The past few months have been a whirlwind for the restaurant. We have received some amazing press. Business is up 40% from last year. We have paid off all of our debts and are now completely debt free. When I set back and look at all we have done in these first 3 1/2 years of being open, I am amazed considering we started out pretty humble.
When we opened the doors there were only 2 other people who really believed in us beside ourselves: Jen's dad and my mom. My old boss gave me 3 years before I would come crawling back for a job. Many people I knew in Vegas didn't take us very serious when we moved away. I think more than a few expected to see us back. And since we were completely unknown here in Traverse City, no one gave us the time of day for the first few months. We have had to fight and scrap every step of the way. Saying we opened the restaurant by our boot straps is a gross understatement. We spent most of the initial investment of just a few thousand dollars on opening costs and began our new venture with less than $2,000 in the bank. Not the best business advise I would give anyone, as it is usually advisable to have at least 6 months projected revenue in the bank before even thinking of opening a restaurant.
Ours was not a typical restaurant opening. We didn't have a big budget; our opening staff was me, my wife Theresa, Jen, and my son Calvin. The pans we used, and are still using, were not bought new, instead they all came from our houses. They are a hodge-podge of 5 or so different brands. Jen often comes back from the thrift store with new find, and we add it to our small collection. Many of our pans don't even have handles. Our dishes were not, and still aren't, fine china. Theresa and Calvin had never worked in a restaurant prior to us opening. Their training consisted of a Knute Rockne inspired speech, a few dos and don'ts, and a good luck; then off we went. From there we simply winged it, solving problems as they cropped up, hoping like hell whatever the next issue would be wouldn't cost to much, or that our guests wouldn't notice. We opened the restaurant with no backup plan. We had no choice but to make it work. We thought we had a pretty good thing and hoped everyone else would think so also, so we decided to just do what we do and let things naturally happen from there.
Now 3 1/2 years later we are much more established and stable, but our style hasn't changed. We are not a restaurant one goes to if they are looking for a well polished performance. Our style is much more organic (pun intended, mostly,...well, really more like 70/30, OK 60/40) than that. We do, and let the cards fall as they may. I am infamous for leaving for a catering and having no idea where said catering is, but I know we'll get there on time. I don't mean to say we don't plan, which we do, it's just that we plan differently from most everyone else and then just let things happen. It's how we opened and it's still how we do it. Our staff has, for the most part, become used to the seat of the pants approach we use. Most of them don't even have to carry paper bags to breath into anymore since they are learning, ever so slowly, that it just works out if we let it. I wouldn't recommend this approach to everyone, but it works for us.
Now, as a self professed obsessive type, I must admit that at times I wonder if I shouldn't get more worked up about our bit more laid back style; if perhaps we should make more of an effort to be more polished. Each time I think about I come to the same conclusion: no. And I'm going to tell you why.
I'm not an end of the road kind of guy. I don't care if I ever get to my destination. For me the important thing is in becoming. The most important thing I look for in my cooks and wait staff is are they in the process of becoming. Give me someone who wants to be and I can make them a cook. But no matter the talent, if a person thinks they have already arrived, then there is nothing I can do with them. I would rather have a teenager in the dinning room fumbling awkwardly but trying like hell than someone who can't be taught. Polish comes with time, and I am a patient person. There are some who think we are moving to slow but I keep saying that in the long run we will be better off if we focus on getting better and not being perfect now.
I like our kind of restaurant. I like the fact we have blemishes. I like it that people can come in to eat and not feel any intimidation. I believe our shortcomings are just important as our successes. Years ago I was a perfectionist in the kitchen. In the process I have had two nervous breakdowns and I am sure the stress I put myself under to attain an unattainable goal has taken a couple years off my life. Now-a-days I am happy to look out into the dinning room and see happy people, knowing full well that we could do better and with full confidence that tomorrow we will.