Despite the naysayers who point to how many new restaurants fail, there are those bold and brave enough to take the plunge. And what a plunge it is.
The San Francisco Chronicle has an article in its “On the Job” series about the opening of Tinderbox, an “experimental American bistro.” The Chron is flogging the article on its home page with the tag line: “Open an eatery, go nuts.” As the author, Chris Colin (who has written for CHOW), points out, “[L]aunching a restaurant—even a perfectly successful one—is madness. What’s strange is that people keep doing it anyway, despite the odds and the hours and the risk and the stress.”
What does the Tinderbox madness look like?
Two hours before the dinner crowd arrives on this particular evening, the $10,000 point of sale system has ceased to function—no ordering system, no paying system—the phone lines are down, making reservations impossible, and the cash register is short by $100 from the previous night.
That’s not all, it’s just that my paragraph was getting long: The hot water heater also went down this morning, the DSL is down, the alarm system won’t activate and the neighborhood man responsible for the garden out back is threatening to quit because passers-by are tossing their cigarette butts over the fence. Meanwhile, CitySearch will be sending a photographer to shoot the place, full of diners, at 6 p.m. At 11 p.m., Zagat will do the same—only the floor must be entirely empty and cleaned by then.
That’s what happens once the restaurant is open, but it is no less stressful trying to get the place to open. Pastry chef and food blogger Shuna Fish Lydon has a series of posts on the process of opening the new restaurant Sens, also in San Francisco, on the Eggbeater blog. A recent post catalogs the highs and lows:
You know you’re opening a restaurant when:
you leave for work at 8 am and come home at 10 pm,
you feel every emotion you own in 12 hours …
you arrange and re-arrange your station, like a future bride trying on dresses,
you walk 10 miles within a 1000 square foot space …
you forget your name …
you worry you’ll lose your friends …
you become nostalgic for the time when you had days off,
you can’t wait to work another 12 hour day,
you plot affectionately about what you will bake in your oven first.
Another San Francisco chef has been documenting his quest to open a restaurant as well. Brett Emerson, blogging at In Praise of Sardines, has taken readers through the challenge of finding a site, choosing a name, and trying to design the interior of his restaurant-to-be, Olallie (for a city that makes it so hard to run a restaurant, there seems to be no lack of those wanting to take a shot at it).
Why do they do it? Perhaps that is best summed up in the Chronicle article on Tinderbox. ”’I know it’s a cliche, but we’re living the dream,’ [Tinderbox co-owner and head chef Blair] Warsham says. ‘We’re making our own rules—We’re free.’”