Apr 4th

The fantasy and reality of starting a restaurant

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The painted watercolor is what draws you in, it’s blurry edges and warm hues allow the mind to wonder and conjure up ideas of fantasy.   But, the real picture, the one it imitates has sharply defined edges, harsh light and confusing levels of detail and clutter that you notice only when up close and personal.  The idea of starting one’s own restaurant is no different.  Everyone wants one, I’ve come to find out after meeting too many people in too many places who quip unsolicited about their dreams of owning their own restaurant .  These people who do not know at what temperature you fry food, how to properly poach a medium egg and who cannot distinguish a condensate line on a refrigerator, live in a fantasy world, a world I once lived in too.  But upon hearing these dreams of fantasy, I am torn between wanting to encourage them and punching them in the face and telling them they are an idiot.

I dream too.  It’s a necessary part of creating and launching one’s own restaurant.  The reality is punishing and scary, the dreams feed the fire that keep you moving.  So I dream, all day long sometimes about every detail imagineable.  I dream of festidiously organizing the walk-in with matching lexan containers and crisp blue tape marking the date in the upper right hand corner.  I dream of  unlocking the restaurant in the twilight before sunrise,  pouring an entire deli container of iced coffee, firing up the oven and prepping vegetables to sounds of Edgar Mayer and Bela Fleck, a luxury I enjoy when alone, while the sun is just beginning to light up the Rockies. I dream of walking around the restaurant with a dirty apron, greeting new customers and regulars and while they tell me how happy they are we moved into the neighborhood.  I dream of cranking at a steady pace with my line cooks as we find our groove to the tunes of Bob Marley while the sound of laughter and conversation creeps in just so from the dining room. I dream of crawling into bed at night, delightfully exhausted after getting crushed from an unexpected late push of customers. I dream of local farmers carrying burlap bags of produce through our doors, still warm from the sun and covered in dirt.  And I dream of the bad times, the times when I become completely unglued because one of my cooks takes a short cut and does not respect the food I’ve worked so hard to create.  But these are just dreams, not reality.  I’m living the reality right now and it is a harsh place the often requires dreaming as an escape.

The reality is that my emotions and confidence swing on a pendulum these days, alway at extremes from ” I will conquer the world” to “What have I gotten myself into?”  I have been reminded at every step during this process that nothing good easy.  I have known all along that this is a journey that will define me and not just a pit stop on the long road of life.  I was reminded when I quit a lucrative job in advertising, traveled in South America and came back homeless and jobless with a clear dream, but only a vague notion of how to make it reality. I was reminded again when I invested the last of my saving into this restaurant and resigned as Sous Chef (with full benefits) from one of Denver’s best kitchens.  And I am reminded everyday as I chip away at the details from paint to polish, the sum of which add up to this big dream of mine, that nothing good is easy.

Opening a restaurant is a marathon, followed by another marathon in which you sprint continuously.  It is about details. It is fun, it is exciting and it is at times excruciating.  I have met with architects, engineers, lawyers, paralegals, real estate brokers contractors and sub contractors too many too count.  I have spent weeks canvassing my neighborhood while knocking on doors in sub zero weather to get petitions signed for the right to use my patio, a right I thought I had when I signed the lease months before.  I have attended a half dozen neighborhood meetings, met with members of the mayors staff and neighborhood presidents for this same reason.  I have logged countless hours at Starbucks and consumed enough coffee to kill a tribe of elephants while filling out paperwork, weeding my way through Denver’s endless labyrinth of rules, guidelines and regulations.  I have tested a dozen types of wood  with twenty-something different stains for our bar tops, only to hit the reset button and start all over. I driven a hundred miles to three different locations to save a hundred dollars on a stainless steel shelf, only to figure out that I had the wrong measurements to begin with.  I have borrowed trucks from friends and driven all over hells creation to fill the bed with three compartment sinks and tables I bought for cents on the dollar, but paid dearly for after realizing I had to unload a thousand pounds of equipment on my own.  This is the reality of starting your own restaurant on your own.

Since I started this journey, I have spent many nights lying awake in bed, my brain doing backflips trying grasp all that is ahead.  But when I feel paralyzed by fear, I remind myself that I am doing all of this to conquer my greatest fear; the fear of not spending the rest of my life doing something I love. I remind myself that with each day and each detail, this fantasy is quickly becoming a reality.  And that reality is better than any dream.


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