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Starting Up

When I first decided on opening a restaurant most of my friends (especially my mother) thought that I was insane for doing so. Most people cried out “now why would you want to leave the good job that you have and get into something as unstable as the restaurant business?” in befuddlement. The problem was I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t want to be one of those walking cliché’s spewing heartfelt emotional one-liners like “well, it just feels right” But the truth of the matter was, it did feel right. It actually clicked and felt better than anything I had done for a while. It jumped started my life. After surviving the dot Com Boom and Bust I was a wreck. I've seen the evil that corporate greed had done and was not a fan. I drank beers and ate dinner with many hopefuls who  worked at Author Anderson (which later disintegrated due to the Enron Shake Up). I worked side by side with many promising souls who graduated from Harvard, worked at some of the best companies and got what I thought was a shitload of money in the process.

I also saw the downside. The coldness, and isolation that came with working at some corporations and the claustrophobic, mundane tasks that became the norm within those companies. I’ve also seen people loose their homes (right after getting married), because of the dot com burst in the late 90’s and early millennium. And people getting fired because of dumb shit. What was worst, some of the people whom got laid off were better qualified then the people doing the firing. It got to the point where I felt like my career could change at the roll of the dice. Basically my well being depended on someone else and their politics and my impact on them was limited. In the end I figured if I was not going to be able to eat, or pay bills it would be by my own doing. Not some big wig boss who could get rid of me because he or she didn’t like my haircut. Ok, I’m exaggerating but the reasons why one is eliminated is sometimes questionable.

 

Since my grandfather Owned a restaurant and food was my life anyway. It wasn’t impossible to start a restaurant because I somewhat knew about the business. To make a long story short, I built a cafe from scratch opened it and it ran successfully for a few years, and let’s just say because of some “minor disagreements” with my partner regarding quality and consistency I felt that it would be in our best interest if I started consulting again and let her keep the restaurant. Either that or go insane. After working as a consultant for five years something happened to me. For some reason I began to completely immerse myself into food. Even more than I did when I owned a café. Now, don’t get me wrong. When I owned a café before I went to the market in the to pick out food and talked to various competitors and distributors. But this was different. I really was fascinated with the politics of organic food and having a truly green restaurant. I started to talk to chefs more and started listening to restaurant radio stations. I started to experiment with different organic food and doing research. I started going to food events to find out about grass fed beef and free range chickens. I started to seek out more creative, progressive vegetarian dishes. Now before I was doing this Istarted doing things like regular people did. Watching television, going to bars and clubs dating people whom held good jobs and worked in the suburbs. And then I realized something. I never liked that shit in the first place. Television sucked. Working in the suburbs contributed to me getting a pot belly. And most of the women I dated who loved renting movies on the weekend, didn’t understand art, went to bars all the time and had good suburban jobs, were boring. No. They were fucking boring. And the guys too.

 

They were everything I loathe and was becoming. A boring suburbanite who questioned everything that was not the norm, never challenging anything and eating Stouffers process frozen dinners, chicken wings and pasta in the process. The guys who they felt “were going places” had a fat pocketbook and two cellular phones connected to their belt. These  guys traveled and were looked upon as a “go getters”  in their company. A khaki wearing, balding mans, man. A man who enjoyed his toys and bar-b-que on the holidays. A load of shit. Now granted I think it’s cool to live in the burbs if you like what you do and you’re happy. And I would move in a minute if I found a nice house. But my lifestyle is a bit different. Although I enjoy stability and I’m not the type who would jump ship and risk my paycheck I do believe that you should be happy at what you do. Which brings me back to the epiphany I had while I was consulting. While consulting and immersing myself in the food scene a close friend of mine noticed this change in me and said Why don’t you just open another restaurant?” At first I fought it. And I looked at her like she was crazy for mentioning it, but it made perfect sense.

 

Although I was a computer consultant, the rest of my life was immersed in food. After struggling back and fourth with the idea of opening a new place I decided to work for free (volunteer) at some of the most prestigious restaurants in Chicago. I figured that even though I had a cafe I needed to pay my dues again. So I worked at a few places without telling them that I owned a place before. I figured this would make things run smoother and I wanted to get treated like everyone else. Well they did treat me like everyone else. Too much so. Also, I am convinced that most people who work at fine dining establishments are pirates. And the Chef is the captain. I started as a lowly member who swabbed the deck (i.e. peeled big boxes of Artichokes, sliced onions, etc.) After the Chef felt sorry for me working and cutting he would show me how to make one dish. Most of my days started early and ended late. Most of the times I stayed from open until close. We’re talking 12 to 13 hour days. Strangely enough I hated it but loved it. Most of the chefs I worked with didn’t take shit, and they were quick to check you. But they were nothing compared to the hate screaming, mad hatter Gorden Ramsey from the television show Hell’s Kitchen which is an exaggeration of a chef.