(Blogger’s Note: Each Friday an excerpt from the soon-to-be published book, Faux Pas is French for Restaurant, appears in this space.)
Let me explain. Cottagewood, the neighborhood that proudly developed over the years, atop of the Cottagewood Peninsula, was more than just a neighborhood. Since the peninsula served as a beacon, jutting into Lake Minnetonka announcing Deephaven´s whereabouts, the prestige of a Cottagewood address was almost aristocratic in the minds of those living there. It equaled the feelings of New Yorkers and their beloved Hamptons, Bostonians, and their reverence for Martha and her Vineyard. A Cottagewood address was more than just a number on a street in a town. Cottagwood, USA was a mental destination for many.
And, the Cottagewood Store was more than just a store. The city evolved around the neighborhood and the 1300 square foot building that served as its center, its heartbeat. It was a force that pulled community together and at times tore it apart.
Perched on a triangular piece of land three feet from the roadway the store´s presence was unmistakable. Around the bend from City Hall, the police station, the corporate yard that housed the plow and street cleaner, and the platform tennis court, Cottagewood stood tall(actually one of the tallest buildings, at two stories, in town), on the only road onto, or off of, the peninsula.
It served as a canvas filled with broad brush strokes that each resident had helped paint over time. It was then, is today, and probably always will remain, a work in progress. With each move, sale, death, or birth, the landscape of the canvas changed and were recorded through conversation, gossip, or official notice at the store. Cottagewood made Mayberry seem like a metropolis. And, although the city offices were just around the bend, The Cottagewood Store served as the heartbeat and pulse of the community.
Blinded by the enthusiasm of another location to add to our culinary portfolio of property we did little research, or even thinking for that matter, as to whether or not we had the financial, or culinary ability to purchase the store. Success or failure never came into the conversation. The occasional "do you think we can do this" question arose. But the numbers that flew through the air all seemed positive. All we knew from the day we agreed to the terms, four days earlier, was that we were going to be very busy in the upcoming months.
Not having managers or supervisors or anyone in our organization that even had the potential to fill those positions didn´t matter to us. We were, for the record, the most naÃ¯ve business team in the history of commerce. We didn´t run any numbers, or spread sheets. We bought on instinct. Our marketing plan was discussed in the front seat of a gas guzzling station wagon often between deliveries on our way home at night. Our board room meetings were held over dinner-for the two of us- at The Lexington. That didn´t have any affect on us. We were bitten. We had become addicted to a lifestyle of fast paced delivery: the frozen peas had to get to Mrs. Scanlon´s by 3:00, the ice cream to Mrs. Bancroft´s by 3:15. Yes, we were expanding rapidly and location number-two could be the savior of the empire. Plus, we had appeared in Time Magazine. We were grocery store celebrity.
On June 30, the evening before we were to sign the papers with Rob Dick, transferring the ownership of the business, the phone rang in my windowless Crocus Hill office. The call would turn out to be a monumental signal of things to come, but at the time I was too enthused to think clearly. Ego had once again impaired my vision.
"Hello is this Mr. Foley?" the caller asked.
"Well, I just heard that you´ve purchased The Store, (Cottagewood was always referred to as "The Store" with the respect and reverence of something sacred.) And we want to welcome you to the neighborhood," the caller said.
"I will tell you that we didn´t like Rob Dick, at all, and that we hope you don´t make any more changes in the way the store is being run. It´s bad enough he raised prices after all these years. And, he got rid of some of the things which I always enjoyed. And so did my neighbors," she added.
"Well, you´re the first call from a neighbor, Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts," I said, almost speechless due to her rapid fire opinions.
"I am sure that Mr. Dick was just trying to protect his investment. To recoup some of the money he invested in the store. You know, prices have gone up in the past 20 years."
"Yes, I know that. But he didn´t give us any warning. He was from New York, you know. By the way, he cancelled the July 4th parade. What an awful thing to do. Are you going to have it now that you´re the new owner?"
"What parade?" I said.
"Oh my gosh. He didn´t tell you about the parade? Every year the store sponsors a parade for July 4th. Jackie used to make hot dogs, chips, soda and ice cream and everything was $1.We really miss Jackie. We wish she were back. And the parade would pass right in front of the store. It´s been that way forever. It´s tradition here. You really need to do it."
"Well, I am going to have my partner, Kranston, call you back. We would love to sponsor the parade."
"Oh, thank you so much. We really look forward to helping you run the store. We know exactly what you will need to do to help the community. Let me give you my number"?¦" she said before hanging up.
I passed it on to Kranston. It was best that she be put in charge of customer service, immediately.