Cedar’s note: a good friend posted this on social media, and I asked if I might share it here. It hits home for me – you might recall that the First Reader and I have spent many happy days hunting for small mom’n pop restaurants. We really don’t want to eat at franchises or big chains. Why? We like good food, affordable, but more than that, we like to support the local families who put their heart and soul into feeding us. Sadly, due to the pandemic, one of our favorites gave up the struggle. It was a fantastic eatery… and now it’s gone. There will never be another one just like it. Unlike if the local, say, Chilis went under. That wouldn’t be a huge loss at all.
Written in response to this post (shorturl.at/glt18), and years of similar statements by restaurants.
One of the reasons I hate what my industry has become. Feckless nagging for a government rescue.
You are a chef.
You know 99 ways to make an egg, you can find a way to make money. Will it be enough to pay for every Tom, Dick and Harry you bloated your payroll with? Pay those ridiculous investors you brought on because “Dude, LET’S OPEN A RESTAURANT!” No. Will your menu change? Yes. Do you need that oversized space you leased years ago to pack in the drunks with loose wallets? Probably not.
But, Mr. Leader, you made the choice to cement your business model in inflexibility and status quo. Not the government. And maybe now you’ll see that your bullshit attitudes have blanketed what you once knew to be true.
People need to be fed. They don’t need $60 artisan crafted root foams served over a carpaccio of the rarest unicorn loin with a side of black rice dosed heavily with whatever the latest flavor of the week is (ref: umami). They don’t need that on a daily basis, and with the glut of places serving like that (there are a few franchise high-end eateries doing it that you don’t realize are franchises) it has left no wiggle room for failure.
There are 4 kinds of restaurants. The daily neighborhood spot, the spot you take the family out to, the corporate card dining place, and the specialty place for anniversaries and such. That’s it. Now, look at the industry of late. It’s been top heavy on the corporate card and specialty places for a long, long time. When Olive Garden can be listed 3 of the 4 categories, there’s bloat in the industry.
Let me add a 5th type to that list: the novelty place. Think Alinea in Chicago, the WWE restaurant formerly in Times Square, Chuck E Cheese and Dave and Busters… You get the picture.
No one really needed your particular spin on fish and chips at $30 a plate, served with a $7 pint of locally crafted, over-hopped IPA.
This is a volume business. Each seat has a price tag, and you left yourself unable to adjust. And now you want ‘leadership’ to come help you out.
Your food can easily be replaced by someone who can quickly turn the seats, someone not reliant on corporate dining accounts and $9 Mules.
Heck, if they put their mind to it – McDonald’s could pull half this stuff off with existing kitchens. Vulfgank Putz hires the best of the best and kills them by having everything pre-portioned and prepped in cryo bags. Yes, if you ate at his place in Vegas, you spent $90 on boil-in-bag food. The same boil-in-bags that Olive Garden uses. Oh, and Putz? Olive Garden has Chefs too. So does Red Lobster. Actually, anyplace can have chefs if that’s what they want to title them. All the education and certification in the world doesn’t change the fact that the respect and meaning of Chef has been watered so far down, Gordon Ramsay would spit it out at the bartender.
I’m glad we have a simple deli. We serve great sandwiches and salads on the fly all day long. If I felt the need, I could pop open and do fancy plated dinners easy enough (we have a killer Saturday Brunch menu, beyond what the big boys around here can handle). We never closed. We made adjustments to our schedule, but we are lucky enough to have kept the menu.
Even now, when we are off 20-30% from last year daily, we still show up. We are surrounded by empty offices that may never fill again. One office building had 3000 people a day, but since March 18th – has been less than 100. But we can flex. We added a meat counter because we were already selling cold cuts by the pound and I have butchering experience. We have been catering the whole time. We sell through multiple outlets. We draw on our overall skillsets to MAKE THINGS WORK.
Oh, and did I mention we have no staff? Well, we had one guy but Covid got him before it had a name, So we know ALL about how to stay safe and secure for ourselves and the public. We track this one hard, because safety is in the data. Our health inspection was March 16th, and very little information regarding food handling has changed since that date.
I went into this knowing to stay alive one must remain flexible. I’ve done the same at the restaurants I’ve worked at in the past. From bar back to prep cook to Sous Chef to Bartender all in a shift. You do what needs to be done to stay relevant, and you don’t whine about it. But that’s not the new normal in kitchens. And I’m glad I’m not part of it.
Oh, and we did not get any PPP or EIDL loans, we have not applied for any of the local government stimulus either. We have a good relationship with our landlord, a fat business bank account from skinflinting our way through this, and we managed to slash our utilities in half.
I’m proud of what we have accomplished, and I hope that we can remain viable downtown but that’s really out of our hands. It all depends on how many offices never come back. How much tourism dries up, and for how long. But we can always take our show on the road if need be. Find a smaller building in a neighborhood where we would see more walking traffic. It’s just a different model, but not outside our grasp. Perhaps if there wasn’t 1 restaurant for every 500 people IN THE COUNTRY you might have a case about viability. MIGHT. But knowing that ALL the data is out there for how tough it is to make a buck in this industry without hard suffering – I don’t feel bad when I read stories like this. The data was there, and you are not that special. You might be relevant right now, but that can change quickly. Adapt and Survive, (Re)search and Destroy.
When I hear people like this, my blood boils. They aren’t kitchen creatures any more than Guy Fieri is an economic analyst.