4 Min ReadBusiness 28 July 2020
On December 11, 2019, I opened my first New York City restaurant, The Banty Rooster, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. The road to opening had been long: I sold my first successful restaurant, Work & Class, in Denver in October 2016 and moved to New York City six months later. I knew virtually no one in the city, but I was determined to take what I'd learned and pursue my biggest dream: owning and operating a restaurant in New York City that put the wellbeing of its employees first while creating a warm, convivial space where people could escape the pressures of life in the city.
Over the next three years, I hustled; jumped through hoops; pitched investors; searched for real estate; applied for SBA loans; and hired lawyers, architects, and general contractors to help me make my dream a reality. I'd sat for hours at the Fire Department and the State Liquor Authority to beg for final inspections and licenses. I'd interviewed, hired, and trained 32 employees, and on December 11, I proudly unlocked the doors and welcomed our first guests into the dining room.
Over the next three months, we began to hit our stride. Members of the press, reviewers, and influencers were talking about us. Our neighbors were becoming regulars, and our team was really beginning to gel. Reservations were up and so were sales. All of the hard work was finally paying off. And then the unimaginable happened — the coronavirus hit New York City in full force, and I had to close the doors I'd labored so hard to open. I laid off thirty-two employees, including my own husband, who is the restaurant's executive chef. The momentum we'd built came to a screeching halt.
Like many small business owners, I promptly filed a claim with our insurance company for business interruption losses, only to be swiftly denied because my location had not experienced physical damage, and even if we had, the policy contained an exemption for damage due to "viruses and bacteria." I felt frustrated, angry, silly, and small all at the same time.
Who was I to think that the insurance company I paid $27,000 a year to would ever step in to help?
I watched the news constantly — probably more than was healthy — waiting to see what type of stimulus package would pass and if small restaurants like mine would be included. I cleaned out the restaurant's walk-in coolers and donated food to our staff and neighbors. I texted my landlord to start a conversation about rent and contacted the bank who originated our start-up SBA loan to request that payments be deferred. I counted the pennies in our bank account and cursed myself for making a sizable payment to a contractor for our buildout just two weeks prior. That kind of liquid cash was now like precious gold.
I sent my 19 investors an email letting them know that I had decided to close and that we would not be processing takeout or delivery orders because I felt that it wasn't ethical to ask our staff to put their own health at risk by asking them to commute into work on public transportation. I was moving, but slowly, feeling numb and voiceless in a way I hadn't felt in a long time.
And then something changed. I realized that not having a voice was a choice. I called on the best piece of advice I've ever received, spoken by my mother many years before: "Don't give yourself choices you don't have."
Being silent and small was a choice, and it was a choice that I didn't have if I wanted to survive. I called our PR agency and filled them in on what was going on. If I felt this way, surely others did too. I wrote letters to Congress, called my representatives, and asked friends and family to do the same. I spoke with writers from Eater and CNBC and tried to articulate what I and other small business owners were (and still are) going through. I contacted my accountant, lawyer, and other friends in the business for support and advice. I may not be a famous chef or restaurateur with a platform like Danny Meyer or Tom Colicchio, but I decided that it didn't matter.
My voice, and others like it, also deserved to be heard.
Personally, I put the kibosh on any type of pity party. Poor-me thinking, stress eating, lying paralyzed in bed, and other activities that simply create more problems are off-limits. Feeling bad for myself, dwelling on all the failings of government, or projecting my fears and anxieties into an unknown future isn't healthy or productive — it simply drains precious energy from other, more important pursuits.
Today, I'm using my time to reflect on The Banty Rooster's first few months as if it were a dress rehearsal for the main show. What worked? What didn't? What changes need to be made in our business model to be competitive in a post-pandemic marketplace?
Financially, I've applied for multiple grants and loans, including the important but flawed Paycheck Protection Program. I haven't received word, or funds, from any of them yet, but I am cautiously optimistic that I will. If I don't, I'll do what I did to build the restaurant in the first place: keep at it until someone, or something, breaks in my favor. If there's anything I've learned as an entrepreneur, it's to never, ever give up. Giving up is a choice, and it's a choice that I simply can't allow myself right now.
This article was originally published March 17, 2020.
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Help! My Friend Is a No Show
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.
Dear Sadsies,I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.
I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!
- The Armchair Psychologist