I've been thinking a lot about the food/entrepreneurship space for a while now, and am fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with a number of entrepreneurs and restauranteurs about their perceptions of "getting there," and the oh so good feeling of actually arriving.
The restaurant world is all about hustle. Look at the back of the house at a place and you'll see sweatbands, cut fingers, lots of cursing, and a general stasis akin more to a war zone than a work environment that most of us know. From a management perspective, it's all about putting forward a vision in the word that you think will work, and making it happen.
You think that a 21st century Jewish Deli Indian Fusion restaurant will work? It's on you to either put up a ton of cash or convince some other people that your idea is going to work. How hard is this? Stop reading, go ahead and tell 10 people that love you, like really love you, that you have a "friend" that has a great idea for a restaurant and you'd like them to invest. If you bat more than 20 percent, e-mail me, and I'll hire you immediately.
It's basically a miracle every time a restaurant is opened because the process is intense, bureaucratic, expensive, and a logistical nightmare. Don't get me wrong, I know that making an iPhone app is difficult, but we're comparing apples to uranium here. At Dinner Lab, we deal with a lot of restauranteurs and get to hear their stories about why, how, and all the insane/occasionally tragically hilarious miscues that happened along the way. Now they have a place to call home, bring their friends, inspire and share something that they think is awesome with the general population. It's not shocking that many want to open restaurants; they're awesome, and I imagine owning one is pretty fantastic too.
I'll be the first to admit it, I'm jealous. We've worked with over 200 chefs this past year to bring forward their culinary visions in unexpected locations, and get a taste of what this feels like with all of the headache of going through a restaurant opening 2x a week per market. We get a glimpse and literal taste for what this new culinary vision can be, but we never do the same thing twice. While this makes for a really interesting product for our consumers, we never get there.
This reminds me of a position in horse breeding called the dummy horse. You see, the male champion horse's sperm is so valuable that if the female isn't in the mood, and she bucks (read: kicks him in the nuts) then there is the possibility of losing millions. What do they do? They bring in this poor schmo of a horse that basically kisses all up on the female horse's neck and makes sure she is in the mood.
What happens next?
Scenario 1: Female horse is not in the mood, and he gets a massive double-legged horse kick to the nuts causing a pain that one could only fathom... Awesome.
Scenario 2: Female is in the mood and they pull this guy out right before he is about to mount her and strut in the handsome horse that probably played football and got a 1600 on his SATs and rescues starving children in some place that has unstable government in his spare time.
Our business model is a lot like a hybrid of these two scenarios, but appeals to the band of weirdos that we managed to assemble. Our whole staff loves figuring it out, but hates having it figured out. No two nights are the same; no two scenarios present the same challenge and obstacle, and each night, each dinner, the expectations rise.
In Greek mythology, the story of Sisyphus (don't Google it -- it's the one with the guy having to roll the boulder up the hill but it keeps rolling down), is a classic story of what a sort of hell would be like, but this is my professional reality, and we all kinda like it.
I walked into an apartment in Los Angeles last night that I share with a few of our employees, and one of the amazingly talented petite Asian employees was answering emails at 1:00 a.m. planning for a new event, in a new city, with a new chef, menu, clientele while blasting Tupac's "California Love" and drinking a Modelo. I asked her, "You're still working?" She replied, "Always."
Thus is the story of my life. And why I and our staff do what we do.