First things first. It's been a long time since I pressed the "create new post" button. I have to say, I've missed y'all. Sniff.
Every day during the past week and a half, I've woken up with the best of intentions, telling myself "I want to write something today!" Perhaps I'll describe last week's Head to Tail Dinner at Incanto! Or maybe I'll write about how I made the most wonderful steak by cooking it backwards!
And then the phone rings. It's the broker. Or the landlord. Or the architect. Or the accountant. Or one of the dozen other brokers I talk to weekly.
The last 2 weeks I've been riding the roller coaster known as restaurant buying. No. Scratch that metaphor. The plunges and twists and turns have been too tame to require an E-ticket (reserved for the scariest rides). The trip has reminded me more of a particular kiddie ride that enchanted me on birthday visits to Disneyland (remember, I grew up in LA). The C-ticket ride still exists to this day, 50 years after its premier. Its name is "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride."
The ride is based on Disney's 1949 animated adaptation of "The Wind in the Willows." You climb aboard an old convertible buggy and ride through madcap scenes set in the countryside of England at the turn of the 20th century. As the story of the ride unfolds, J. Thaddeus Toad is accused of stealing a car, sent to prison, escapes, is chased by the police and nearly loses his ancestral home, Toad Hall, to a group of nefarious weasels.
Here's how one fan describes the ride:
You are passenger in a runaway car which careens through hilarious scenes reminiscent of the Keystone Kops. On your fast ride which is in the dark, you have a lot of near misses. You blast through haystacks, nearly run characters down, crash through a fireplace, end up on a railroad track with a locomotive bearing down on you. You end up deposited unceremoniously in Hell, and you laugh all the way.
That's about as accurate a description of the last 2 weeks of my life as any I could come up with.
So climb in your buggy and lower the safety bar while I share my tale.
After months of insufferable hemming and indecisive hawing that I mercifully spared you all from reading (tea house? tapas bar? culinary book store? food writer? private chef? restaurant chef? back to school? insane asylum?), I finally decided that I wanted to go ahead and commit myself (hmmm... maybe I should stop the sentence there, press publish and never post again? nah, too easy) to opening a little restaurant.
Since the new year, I've ratcheted up my search process. I've been looking and looking and looking. I've felt like Goldilocks. This one's too big. This one's too expensive. This one's next to the projects.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I found a pretty decent place quite close to my house in a good but not great location (you blast through haystacks,...). I contacted the agent and walked through the property. It has just a few seats, but plenty of room to expand. Surprisingly, it even has a walk-in refrigerator, which is a much-coveted rarity in the size of restaurants I have been considering. Sure, the equipment is kind of old, but what can I expect from a 20-year-old restaurant? I assured myself it has lots of potential.
I had an accountant and an attorney look over the lease and, shockingly, got the go ahead to make an offer (...nearly run characters down,...). These guys are industry veterans and have dissuaded me from more than a few potential properties with, frankly, illegal lease clauses. Illegal that is unless you sign on the dotted line and agree to them. Did I mention nefarious weasels yet?
I wrote up an offer with a few contingencies. And then the buyer accepted it! I had 17 days to clear up the conditions.
Contingency 1. New lease. I languished for over a week waiting to meet with the landlord, a languorous Jabba the Hutt character. On the fateful day, we meandered over to a neighborhood park and sat on a bench still wet from the recent rains. As the icy water soaked through the seat of my pants, he casually informed me he wanted to raise the rent about 40% over the previous lease (...crash through a fireplace,...). Once I pulled my eyes back into their sockets and lifted my jaw off the ground, I curled my lip up in a sneer, flared my nostrils, shot laser beams out of my eyes, and balked. Click here to listen to Jabba's reaction to my demands. He eventually agreed to cut a small amount off his proposed increase, but was worried the other local landlords would laugh at him. Poor Jabba. I feel your pain.
Contingency 2. Inspect the premises and equipment. I brought in an architect to give me a ballpark figure of how much it would cost to expand the seating from the current 20 to around 40. First, of course, walls need to be moved. Then, he discovered the kitchen floor isn't up to code. It would need to be resurfaced. And, of course, the bathroom isn't handicapped accessible (...end up on a railroad track with a locomotive bearing down on you...).
For every $1 you spend on improvements in San Francisco, you are required to spend an additional 20¢ on upgrades to make your establishment accessible to people in wheel chairs. This restaurant has one step, so it would require some kind of ramp. And the door wasn't wide enough, so the entire facade would have to be redone. And then there's the bathroom.
At some point I stopped hearing his voice. We all shook hands and said we'd talk again in a few days.
Over the weekend, N and I discussed all the pros and cons (wait, what were the pros again?). I decided to withdraw my offer on Monday (...you end up deposited unceremoniously in Hell,...).
Before I canceled, the agent said the seller would be willing to accept a reduction in the price. Hmmm. This could be fun. I responded I'd have to cut my offer in half, figuring there was no way he would agree. A few hours later, he told me the seller was actually willing to take the offer! I told him I'd get back to him by Wednesday morning (today).
Then, last night, I went out to dinner with a gaggle of food bloggers. I forgot about the whole mess and let it simmer on the back burner, while N and I enjoyed good conversation, gulped lots of wine, and inhaled tasty snacks (...and you laugh all the way).
This morning, after realizing that it's too big of a project to take on given the rent increase and the location, I faxed in my withdrawal letter, and chalked up the whole experience as another incredible learning experience. Like Mr. Toad, this particular ride turned out to be to "nowhere in particular." A near miss.
But no matter. I got back in line and prepared to go on the Wild Ride again. Tomorrow, I'm seeing another promising sounding property!