, for the mention. As for the article, and the guy, all I can say is, hell, I'm writing a column on how to avoid the incredibly stupid mistakes I made in trying to start a restaurant in Tokyo, but reading this guy's story has me feeling like some sort of restaurant genius. If nothing else, his approach to skirting the liquor license by moonlighting in a friends kitchen told me he was doomed. That was a great opportunity to learn his way around a proper kitchen. He should have worked as close to full time as they would have let him just to get a feel for the work. All of that nonsense about not knowing where to stand or what to do would have been burned out of him in any decent kitchen environment.

One of my many mistakes was trying to run a kitchen for a half dead bar rather than just getting a job in a real kitchen. I lost a ton of money trying to drag that bar towards something that might have become, some day, able to support what I wanted to do, but at least I was there, every day, learning what to do and more importantly, what not to do. If you are going to open a restaurant, do some work. Do some research. This guy did none of that, and yeah, I'd like to hear the story from his wife's point of view*, his staff's point of view, and his friend who rented him the space. Hell, the fact that he was hitting booze and pills before even actually opening should have been a clear warning sign for everyone to run for the hills.

And this has me terrified at the thought of Mrs. Ghidorah's version of events... All I can say is I'm luckier than I deserve that she's still with me, even though it's highly unlikely we'll even get back to the standard of living we had before we tried to open our own place. She had ample reason to tell me to get out over the last couple years, and yet, we're still together. Not every "let's start a restaurant" story turns out this way.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:31 AM on November 6 [8 favorites]


And, just to add, I'm pretty sure that's my first "MeFi's own _____." It's pretty sweet. Thanks, Gotanda.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:35 AM on November 6 [6 favorites]


I've long fantasized about opening a used-book store but try as I might I can't see how it could be made profitable. Without, I dunno, being a front for money laundering?
posted by orrnyereg at 8:45 AM on November 6 [3 favorites]


The Whelk: "Yeeep, the richest, most valuable part of major cities are turning into urban blight cause it’s easier and cheaper to let space sit idle then rent it out so people are now spending lots of money to live in areas with no services it’s just super great all around.

If I had my druthers I’d say if your commercial property sits empty for a year and six months you have to lower your leasing rate or it becomes city property. Elimate the gaming of the system in favor of opening businesses people want and need.
"

Washington, DC dealt with this problem a long time ago. If your property sits vacant for more than a year, your property taxes go way up (~10% of the property's assessed value per year). Let the property fall into disrepair, and that number jumps to 20%.

It's not perfect. Real Estate speculation is still technically legal and possible. If you're feeling really confident about sitting on that empty building, you can do it and pay the fine. The local government also dishes out more exemptions than I'd like to see (notably, churches and universities are notorious for abusing their exemptions). However, for the most part, it's "Find tenants, or GTFO."

However, because hoarding wealth is apparently an American Value, I don't know of any other major city with a similar policy.
posted by schmod at 8:55 AM on November 6 [13 favorites]


Are there companies that will set up fronts to avoid the tax? I'm thinking something like an "art gallery" open the third Thursday evening of every month.
posted by Mitheral at 9:23 AM on November 6 [3 favorites]


Or those weirdly specific museums that never seem to be open.
posted by maryr at 9:35 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


Years ago I read an article that claimed a lot of restaurants were used for money laundering in London. That's the only way they kept going.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:50 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


Those weirdly specific museums that never seem to be open usually don't have funding for anyone but volunteers to staff them, so the odd hours are unfortunately necessary.

shows like Gordon Ramsey's have make it worse - who seems to imply a new paint job and a change up of the menu = instant success

Again, this is something that could be avoided if one does the research. Over half of the restaurants that were featured on Ramsay's show are now closed. I believe most of those closed within a year of the chef's visit. The restaurant business is grueling, even if you have a celebrity chef helping you and national TV attention.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:51 AM on November 6


Also I've heard of at least one shop (the're usually designer clothes shops) that was basically being run at a loss as a plaything for a rich guy's wife to keep from getting bored plus it was also some sort of tax write off against the rest of his businesses
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:53 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


unless you want your chips to be golden-brown and super crispy
To me, that is what makes it a chip (or American french fry), otherwise it is just a cooked potato. If you are going to fry a potato, it should result in golden bits that crunch and not just warm, oily starch. This is true of hashbrowns and sweet potato fries as well.
posted by soelo at 10:33 AM on November 6 [3 favorites]


Years ago I read an article that claimed a lot of restaurants were used for money laundering in London. That's the only way they kept going.

