Recently, we sold our restaurant. We owned and ran it for a year and a half, which was about a year and 5 months too long. The initial heady rush of power and achievement, of finally realising our dream, was brief. It began on the morning of the opening and faded around 9pm the same day, when a table of thirteen arrived.
After that it was a sleepless nightmare of forced labour. Mothers of triplets suffering from colic get more sleep than we did. Prisoners of war building mountain passes in the snow had it easy by comparison. It was a savage encounter with a reality that lurked behind our whimsical idea of being restaurateurs.
We did the renovation, tearing down walls, plastering and painting. We put in shutters and light fittings and menu boards. I built the bar. We discovered termites... which was nice... We stared at the mounting pile of bills like stunned mullets. Licence fees for everything. We needed a licence to play music, to show the Melbourne cup on TV, to put a table or two out front. There was public indemnity insurance, workers compensation, staff pay and PAYG and Super. Not to mention the bill for the termite problem!
By the time we opened we were already out of money. So we devised a cunning plan to do everything ourselves. Everything! We washed and ironed the linen tablecloths and napkins, serviced the espresso machine, polished cutlery and glasses, did all the cleaning, the books, hand-picked the produce, handled the deliveries, set the tables. Oh, the pain.
There were some good things. Our chef was superb, we were full most nights, and the food and reviews were excellent. And we still couldn’t break even! Makes you wonder about the places that do survive...my guess is they are money laundering fronts. Of course, the fact that ours was a modern European bistro in a neighbourhood where ‘Chicken Treat’ was regarded as a bit posh didn’t help. My fault. I had a dream of introducing the clientele to such delights as home-made gnocchi, perfectly rare beef fillet, rich cassoulet and fluffy churros. The locals spent more time trying to pronounce the food than actually eating it. I realised the dream was gone when a customer called me over on one of our Tapas nights. ‘This stuff is great, mate!’ He said as he reached for another of his byo VB stubbies. ‘But you should change the name, ‘cause we didn’t know what this Tapas stuff was!’ He continued in fluent ocker. He paused for effect, then said...‘You should call it “Ozzie bites!”’ The others at his table reacted as if he had solved the Israel-Palestine issue! There was much self congratulation, and saying of the word ‘Goodonya!’
Yes, I know it should be 3 words. The next day we started looking to sell. When I look back, I try to remember the good times. This doesn’t take long, but still I think to myself...‘Would I do it again?’ My response is not for printing, but it translates as ‘No.’
For those thinking of opening a restaurant, apply for the prisoner of war position first. If you find that really easy, maybe then give it a go. Otherwise, just eat at restaurants and celebrate your good fortune that you don’t own one!