Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Signs of the Times

Yesterday, one of my employees whispered to me that she’d “heard on the grapevine” that one of our competitors has not paid their rent in four months.

News like that is such a mixed bag. Your first impulse is to pump your hand in the air and hiss, “Yessss!” One less piece into which to cut the shrinking pie of “dining out” dollars! This is never bad news. But just as you ball that fist and are about to thrust it over your head, the thought hits you: “What if…?”

What if that was me? My restaurant? My rent?

And in these times, it all too very well could be. “There but for the grace of…um, the Universe…”

So you unclench your fist, clap your hand to your side, and instead gulp down the cold lump of fear that has suddenly risen in your throat.

The Hot Flash Café is okay, for now. Sales suck, and the only way to get people in the door is to practically give the food away. But the steel trap I sprang on my controllables—labor and food cost—seems to have staunched the hemorrhaging from the bank account. Luckily for us, the combination of a timely business model (low labor, low food-cost, low price) and a sympathetic landlord (who used to own the business and is sentimentally invested in its success) have us well positioned to weather the economic storm. If it doesn’t last too long.

But you have to wonder…will I be one of the lucky ones left standing when the economic fallout quits falling out? It sure doesn’t feel good, after the hellish toil of the last thirty-three months, to be thinking in terms of being lucky to keep the doors open, rather than about the growth and the returns we’d hoped to be anticipating by now.

It’s a good thing we have not yet gotten to the place where we need the income from the cafe to survive. But husband’s job isn’t looking too good these days (just this morning, he had to break the news to his staff that they were being cut to four days a week…) So it’s hard to say how long we’ll continue to enjoy that entrepreneurial limbo. We’d hoped to have five years to develop our concept (to figure out what the hell we are doing and get it to where we can actually make money doing whatever that is) before we needed to depend on it for an income.

Looks like we may not have that much time. And this is NOT the climate in which you want to arrive at that conclusion.

But what is there to do except get up in the morning, ignore the news and unlock the doors…chanting the mantra that “Today could be the day it all turns around…” It helps to continue to go through the motions. And don’t let yourself stop looking for the good times that must be just around the corner.

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