Because I Have To

Any regular reader of my work will know that I’ve been pretty open about my life experience. I can point to a day in May 2010 when my writing took on a new timbre when my now late wife received her first diagnosis of cancer.  My first compulsion after receiving the news was to leave the hospital, go home and begin to write about it.  I think that’s when I knew I was a writer.

I write because I have to. 

And that’s a good motive to possess at my age.  I’m on the back 9 of my life and grateful that I am in a position to focus on what I enjoy doing, but also on things I’m good at.

I’m in my third month of my new culinary venture known as The Portico and it is already proving to be the right risk for me to take.  I mentioned this in a previous post.  It’s my one-table-per-night backyard dining experience. And I’m having more fun than I deserve.

Just like writing, my cooking is also compulsive. I feel like I have to cook for others. If I don’t, I’m afraid something will dry up inside me. And The Portico has been the perfect fit for me this season.

The Portico at night

It was all borne out of COVID restrictions last year. No one could go out to eat since all the restaurants and venues were closed. Celebrations were curtailed, yet people were clamoring to get out and do something.

You have not because you ask not, except for the first couple in May 2020 who asked me to make a meal for their 25th anniversary. They were supposed to be in London to celebrate the occasion and the travel ban nixed those plans. I said yes and built a multi-course meal with two nice wines. I boxed it up and sent it to their house and they were delighted.

Then the power of social media took over.

Don’t call this pork, “the other white meat.”

After posting photos of their food, I began receiving requests the very next day, asking, “can you do that for us?” To which I replied,  “Yes and no. I will make a meal for you, but I won’t put it in a box. Would you feel safe and comfortable in my backyard?”  They said yes.

38 dinners later, I closed out the inaugural season of The Portico on November 07, 2020.

It snowballed into an opportunity for people to gather again, and it ultimately became my new business. It was all word-of-mouth. I did no advertising. This post is the most forward I’ve been about broadcasting an explanation.

Fettuccine w/ Bacon, Snap Peas, Micro Cilantro & Nasturtium

The story is too long to include here, but the details that led to a second season include gaining approval from the IRS, the Liquor Commission and the County Health Department. I received final approval on April 29 and The Portico served its first official guests on May 01, 2021.

If you are interested in learning more about how to request a reservation this season, send an email to 55degreesUS@gmail.com and I will send a full description.

Make Today Count,

KS

Adjustments

Adjustment is another word for change. And change is something we all know much about in this last year.

About 7 years ago, I made an attempt to get in better physical shape by hiring the service of a personal trainer. In our very first session, he immediately assessed an important issue that he wanted to address.  He asked me to stand up straight, face him and relax. Then he told me to look down at my feet and asked me what I saw. I was confused and thought it might be a trick question.  He told me, “Look at your right foot. How is it different from your left?” I replied, “It’s angled outward just a bit.”

“There’s your problem.”

The trainer went on to say, “And I can help you fix it.” 

It seemed easy enough, but I wasn’t prepared for the work that it would require. Years of muscle memory had to be reprogrammed. His instruction was simple, but the execution was difficult.

As time progressed, my good intentions faded under the demands of a stressful marriage and business and I lost sight of the trainer’s instruction.

When my new identity began a year and a half ago, I no longer had two people to take care of and now it was back to just taking care of me.  Living alone, I had no excuses in the house to stop me from working out again, eating better and getting my body back into a fit state.

I remember the trainers advice and put it back into play. I focused on moving my right foot 10 degrees back toward center. Every time I walked, I worked at keeping the right foot pointed forward and not angled out.  It took months, but the work paid off.

I started noticing the pain in my right knee beginning to subside. My lower back now felt less pressure. Then I came to this conclusion:

Maybe I can run again?

With this 10 degree adjustment, coupled with getting twenty unnecessary pounds off my frame, I ran my first mile in at least ten years on March 26, 2021 at age 57. 

I was elated. I thought those days were behind me, and certainly the days of running 26 miles at the same pace are behind me, but my body remembered the pleasure of propelling itself forward. And that’s an amazing feeling at any age.

