Everyone who decides it’s time to go into business and work for themselves has their own definition of success. The foodservice entrepreneur may have several.
For us success has been defined as the pleasure of freedom. This article from Entrepreneur sums up many of our feelings about the subject. The day you decide to become your own boss will be a memorable one, the first amongst many as you begin this new lifestyle. There will also be moments you would rather forget. In my opinion the good outweighs the bad and regardless of where the journey personally takes us there’s one memory that will supersede all others.
We owned and operated a catering business at the time and had one official full-time employee along with a few on-demand part-timers. Corporate catering was our foray into the industry and surprisingly we were doing ok despite being so green. We talked in the book about I what like to refer to as the “trinity” of foodservice: Catering, Concessions and Restaurants along with the positives and negatives of each. Having done all three and for what it’s worth I’d still recommend catering for the novice (and even experienced) operator as pound for pound the biggest return with the least expense and risk. You always know what’s coming and can plan accordingly. But I digress.
My wife, Erin was pregnant with our first child and we were quickly approaching the threshold of recommended airline travel. It was decided our last trip as a childless couple would be a mix of city action and natural beauty so we settled on the Bay Area with a side trip to Lake Tahoe. At the time Erin had a sales job and I ran the catering business which up until then I hadn’t been away from a single day since it opened. I was nervous about leaving town because we’d be gone for a week and even in a week things can screw up and undo years of hard work and client cultivation. Orders would need to be taken, prepared, held, and delivered on time all across the city without any oversight on my part. Product deliveries needed to be received and invoices paid. Would someone forget to lock the door or leave a stove on? I trusted Dawn (our full-timer) to take care of everything but this would be our first major test as a small business flying on its own. We’d be two-thousand miles away and she’d have to handle any hiccups or emergencies. She was perfectly capable but when you’re talking your livelihood there’s still plenty of room for worry. However at some point you have to give your business its wings and we finally said to hell with it, got our tickets, and left town.
It was early July when we flew into San Francisco and the weather was beautiful. The plan was to stay in the city for three or four days and then drive over to Tahoe for another three. Erin made me promise I wouldn’t call the shop for at least a day or two and I didn’t. I was so giddy being out of town without having to close the business I barely thought about it. We did the restaurant thing. We did the Napa thing. We did the PCH thing. When we left San Francisco and got to Tahoe I still didn’t call for another two days. Dawn hadn’t called either so we assumed everything was ok or had gone horribly wrong. In the meantime we soaked up all the beauty of Lake Tahoe and its environs. We ate. We explored. We sat in an oversized bathtub drinking champagne admiring the majesty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
On the next to last day before our departure I decided to call back home.
“Hey! You guys having a good time?!”
“Yeah. How is everything?” I asked nervously.
“It’s good! We got three orders out today, Calvin’s delivering the one for this afternoon and we got two checks I’ll deposit in the morning. Relax man.”
“Oh, well uh, ok. see you when we get back then.”
“Bye dude, bye!”
I exhaled and looked up at Erin, “All is well.”
Next to the birth of my children the feeling, at that moment, was one of the greatest I’ve ever experienced and there will never be another one similar. It was a dream come true. The dream of freedom. I was doing what I wanted where I wanted. There was no boss to answer to. No emails or phone calls to worry about. There was an income being generated and other people were handling it for us. It was all quite surreal. Even though it had taken three long years to earn a legitimate getaway it was worth all the days, weeks and months of hard work.
A few years later we sold the business for a decent profit and I returned to corporate America for the paid vacations, benefits and 401k plan. We added another member to the family and shortly thereafter went through an unfortunate series of events forcing our return to foodservice, something we knew was risky but weren’t afraid of. The next venture wound up being a restaurant and while it has turned out to be the most enduring, it pales in comparison to the first time we put an idea together, made it work, and were able to walk away from it while the machine kept running. There was, of course, a similar watershed moment with our current business but once it happens for the first time everything else as they say is “chasing the dragon.” There are many, many ups and downs for the entrepreneur but to us the freedom is worth it. Enjoy it.
1 48oz can tomato juice
1 medium onion chopped fine
1 green onion chopped fine
1 jalapeno chopped fine
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 large tomatoes peeled, seeded, chopped (or canned)
1/3C fresh lime juice
1/4C red wine vinegar
1/2t black pepper
Combine all ingredients in large bowl or jar and refrigerate overnight. Serve cold.