Remember, there are two businesses within the restaurant business. One is running the restaurant, and the other, running the business. The two can seldom be successfully managed by the same person. The personalities of each individual task are too different. I realized that at the very end of my journey when my personality began to change.
It was inevitable and bound to happen. Faced with mounting debt, a location in the middle of yuppie-ville with a $15,000.00 monthly price tag, and just enough rude customers to ruin each day the pressure was hitting a high point. The "bread basket breakdown" as it has become known, occurred ten years to the day of beginning the foodie journey.
A less than busy, but still hectic, Saturday lunch crowd filled our American-styled Bistro, Camp Americana, in San Francisco on that warm October afternoon. Fleet Week, one of the largest tourist events in the Bay Area, was being staged three blocks away. Chestnut Street shoppers, visitors, and regular customers were enjoying the autumn afternoon throughout the restaurant and on the brick, tree covered patio, at the rear of the restaurant. Working the rope, I had just seated a stylish couple from Manhattan, visiting for the event. The phone symphonically rang with requests for evening reservations while the roar of the Blue Angels, flying at high-rise roof height, added to the exciting buzz of the room.
Walking from the rear of the lodge styled dining room, past the fieldstone covered columns, towards the front door to greet another contemporary couple, a frumpy, disheveled customer, shoveling ketchup-coated French Fries in her mouth aggressively grabbed my arm, stopping me in mid step. She glared into my eyes with the look of a women begging for the Heimlich maneuver and suddenly yelled out “Pickles” at the top of her vocal range. The word could be heard over the roar of the Boeing F-18 Hornets flying overhead.
Assuming she had me mixed up with someone else, I explained my name was John and began to wipe the red ketchup spots from my freshly starched white shirt’s sleeve. The discussion that followed would be best told at a later time.
"Pickles", however, had pushed me to the edge. I snapped like a thin, crisp Italian breadstick that had just been plunged into a ramekin of hard butter. In a culinary nano-second, the virtual flame of an enormous Flambe appeared before me. Within its light a vision. A perfectly pixelated picture of Charlie Campbell, Sharon Carisch, Jimmy Dean, Tom Fritz, John Anderson, Michael Morse, and Adam Platt, Carla Waldemar, and even Clint Eastwood all flashed in front of me. My entire restaurant career in a fast forward movie passed by. I realized it was time to get out.
The pressure of the business had finally caught up with me. Clearly what began as an adventure had turned into a catastrophic trip. The enjoyment of owning a restaurant had dissipated almost as quickly as the vision of the past. The business had become my crutch. We were no longer friends, or partners. My restaurant, once a place I enjoyed walking into each morning and leaving each night had become my arch enemy. No longer a place of comfort for me, how could it work for the customer?
With the Pickles episode constantly ruminating, I took steps to get out of the business´ grasp.