Running was always a motivational metaphor for me.  I recall deciding to run my first marathon in 1986 as a senior in college.  I thought if I could deal with the pain of enduring 26 miles, I’m sure it will help me deal with other kinds of pain.  

It was a prophetic thought meant for 30 years in the future when my life started falling apart.  Where did I get that wisdom at age 22?

I describe the transition through intense personal loss as coming to a place where the bleeding has stopped and the swelling has gone down and I can start to breathe normally again.  It’s time to shift from thinking about the immediate and start thinking about a future direction under my new identity.

In the last five years, I watched the dream of my work turn to a nightmare.  All three restaurants that I designed had failed and I let a lot of people down because of it.  My marriage was already on the brink of collapse and adding insult to injury, she was diagnosed with a third occurrence of ovarian cancer and would die exactly one year later.  I was unemployed and not sure what to do.

In May of 2020, a gift was presented to me in the form of a request from former patrons who knew me as “chef,” a name I was wondering if was relevant any longer. I kept my knives, but sold or gave away most of the food preparation gear I had in the garage.  They asked if I would make a meal for their 25th anniversary, as they were supposed to be in London celebrating, but the pandemic travel ban had disrupted those plans.  I agreed. I made a 5 course meal with two bottles of wine, boxed it up and sent it to their house. They paid me handsomely and I had fun preparing food again.

The very next day, I received a text from another couple who knew me as chef. They said they saw the pictures of the meal I made and wanted to ask if I would do the same for them. It was their 35th anniversary. I agreed, but with one stipulation. I would not put food in a box. I asked if they would feel safe and comfortable with me serving them in my backyard. It was outdoors and socially distant. And they agreed.

38 dinners later, I wrapped up on November 07.

It was an opportunity that found me, and it was all driven by the pandemic. People were clamoring to dine out together and word-of-mouth referrals drove the occasion.

In December of last year, I began receiving inquiries from past guests, asking if I was going to do “that thing” again. I said I never planned to do it in the first place, so who knows?

However, I had a few persistent guests that pressed me to take it seriously. They pointed out that they had never had such a unique and intimate meal completely driven, hosted, cooked and served by the chef himself.  What would it take to make this backyard experience a legitimate business?   We agreed to a meeting in January to discuss it.

Fast forward through the details, on May 01, 2021, The Portico was officially approved by the Health Department and I launched my new business venture. 

It’s just me, my food and my table. And it’s great to be back.

And like me learning to run again, I had some adjustments to make to reclaim the name chef again.

One thing I had to do was forgive myself. While I would need forgiveness from the many that I disappointed, it was extending forgiveness to myself for the mistakes I made that hurt so many. This was a critical first step in recovering from the downpour of loss.

Forgiveness is like moving my right foot 10 degrees back in lockstep with the desired direction. One attitude out of line will produce debilitating pain and prevent me from doing what I really want to do. And that’s to live a free and full life.

The Portio Experience is a 5 course dinner, served over 4+ hours. I seat one table per night and is by reservation only.  If you would like more information about attending, send an email to 55degreesUS@gmail.com and add Tell Me More About The Portico in the subject line.

I’ll set the table. You bring the conversation

Chef Kevin

The Irish and Hank

Every year, I always look forward to March 17, St Patrick’s Day, as does a large part of the rest of the world. Have you ever stopped to wonder why? Why are we drawn into wearing green, drinking Guinness and eating corned beef and cabbage on that one day out of the year?  Some might say that it’s just an excuse to get drunk, and I’m here to say that I think it’s more than that.  To explain, let me share about my dog and what he has taught me about it.

Hank is a rescue dog with an unknown pedigree.  I’ve had him for about five years.  He looks like a boxer in the torso, with broad shoulders and narrow haunches, but his head looks like a bird dog of some type. When I take him to the vet, his chart reads “boxer mix” because the doctor agrees with my visual assessment. But I now know different.

Hank is a lab. And his instincts proved it for me.

