In 2007 I was living in Cuspidor, Alberta, running a lucrative home based business brokering large volume purchases of plastic for a large group of small buyers. That short description may seem enough to bore anyone to sleep, but there is no superlative to describe the day to day dreariness that was my life. I had had enough and was looking for a way out so I made some plans, sold my business and my home, and prepared to set out on a new adventure.
To make a long story short, my plans fell apart in a rather apocalyptic failure that left me with no place to go just three days before I had to vacate the home I had sold. Finding myself on a friend’s sofa, I began to re-contemplate my future and flailed about until, through a series of even more unusual events, I set about to convert a small town coffee shop into a restaurant. That was when the short story became very long.
When I say ‘small town coffee shop’, I’m certain the average reader envisions some sort of diner with chrome framed chairs upholstered in faded blue or red vinyl and a dining area of black and white checkered tiles. On the contrary, however, this place was indeed a modern coffee house with contrasting wood finish for the floors, front serving counter, and table tops. It had matte black framed chairs upholstered in black vinyl and walls painted in autumn colours. It was located in the town of Humbug, just 60 miles west of Cuspidor, and was appropriately called The Humbug Coffee House.
The financials of the business were a mess, although not nearly as ravaged as the owner. I contemplated if his nerve-wracked state was the result of sleepless nights worrying about a failing business or perhaps more influenced by long days fueled on espresso; I decided that it could only have been induced by a combination of both. It was obvious that a small town like Humbug just couldn’t support a specialty coffee house and I felt that switching the location over to a food venue might generate viable sales.
Only fifteen years earlier I had sworn that I would never work in a kitchen again. I hoped, however, that by sticking to a very simple daily menu with limited selections that I could avoid the nightmares of short order work and focus on showcasing some simple, freshly prepared, hearty meals. What I encountered, though, was an experience so bizarre that I often found myself looking around for hidden cameras – hoping beyond all hope that I had been cruelly selected as the mark on some merciless new hidden camera reality show. Every small town has its quirks, but I swear I must have chosen the quirkiest little village in Canada.
I cannot lament the long hours or the hard work, for that is to be expected of any new business – especially in the food service industry. On the other hand, I would like to advise the reader that if ever you should be at a potluck and receive the compliment, “Oh, you’re such a great cook, you should open a restaurant,” please feel free, without hesitation, to turn to the person that just uttered those words and punch them straight in the face. I say this because cooking great food is the smallest part of running a restaurant. They may as well have said, “Oh, you made that vest yourself? You should be a child labourer in a third world sweat shop!”
The following pages are my attempt to convey my first foray into the restaurant business.