October 15th, 2013 by ~ 3 Comments

How to open a restaurant

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I posted on Twitter last week how opening a restaurant is akin to having a child; Lots of fun to conceive, lots of labor pains, but tremendous joy and pride in seeing it grow up.  I received quite a bit of feedback from that tweet, which caused me to reflect a little further on it.

Joy to conceive. I would officially mark January 2012 on the calendar as the day Jack&June was formally conceived, even though the idea for a second restaurant had been in my mind for longer than that.  I clearly remember that chilly day in January sitting in bread&cup with two other gentlemen who were interested in showing us a possible path forward in the new West Haymarket expansion. While the mental gears had been turning for quite some time, it was this conversation that got it all engaged and rolling forward.

I keep the old pages of doodling, sketching, and brainstorming ideas from that season and refer back to them from time to time. These documents show the progression and changes that developed over time (Jack&June wasn’t the original name in the beginning). They serve as a reminder to me that any plan needs to have some degree of fluidity, and that no plan survives the first customer.  It’s the spirit of our plan that stayed the same.  We have always wanted our establishment to act as a hub, around which conversation and connection to our community spins and revolves. We believe our new location will foster this desire.

Pains in labor. There have been several days along the way that made the decision to expand appear foolish and imprudent.  These are to be expected.  If not, you may need to re-evaluate your plan.  Nothing ventured means nothing gained.  Any great accomplishment will require a commensurate level of sacrifice.  In childbirth, it’s that sudden realization that you can’t give this kid back. It’s no longer nestled safely in mommy’s tummy.  It’s now yours in a new form and your daily reality has been impacted forever.

If you are in the process of taking a leap into the unknown abyss called small business, expect the ride to be bumpy. Just like taking a trip down a mountain river, some of you look forward in anticipation to the rapids. You’ll get bored without the stimulation.  Me, I’m not a white water rafting guy. Give me a choice and I’ll take the more quiet streams. This is the water I prefer, but I recognize that I have to paddle through some frothy currents in order to get downstream.

Last Friday was such a day. We were planning for a 5PM opening that day.  Due to some unforeseen delays and miscommunication, we didn’t get our liquor license in hand until 2:20pm. The distribution warehouse closed at 2:30pm.  We were able to get our order in and delivery to our restaurant in order to make our 5PM opening.  We snuck in under the wire without a minute to spare. Some folk thrive under that type of stress.  Not me.

Don’t be surprised if some unrelated labor pains occur, like when I found out midday that same Friday that our basement had about an inch of standing sewer water cause by roots in our main line. It was as if the river wasn’t high and white enough; Life chose to toss in another obstacle just to make the story more interesting.

Tremendous joy and pride.  And here it is, Tuesday morning, three days after the Friday from hell, and we carry on. We got through the day. Whatever stress was felt that day subsided, making room for a new experience; satisfaction in knowing that our team had what it took to get it done.

Among our team is our oldest son, the same boy that 22 years earlier required 24/7 attention. He is now taking over some of the reins of this new business venture.  Karen and I are long past those childbirth years and have graduated to experiencing even deeper and greater joys as parents.  It is indeed a privilege we don’t take lightly.

When the going gets tough, like when you think your opening may be thwarted by your lack of having the right paperwork, and your basement floods with sewer, it’s important to maintain perspective in the midst of it all; in spite of how difficult it appears.  Several times during that Friday, I took encouragement from several sources, via text, email, words of encouragement and acts of service.  God bless my dear wife, when she discovered the basement, she took matters into her own hands, called a plumber and a neighbor. Then, armed with a mop, and a shop vac, she got the main mess corralled enough to turn on the fans and let things dry out.

And that’s how you open a restaurant.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you for these thoughts on starting a business. I’m thinking of risking everything to start some smaller businesses that will be one on an acreage — prairie plant nursery, education program, wedding host, artist residency. Scary, but I know in 20 years I’ll wake up regretting not trying.

  2. Watchman says:

    Ben, you hit the nail on the head. You’ll wake up one day regretting not trying. It was that thought that led us to take the leap. Best of luck to you.

  3. Tim says:

    Really great read and relevant to me right now. I stumbled across your store during a Sysco convention at the new arena and Jack&June immediately caught my eye. We’re weeks out from opening Over Easy in Omaha. It seems we have similar paths and inevitably similar obstacles. Wish you all the best, can’t wait to try it.