I take him to the city dog park each week because he’s impossible to manage on a leash. He can roam freely on the open acres fenced in for the dogs. On one particular day, two identical black dogs found us throwing the ball and decided to join in. At once I thought I had 3 Hanks. They all responded the same way to my gestures. I would throw the ball and the three of them take off running to retrieve it.  Regardless of which dog got there first, together the three would return to me, drop the ball, and stare at me, panting, as if to say, “Do it again!”

The owner caught up to us and I asked about her dogs. She said they were black labs, purebred. I told her mine wasn’t pure, but his instincts definitely were.

It’s fascinating to me to see how a dog can be bred for certain characteristics over time. It’s in their DNA. And that’s why I think we love St Patrick’s Day.  

It’s bred into us.

The Irish are a people that have been marginalized for centuries. They have been raided, pillaged and plundered by many sources. They are anything but lucky.  Yet they are a representation of what it means to be resilient. Their music embodies both grief and celebration. The Irish can dance and mourn, weep and laugh. They drink to be happy and drink to forget. 

I think I’m instinctively drawn to this, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Beneath the beads, the Lucky Charms, the shots of Jameson and the hangovers lie an innate reason. We’re all trying to find our way back home. We want to be in a place where we feel like we belong. And it’s reasonable to think that the Irish might be of some help.

The difference in me and Hank is he doesn’t have to think about it. He responds instinctively to his true nature. I, on the other hand, deliberate and talk myself out of my deepest instincts. My heart knows its longings, but I’ve been conditioned to distrust or ignore them. But there are always voices calling me back to where I belong.

Occasionally Hank will escape the yard following his bloodlust for the squirrel or fox. But I’ve learned to not worry. He’ll find his way back home. It’s his instinct.

My heart knows where it’s from. I do well to pay attention.

It will always call me back home.

Strange Fire

At first, I hesitated to use this picture because it may be easily misunderstood, but therein lies the risk of the writer when seeking to communicate below the surface.

A few years after I moved into this house and it was evident that we would be here for a while, I built my kids a playfort. It had a swingset, a slide and a clubhouse with a shingled roof. I had fun designing and building it and it proved to be a worthwhile investment of a few weekends worth of work.  My kids spent hours with it. I taught them both how to swing themselves, but they still liked it when Dad would push.

Five years ago, when I was an empty nester, I realized that there was no longer a need for the playfort. It was showing its wear from the elements and I wondered if it’s time was up.

Instead of taking immediate action, I felt it was important to ask both my kids for their permission to tear it down. I wasn’t sure what they would say, but I wanted to honor their opinion.  They both seemed puzzled that I would ask, and gave me their blessing. But my daughter did ask one question; “What are you going to put there?”

I said, “How about a fire pit?” To which they both said, “Yes! Go for it.”

I picked a weekend to begin demolition. My plan was to cut it down into firewood sized pieces and use the old lumber to build the first fires. I began by removing the slide and the swingset before moving to the clubhouse. I was not prepared for what I found inside. In a child’s handwriting, the first words I saw were:

“Girls Only. No Boys Allowed.”

The entire walls were covered with writing, stick figures and sayings. Included were the clubhouse rules and the names of the girls in the club.

I sat down on the edge of the platform and cried.

As I felt the nostalgia sweep over me, I contemplated not tearing it down.  How could I rid myself of this history?  I stopped my work for the rest of the day. I wasnt sure I could go through with it.

As my emotions conferred with my reason, I came to a conclusion the next day. I’m getting rid of the playfort. I’m not getting rid of my children. This assertion didn’t make the demolition easy, but it did give me pause to think about the beautiful gift of memories.

The playfort served its time. It did what it was supposed to do.

I recall setting the first pieces of wood ablaze in my new backyard feature. The same emotion was there, but I knew I had to face the grief straightaway. I sat back and watched the fire consume the old lumber, and the sense of loss turned to peaceful rest.

It only took minutes to burn down a portion of what took me weeks to build and years for the kids to enjoy. Life is like that fire. What I have and what I have built will be gone in a moment. But until then, I have the choice to invest as much in it as I choose.

