We popped into the Chinese takeout joint to grab some lunch and found Johnny, the proprietor, outside smoking and cussing in the typical Korean fashion. That’s one of the things we love about the guy. I went and joined him in smoking and cussing, and as it always does the topic turned to cooking and the other restaurants in town. I mentioned as I usually do that he’s the only guy in town with a restaurant who knows how to cook. Every other place in town sucks at the moment — even the cafe that’s been there for more than a hundred years. Their food went downhill when their last good cook quit drinking, and that was eight or ten years ago. The story of restaurants in this town is that they have good quality when they first open, but they just can’t seem to maintain it and people eventually get out of the habit of going in, then the lights go off. The rules around here seem to be:
- If you can’t cook, don’t open a restaurant.
- If your marriage isn’t absolutely sound, don’t open a restaurant.
- If you don’t want to be an involved manager for the rest of time, don’t open a restaurant.
The first rule is the one that pisses me off the most, because almost no one pays attention to it. If you can’t cook you’re at the mercy of those who can, and in a dinky little town like this one that means you are surely fucked. It pisses me off because after the cook who knows what he’s doing leaves, the customers are fucked first.
I mentioned to Johnny that I’m half tempted to open just a taco stand, something simple, and run the Mexican joint out of business just because it pisses me off when people who can’t cook open their doors expecting people to pay them for their ineptitude. It’s gotten really hard to find a decent meal in this country, and it’s been going on for so long that lots of people don’t even know the difference between good food and just whatever shit comes out of the big cans the foodservice distributor delivers.
The next thing I know, he’s suggesting that I ought to acquire a small building like his and plunk it down on the lot next to his. He said he knows where I could pick one up for about ten grand, trailer it here, and then all it would need would be kitchen equipment and utility connections. Being one who brainstorms out loud is probably not a good thing. I mentioned that it would be a very cool thing to do, and a slick setup would be putting a cover over some tables between the two buildings, with a couple of patio heaters to extend the outdoor dining season from earlier in Spring to later in Fall.
Johnny went into his shack, which is probably about 15′ x 25′ and is really just a smallish kitchen with a takeout window, and a few minutes later he beckoned me to come inside. I went in, and he asked me if I’d like to set up alongside him in his kitchen and make tacos, burritos, and so on. We could sell Asian and Mexican, he said, and “kick motherfucking ass”. He showed me his new (used, but new to his kitchen) griddle, a 24″ wide model that he hasn’t ever used, and said something about hanging a compact chain broiler on the wall to make hamburgers at lunchtime. (Hamburgers?) Within a minute he was telling me, “I kick your ass!”, meaning that he really wanted me to join him in his kitchen and shovel the food out the window, preferably to the point of sending the Mexican joint down the street out of business. He agrees that people who can’t cook shouldn’t open restaurants.
I find it a compelling idea. I can’t count on the miracle of maintaining the mental capacity required for my current gig forever, and our recovery-that-ain’t has drug on long enough that I’ve begun seeing the troubling signs that I was afraid of. If I had the startup costs I’d not hesitate to open a place of my own — Johnny’s competitor across the street just closed their doors again, and though the monthly lease is too damned high I figure I could probably negotiate it down to something less unreasonable. If not, there are two other places that look to be on the ropes now just because people who can’t cook should not open restaurants. I’d love to take over the Mexican joint that used to be a steakhouse that used to be a hardware store. It would eventually need a dining room makeover, but not right away, and it’s in a perfect location with a large enough parking lot and right on the highway. As a steakhouse and later as the Mexican place a very brisk business was done there — until the quality of the food deteriorated. The steakhouse went under because the owner violated rules two and three, and that was that. The Mexican place is violating rules one and three, at least. Johnny tells me that they just fired all or almost all of their staff on Sunday.
But I don’t have the startup costs. We haven’t caught the financial traction we had before we uprooted on an ill considered mission of mercy in 2007, so we don’t have savings enough to just run right out and start up a restaurant. If I were to throw in with Johnny, it would be in a kitchen that’s already cramped and I’d have to limit the menu to tacos (pork, beef, or chicken), burritos (pork, beef, or chicken), wings, rice, beans, and condiments (salsa, guacamole, and so on). Taco stand stuff, which I believe would, as Johnny puts it, “sell like a motherfucker”. Amethyst says she believes that I’d end up with daily regulars just for the wings alone.
The rub: Get a fuck ow! (Korean-English: Get the fuck out!) It’s Johnny’s place, and that makes him the boss. I’m not well suited to having a boss these days, and not inclined to gamble my business. Though I can’t count on the thinking meat staying sharp forever it’s sharp enough for now, but shutting down would mean losing my regular clients. I could take some time off and do nothing more than system monitoring and emergency response, but I couldn’t do it for long enough to stash enough to move my operation to a place of my own and that would leave me at risk of get a fuck ow!
The last time I had a neato bitchen cool opportunity come my way it was to do some organic agriculture for a guest ranch, on their land. The deal was sweet, but I couldn’t get a lease because the place was up for sale and they didn’t want encumbrances driving down the price. I hated passing on the deal, and the ranch didn’t sell for several years — but when it did it was made a private residence just as I was concerned it might be. The best case would have been that the new owner was willing to negotiate reasonable lease terms through the end of the current season, and the worst case would have been that they weren’t so I’d have ended up tearing out my crops. Either way I’d have been removing my equipment with nowhere to put it. Way up here close to the sky there’s not a lot of land for that kind of an operation and irrigation water is precious if it’s even present.
I suppose the aphorism should be “He who hesitates is probably thinking his way through things”.