Earlier today I went back to grab a pile of cookbooks that I had left behind. I sold my share in the restaurant two and a half years ago and they’d sat, collecting dust in the windowless office, since. I was obviously no longer a partner, but today we closed the doors for the last time and the following are my lessons learned from closing a restaurant.
To be honest, I had only stepped foot in the restaurant once in the last two and a half years – that’s the time that has elapsed since I moved on. I didn’t feel right being within those walls, able to hear the hum of the hood, if I wasn’t buttoning up a chef coat, tying an apron around my waist, sharpening my knife, and pulling a cutting board out to chop some vegetables, break down some meat or any of the other dozens of tasks I performed nearly every single day for five consecutive years. In a sense, I felt like a traitor, like I had jumped ship and a certain cloud of shame hovered over me if I were to ever approach the restaurant that, over the course of those five years in m life, felt like home more than anything else.
On an average day, I didn’t just log the typical restaurant shift. I lived a football throw away from the back door to the building, which meant I could spend late nights there working – recipe development, testing and I could game plan for upcoming specials as stocks simmered away on the back burners. Something about the stillness of an empty restaurant in the dead of the night soothed my soul. Without a doubt, this is the place where I became a chef. I came into my own as a cook, and here I started to understand flavor combinations, whimsical plating ideas and I became a person that could teach others while allowing for them to learn from their mistakes. On a good day, I guess you could have called me a mentor.
When things don’t work out – businesses, relationships, anything in life, it’s easy to look back and think to one’s self, “what could I have done differently and what should I have done differently”. For some reason, none of those thoughts, that can haunt you as you lay down to sleep, even crept into my mind.
They don’t plague my thoughts because I left it all on the field, in the best way I knew how. I left every day feeling battered and bruised, aching my way back to the nearby apartment, feeling a decade older than I actually was. I didn’t trick myself into fielding internal questions about my commitment or lack thereof, because I was fully invested, ensuring every single dish that left the window was plated perfectly. I could often catch employees haphazardly trying to sell a dish into the window that had no business making its way under the heat lamp.
175,000. That’s about the number of dishes I was a part of in that building, and I made sure every single plate looked and tasted as good as the one prior. I gave everything. At times I’ll argue with myself that I gave too much and sacrificed too much to the restaurant that felt to be failing me. I had compromised my relationship, my finances and at times, my health. At times I try to convince myself that I gave that restaurant more than it ever gave me in return, and in a way, that argument holds up. But, the real truth is that in those five years, interspersed amongst those nearly two hundred thousand meals that were served under my watch, were a lot of happy people. Certainly, we contributed to the customer’s lives, but I also got to help people pay their bills, and I got to experience true camaraderie and togetherness with a fine group of individuals. Plus, that little restaurant – it grew me into a chef. With that title and rite of passage are lessons learned, new perspectives and deeper understanding of how the industry works – how relationships work – how the world works.
The truth is, you don’t always get what you think you should. It doesn’t always go according to plan, and most things aren’t meant to last forever, with every single restaurant that has ever existed, falling into that category. The unfortunate piece is that you have, what feels like a living, breathing entity – within those walls is a certain personality, a type of music and a scent that defines it just as much as the experiences had there.
The 4 questions I ask myself are these:
1. Did the restaurant make the community better?
2. Did the restaurant make our customers lives better?
3. Did the restaurant make our employees lives better?
4. Did the restaurant make my life better?
Quite simply, the answer to every single one of those questions is a resounding, “yes”.
Thus, I wouldn’t trade it for the world – it will always be a part of me. It shaped my life in profound ways – ways that taught me lessons, ways that made me treat people better, and in ways that made me decide to treat myself better.
That now-closed restaurant, I will look back on with nothing but deep-seeded gratitude.
Some things aren’t meant to work out. Instead, they teach us valuable lessons. Ideally, we learn from those lessons and we take them with us forever.
To be honest – going back to the restaurant today – I didn’t really go back to get left-behind cookbooks – I went back to say a final farewell.
Have you closed up shop? I’d love to hear your lessons learned from closing a restaurant.