Since then, I’ve put many obsolete items in that fire in the same way I burned the playfort. In the picture above is an old table. It was crooked and uneven, causing it wobble when something was set on it. It had been around for years and I wasn’t sure why. So I decided to toss it into the fire one night.  I didn’t need or want it any longer. It served its purpose. Life moves on. And I move with it.

It’s time to build something new.

Did We Do What We Came To Do?

I spent a lot of time by myself last year. The pandemic and recent arctic blast of subzero temperatures has assisted this decision. But I’m an introvert, not a loner. I know how to be alone. I just don’t like feeling alone.

The sum of my life experiences add up to the whole of the man I am today.  One of those many experiences includes my childhood heritage. As a young boy growing up in a rural area of northeastern Oklahoma, I didn’t have many options for social interactions. As a result, I learned how to keep company with myself. I would have preferred hanging out with kids my age, doing the things kids did to entertain themselves. I just didn’t have that option.

I taught myself a number of skills that would come back to serve me in my new season of aloneness. I learned that complaining had no value and would not net me anything I desired. So as a boy, I retreated to my mind for companionship. My imagination kept me company. Even as it does today.

I choose to see these days as a season of time that I may never have back. I may not have the opportunity to travel at the drop of a hat or to write as freely and often as I am now. I may not always have the freedom to turn up the music at 3am when I can’t sleep or to let the dog sleep at the foot of the bed.

I may not always have the time to watch all the old war movies that I never saw.  I may never have a garden as beautiful as the one I have planned this year.  I may not have the liberty to take long walks in the middle of the afternoon because it’s finally sunny and 68 degrees.

I may never have this same chance to record the music that is hatching in my head. Or to archive my thoughts of faith and hope in audio for my family and friends to know more about me. I may never be able to bang on the drums in the basement as loudly as I do now.

There is a time and a season for everything. My dad taught me the value of this wisdom by reminding me to stop and smell the roses.  He was a certified rosarian. Growing roses was his hobby. He gave me my green thumb. I loved walking with him through his multiple rose gardens, listening to him describe the latest cultivars and varieties he was enjoying.  I’ve since taken that wisdom and made it my own. Enjoy what’s right in front of me. Right now.

In 2009 I had the opportunity to take my family to Ireland. I could not pass up this chance to get my kids to an international destination and show them another culture and way of life.  In preparation, I made a checklist of three essential items; coat, backpack and suitcase. All four of us had these three pieces and every member was responsible for toting their own. Anytime we were moving to a new area, I would ask Coat? Check. Backpack? Check. Suitcase? Check. And off we go.

I came up with a version of my dad’s roses advice on that trip.  At each city, I would ask the kids, “did we do what we came to do?” Meaning we may not ever get back here, so speak up now if there is something you want to see or do. 

I may never get this kind of time to myself ever again. Instead of wishing things would get back to normal, I don’t want to miss what is available in the abnormal. Am I doing what I’m supposed to do with the time that I have?

Am I doing what I came to do? 

Certainty and Control

The recent news of yet another noted leader in the evangelical world is making the news for revelations of sexual misconduct. Instead of explaining the details, here is an article outlining the allegations against apologist and teacher, Ravi Zacharias.

I am saddened by this news, but I am not surprised.

As one who refers to himself as a recovering evangelical, this is an area of high interest to me.  I grew up attending an evangelical church in my formative years in the 70’s and 80’s.  I studied at and hold a degree from an evangelical seminary. This is my heritage and I cannot deny or disown it. It has influenced and shaped me.

I use the term recovering to describe my faith journey much like any addict who is getting over an unhealthy relationship with something that holds power over them. In my case, it was not drugs or alcohol. Instead, I was bound to a system of thinking.

This system that I have come to reject was less about the ideas and tenants of the faith that I still hold dear to this day. It was more about the spirit that encompassed these ideas.

I’m talking about certainty and control.

As a young evangelical, I was trained in how to share my faith with others who did not believe like I did.  This training was built around being prepared with the right answers for any question that I would encounter. The oft quoted scripture used to defend was this:

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Ravi Zacharias was at the top of the pyramid when it came to finding those answers.

