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It’s Only Week Three…

June 17, 2012

When I read this after getting back to my apartment, I realize it sounds very disjointed. At times, it’s angry, it’s depressing, and others it’s happy or hopeful. To people who read this, I can only explain that that’s part of running a restaurant. At times, I’m on the top of the world, and some times I’m one comment away from just feeling like I’m the biggest idiot. That’s life in small business, and definitely life in the restaurant industry.

What follows is in some sense how I really feel, and in others how I feel after a twelve-plus hour shift while sitting on the Long Island Rail Road:

When you’re constantly thinking about something, it can be hard to remember exactly how long you’ve actually been thinking about it.

The mantra at the restaurant these days is that this past Thursday was our third week of being open. It’s hard to believe, but the restaurant has only just finished close of its twenty third day at time of writing. That is, if while I’m sitting here on the Long Island Rail Road, the four people who learned that we keep actual sprigs of mint behind the bar have left. Yes, by the way, we keep mint on hand. It’s the benefit of having a fully stocked kitchen twenty feet from your bar.

Still, a lot of people have been asking me how the restaurant is going, and it’s always hard to tell them. Do you want to hear about how I’m tired, and lagging behind with other goals? How sometimes I wish we had more people eating? Or that actually, considering it’s the third week, and our most successful advertisement has been putting a chalkboard sign on the sidewalk, we’re doing alright.

That’s the thing about being open for only a few weeks, we really don’t have answers for everything, or much of anything.

If you had asked me this morning what one of our most popular dishes was, I’d have listed the Lobster Fettucini as one of our more popular dishes. Yet, tonight, no one ordered it while for the first time people put foie gras on their burgers, and they did it more than I would expect. Some nights, people come in and can’t even pronounce Pork Rillette let alone eat it, sometimes we have groups lined down the bar eating it while watching baseball.

Do I wish it was going better?

Yes, of course.

But I’ll always wish it is doing better. The restaurant could be a smash hit, and open for decades after my father retires, and guess what? I’ll still wish it was doing better. I could be standing in a packed dining room; waitresses taking orders, bussers running plates to tables, patrons laughing, smiling, drinking bottles of wine, and not eating off the prix fixe. I’ll just be wondering, “Well, why can’t they eat faster? I’d love us to turn it over twice tonight.”

The honest answer is, it could be going better, but it’s also only the third week. We’re clearly starting to fall into a rhythm of the weekends being busier than the weekdays, like every other restaurant in the world. We’re also slowly picking up more customers as time passes.

Part of the problem is, a lot of people still don’t realize we actually exist. People have walked in and not realized until they sat down that we are not the previous restaurant that closed five months ago. Others have walked by our restaurant with its lights on, staff smiling, with people sitting and laughing at our bar and not blinked.

The other issue is that we are different.

I’ve begun to hate the word intimidating.

A few of our staff, and some of our family’s friends have mentioned that our menu is intimidating, our wine list and specialty cocktails, beer, and so on. It’s all intimidating. We’re scary because we’re different.

Sometimes, it’s not bad to be intimidating though.

Especially if you’re intimidating because you’re serving Long Island Duck Breast that looks like this.

We are not here to be like the other guy. A large part of why we do what we do is because we’re not the other guy. I’ll come out and say it, I don’t want to serve Blackstone Merlot, and a Pinot Grigio that doesn’t taste like anything. While I’ll scarf down a basket of mozzarella sticks because fat fried in fat is delicious, it doesn’t mean I want to see it served at my bar.

Fried cucumbers with some sort of tangy and spicy sauce, well we’ll talk.

We want people to come in because we’re different.

More importantly, we want people to come in and not know what things are. If there’s one thing I love more than anything in the world, it’s questions.

“So, which one of these wines is fuller bodied?”

“I want seafood, but I can’t decide between the mussels and the sea bass. I also thought the salad or the steak looked good. What would you suggest?”

“What’s Yuzo sauce?”
“What comes with the cheese plate?”

“What does a Philtini taste like?”

“Is that real mint?”

Those are some of my favorites from the first three weeks and I just want to add more.

 

A concise analogy to end this, would be another small business owner. I noticed his shop when we were moving in, slightly ahead of us in the process. A little over a month ago they opened, and for a long time, every time I saw him I just thought of how sad and bored he looked. He didn’t seem to get much business, and I felt bad in a sense. Often times he would stand outside of his storefront, just staring at the other places, shaking his head clearly thinking that he made a terrible decision.

Now, I rarely see him outside of his storefront because he’s busy. I hear people talking about his shop when they walk down the street. I see people going in and out when I walk to work some days. I see them going in all afternoon.

I see them, because I’m sometimes standing outside my storefront, staring at other places, shaking my head clearly thinking I made a terrible decision.

People often say that the first year of a business is the hardest. It is, yes, the first year is the hardest because you’re balancing costs, you’re forging relationships with distributors, you’re going to make good decisions and bad decisions, get windfalls and screwed over. That first month though, that first month is a roller coaster of emotions.

If you see me and ask me about the restaurant, just be prepared.

I might say it’s doing great and it’s the best thing in the world.

I might avoid the question.

I might also sound like I’m the saddest guy who owns a restaurant in the world.

It’s the first month, and it’s rough.

Also, as I mentioned to one person the other day. I’m not the happiest guy in the world anyway, don’t expect otherwise.

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