You learn a lot about the local area working in one of the few band practice spaces in a smallish town. For example, I know which of the disproportionately many restaurants here are owned by which drug dealers. Apparently cocaine buys you more property than weed, pills, or heroin


To me, that is what makes it a chip (or American french fry), otherwise it is just a cooked potato.

Okay, sure. A proper English chippy will do you cooked potatoes then, not fries. Nothing wrong with preferring fries, just don't pretend they're proper English chips. They're not.
posted by Dysk at 10:53 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


But at least clothes aren’t perishable the way food is perishable. You have to have a decent sense of what fashions and sizes will sell in your area, but clothes don’t go bad if left out overnight, and you don’t need a liquor license to sell clothes. Selling clothes comes with its own set of nonsense (two words: fitting room) but the health aspect isn’t a factor.

All I can say about the author is, what a fucking douchebag. Did he even so much as google “Cost of running restaurant in Toronto”? His wife was on maternity leave when he thought it’d be a good idea to ditch his stable job and open a business he had no idea how to run? And instead of learning, he decided to relieve the stress by taking up substance abuse? Didn’t thoroughly inspect the property he bought. Didn’t do research to see what the cost of the utilities were. Didn’t have a plan for how to attract people to an area that he knew was a hard sell. Drank tons of the restaurant’s booze that he didn’t even have the money to pay for. It’s one thing to have things unexpectedly break, but with so many of these disasters, he keeps saying, “I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I didn’t know.” For Christ’s sake! And for his troubles, he lost every dime that his family ever made, and their home, and tens of thousands of dollars of his friends’ and extended family’s money. Holy. Shit. If I were him, I would be checking the browser history for searches on large insurance policies and making things look like an accident.

I dated a couple guys who thought this way. One is allergic to steady employment and is always filled with ideas about his next amazing dream job that will naturally make tons of money. One of them was, you guessed it, owning a coffee shop with a stage for people to perform at an open mic. I suggested he work in a Starbuck’s for a few months to see how he felt about doing that for a living, and he was outraged. The other is a massage therapist who actually has a sustainable clientele, but also has unrealistic dreams about expanding and teaming up with other professionals in the wellness industry and blah blah blah. He has no idea how much his business makes or whether it’s profitable, doesn’t track any of his expenses, has no idea how to do any marketing, and when I suggested he take classes or even buy a book on any of the above, he acted insulted and told me that he knew what he was doing and didn’t need any classes or books.

I don’t know what it is about these dudes who think that not only do they have the chops to be successful without actually learning anything, but when given more than their share of opportunities to learn from their mistakes, they still don’t. They drive right off the edge of the cliff and nobody can talk them out of it.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:25 AM on November 6 [14 favorites]


Also I've heard of at least one shop (the're usually designer clothes shops) that was basically being run at a loss as a plaything for a rich guy's wife to keep from getting bored plus it was also some sort of tax write off against the rest of his businesses

This is incredibly common, though occasionally the genders are reversed. I've set up a lot of POS systems over the years as favors to clients whose spouses were launching these sorts of vanity projects. Most of the time they lose money fairly slowly, but often it's actually about the real estate, ownership of which can make the situation more tenable as long as the cash flow isn't too far negative.

The ones who make good money buy self storage places, taxi companies, and alcohol wholesalers. That or they exploit sweetheart deals they hear about, in whatever form they come. Owning a plane can be quite profitable if you can get one for a good price. So can sitting on an office block just because you got a good deal and could use some office space while you sit on it a few years. There's still a lot of work, but nothing like the nuttiness involved in restaurants and retail. But really all the most lucrative ventures involve the business owning real estate, which is where the big money usually comes from in small business. You can make a living without it, but having it basically ensures you have a comfortable retirement.

Yes, the way we let all the value increase go to the owners despite most of the increase not being of their doing is ridiculous, but as long as it remains the case, that's just how stuff works here in the US, so you'll live a lot more comfortably if you work with reality. (And you have/can get some seed capital)
posted by wierdo at 11:32 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


Years ago I read an article that claimed a lot of restaurants were used for money laundering in London. That's the only way they kept going.

Any business that does a large part of its trade in cash is going to be appealing to money launderers. Cash makes it a lot easier to keep two sets of books, too.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:39 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


For Christ’s sake! And for his troubles, he lost every dime that his family ever made, and their home, and tens of thousands of dollars of his friends’ and extended family’s money.