He would appear on college campuses for debates with well-known atheists. As young evangelicals, we would attend these meetings much like a sporting match, hoping for a knockout blow from our champ against the opponent.  There would even be cheers when we felt like he delivered a point-scoring jab.

We all wanted to be on the winning side.

But over time, as I began to relate more and more to people who did not think like me, I grew more disillusioned with this competitive metaphor to describe my faith.  I had started making new friends who were muslim or hindu, athiest or gay. I did not like the notion of going to battle against them to prove myself right. There had to be a better way.

As an intuitive person inclined toward feeling deep emotion and instinct, I realized I had been ignoring my own heart as an evangelical.  I was taught to distrust my heart and emotions for they were considered evil and unreliable. Feelings were tertiary to facts, knowledge and reason. These were the engines to which I was instructed to pull the train. 

As I trusted my heart, I saw this dichotomy more clearly. If I ignore my heart, I ignore my story. And if I ignore my story, I miss everything in it, especially the dark parts.

I slowly started to toss overboard this flotsam and jetsam. I did not throw my faith into Davy Jones locker, but I did gladly watch the system of certainty and control settle to the bottom.

Mr Zacharias fulfilled the teachings of Jesus in these words

Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.

Whatever means I use to protect myself will eventually be my demise and cause my downfall.  If I guard my faith by a rigid system of certainly and control, what else am I guarding? 

I like the way I live and believe now. I enjoy the freedom in it. I don’t have to convince you to think like me. I never had that need for control anyway, so why would I want to control how you think?

I’d much rather our friendship be based on curiosity than control.

Stories like Mr Zacharias will continue to emerge as long as leaders like this refuse to own their entire story. Not just the logical parts. Not just the reasonable parts. Not just in the rational thinking.

The whole story.

Creativity and Loss

Artwork by Annika Kristin Illustration
Audio track by Kevin Shinn, ©55 Degrees, 2021

All loss isn’t equal. But all loss must be grieved.

There isn’t a gold standard or a canon that outlines the right way to grieve. Loss hits us all so differently because the circumstances surrounding the loss are so different.  I only hope by adding my voice to the mix, there might be someone out there that resonates with the choices I’m making and take solace or comfort in feeling seen in their pain.

The way I choose to go about dealing with my loss isn’t about reading the right book or following a road map. But it is about listening to my heart and body and taking their opinion into account. I glean insight and wisdom from a variety of people that have suffered loss, especially those who’s loss doesn’t look like mine.  I can learn hope from those who have experienced the loss of a child, the loss of a physical home, the loss of mobility or even the loss of joy.  

Loss is absence. And it doesn’t have to mean the absence of something good. But it has to be dealt with nonetheless.

Loss creates a void, an empty space that causes a vacuum that wants to draw something back into its place. Understandably so.

And this is where mistakes get repeated. The void demands to be filled, and oftentimes, it gets filled with something all too familiar.

A person can lose a partner to divorce, but it feels more like a death. And vice versa. And the deep cavity in the heart needs tending, in order to prevent the same mistakes from happening again (and again).

I’m at a new juncture in my loss and new identity. The heavy lifting of processing and paying attention over the last year has enabled me to develop new emotional muscle. It wasn’t a passive stage, but it was still very inward focused.  I’m asking my heart and body, “what’s next?”

The void needs to be filled. This is normal human nature and requisite.  What will fill it is the $64 dollar question.

Enter the creative process.  Creativity is the ability to point to something new that did not previously exist and say, “I did that. I made that happen.” Creativity puts something on display that is a direct result of the work of my hands, my energy, my vision.

I haven’t uploaded a blogpost in a while because I’ve been putting my creative energy toward new things. I’m working on a concept for a second book.  I have a new culinary venture that I am launching in May. And I have returned to draw from a long-lost well that I love so dearly: Writing music. It’s all my attempt to fill the void. I want to look back on my creation, in the same way my Creator did on the 7th day and say:

It is very good.

