Friday, January 9, 2015

That Damn Emerson

Sometimes, the little events in daily life remind us who we are.

Case in point:  a little neighborhood restaurant has re-opened in East Ridge, TN after being closed for the better part of a year.  New ownership.  A sign outside that reads, if you drive by today, "Chef's Special.  NY Steak Sandwich.  $7.99.  Open 7AM."

Not a big deal, right?

Except that I could have, relatively easily, been that new ownership.  At its nadir, the selling price, as far as I know, got down to around $50,000.  Nothing to sneeze at, of course, but also not a figure I look at and say, "That's beyond the range of possibility."

No, I could have taken out a 401k loan.  I could have asked borrow the money from my father.  I could have tried to piece together a series of investors from among the friends I know, especially those who frequented the restaurant with me from time to time.  But I didn't.

A friend of mine went and looked at the restaurant, talked with the broker.  He shared the info.  I got excited, he was excited.  Any number of other friends of mine were excited.  We all talked about the possibilities of the place.

I got scared away.  I'd like to be able to say that happened because of a comment I heard about the place: "I understand the floor and foundation have a lot of problems."  But I can't blame it on that.  I don't even remember who said it, but I'm certain it was someone I didn't even know and someone who is not in the restaurant business.  Just idle gossip, even if true.

I'd like to be able to say that I sat down and did a serious cost/benefit analysis of the project--figured out how much other money I would need to start the place running, insurance costs, size of staff I would have to hire, what kind of menu I could reasonably create, given my amateur status as a cook.  Etc.  After all, I do have a brother in the restaurant business.  Free, expert advice.  Many mistakes already made.  But I didn't.

No, fear moved in before rational decision-making, so much so that it felt like rational decision-making to do no exploration.  As in, the most realistic decision is to do nothing.  After all, who would run the place?  How hard would it be to try to open when I already have a full-time job?  Would I need permission from my employer to do it?  Could the place open just as a bar with snacks to give time to develop a menu?  Do I even know enough about restaurants to even try something like this?

It was Ralph Emerson who wrote, "A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages.  Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.  In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty."

Yes, Mr. Emerson, tragically, you are right.  I can see that very truth in the lighted billboard of a little neighborhood tavern a few miles from my house.  When presented with an enticing combination of possibility and risk, of passion and common sense, of dream and safety, I turned away.  I took the safe path, the conventional one.  I took no chance.  I know who I am, kid.

1 comment:

troutking said...

Despite being an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter politically, I know a lot about making conservative decisions personally. You are probably right to force yourself to examine how you make those kinds of decisions---I need to do that too. As you and R.W. and Steve Winwood say, there are times "while you see a chance, take it" and they are easy to miss. At the same time, before you beat yourself up too much, it's also true that the great can be the enemy of the good. Maybe you are pretty happy with how things are. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes inertia is bad because you don't get anywhere, but sometimes inertia is good because it keeps you from rolling off a cliff. In any case, I'm just excited to go back to that neighborhood restaurant no matter who owns it!