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The Adventure of Opening My Own Restaurant

(posted: August 12th, 2015)

What's it like to open your own restaurant?

It's a dream come true.

It's a nightmare.

It's crazy, exciting, overwhelming, frustrating, tiring, energizing...

I've helped to open many a restaurant in my time as a chef, but this is the first one that is my very own. I can choose the decor, the menu, the method and the staff!

All during my career I've kept an eye out for the right opportunity. And when you are really honest about it, in the restaurant business, the "right opportunity" boils down to money. A small percentage of chefs have investors that come to them, some chefs can round up a good group of backers (like so much of business, it is all about who they know) and some bootstrap, struggle and starve to open their dream restaurant. If you are blessed... you don't have to go hat in hand. Long story short, I came into some money and wasted no time.

Having working in many different kinds of establishments, I knew what type of restaurant I wanted. I wanted it to be on the small side, so that diners would experience very personal service and extremely fresh food, but large enough that there was room for the decor I had in mind. It took some doing, but I eventually found a great location right here in Folsom. The spot was already a restaurant, so I wouldn't have to start entirely from scratch, but there were definitely things that needed to change. There was equipment that the current incarnation lacked, and, of course, my decor.

Getting Started

You would think that at this point it would pretty much be, ahem...gravy, but as it turns out, once you have your physical location, that's when the fun begins. Every day is a glorious combination of increasing excitement and seemingly never ending details.

I hired my Chef de Cuisine, and together we dove into the work, frequenting restaurant auctions for the some of the big pieces of kitchen equipment, ordering others to be delivered from half way across the country. We did retrofits and safety inspections and more fixes and fire inspections. There was legal paperwork that seemed endless. We sourced tables and chairs, pots, pans, plates, table settings, flatware, plates. Bathrooms had to be upgraded and sanitation addressed. What would our uniform be? We needed software and a POS system installed (for reservations, payments and seating). What were our management plans, and who would manage front and back of house? What would our wine list include? Would we serve a selection of beer? What about cocktails? We commissioned a Web site, hired staff for the front and back of the house, planned our menus and how much food we would need each night.

It goes on and on and it is so easy to let yourself get mired in these details, but at the end of each day I could see my goal that little bit clearer - feel it a little closer.

Once things got close enough that I could start interacting with the people - my vendors, my neighbors, my CUSTOMERS - that's when the weight really lifted. You see, for me, the whole adventure of a restaurant is about the people. The reason I love cooking is not so much the beautiful meal on the plate, it's the cleaned plate and the smile on the diner's face. Once I was close enough to see those potential smiles, the rest was - well, cake.

So now things are getting easier. The day-to-day is starting to settle in and I can begin to concentrate on the little touches that are going to make Le Charenton truly mine: the phone booth, the photos, the regulars and the big one - the expansion. Yes, we are already in possession of the neighboring space and we will be expanding into that space soon! More happy faces.

So, what is it like to open your own restaurant? It's a fantastic, fabulous living hell and I wouldn't have it any other way.

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