Taking note of the ancient text of Scripture is profoundly important to me, but it can be easy to become so familiar with it, that eventually I become unfamiliar with its richest meaning. In order to remedy that, I create musical soundbeds to lay the text upon so I can listen to it on a walk or in the car.  I have no intention for them other than private edification. I have posted one of my recent creations for you to observe how the creative process works for me.

Make room. Don’t hold back.

Audio track by Kevin Shinn, ©55 Degrees, 2021

How Am I Doing?

The Apple of My Eye by Amy Beth Petersen

Grief is not monolithic nor unilateral. It’s multi-faceted. It’s nuanced and personal. The light fractures off my brokenness in a different array than yours. The colors that exude are much more than black and white.

Grief is like a Venn diagram. There is a vast expanse that is empty and feels void. Most of the tears shed in that space go unwitnessed. But like all terra incognita, exploration is required to create a chart and a map that might be helpful to someone following in my footsteps.

In the Venn diagram, it’s the overlap that brings insight. When my grief crosses over into your space, new acumen develops. New discoveries get added as a reference point on the new map. Intentional documentation plays a big role here.

In my newfound identity, I have a chance to take new risks and invest in myself in ways I never could before. The stakes aren’t quite so high when it’s just me on the line.  I risked everything once and lost it all. So what’s stopping me from trying again? There’s a whole lot less to bet, and a world of payouts to anticipate. It’s like I’m playing with house money.

I recently joined a writing group called hope*writers.  I decided it was time to invest in my voice as a writer and see where the road would lead. I have just scratched the surface that this resource has to offer but have already begun mining it as a valuable claim. I have connected with other writers who are telling their stories and taking note where another story overlaps with mine.

All loss must be grieved. Writers are inclined to use their words to express the resultant sorrow.  Amy Peterson is one of those authors.

I just finished her book, The Apple of My Eye. It is so beautifully written, I felt compelled to pen a short review and recommendation.

Amy lost her husband this year to a rare form of ocular cancer. With small children at home, it was an even more complicated ordeal to manage. And while the details of her loss are not equivalent to mine, the description of the emotion of five years of treatment and loss sparks deja vu.

The biggest value of this book for me is summed up in these four words in chapter 36, page 211:

“I did my best.”

Any caregiver knows the self-doubt that insidiously creeps into those thoughts that begin with, “what if…”

  • “What if I had kept up with her regular cancer screenings?”
  • “What if I hadn’t risked our life savings and future security to chase a dream?”
  • “What if I didn’t want so much?”

This hamster wheel of second guessing will keep on spinning as long as I volunteer to propel it. And at some point, when exhaustion sets in, its time for me to get off the wheel and accept that, yes, I did my best. There will always be things I wish I did differently and wish I could have changed. But I can’t live life backward.

Sometimes it takes hearing it from someone else, an experienced voice outside of my own head, to affirm what I want to know as true. To hear from someone who knows how to effortlessly describe what the inside of a hospital room smells like or the title of the hymns that the elderly man was playing on the piano in the hospital atrium, there is no substitute for this kind of possession.

All loss isn’t equal, but all loss must be grieved. In my conversations with friends this year, I glean from those who have lost a marriage, a job, and even a pet. There is no spectrum of ranking loss in terms of importance. Your loss is yours. It is loss, regardless. I can’t, nor should I try to minimize my loss by comparing it to yours.

Dear Entrepreneur

Several years ago, I started writing posts to nameless entrepreneurs, offering advice from lessons I was learning from my business challenges. I have a chapter in my book with a few of my favorite entries. If I was writing the book today, I would include this counsel below.

Click the photo to see more information about the book, bread&cup: Beyond Simple Food and Drink.

—————–

Dear Entrepreneur,

These are troubling days for our type.  

Like birthing a child, you conceived a dream. It gestated inside you, long before there was any visible evidence, only you carried it. Only you could feel it. Only you were imagining what it would look like when it would eventually be born.

Only you.

