(Blogger’s Note: Every Friday, an excerpt from the soon-to-be published book, Faux Pas is French for Restaurant appears in this space.)The document Rob pulled from the manila folder was a simple understandable lease drafted in layman´s term. Although we had barely had time to look at the property Rob was convinced, as were we, that the fit between Foley and Kranston and The Cottagewood General Store would be perfect.
However, there were some particulars that needed to be explained, according to the owner, which could impede any form of growth or expansion.
Although he had remodeled the kitchen to a level that most chefs and owners only dream about in their most glorious state of slumber, no food could be served from the kitchen. Customers had to pick up their orders from the counter. Waitress service was banned in the hamlet of Cottagewood.
Whether designed to test the balancing skills of rib starved customers longing for a slab of barbecue laden baby-backs, china – the dinnerware, not the country – had made its way onto the list within the store. Finally, to dissuade the inclusion of a thick peppercorn seared rib-eye or the possibility of a Chateaubriand feature on a Valentine Eve menu, the Deephaven city council had taken the time to forbid the use of silverware, with the exception of plastic utensils, within the walls of the store. Essentially if it were not plastic or paper it would be on the contraband list that came under the scrutiny of the Deephaven City Council.
"One other thing, I should mention," Rob continued, "Deephaven is a dry town. You cannot serve any beer, wine or liquor."
"Oh, and just one another thing. All of the sandwiches have to be made ahead of time. I think that comes under ordinance 11645.30a or something like that. But I am sure we can work around these things" he added.
According to Rob, the problems arose when he decided to completely refurbish the store instead of letting it deteriorate into a ram shackled lakeside hotdog depot tear-down. In order to recoup his substantial investment, he needed to have the ability to make money and a kitchen was the only foreseeable solution to that problematic equation. Of course the city wanted a renovated Cottagewood Store as it sat at the very entrance to the peninsula that was quickly becoming a homestead for those with elevated tastes. However, the buffet of politicians sitting at the city council table squirmed and quivered when a commercial entity with any hope of surviving would become a destination for outsiders. Cottagewood, the Hamlet, was one of selected inclusion and the rules of the community, although not as strict, were at times as provincial as the laws governing Salem. And, yes, Cottagewood, we would later learn had its witch hunters.
Even though Rob did his best to disclose all the don´ts that had to do with the store our enamored emotion clouded his commentary. We paid little mind to what we couldn´t do. We just wanted the Cottagewood Store.
It was our solution to the problems of financial disaster. It had the charm and ambiance that we so loved. Since the neighborhood was experiencing a new home boom that we knew would feed the business the attraction to the store not only had to do with ambiance and appearance but with the possibility of developing a positive bottom line – a yet to be achieved goal for two culinary novices of naÃ¯ve proportion. And of course, because of all the obstacles, I knew we could turn the store into a thriving business by getting publicity for breaking the laws of china and silverware. No one would ever dare consider doing that. Finally I could participate in prohibition of eating utensils and plates. I could serve sandwiches made directly in front of a customer. Itching to replace the conflict that sobriety had alleviated I needed to take on a cause- even if that cause was something as elementary as allowing people the right to eat with something other than plastic. Plus, with the store, we inherited a chef, a manager, accounts receivable, and the possibility of an apartment on the second floor. What could be better? To secure the deal, Rob explained that he has recently started a monthly newspaper in Deephaven, The Deephaven Dispatch, which he would toss into the deal for free. Had I just passed away and gone to journalism-culinary heaven?
The spotless kitchen was the perfect place for Kranston to explain the terms of the deal she had just negotiated with Rob: An affordable security deposit, percentage monthly rent, five year term, with another five year option. It seemed too good to be true. I had a few miniscule concerns- the new espresso machine was outside the back door rusting from the spring rain. The kitchen was so cleaned it seemed as though no business had been done out of it. And, the cooler displaying numerous salads of pasta, shrimp, Chicken and fruit, had seen its fair share of lamb loins, pork butts, and rib eyes in its past life as a butcher´s case. But these were not deal breakers.
As I proceeded to get the company check from my jacket to write the security deposit Kranston explained that we didn´t have to let Rob know for a few days but he would like us to take the store over by July 1. Although that was sooner than I had expected- four days away- it didn´t stop me. I went to the front of the store, found Rob, shook his hand, told him we had a deal and handed him the check for the security deposit. I told him we had a lot do to in the next four days and that if he could get the lease finalized we would sign it whenever he wanted. He suggested that he take an inventory of the retail products, list everything at wholesale, and sell the lot to us over a three month payment period. I agreed. We shook hands again and left as the new owners of the business called The Cottagewood General Store.
On our way back to St. Paul, Kranston and I didn´t say too much. We were in a state of culinary shock. She kept asking, did we really just do that? And I just kept staring blankly, knowing that in an hour, Lindy would be sending out the afternoon delivery to all of our charge account customers in St. Paul. If some of them would pay, I could probably cover the security deposit check by the time we signed the lease.