Monday, November 30, 2009

The Purchase

Purchasing The Humbug Coffee House really wasn’t an option. Aside from the financials not being in order, it was a sole proprietorship in a leased location. This meant there was no way to purchase previous losses, leasehold improvements, or delineate the debts of the owner from those of the business. In short, it just plain didn’t exist as a financial entity unto itself.

The only real option was to purchase the equipment after securing an agreement from the building landlord to ensure I would be able to hold the location. There was a lot of great equipment and the furniture was a must-have because it matched the décor so perfectly. There had to have been a professional decorator involved, but I didn’t want to pry too much since I was really only paying for the equipment and getting it at a steal.

I had hoped that the coffee shop owner, Dave, would want to keep the espresso machine but he wasn’t willing to sell me a stir stick unless I was buying the entire kit and caboodle. The most awkward part of the purchase was the presence of all sorts of third party property, like the art on the walls and a piano that belonged to a local music teacher. I tried pressing Dave for some details about these things but he began to mumble and shake so pathetically that I just didn’t have the heart to demand that he have them removed. It seemed like a moot point, however, since it would only take a few phone calls to get the rightful owners to come and pick up their property.

Several trips were required to make all the final arrangements. A local lawyer was brisk in setting up a corporation and writing up a very tight purchase agreement for the equipment. A local bank quickly setup an account and point of sale terminal – although the gentleman I dealt with was initially horrified that it was going to be a ‘corporate affair’. Finding an apartment was rather difficult, but a remarkably friendly woman who worked at the post office told me of one that was coming up as she processed my application for a mail box.

Word spread very quickly in town that I was opening a new restaurant and everybody seemed remarkably excited and eager to meet me. I found their line of questioning to be incredibly invasive but wrote it off to small town curiosity. With each trip I became more acutely aware of the differences between Cuspidorians and Humbuggers. When I gassed up, the cashier in the Humbug store would greet me by name and with a friendly smile. In Cuspidor the clerk at the service station rarely took his right hand off the baseball bat hidden under the counter – at least I hoped that his hand was on a baseball bat. Humbug was so friendly that on one trip home I found myself exclaiming, “Fucking-A! This place is exactly what I’ve been looking for!”

On the night before the lease and property were to change hands I made my most exciting trip to Humbug. I was leaving Cuspidor for good and was about to become a citizen of a small town once again. The Humbug Hotel gave me a deal on a room, which I needed for nearly a week as I awaited my apartment, and I settled in to try and sleep. The excitement was almost more than I could bear and I’m not sure if I slept a wink. I just kept thinking about all the work I had to do, about what my final menu decisions would be, and about how I was going to setup my kitchen. My brain just spun like a top inside my skull as all the details whirled around.

In the morning I had a quick breakfast at the hotel and then walked over to the Humbug Coffee House. I met the landlord out front at about 8 a.m. and Dave let us in just a few minutes later. Dave had been there all night trying to clean out personal papers and belongings. I could tell it was very difficult for him, standing there for the last time in his coffee house. He stood by the register in his apron and tapped a few keys in a gesture of good bye. He handed over the keys to the landlord, who then handed them over to me in an awkwardly ceremonious fashion. Dave’s head drooped a bit and I just didn’t know what to say to him. We stood for several minutes in uncomfortable silence.

Then, suddenly, Dave blurted out, “I’m outa here!” and he charged straight down the back hall, hands flailing in the air, and he was gone with a slam of the back door. The landlord shook my hand, wished me luck, and departed almost as abruptly. I stood there in awe. I had some changes to make, but there I stood in my own restaurant; my first brick and mortar business.

I wanted to clean it. I wanted to wipe down all the counters and shelves and cupboards. I wanted to turn the chairs upside down on the tables and mop the floors. I wanted to polish each and every glass by hand. I wanted the whole place to sparkle and for the world to see the wonder that I had created. I paced from front to back and back to front as I surveyed the mighty restaurant that was to be; and it was good.

I was rather horrified when I looked in the deli cooler and found that half of the containers were bursting with mould. Obviously Dave hadn’t had the ambition left to clean everything out. It didn’t matter, though, because by the time I finished even the floors would be fit to eat off of. I was ready to work.

A few hours later, Dave returned sheepishly through the back door to return his apron and retrieve his jacket.