It’s your business, your dream, your baby. No one will care for it like you. No one will care about it like you. You will do anything for it. You will sacrifice anything to keep it alive, even your own health.

Only you.

That’s why you will need some help.

As entrepreneurs, we get emotionally tied to our dreams. We are wired up to take risks. So much so, that it can make us blind.

Twice in my career as a restaurateur, I faced a deep economic crisis. There was a point both times that, apart from a miracle, it looked like I was going to have to shut it all down. The first one came in January 2008. We were in the middle of a dismal winter in our first restaurant. Sales were awful and here I was, only five months in. I didn’t imagine this scenario. I didn’t foresee the hand being dealt to me this way.

And so I felt the temptation that anyone in this situation has felt. Do I take on debt to survive?

Conservative fiscal advice would say no. Borrowing isn’t the same as raising capital. Debt makes me a slave to the lender. Had I listened to the counsel around me, I would have never taken the risk to open the business in the first place.

So I took another risk and borrowed to make payroll. Then in March 2008, spring weather returned and so did a brand new customer base. Each month showed an increase in sales. This led to September 2008, when the Omaha World Herald did a review, naming us as a Top 10 Omaha restaurant. Pretty good considering we weren’t in Omaha.

This opened the doors for a new regional market. Guests were driving to Lincoln from other cities to dine with us. My risk paid off.

The second crisis happened in our third restaurant. It was a similar scenario. We opened in December of 2015. Right out of the gates, it underperformed all our projections by a mile. I faced the same song, second verse. But the second outcome was very different than the first.

Sales languished and got increasingly worse as the weather warmed up. Debt was starting to pile up. It was clear that, barring another miracle, it was only a matter of time. We closed the doors a year after opening.

Entrepreneur, I don’t share this story to frighten you or make you think I there is one right answer in this trying time of the pandemic.  I write this to say that I’ve walked the road you are on currently. While my demise was under different circumstances, the anxiety is exactly the same, as are the temptations to go further into debt.   There is no right or wrong unless it involves an illegal means to stay afloat.

You’re stuck between your visceral gut and your logical mind. Every entrepreneur will most likely find themselves in this ditch. Like Kenny Rogers sang, “you gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold em.”

The only thing I know for certain about it is this: don’t go it alone. Don’t make huge decisions without counsel. Even if you don’t know someone, good people do exist that can walk with you through the dark times.  Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. I know this from experience too. I’m forever grateful for those who got me through it.

Something New

About that Chuck E. Cheese photo…

Last week I began a series of Instagram posts depicting things that were gone or obsolete.  To each post I attached the words, 

“Behold, I am doing something new. Will you not be aware?”

My little project was misunderstood by some, leaving them wondering if I’m opening up a new restaurant in the old Chuck E. Cheese location.

The answer is no. But I can see how the photo was interpreted with that conclusion.

This morning, I think back to Thanksgiving day in 2016. It’s one I’d rather forget. The impending doom of closing a business was crushing me and I felt very little for which to be thankful.

Fast forward four years later, as I rise at 5am, refreshed from sleep, I turn on the oven to begin the long process of preparing food for a meal that will be consumed in a fraction of the time it takes to make it.  But the meal is less the glory than the activity along the way. My family will taste the smoky turkey, but I will recall even the smell of starting the hickory fire in my backyard pit yesterday. The sourdough tang wafting from the oven out through the rest of the house will dissipate before we sit down to eat that bread.  

These are broader elements of which I am aware; the further things I wish I could invite you into.

“Behold. I am doing something new.”

I couldn’t imagine taking refuge in this sentence four years ago. Today, it is my mantra. This is the beautiful role that Hope plays in my life.

The drawerful of cassette tapes.

The wired phone in the hotel room.

The once economically solid and socially significant mall.

These are all a symbol of loss, relegated to a fond and increasingly distant memory.

My restaurants

My late wife

My mom

They, too, are lost. I can’t get them back.

So I grieve the loss with gratitude. And I look forward, with the same grateful spirit.

“Behold. I am something new…”

Yes. I will be aware.

Happy Thanksgiving.