A Phoenix Rising
I've known a number of people in my life who warned me that I'd be crazy to want to open a restaurant. My ex-father-in-law was a chef and restaurant owner who very clearly despised the idea that my ex and I had hopes to open an eatery. He was a really nice man, but when this conversation arose, he'd become very negative and almost angry. Despite the energy he conveyed along with some pretty scary words like, "You'd be crazy," I didn't listen. Other friends in the industry used phrases like, "living hell," "sheer torture," or "brutal" to describe their experience at the helm of their restaurants. With bounds of ambition, a million ideas, and selective deafness to the warnings, I was convinced I had what it takes.
Painter extraordinaire, Richard Abraham, was outstanding in the field a few weeks back!
As soon as we opened, I began to realize what all these warnings actually meant. It turns out I didn't really know what "living hell" felt like! We can't really understand until we live the experience. At least I can't.
I could see immediately that harvesting, collecting and making fresh food each day was an insurmountable task, but I put in enormous hours and did it. For awhile enough people came to test the waters that I figured it would be worth it. I hoped that I could continue to increase the number of visitors, and at some point, the project could be viable. The pacemaker threw a wrench in my momentum, and I suspect that listing the property for sale caused some folks to turn their backs figuring why bother, she's going to close eventually.
The absence of local customers became quite noticeable and shame of failure started to seep in. I understand familiarity and comfort, and Plum City already has two restaurants that give them what they need. I knew I was out on a limb hoping folks in town would be willing to support my pretty dining room and new foods, but as a person who craves change and beauty, I hoped I could provide an alternative dining experience for others who think like me. Boy, talk about feeling alone in the world! Each minute that the restaurant was open became more and more unbearable.
Lots of folks gave me suggestions that basically boiled down to "Do it like Molly's or Beav's (the two restaurants in Plum City)." That's exactly what I was trying NOT to be. Western Wisconsin has an abundance of bar/tavern/restaurants, and while I enjoy a night out here and there in those establishments, I wanted to create a place that felt a bit more intimate and offered made-from-scratch food at an affordable price point. I love chef-driven dining, but can't afford it on a regular basis - this was going to be my alternative.
I suspect this design/concept is so different from what Plum City is used to that folks maybe felt intimidated. I worried that might be the case, yet hoped I could get them in the door then help them feel comfortable. Little did I know, Plum City had a different plan. They were willing to step in the door, but ordered my food TO GO! I was completely unprepared for this and a little miffed, frankly. Sending my gorgeous food out in compostable brown boxes and bags was not to my standard. Despite feeling irritated, I pivoted and hoped the TO GO orders would bring people back for a sit-down meal. I had originally planned for the rolled burrito as a take out item, but the rest of the menu was carefully curated each week to be showcased on a white plate against the backdrop of the beautiful room. I hoped to remind people that colorful food and especially vegetables can be crave-able. I hoped to see folks gather around something exciting - something new. My hopes did not come to fruition and Plum City flocked to their comfort zone. I get that.
Of course, as most restaurants these days, I also had staffing issues. The time it takes to train staff is enormous, and in my case, it didn't feel worth the investment as my student-staff went back to school. Between the massive amount of work, dwindling visitors, food and labor costs, and my health issues, it just seemed futile to keep the place open a minute longer.
To make that decision was heart-breaking. I can intellectually understand all the "failure makes you stronger" and "to fail is to learn" jargon, but my defeat does not inspire me to show you my muscles, but instead, to retreat from society and crawl into bed for a good long cry. There's no saving face from this experience. Fortunately, I have learned that time does heal all wounds, so can look forward to the day that this broken heart will no longer pain me.
While the restaurant may not have been the best concept for me or Plum City, I still have the gorgeous building and a million ideas. I will be rebranding and reconceptualizing the building into an event space for wedding rehearsal dinners, groom's dinners, birthday parties, holiday gatherings, anniversary parties, retreats and some really fun pop-ups. This way events can be scheduled and I will know exactly how many people to expect. Over the next few weeks I plan to get this new venture launched with a website, package prices and calendar. Despite feeling sad that the restaurant didn't work, I'm so glad that my creative brain is back pestering me with new ideas! It was feeling pretty stifled under the burden of the last venture.
Thank you to everyone who came out to support me in Plum City. From family driving from far and wide to help paint, to friends who brought me lunch during renovations, to new Plum City friends who cheered me on through the big gorgeous bank windows, to chef friends who helped me design the kitchen, to folks who dared to try my offerings, and to my dear Sweet William who suffered through my misery... I feel your love, and am so grateful for all of you in my life.
Farmhouse World Kitchen as regular-hours-restaurant was such a short chapter, perhaps it will be the first of many successful, fun, and creative POP-UPS at 401 Main Street!
I'm turning my attention to the farm store now that I am getting back into balance. So many of my soup fans will be happy to know that there are two varieties in the store right now, a whole bunch of Blueberry Buckles and Apple Slabs, and by next week I'll have a few Shrubs ready to bottle for alcohol free sipping. The sunflowers look good this year...sunflower oil pressing will happen by December we hope.
From the ashes like a Phoenix I rise!
Love to you all,