What it takes to open a restaurant

What it takes to open a restaurant

When I walked up to the restaurant on Monday morning, the only thing that greeted me was a dead pigeon, whacked on the porch, bloodied and broken. Nobody was working in there; it was dark, cluttered and depressing. Nothing had changed in a few days, except now there was a big pile of barnboard flooring that could have easily been mistaken for firewood. I lost it a little. I was feeling punchy, and the slush and snow were getting to me. I started calling people to see what was up. Or, more to the point, where the hell everybody was. Every conversation ended like this:

PERSON ON THE PHONE: Okay, call me if you have an update.
ME: I’ve got an update for you. Nothing is happening! There’s your fucking update!

Building a restaurant is one hell of a road to go down. It’s amazing people even try to do it. It’s all gut and heart and not much brains. If anyone ever thought about it long enough and knew what they would have to go through to make it happen, they would turn around and go the other way. When they were sure they were too far away to even think about turning around, they’d probably pull over and hug the first person they saw and frigging celebrate.

It is uphill, every damn bit of it—yet all it’s doing is pulling you deeper and deeper into something. There is just so much you have got to get done, and get done right, to open a restaurant. I’m just talking about the behind-the-scenes stuff here, the stuff you don’t see when you walk into a place—the stuff inside the walls and behind the doors. All those lines and things you have to connect. It’s like building an engine: you don’t want anything too fancy; you just want to do it right so it runs tough and smooth and can be fixed when things inevitably start to break down. You have got to have limits, but you have got to have standards, too. You have to get what you need to perform.

You’ve got to have a big gas line to fuel the stoves, and a good, strong hood to pull the smoke. You’ve got to have a fireproof ceiling with double 5/8 drywall and insulation, and fire doors, and exit signs. You’ve got to have an HVAC system running all over the place so the space is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. You’ve got to have hot and cold water lines running to the kitchen, bathrooms and bar, and you’ve got to have them fastened and running right so they don’t rattle and bang and break. You’ve got to have bathrooms with fans and faucets and sinks. You’ve got to have drains for everything and venting for those drains and a grease trap, as well. You’ve got to have a walk-in fridge, and beer taps, and an ice machine and a good espresso maker. You’ve got to have outlets for the fridges and outlets for blenders and juicers and things. You’ve got to have lighting, good, warm lighting—lighting for task and mood and sparkle. You’ve got to have patience and good communication and cheques that don’t bounce. And you’ve got to have luck because sometimes there are snowstorms, and illnesses, and blackouts, and cars that break down.

That’s when you’ve got to stay out of the mud, and the bar, and the despair. You’ve got to keep yourself from worrying about every little thing that goes wrong, because everything always gets fixed, and then forgotten, so there’s room for the next thing to come along. Most of all, though, you’ve got to believe; you’ve got to look beyond all this so that you don’t lose faith in the one thing you caught a glimpse of and wanted to make real. You’ve got to believe you are in the right place and you have something to justify building this place, something real and something strong: a beginning, a chance to be together.