What?! You have owned a restaurant? This is the common response I get when I mention that chapter from our business lives. Well, the whole story isn’t glamorous at all. Here is part of the story from Chapter 1, “The Rest of the Business Story” in DIY Kitchen Chemistry.
The setting was in the kitchen of PB&J’s Live on a busy Friday night. It was the winter of 1996. Dennis and I were friends and business partners. Keegan, my son, was four years old and I was a single mother. Dennis was single and a budding serial entrepreneur. The stress level at our restaurant, PB&J’s Live, was high. The business was surviving from week to week on the income brought in on Friday and Saturday Comedy nights. I ran the kitchen, and Dennis was in charge of everything else.
Finances were too tight to have a babysitter, so Keegan was tucked in a safe corner within my line of sight. When the orders started coming in that Friday evening, I handed Keegan a box of markers and gave him directions to stay on the milk crate. I could swear that I had also handed him paper to write on, but given what happened next, maybe I forgot? It is likely that I had it in my mind to give him paper and markers, but I had too much on my mind, and the small details must have escaped me. From Keegan’s perspective, the only thing missing in the scenario was something upon which to color.
Keegan was always content as long as he was near me. He was especially quiet that night and never left the milk crate. At one point, I glanced over and noticed that Keegan was writing on his hand. I thought to myself that I would go stop him once I got the orders started. I was always rushed to get dinner on every table before the comedy act started.
The hours rolled on, and with each glance at Keegan, I noticed a growing marker tattoo expanding on his body. I kept thinking there would be a break in the dinner rush, which would provide the opportunity for me to go stop his body art, but I didn’t have a moment to spare as order after order after order piled in. I sent plate after plate out to the dining room. PB&J’s Live was hopping, and Keegan was quiet. By the time the final dessert left the kitchen, and I had time to take a hard look at Keegan, I found him, colorful and quiet on the empty milk crate.
Keegan had taken the free opportunity to not only decorate himself from head to toe, but to do so with gusto. He had colored every inch of skin he could reach without taking off his shorts. He had been so detailed in his work that he had colored behind his ears and even inside of them. He was a walking masterpiece. I couldn’t be mad because I had watched him do it and hadn’t stopped him. I simply had to smile while he explained each detail of his design.
It was washable ink, so “no harm, no foul” was my thought.
Sometimes we have to make a judgment call on the things that we give the power to upset us. I could have beaten myself down believing that I had neglected my son. I could have been angry at my circumstances as our business was barely surviving. I could have been mad that I worked all day at a regular job and all night at our business and still didn’t have enough money to get a babysitter for my son. But in reality my son was happier with me no matter what I was doing. I had chosen to start a business when I was already financially struggling. I had made choices that resulted in all the events of the night and I chose to not regret the circumstances I found myself in.
However, our business did eventually fail by circumstances outside of our control. Packing our restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights was great for us, but it did not go over well with the other restaurant and a video store with which we shared our parking lot. Our customers took over every space and then some. Not only did we share the same parking lot with these businesses, but we also shared the same landlord. The long-term relationships that the other two businesses had with our landlord outweighed her loyalty to our contract. Just before Christmas her lawyers sent us a cease-and-desist order. It stated that we could no longer serve hot food, that we couldn’t be open at dinner time and that we could no longer provide live entertainment.
The cease-and-desist order was a business killer for us. We had sunk every penny and more into starting up PB&J’s Live and had nothing left over to fight for our business or even open our doors for another meal without our menu, dinner service and live entertainment. We had made fatal errors in our contract and our location. We simply had to close our doors, auction off our equipment and walk away with a huge business loss and debt.
Dennis and I may have failed at that business but our friendship led to marriage. We all laugh at the stories of the experiences we had at PB&J’s Live now. The markers washed off of Keegan. We all remember how Keegan felt like just as much of an owner of our restaurant as we did – minus the financial stress. He loved to greet people, seat people, and sing on stage before we opened. He was sad to say goodbye to his PB&J’s family, and we learned a very expensive business lesson. But in the end, Keegan grew up with Dennis and I as we built, failed, rebuilt, started over, and grew our family businesses.