Autumnheart: this is what really really chapped my ass and rustled my jimmies about this guy's story. He wanted to follow his dream, come what may? Fine. But he dragged down his wife, children, and extended family with him. When you're a parent, you don't get to just Follow!Your!Bliss! You have to put the welfare of those little beings you produced ahead of everything else.

I wonder if this douchebag is the type to rationalize his selfishness with "but if I'm happy, my wife and/or kids will be happy too!" Frankly I'm shocked that his wife is still married to him. If I were her, I'd leave, take the kids, and soak him for every penny of child support I could get. At least this way he couldn't squander it on "but my dreeeeeams!"
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:07 PM on November 6 [8 favorites]


Also I've heard of at least one shop (the're usually designer clothes shops) that was basically being run at a loss as a plaything for a rich guy's wife to keep from getting bored

This is pretty much exactly how Cabana Boy Productions got the film rights for Neuromancer, for what it's worth (said hobby came with two cabana boys, at least one of whom indeed seemed to be adroit at dispelling boredom).
posted by jackbishop at 12:58 PM on November 6


I'd always encourage someone to pursue their dreams. That's the point of life, not sitting behind a desk for 8 hours a day working for someone else. But take baby steps and do your research, don't just plunge in blindly. And maybe don't pick a notoriously impossible industry like fine dining.
posted by miyabo at 3:13 PM on November 6


BEGINNING:
Eighty per cent of first-time restaurateurs fail. I knew this. Opening a restaurant was the least sensible, dumbest thing I could do. My wife, Dorothy, a daycare worker, was coasting toward the end of a maternity leave, and we had two kids to feed. I was in no position to take a risk.
ENDING:
If I knew back in 2013 what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it.
Christ, what an asshole.
posted by mmoncur at 3:54 PM on November 6 [12 favorites]


Rosie M. Banks: Frankly I'm shocked that his wife is still married to him.

I kept thinking about that as I read the story. I imagined her thinking about the fact that she'd be trying to make it as a single mother in Toronto on daycare worker wages, and making sad calculations in her head that were more realistic than any of the calculations he ever made.
posted by clawsoon at 4:06 PM on November 6 [19 favorites]


I'm a mite confused about the mockery of this guy

And mmoncur just defined why there's so much mockery of this guy. A lot of his "if I only knew!" moments are such basic common knowledge in the biz that it's like watching someone stick their hand in a fryer and declare that it's very hot.

This article in particular is practically a perfect storm of shit not to do in the restaurant business - from faking it and slacking on his opportunity to learn how to hustle in his friends kitchen to closing for a vacation just as things are heating up to wasting money all over the place.

To be fair these kinds of outrage articles are kind of like the modern business/lifestyle equivalent of a horror film. "Oh my God, don't go in that door quit your successful career to become an artisan taco bowl maker!"

It's a cheap thrill.
posted by loquacious at 4:10 PM on November 6


Back to the chip derail!

I seem to recall that we double cooked them for speed rather than for the taste - they were half-fried in advance (usually first thing in the morning or after the lunch rush), and then we just had to quickly warm them through the second time so we could keep fresh chips coming at short notice when there was a rush on. The end result was still a normal chip shop chip.

Interesting discussion of temps and times here and here and here.
posted by tinkletown at 4:12 PM on November 6


To be clear, I’m a moron. I continuously piss my money away and make bad decisions on a near-hourly basis.

However, I do nth those who are pointing out that the article goes like

[list of things he knew in 2013]

[litany of acting like he doesn’t know those things]

ending: if only I’d known [list of things I knew in 2013] in 2013, I wouldn’t have done stuff!
posted by tel3path at 4:43 PM on November 6 [2 favorites]


loquacious: "To be fair these kinds of outrage articles are kind of like the modern business/lifestyle equivalent of a horror film."

