One of the comments received on the last posting was from “Five Kittens”. She made a great point that not everyone who wants to go into the restaurant business does it for the food. She couldn’t be more correct. When I bought the market in St. Paul, Minnesota, I entered the venture because of the possible excitement, the potential to turn a dilapidated, old, wet-cardboard box smelling grocery store into a gourmet eatery similar to Zabar’s. And, it took a while to wake up from that dream. Well, maybe a few hours. Kranston and I made the same mistake that so many people make when they get into business. We did very little research on the actual business, the demographics, and the future potential that the business had. We also didn’t research the city codes and ordinances that would have allowed us to do more things if they were more business friendly.
Naturally, before we bought the market we had Kranston’s brother work there for a few weeks to get a feel for the business and the cash flow. But that really didn’t assist us that much in making our decision. We just wanted to get into the business. You could say we were blind.
Nothing, however, beats experience as a teacher. And, the Crocus Hill Market was restaurant/food 101 for us. There are two ways to gain hands-on experience. First, you can go to work for someone in the restaurant business and actually see what problems arise. But for the very brave, that only works as further encouragement to get into business for yourself because everyone thinks they can run a business better than the guy that is having problems running his business.
Five Kittens said she liked the restaurant business because of the day to day challenges and the ever changing developments that arise. Again, she couldn’t be more focused on her observation. Nothing ever remains the same from one day to another in the business.
The day we walked into the Crocus Hill Market, to complete the purchase of the business, the owner had cleared the shelves of all the canned goods that had become out dated. He was giving them to the neighbors for all their support over the years. It was 1990 and food product expiration dating had just become law. Most were still unfamiliar with the practice so of course the neighbors flocked to the front door on that cold December morning and loaded their bags with creamed corn, stewed tomatoes, and tuna fish for Melvin the cat. Basically, we had purchased an old store with not much in the way of inventory or assets. The large, casket styled freezers that lined the center aisle of the store worked periodically, the coolers were in need of compressors, and of course, the wooden walk-in box no longer met health department regulations. It was red tagged and needed to be replaced. Mixed with the smell of old, wet cardboard, it had become so saturated with the aroma of hanging beef and fresh chickens that the wood wreaked of bacterial permeation.
We looked these problems in the eye and laughed. This would be fun, we said. A form of romantic frenzy, a couple working together every day from morning till night, ripping down coolers, packing canned goods, chopping chickens, and building an empire. All we needed was a chilled bottle of Champagne and a brightly burning candle.
Nothing could stop us from chasing our dream. We handed the owner the check and he handed us the keys. We had purchased a grocery store. We knew nothing about groceries. We knew only a little about the restaurant business, and we both had pretty good jobs that paid all of our bills. Why were we doing this?
It was because of the adventure. The addiction that we had not to restaurants, or food stores, but to the excitement of being in business for ourselves. The market was just the messenger. The real bug that had bitten us was the freedom we longed for. We decided that we would jump in feet first, on Monday, with a remodel plan that would put St. Paul’s Crocus Hill Market on the map.
Tomorrow: What happens when the contractor wants more money than you have.