Three Walls And A Dream
I remember so clearly a perfect July day in 2013 when we had a scheduled meeting with the Robert’s, former owners of the property now called Jake’s. Chris and I were headed to their home to discuss our plans for the property and to see if we could “strike a deal”. I have always been a gunslinger entrepreneur, make the deal and then figure out how to pay for it; lucky for me I married a conservative type – the partnership was important and I was at least smart enough to recognize the value in her reason.
We shared our hopes and dreams – and passion that day and lucky for us the Robert’s bought in and a deal was struck at our dining room table a few days later. Prior to signing the deal I called Joe Randi, a legendary local builder who had built all that we owned and had all of our trust. I said “Joe, we are about to take on a crazy project but before we commit I need to know I can get you on our team.” Luck was on our side and Joe committed, we signed the next day and Jake’s was officially underway.
We shared a special evening with the Robert’s in October as Ron and Nancy finished preparing for their final event and invited us to share in the occasion; a wedding of two wide eyed young locals. The property was perfect and the stage was set for us – the Robert’s passed us the torch that night, unofficially, but we grabbed it with all our might and off we went.
I remember my own first swing of a sledgehammer splintering the wall next to the original entrance. I felt the energy of the hammer and the resistance of the wall, symbolic of the next few months as we fought the majestic property to accept the new as it fought hard to preserve the old.
We stripped and tore and broke and ripped the old building apart looking for original strong enough to survive and we found so much more that we hoped. We had a terrific team of builders who put up with our over the top expectations of acceptance that we had a plan – even though the plan evolved as they exposed what we had to work with.
With more of life behind me that ahead of me I can say with confidence that I will never forget the day that my partner in all I do arrived one January afternoon. I had called her to say “Chris you need to come to Hannawa today, you can really start to see it!” She reluctantly found a place to park amid the snowbanks, trudged through muck and demolition scrap and joined me in front of the fireplace. Excited that a few new 2”x4” had been installed I said “ can you start to see it!” After a pause her response - “what did we even buy?” I was quick to respond an an always-optimistic gunslinger “we bought four walls and a dream!”
Chris paused and looked to the east, recognizing that we had removed almost the entire wall facing the water and said – “no, we bought three walls and a dream.” She left that afternoon, not to return for several weeks as I worked with our talented team to put that wall back together and finish the dream.
As I look back on that day often, I encourage everyone to be brave enough to chase a dream, and to recognize that it takes a team to make dreams come true.
We have served steaks that were medium when you asked for medium rare. We have served salads with ladybug accompaniments. We sat people and forgot about them and we have served drinks with way too much simple syrup.
And we will probably do it again.
When we bought the waterfront property in need of a whole lot of love we spent months imagining life as restaurateurs. Friday nights filled with happy local friends, meeting and greeting and eating – and laughing. We imagined wonderful smells and flavors and presentations of interesting and unique creations served by jovial, sharply dressed kitchen staff. And we imagined working a few nights a week and stopping in for the occasional busy lunch during parent’s weekends.
And then we opened.
While we look back fondly on our first two plus years, and most of what we imagined has been our lucky reality, we have certainly learned a lot and the biggest lesson of all is that you need to go into this business with dinosaur thick skin. I remember many people not so secretly sharing their opinions about our decision to invest so much in the property, “not sure what they are thinking, no way to make that location work.” Ironically it was those same skeptics that wandered in on a busy Friday night and were quick to let us know that they “always knew this place would work.” Those critics are the easy ones.
While each and every one of our 45 employees comes to work intending to give perfection for the entirety of their shift we certainly don’t accomplish that. We seat too many people and the kitchen gets backed up, we pull the wrong salmon out of the oven and serve the one that needed another two minutes rather than the one that was cooked perfectly. We grab the box of beautiful dino kale that arrived from a local vendor an hour ago and while it has been washed multiple times, it hasn’t been inspected yet, part of our routine that might get missed on a wild Saturday night. It happens, and it will happen again.
And when we make a mistake we hear about it, as we should. Social media is a wonderful tool for keeping up with friends and family and sharing photos of your kids on the first day of school. We have access to information that helps us find the best hotels and restaurants and we certainly benefit from those tools. We also get punched in the gut from time to time, and often we deserve it; that is simply part of the business. When we do receive criticism we sulk around avoiding each other and try not to let the bad reviews affect us but they do. And then we dissect them and share them with everyone as a way to learn and improve and we work hard together to toughen up.
I admire Seth Godin, a talented marketing guru and I read his blog daily. This week he made me think when he said “If your goal is to be universally liked and respected and understood, then, it must mean your goal is to not do something that matters.”
Since opening my best calculation is that we have served 153,600 meals and we have made some mistakes, and we will again. Fire away critics because we are doing something that matters and that means we might not get it perfect every time, but we will listen and learn and improve and try again the next day to get it just exactly right.
That's how good things happen.