May 29, 2011

Reading Anthony Bourdain’s new book, “Medium Raw” (his first book “Kitchen Confidential” is a must-read for anyone enjoying a good, breezy read about the food service industry). Between that and my visit to the pizza joint down the road last night after a two-month absence, you get a real feeling for the challenge of what life is like in the restaurant business. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, to be sure: at a historical failure rate of more than 50%, it’s no wonder opening a restaurant is one of the more risky business ventures one can immerse yourself in.

Until the middle of February, everything was so predictable, Friday nights being something to look forward to. I’d close up shop around 5:45 PM and head over to Floridema’s, where I’d typically find sitting at the same spots at the bar Kevin and Ian and his wife Amy. They were nice people, easy to talk to; same held true for the attractive young bartenders and waitresses who would be ginning up for the coming rush hour. There I’d park my keyster, order up a cold Pinot Grigio, and engage in small-talk and flirt with the hired help while waiting for our take-out. It made for a nice release from the the stresses and strains of a long work week, for sure.

Because we were saving every penny we could find for taxes, I stopped going sometime in early February, and, I have to admit, after the initial missed week, I came to not really miss hitting the pizza joint that much. I could get Friday night’s dinner started myself, pour my own Pinot Grigio, pop on some Caribbean music, and head out onto the patio to just veg out until Tracey came home. And we saved money doing so.

Because we were dropping off the car for some repair work yesterday, I decided to get supper rather than make it, so I figured I’d stop in and pay my respects to the pizza joint’s cast and crew while ordering up some chow. I open the door, and it was as if I walking into a completely different restaurant for the first time. No Lori there at the door to say hello. No Bea behind the bar with my Pinot Grigio already poured and chilled, or Sylvia or Nolita or Dema or “Mr. Visa” to say hello to. More than anything, no sign of Kevin or Ian or Amy. It was just me, alone at the bar, ordering up my own glass of wine amidst a sea of strangers.

“I’m Richard” (for some reason everyone there always called me by my last name), I say to the stranger behind the bar who’s looking at me as if I had two heads. “I used to be a regular here. Where did everyone go? Where’s Kevin? Where’s Ian and Amy? Where’s Mike?”

…upon which, she told me the sad tale of how, maybe a week or two after I had stopped coming back in February, there was some tension between the family and the hired help. After a couple of key people left, there were 2-3 weeks of poor food (and, even worse, even poorer service) causing most of the regular clientele to leave for greener pastures. She told me they’ve now added a Friday Karaoke night and are trying to build up a new set of clientele. I think we all know where this is heading…

Which is fine. It just goes to show just how risky the restaurant business is. You can have years of serving a loyal client base decent food with friendly service, then run into a rough stretch and boom! – you’re basically starting over from scratch. There are just too many other places where you can get treated as well – if not better – just waiting waiting for your business if your own familiar haunt suddenly drops the ball.

Me, I could see this coming. What I liked about Bea was that she knew just how incompetent the kitchen could be, so she always made sure they knew exactly what my order was and always checked it twice before bringing it out to me. The weeks she wouldn’t be there, I’d have to do it myself to make sure there wasn’t anything missing or wrong. If a regular had to do that, one can only imagine what the uninitiated went through.

So, my local pizza joint era comes to an end – which, for the reasons mentioned above, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Eating out can be expensive, and we’ve still got a pile of debt to pay off. Still, having a place to stop by and chill out after a tough week was always enjoyable, and to talk with real people not related to anything work-related was a nice break. But all good things must come to an end sooner or later. Time marches on, and familiar people, places, and things come and go. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just life.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:32 | Comments (2)
  1. I really miss my favorite pizza joint in Metairie. It was a place called Mark Twain’s Pizza Landing. I was a 2-3 times per week regular there. When I moved away, I became a once a week regular because I still worked nearby. When I took the new job three years ago, it became totally impractical. There is one pizza joint here where I live now that I like called Isabella’s Pizzeria. We ate there last night. Love their homemade green onion sausage. Just outstanding on a pizza.

    Isabella’s had a great location and a great business but I think the owner took the property back when the lease expired and tried to make a go of it, himself. He failed miserably. They moved to a strip mall. The food is still excellent but they can’t keep waitstaff and the new place has zero character. They have two other locations but the food is not as good at those.

    We can’t eat out as much as we used to and I suspect that’s the case with a lot of people. Restaurants are struggling. The food and service suffer for it. We eat out less and the experience is not as pleasant and that just discourages us from eating out. It’s a vicious cycle.

    Comment by Rob — May 29, 2011 @ 10:28 am

  2. You’re right, Rob. The small places really have a battle to survive, having to compete with the big chains that can work the margins a little more aggressively. It sounds like the one thing Isabella’s and my pizza joint have in common is awesome sausage. Floridema’s has a really spicy – though not hot – sausage that’s up there with the best of them. But Isabella’s version sounds awsome. Just the words “green onion sausage” makes my mouth water!

    I think my pizza joint’s downfall started when they expanded to a second restauant two years ago, smack dab in the middle of the recession. I’m sure the owner had his reasons for doing so, but he put his oldest son in charge of my location so he could get the other one up and running, and that’s when things started to get a little shaky.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — May 29, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

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