There are two types of honeymoons: the relational type that you experience as a newlyweds, full of bliss and joy, and the foodservice variety that you endure as a new restaurant owner, full of stress and obstacles. Whether it is a long term marriage or a long term dining concept, one hopes the outcome will be successful on the other end.
Wedding honeymoons tend to be expensive and are often spent in faraway romantic and exotic countries. Restaurant honeymoons are even more expensive, spent in hot commercial kitchens and crowded dining rooms, where anxious team members learn the ropes as they try to achieve the owner’s vision. A honeymoon lasts one to two weeks. A newly opened restaurant’s honeymoon typically lasts six to eight weeks.
I’m going into the sixth week of our newest restaurant honeymoon and had a great time.
I have been developing this new restaurant – a Tex-Mex concept – for a number of years. Our team has spent a lot of time and man hours developing recipes and concepts, although it never matters how much commitment and planning goes into the development phase or how many years the people involved have behind them. There will always be problems when a few dozen people band together to work with new systems and new product offerings for the first time.
While this honeymoon at the new restaurant went pretty smoothly, we had some hiccups and bugs along the way and dropped the ball on occasion. But during the honeymoon in the restaurant this was one of the least problematic.
Restaurant honeymoons are in my professional DNA. The first restaurant job I ever had was hired before it opened and I had my first stressful restaurant honeymoon. That was almost 40 years ago. Two young women opened a deli and were looking for a manager. I was 19 years old and had just left college. I had no restaurant experience. The two women, Marcia and Sandy, had never been in the restaurant business before, which was evident because they had hired me to manage their new business. At some point during the opening days of this little deli, I fell in love with the restaurant business and knew that was how I wanted to spend my professional career.
I was so bitten by the restaurant bug that I took a second job at the waiting tables at night, again with the opening team of a new restaurant, and eventually quitting both jobs to work on someone else’s opening team. Restaurant to be opened. I’ve always thought that if three restaurant honeymoons didn’t put me out of business in a year – especially since it was someone else’s restaurants – nothing would happen. The stress and the hectic rush didn’t drive me away, but somehow attracted me. That’s when I fell in love with this industry.
This last honeymoon in the restaurant is my 22nd restaurant opening. After the first three, the other 19 were all my concepts. Some have gone more smoothly than others, but each has been rewarded in one way or another. Restaurant honeymoons can be deceiving. It never fails for people to be caught up in the busy nature of opening days and expecting business to always stay as busy as it was in opening weeks. It never happens. It’s getting slower and slower. Everyone wants to try a new concept.
People make decisions about whether to give up the concept they have been using for years for new offerings and evaluate whether the new place is something they visit frequently. You win some; you lose something. The restaurant business is very subjective. Everyone has their own individual taste and preferences. It is best to make your product available to the public and let the free market system work.
All restaurants are a gamble. A new concept owner hopes to get enough customers to keep their business going and keep the team busy. The early days are crucial for customer feedback. No matter how much planning has gone into a concept, there are always mistakes.
Often times, it’s a menu item that you were sure would be a huge hit, but it falls flat. As a result, there are more than once cases where an item that is almost not included in a new menu is the best seller. It is important to be fluid and light-footed in the early days. Changes need to be made quickly as guests are constantly evaluating the overall offerings of the restaurant. Hopefully by the end of the honeymoon all problems will be resolved and everyone will have settled into a groove.
The restaurant honeymoon is full of problems. Seriously, problems arise one by one by the minute. I was once on a restaurant business panel where the famous restaurateur Danny Meyer spoke.
During the question-and-answer period, he made the statement, “Business is a problem. A successful business is problems handled well. If you can’t solve problems, you go out of business. ”
I don’t remember the context of the question he was asked or even the topic of discussion that day, but that comment hit me like a shot. I wrote it down and have tried to live by that wise advice ever since.
We’re busy now, but the honeymoon will end in the coming weeks and business will develop at a comfortable pace. Hopefully, when we finish our jobs on the honeymoon, we will have enough business to exist and survive.
In the meantime, I’m having a great time. I don’t know how many restaurant openings I have left in me. But I’ll milk every nanosecond of this one.
DR. PEPPER GLAZED HAM
• 24 ounces of Dr. Pepper.
• 2 tablespoons of Mayhaw jelly (or muscadine).
• 2 bay leaves.
• 2 tablespoons of pickapeppa sauce.
• 1 teaspoon of garlic, chopped.
• 2 tablespoons shallot, chopped.
• 5 whole cloves.
• 1 cinnamon stick.
• 1 tablespoon of fresh orange peel.
• 1/4 cup of orange juice, freshly squeezed.
• 2 teaspoons of lemon peel.
• 2 teaspoons of lime zest.
• 1 smoked ham, 10-12 pounds.
• 1 teaspoon of dry mustard.
• 1 cup of light brown sugar.
• Prepare the grill for low heat cooking and soak 4 cups of wood shavings.
• Combine all the ingredients for the glaze in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid and discard the solids. Return the liquid to the stove and reduce it to 3/4 cup.
• Place the ham on a V-shaped baking sheet in a disposable frying pan or a frying pan that is completely lined with foil. Use a paring knife to cut shallow slits across the top of the ham. Pour two tablespoons of the glaze over the ham.
• Combine the dry mustard and brown sugar and press the mixture over the entire surface of the ham.
• Pour a cup of water into the bottom of the frying pan.
• Prepare the grill or smoker. Add wood shavings to the charcoal as needed. Cook over indirect medium heat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Pour 1 to 2 tablespoons of the icing over the ham every 15-20 minutes until all of the icing is gone. Cover as much of the surface of the ham as you can.
• Let the ham rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving. The yield is 10 to 14 servings.
Robert St. John, originally from Hattiesburg, is a restaurateur, cook and author. He has been writing a syndicated weekly newspaper column for more than 20 years.