March 5, 2017
I am writing this in a crowded reading room in Olin Library while other students are highlighting their textbooks or flipping through note cards. It’s always prelim season at Cornell, and today the tension is palpable. I, on the other hand, am costing out recipes on excel, and I can feel the eyes that are glued to my computer as I click through images of the various, mouthwatering meals.
I have been here for two hours, and in that time alone, I’ve already encountered three people and received two texts asking me about the progress made on my restaurant concept. This is not an unusual day. Unlike the past few months, however, I actually have an answer for them that makes me more confident in the fact that I don’t just waste my time cooking and driving around Ithaca all day.
The timeline needed to get a business up and running is often vague. There are hurdles that you need to cross before you can pursue the next step of a project, and you many not know what those are until they hit you in the face. Being a natural planner, I had scheduled what this entire semester would look like during my winter break so that I would have deadlines to keep me on track to open by the summer. Little did I know, however, that finding a space for a restaurant isn’t as easy as it seems when a) you have a limited budget b) you actually took classes on the topic and know how essential it is to choose a great site and c) there just isn’t anything available that fits the bill. I spent weeks (and I mean weeks) in my old black jeep driving through the snow with a broken heater writing down phone numbers, names, and taking pictures of vacant (or even seemingly vacant) spaces.
Just like every other day, people would come up to me and say “Hey, Jack! How’s the restaurant coming along?” and as I had probably told them weeks before, I’d respond “Pretty good… I’m still on the hunt for a space.” I can’t explain the mortification that I felt in those daily moments when I’d think “What if this is all for nothing and I can’t find a space?” Seriously, these people had completed entire class projects since the last time we had spoken and I had nothing to show. Classmates of mine would flaunt their new job offers or name big cities where they were moving to, and I was in the same place I had been when I went home for Christmas. As much as I would cringe when I’d see friends with their hopeful faces asking me about the restaurant, the worst feeling of all was feeling as if I had already let myself down before getting started.
Then, all it took was one fateful drive to Wegmans, when I noticed a space that had a logo on the window but was just the deserted shell of a retail space. I immediately swerved over and emailed the owner of the logo asking what they were planning to do with the space. Two days later, I had already done my first site visit and fallen in love with its location, huge windows, and vacant upstairs apartment, which was coincidentally also begging for its first tenant.
I am now in this weird stage that can only be dubbed “limbo.” A week ago, I questioned my ability to go through with my restaurant, considering not only the lack of a viable site, but also new competition and the sheer time that I had already felt slipping through my fingers. Now, I see opportunity. I see a shell that can house my new life, and I see a catalyst for an entire new set of activities. If I can revise my budget and get my proposed rate in line by midweek, I’ll look to sign a lease by the start of next week. I, Jacky Falkenberg, could be well on my way to being a restaurateur, and the allure of seeing my dream looming so closely reinvigorates me. I know there are about to be many more hurdles in my path, but for now, this small victory makes the journey a little brighter. Time to get back to costing!