(Blogger’s Note: Each Friday an excerpt from the soon-to-be-published book, Faux Pas is French for Restaurant appears in this space.)
The Cottagewood General Store remake took two years and over $300,000.00 to complete. It only took a few months for Rob Dick to realize he never belonged in the restaurant business. He was one of the fortunate few who realized early the business was not for the faint of heart, or for those who have their eyes set on making money with their money.
Being short of cash- or any financial backing- didn´t concern us. We had used our short supply of capital to finance the drawer full drawer full of accounts payable. Slow paying customers had depleted out cash. Vendor bills stacked high along the office wall were a constant reminder that the scales of finance were dipping in the wrong direction. Cottagewood not only seemed like the right thing to do it appeared to be our only way out of a looming financial disaster.
Attributing my great love of the long drive may have to do with the solitude I find surrounded by leather and glistening instrumentation – not in our Mercedes 450 slc but in the great station wagons circa 1975 we purchased for Crocus Hill´s delivery team. My fondness for those land yachts – some large enough for a family of four with a dog- remains with me today. The blue Buick Vista-Cruiser with the power windows, seats, and tailgate was the meeting place where we decided to take on another store. Cottagewood would be ours if we could negotiate a fair deal.
With barely enough cash to meet the next week´s payroll the deal had to be negotiated with a closing far enough into the future so we could accumulate a down payment. This would take some vendor juggling but I was sure if I could order enough product to fill the Crocus Hill shelves, get 90 day terms from the vendors, sell the product at a sale price, accumulate the cash, buy Cottagewood, increase business and pay the vendors, everything would be fine. It seemed so clear. And through all this al we had to do was to learn how to turn a grocery store without a kitchen into a restaurant serving food prepared in the kitchen of the grocery store 25 miles away that we hadn´t purchased yet because we had lost all of the money we had in the first grocery store with the one burner hot plate.
How hard could this be? Any other couple, not filled with enthusiasm, the urge for foolish adventure, a passion for entrepreneurial success and an innate desire to create something from nothing would have pulled the car over the side of the road, left the keys in it with a note and signed documentation giving the person who found the car clear title to the vehicle and the Crocus Hill Market.
We were not that bright.
When Alexander Pope wrote Hope Springs Eternal he was thinking of Crocus Hill. I was sure that we could survive, build, prosper and become profitable through the magic of a stove and oven. We needed to transform ourselves from grocers to restaurateurs and Cottagewood would enable us to do that.
It was the end of June. If my juggling act reached Ed Sullivan Show proportion I figured that I would have enough money to operate by mid August. We could take over Cottagewood by September and promote market and advertise Christmas catering and holiday parties that would give us the revenue, cash flow and profits to build a great base.
We had already begun doing a few small catering functions from The Crocus Hill Market. But we were hesitant to
name the company Magic Roaster Catering. We needed a stove and the possibilities of that happening in St. Paul were slim.
Cottagewood´s kitchen would solve all of these obstacles. With a full kitchen and a chef already in place, the store appeared to be the perfect element for our non planned expansion. The western suburbs of Minneapolis were growing and although we enjoyed the style of Historic St.Paul the contemporary market was heading further west. We were sure, after the ride out to Cottagewood and back that this was the right move. Plus, the store was in the middle of a community, a captive audience that would welcome our style.
Kranston has always been the negotiator of the deal for the team. She structures the deal. She makes the offer. She is the numbers person when it comes to the actual budgets on paper. I have the ability to look at a space and estimate the potential volume, number of covers and amount of business a space will do. We both have a talent for that; however, we arrive at the sum of the equation by different methods.
When we agreed the Cottagewood Store could be a worthwhile business venture I asked Kranston to get in touch with Rob and set up a meeting to discuss the opportunity. We figured we could schedule the meeting for late July so we could accumulate some cash. Then we could have some bargaining power. And hopefully another location.