Do the hustle: How opening a restaurant is like finding a camel festival

Do the hustle: How opening a restaurant is like finding a camel festival

The reason this whole thing is dragging on and leaving me to the wolves is because it is tough to find good tradesmen these days. To avoid ending up with half a restaurant and no money to finish, I have had to make changes to my initial plan. I would have to take a job on a cruise boat for a few years, otherwise. It’s tough right now. No other way to put it. We just need one big run of good luck and we’ll be done. That ain’t easy. I have heard that many workers don’t want to do restaurants because they have been screwed over too many times. So I guess it goes both ways. It is a nasty world out there, and I walked right into it, full of trust and hopefulness. When Union does open, I know exactly what I am going to do in it. I just assumed that other people would not try to get involved if they didn’t know what they were doing, as well. I was wrong about that. I’ve been getting picked apart since I started.

The building process reminds me of travelling through Morocco about 10 years ago with my cousin. We got off a boat in Tangier and were met by a million “tour guides,” each wanting to help us find our way and take our money. We needed cash, so we got a kid to take us to a bank. On the way, we stopped for coffee and told him we were getting on the train to Rabat. The escort cost one American dollar and a coffee. Nothing. But that was where the real hustle began. The kid tipped off another guy that two Canadians tired from a ferry ride were about to embark on a six-hour train ride. Once we were on the train, some guy sat down next to us and started a conversation about his town, which was just an hour away, and how there was a big festival going on there with camels and everything else you are looking for in Morocco when you are 22. I had a vision of a farmhouse full of smoke and warmth—spicy tajines, beautiful Moroccan girls dancing, wild horses and camels running around outside in the moonlight. We had another six hours to go on that rickety train, so I was sold right away. My cousin took a little more convincing, but we got off with our new friend to see the “camel festival.”

The town was nice-looking, but empty. I was unwilling to let go of my vision, though, so I just figured everybody was at the festival. We followed the guy to his niece’s place, and she gave us a room. The dude prayed a bit and invited his buddies for dinner. The niece cooked up a tajine and we all ate, smoked and talked about the festival. On our way there, the guy suggested we see the “big market,” which ended up being his friend’s rug shop. We all sat around and drank mint tea while his buddy told us about the stories in the patterns of the rugs.

At this point, we were feeling pretty good—full of hope and giggles. I remember looking at my cousin and laughing and saying, “Why the hell is this guy going on about these rugs? Does he think we care? We don’t need a rug.” Shortly after that, it became quite clear why he was going on and on. Six Moroccan guys tried to separate us and explained that the only way we were leaving was with a rug on our shoulders. Damn. Thanks to my overextended Visa card, though, the long hustle was all for naught. We ended up with a $30 blanket that actually became quite useful—well, a lot more useful than a $300 rug with three women travelling with their children woven into it. When we finally got out of there, we started guilt-tripping the guy. He actually looked sorry about it all, because we had had a good time together, but he would never take it back. This is the game in Morocco, and that’s just the way it is. What I remember most was what my cousin said as we were walking away: “And on top of it all, you don’t even have any damn camels in this town.”

We were supposed to meet a cab driver the following morning (the next hustle, I figured) to take us to the train station, but we decided to get up really early and hike back ourselves. We got on the morning train out of town and broke the hustle cycle. The point is, if you get the wrong tradesman, then you get on the hustle train from one guy to the next. They all act like they are going to show you a festival, but in the end, they don’t even have a damn camel.