Welcome back to On the House, a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to open a restaurant — or several. In 2013, Steve “Nookie” Postal shared weekly glimpses into his experience opening Commonwealth in Cambridge, and now he’s back as he works to open Mothership and new locations of Revival Cafe & Kitchen, all while keeping Commonwealth up and running. Keep an eye out for new installments of On the House on occasional Fridays.
10 years: That’s it. That’s what I’ve got left in the tank. (Work-wise, that is.) This life, it’s for the birds. Never-ending problems. It’s only getting worse. I’m done with it.
I mean, I’m not done, clearly, but that’s it — I’m retiring at 54. I’m gonna bust my stones until then. Those reading this who have had the unfortunate experience of working for me have heard of the five-year plan; this is the 10-year one. I think I got this from my DB brother. Basically, where do you want to be in 10 years? I want to retire.
Okay, so now I know where I am, and now I know where I want to end up. I just have to figure out the maze in the middle, and I’ll get there. That means evolving.
Some of you know me from my OG blog here on Eater Boston about the trials and tribulations of someone who has never opened a restaurant and pours his blood, sweat, money, and tears into opening a behemoth restaurant in sparkly, shiny Kendall Square. Some of you might have read the Boston Magazine series about how a super-fat, no-will-power snacking machine, late-night Chinese food addict lost 100 pounds through gastric sleeve surgery and life changes. Some of you probably just know me.
Anyway, here is the new me. I own Commonwealth and three Revivals (Alewife, Davis Square, and Post Office Square), with one more on Newbury Street coming this fall. And construction starts next month for Mothership; we can get into what that is later.
But how do I go from one restaurant, Commonwealth, where I did everything when we opened, to what seems like now nothing? I can’t be everywhere; there is too much. I need to adapt. I need to change. First, I can’t be chained to a station. Call it a flaw, call it a strength, but I’m good at just figuring shit out. Those who have worked with me are smiling now. I figured out some shit in my day. I don’t care to get into the duck debacle of 2014.
I’m realizing that while I work the best when I’m free and “figuring shit out,” others do not. I need to bring structure, and that means stepping away from the day-to-day operations, be that prep, working a station, whatever. That’s hard, because it’s all I know. I feel like I’m being lazy, or I get this terrible, overwhelming sense of guilt.
Guilt — that’s the big fucker in all this. It’s at the crux of a lot of our struggles with this industry. I was pumped and excited to be picked for the ChefsFeed Indie Week event, and I met a great group of chefs from around the country. It was an intense four days, but I think my favorite part, or the part that I got the most from, was when we went for a walk from Cambridge across the river to the Esplanade and sat in a circle and talked about all this shit.
All of it. Work-life balance. The demands. The staffing. The problems. And you want to know what? Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, New York City, Boston — everyone — it’s the same shit. And guilt is one of the biggest culprits. Not being there for your brigade, team, whatever it is you call it. We need to get past it, but it’s so hard. I preach it, but I have to live it. In order to that, I need to change.
My wife was having a conversation with a friend the other day, and I overheard her say that if we don’t go away, I just work. That’s not great; I can’t demand and expect everyone to take time for themselves when I don’t do it myself.
So I’m starting. The other day was the first time in — I don’t remember — that I was home in Cambridge and didn’t go into one of the restaurants. It felt good. It felt like I was doing something wrong a bit as well, like I was playing hooky from school or something like that. But what the fuck am I supposed to do?
I mean, some days I don’t like my job. That’s okay to say, right? I think that’s normal for people.
But evolution is a good thing. I’ve got a great team that we are building. Good for me, good for them. I want them to grow as well. [Acclaimed New York restaurateur] Danny Meyers said that you can only grow as large and as fast as your staff allows it. I think work-life balance will become more and more important in our industry moving forward, and I want to be at the forefront. I want my staff, my team, and myself to figure out how we can make this possible.
But guilt — fuck the guilt. I grew up with it, too. Jewish guilt. Probably ingrained into me as a baby. “Of course you don’t have to come, but it would be nice to see you before I died is all I’m saying...” Not an uncommon line in my house growing up.
Anyway, I think that is enough for today. So what is this about? It’s not about opening a restaurant. It’s not about opening a cafe. Or losing weight. Maybe it’s about how to live this life — this weird, funky, quirky, challenging, rewarding, disappointing hospitality life — and have a regular human life at the same time.
Maybe. Or maybe I’ll just drop jokes here that my kids tell me.
How do you wake up Lady Gaga from a nap?
P-p-poker face, p-p-poker face.
See you next month.