On the House is Eater's column that goes behind the scenes of the restaurant business, written by the owners, operators, chefs and others who make our favorite establishments tick. As part of a new ongoing On The House series, chef Steve "Nookie" Postal will weigh in on his experience of preparing to open two Cambridge restaurants, Commonwealth and Steinbones. Here's part one.
Well, here goes nothing... or everything. Welcome to the start of something special. An experiment if you will: can a human being open two restaurants at the same time and live to tell the tale? Will his family still talk to him? Will his friends, or what's left of them? Will they still be there when it's all over? Will it even work out, come in on time, and under budget? Here's my story of opening Commonwealth and Steinbones. The real story. Not a glorified, glossed-over version. Not the stuff you see on TV or read about in the "foodie" chat rooms. I'm not Rocco [DiSpirito] and this ain't The Restaurant on NBC. This is real: the good, the bad and the ugly.
I'm going to tell it like it is. Why? Is it some sort a publicity thing? Is it feeding my desire to be recognized? Nope. It's for all the people who will come after me, so that they can learn from my experience. Or mistakes... When I started this process three years ago, there were and still are no real accounts of opening a restaurant. Sure, you can buy "opening a restaurant for dummies" or some crap like that, but it doesn't tell you anything. It says write a business plan, find location, open restaurant, as if it were that easy. But there is a huge cast of characters that goes into the process: contractors, insurance agents, bookkeepers, accountants, design teams, architects. The list goes on.
And to be honest, there is a lot that I don't know and am learning on the fly. I'm a chef. I can run a kitchen and cook great food. This I know, but can I build a restaurant? I don't know anything about setting up an LLC, writing a business plan, negotiating a lease. These are things they don't teach in culinary school. Only one way to learn it.
One note as we embark upon this journey together: please don't be offended by my writing style. My grammar is poor at best and the last thing I want to be is a food writer. This isn't about that. We have a plethora of really good and talented food writers and reviewers - no desire to be one of them. But I thought this would be more meaningful as written by myself, for better or for worse. Even in the midst of 120-hour work weeks, I will make that extra time to sit down and write. When it sucks, and the plumbers are late and the tile came in wrong and landlord wants to talk about where the pickle display is going to go, I'll be there to write about it.
Nervous I am. Besides the financial implications, which are huge, I have my family to think of. I have three kids and a wife whom I treasure more than anything. This will no doubt become a huge burden on them, but I know my wife and I will survive it. To be honest, nothing scares me more than that. We have all heard the horror stories about people never seeing their families and working a million hours. My goal is to prove that you can own and operate a successful restaurant and still keep some semblance of a normal family life: it can be done and it will.
Sure, it's gonna be really tough in the beginning. The first couple of years are gonna be hard, but we know this going in. Sometimes you need to take a small step back to take a few forward. To get to where I want to be, this needs to happen and I'm determined to make that happen.
I think that's enough for the opener. It's an exciting time. These are new challenges that I have been preparing for since my first day in culinary school. I have worked for some great chefs and learned tons. The most important thing I have learned from them is that I have never learned enough. That's one great thing about the food world: it's ever-evolving. New techniques, ingredients, combinations... it's never ending. And I love it. Not many people can actually say they love what they do. I do. Food is such an important part of my life.
I know there will be the haters out there. It happens. Regardless, stay tuned for the story and process of opening a 6,500 square foot market/restaurant and small, kitschy Jewish barbecue joint. God, just reading that line back to myself makes me cringe. For better or worse, here goes.