Just getting home after a full day of restaurant adventure, with the prominent element being the true-to-form Midwestern thunderstorm that showed up uninvited at dinner time this evening. It came on so fast, the folk eating outside had to abandon their tables along with their food and drink and seek shelter inside. I sit now, in the solace of my outdoor man-cave, enjoying the occasional dribble of rain water caroming from leaf to leaf on my big ash tree that stands guardian over most of my back yard. There is something so calming about the air after a summer storm. It is in this that I take refuge, and reflect back on the importance of this day.
It was four years ago today, August 06, that we opened our doors for business. We were hoping to open Monday morning the 5th, but our health inspector was not available to sign off, so we had to wait one more day. It was a little after ten that she gave us the thumbs up, and told us we could open. A quick email to our followers (didn’t have Twitter back then) and a short post on my blog, and by our second day of business, we had a full house.
People ask me what it feels like to cross this mile marker, and I never really know what to say, because words seem so inadequate to express the incredible journey that has unfolded in such a short period of time. As I unwind out here in the night air, listening to Hearts of Space play in unison with the crickets and other night sounds, I thought I would try to put words to emotions of the experience, and see if that would go anywhere.
It’s like having a baby. Up until the day we opened, we were still pregnant with a dream. We carried the idea inside us, like a fetus nourishing itself on its mother’s life blood. But once the doors opened, the baby was born, and it had to be taken care of every single day. No turning back, no giving it back, we were committed and had to figure out how to make it work from here on out.
Was this going to be the biggest mistake of my life? I remember one early morning after about two months of being open, I think it was around 3am, I couldn’t sleep, and could feel my pulse in the soles of my fatigued, overused feet. I recall wondering if I had made the biggest mistake of my life. Was this restaurant idea a dumb pipe dream that led me with stupidity down a path I would not be able to reverse? Sleep deprived, stressed, fearful, the pressure was more than I had ever experienced. But perspective is always clouded by inadequate rest, and I slowly came to realize that it would get better, and indeed it did. Thankfully, I no longer work those same kinds of hours. And no, I don’t think I made the biggest mistake of my life.
Rewards aren’t just monetary. It’s the person I’ve never even met who tells me thank you for going to the trouble of opening this kind of restaurant. It’s the number of times people said, “I don’t feel like I’m in Lincoln when I’m in here. It’s the Omaha World Herald paying us two surprise visits, and writing our first critical review outside our city limits. It’s sitting with Tom, an honest, hardworking man, after my shift on Saturday nights, enjoying a drink and conversation and seeing how much he loves our food and staff. It’s the numerous cards and bouquets of flowers that were sent to the restaurant, to the hospital and to our home after Karen discovered she had ovarian cancer. It’s the eighty-plus people that have worked for us over each of the four years, all of whom made a mark on our efforts to provide simple food and drink
Find your own voice. We had no prior experience before we opened this place. In fact, our first bank turned us down for a loan, after a year and a half of developing a relationship with them, of keeping our business plan in front of them, of even bringing my banker bread and other food we would eventually serve. But we kept true to the vision, much like Bob Taylor, maker of Taylor Guitars, of which I own one of his instruments. Bob started making guitars around 30 years ago. But Bob was not an experienced guitar maker. He just simply wanted to make a great guitar. He attributes his lack of experience as part of the reason for his success. Because he did not have the preconceived parameters of what was required to make a guitar, he felt he was freer to think about guitar building in an unrestricted way. His is a true American success story in every sense of the word.
In the same way, I think our lack of experience helped us create the restaurant that we wanted. We were not bound by certain parameters of what a restaurant had to be. We simply had a dream and set out to make it happen, and thank God, it worked out better than we had ever hoped.
There are so many to thank, and too many to name, but it is crystal clear to me this evening that we did not get here alone. Great staff, great customers, great opportunity in a great city. Just like tonight, there was a perfect storm building and I am only so fortunate to be able to witness it unfold.