I’ve been looking to do a restaurant for as long as I can remember. For nearly the last year of my life, I eschewed the comforts of a regularly paying job just to concentrate on finding a place to call our own. And for the longest time, I never thought it would happen as location after location were either too expensive, too risky, required too much construction, or couldn’t open because there was no way our dear city would permit it even if it were workable (ok sorry, that’s my last jab at our parking ordinance issue. Zing!)
So when I finally signed that dotted line on the lease meaning that Karen and I were finally business owners, I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to roar in primal joy, break down in tears, or collapse in mental exhaustion. It felt like I’d passed the finish line of a marathon– I had run that last leg so many times only to fall short of the finish line.
I’m sure in the back of my head I knew the real work hadn’t even begun, but I guess I never though the day might come where I’d actually have to open the restaurant. With so many failures before, the week following us signing the lease was like getting a sack or bricks slung at the back of your head day after day. The questions in your head following that week mounted without ever a hope of finding enough answers fast enough– and that doesn’t even include all the questions everyone else had.
There are some days that I wish I were some sort of big-shot enough to only have to worry about the fun things that I’d always dreamt about regarding the restaurant: how I want to cook the food, what cool gadgets I could buy, which plates I want to put it on, where I can source the best product, and how I want the dining room to feel when the guests eat it. But with the immense pressure of pouring our life savings plus the funds from investors into the restaurant, I’m left trying to figure out just how to keep on knocking out the new problems that come up every day while trying to answer the ones that have always been there slowly. Staying calm and collected is a task in itself; one that I don’t think I’ve always handled well these past two months, but one that has to happen to dampen the deafening roars of doubt that come from every angle every day. That’s not to say I don’t think we weren’t prepared. With all that could be (and have been) going wrong, the fact that I still see us opening on time or only with a few weeks delay is an accomplishment that I (and many others) doubted could happen.
It’s true, restaurants really are like living, breathing beings. Oxheart has taken a shape that I couldn’t have ever imagined and definitely not like the perfect restaurant that I had in my head. But just like many things, its imperfections make it human, and it’s those little imperfections that I’ve come to really love. I thought that I had over-budgeted for over-budgeting, but even then I find ourselves having (or maybe just wanting) to really come up with interesting, non-ideal solutions to problems we have, just to save a few dollars. It’s a trying task: new or used refrigeration? Stock or custom tables? Aluminum or steel cookware? Take down that wall for aesthetic purposes or just let it be for now? The questions are dizzying, and that’s even before people ask me when we’re planning on opening.
But that push and that pull is to find that happy medium is what I’m most excited to share with our guests. We fought with ourselves to really cut down to what was the most important to us, where we thought we could skip those few extra bucks, and where we knew we should and wanted to pay full price. Like all relationships, I’m sure I’ll be extremely frustrated at this place from time to time: those uneven floors, that thick layer of paint on the windows, the odd electrical layout, and the fact that we really have very little space to do the cooking (restaurants under 2000 sq ft really have got to learn to make storage go vertical). But then again, we’ve had the most amazing help to get our space to where it is now, from Mr. Somm Guy, Justin getting down on his hands and knees to scrub the years of dirt from the grout, to our designer, Gin creating a beautifully unique space within our budget, to Jeff and Adam for providing us with their amazing products to paint our walls and build our tables, to the countless craftsmen: the potter, the leathermaker, the bladesmith, and the street artist doing all they can to make Oxheart a special place. You can forget about the flaws when you can remember all the people that helped you get there. I don’t think I would love this restaurant nearly as much if we had that unlimited budget and could make everything shiny, glossy, new, and perfect. Learning to work with that we have and dealing with the restaurant’s flaws has been and will be an interesting task.
But truthfully, that’s what I know will make it better for you .
And worth it for me.