I was just thinking that this article was like a never-ending series of "oh noooo, don't go in there!" moments. The end of so many paragraphs caused that exact reaction in me:
  • To me, Marco Pierre White was inspirational. I wanted to be him. And I wanted my own Yew Tree.
  • What I lacked in experience I could make up for in enthusiasm.
  • I lost money, but I didn’t care. My dream was gnawing at my insides.
  • We could enjoy a better lifestyle and maybe buy a nicer house. Plus, I’d be doing what I loved.
  • Eventually, she embraced my dream, too. Now I just needed to find the money.
  • I smiled, drained my pint glass. “You pulled it off,” I said. “Why can’t I?”
  • Admittedly, I had an ulterior motive: the place was a 10-minute walk from my house and close to the girls’ school—key to keeping Dorothy on board.
  • I wanted it so badly that I convinced myself it was the perfect fixer-upper.
  • We had started with $60,000; after six weeks, we were down to $3,000, and there was still so much to do.
  • What I didn’t realize was that I was charging too little—we were producing exquisite, labour-intensive meals and selling them at Swiss Chalet prices. I clearly didn’t have a head for business.
posted by mhum at 6:50 PM on November 6 [8 favorites]


we were producing exquisite, labour-intensive meals and selling them at Swiss Chalet prices.

I thought this was a perfectly sensible business plan until I noticed the leading capital on chalet and a visit to Wikipedia informed me it was a Canadian chain of cheap restaurants. Actual Swiss chalets are not exactly renowned for being inexpensive.
posted by Dysk at 6:57 PM on November 6 [4 favorites]


Great, now I'm craving Swiss Chalet.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:36 PM on November 6 [2 favorites]


I thought this was a perfectly sensible business plan until I noticed the leading capital on chalet and a visit to Wikipedia informed me it was a Canadian chain of cheap restaurants. Actual Swiss chalets are not exactly renowned for being inexpensive.

You have obviously never read Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood and you should remedy that as soon as is reasonable, because it's an awesome book. Swiss Chalet does not play a particularly important part of it, but it's in there, which is how I know it's a rotisserie chicken place.
posted by lazuli at 7:47 PM on November 6 [4 favorites]


I dated a couple guys who thought this way. One is allergic to steady employment and is always filled with ideas about his next amazing dream job that will naturally make tons of money. One of them was, you guessed it, owning a coffee shop with a stage for people to perform at an open mic.

I have an old friend who lost his public radio job some years ago when the station where we grew up closed. After a period of unemployment, he went to work as a hospital janitor. He is a really, really good hospital janitor. I really admire him for going back to work, rather than staying unemployed because there were no jobs in his field in the area. I don't know all the details of his family's financial situation, but he, his wife, and their two college-age kids seem to be doing well. They're a really loving, thriving family and they manage the usual kind of few-days-up-north Michigan vacations.

A few years ago, he posted his daily diary from when he was, oh, roughly 11 to 14. This kid worked so hard! He had a paper route, he cleaned the rectory at the catholic church. By the time I got to to know him, he was a junior in high school who cleaned floors at a grocery store at night. So this is someone who has always had a real drive to work. But I can't help contrasting him with the many people I know, like a good friend's brother, who will not do work they think is "beneath" them, or where they wouldn't earn what they think they're worth, so are always living marginally, begging for bail-outs from family members, and so forth. It's something I admire a lot, the willingness to do an honest day's work even if someone is "overqualified" for it.
posted by Orlop at 10:37 PM on November 6 [11 favorites]


A nearby diner closed overnight, without paying the workers, due to the owner having cancer. While obviously I don't wish that anyone lose their livelihood, I was struck by the fact that the place couldn't even continue running without her. She had all the worst aspects of a job and the worst aspects of a business.
posted by wnissen at 1:06 PM on November 7 [1 favorite]


As a worker, while I may have sympathy for a boss with a serious illness, cancer doesn’t seem like an excuse not to pay your employees after they’ve put in time on your behalf.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:11 PM on November 7


If I knew back in 2013 what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it.

I like how people literally told him what would happen and he lists a book, Kitchen Confidential, that would have told him exactly what to expect also.
posted by Artw at 3:44 PM on November 7 [6 favorites]


But I can't help contrasting him with the many people I know, like a good friend's brother, who will not do work they think is "beneath" them, or where they wouldn't earn what they think they're worth, so are always living marginally, begging for bail-outs from family members, and so forth.

All things which “Wants to own a coffee shop but doesn’t want to work in one” Guy does. Fortunately, his parents are wealthy, and just enabling enough to make sure he doesn’t starve or freeze, but not enough to save him from any other consequences, so at least he isn’t putting them in the poorhouse from his ineptitude. Unlike Chef Douchebag.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:26 AM on November 8


ActingTheGoat, I absolutely agree. My point is that there was so little margin in the business that without the owner working full time, there wasn't even money for payroll. (I'm assuming here that they would stiff suppliers before staff.)
posted by wnissen at 5:30 PM on November 8


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