Tall Thought 24: Sunday / by Jennifer Wisniewski

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"I hate to burst your bubble."

You've got to know when to hold 'em

Know when to fold 'em

There'll be time enough for countin'

When the dealin's done

I sing that song in the shower – correction: it’s the only song I sing in the shower. I have a horrible singing voice, but will endlessly insist that I’m pitch-perfect on that ditty. That being said, I know the lyrics ramble in my head for another reason – aside from my love for Kenny Rogers.

How does a business owner know when the time has come to close up/bow out/give up? When to hold 'em or fold 'em? The struggle to make ends meet will always be a constant in the hospitality industry, so as a naïve business owner I’ve been wondering about what set of circumstances finally motivate owners to close the doors. Every time I blink, there’s another one opening or another shuttering. Eater does a great job of letting us know the latest casualty of a dream. I try to forget the statistics on failure rates, but odds are not in the restaurants’ favor.

A recent recipient of Food & Wine’s “Best New Chef” award just closed one of her restaurants. There was a time in this business when such an accolade (or any of them in that vein) would ensure longevity. One article stated that “the concept wasn't financially viable”, but the reality is that every restaurant or small business is often in the exact same situation. (Unless you’re in tech – those nerds are sitting on mountains of cash.)

Chicago is a big city – but there are only so many customers to go around. When we first started build-out on Bread & Wine, everyone asked why we were opening a restaurant in an area with no other restaurants. (I’m assuming they were thinking there must be a fault line close by, if there aren’t already other restaurants in Irving Park.) Now I’m grateful that we built what we built, where we built it. It gave us a chance to figure things out and make mistakes. One of the reasons we were able to sustain, was because of the lack of competition.

Other friends of mine are talking about closing their restaurants. Stating a simple: “sick and tired” as a quite valid reason. Sick and tired of the lulls in business. The stress. The constant Next Great Thing opening up and already saturating an over-saturated market. I have a questions for the ages: If it is a known fact that opening a restaurant will surely fail, and you won’t make any money, then why is there one popping up every minute? I feel a restaurant bubble coming down the road. I wonder how those in River North and on Randolph Street sustain with high rents – all competing for the same dollar.

Last week, our Chef asked me, point-blank, if I still want to do this. The underlying sentiment –  the real question – was really: “Do you still want to deal with all the stress of ownership, when the monetary return doesn’t equal up?” I didn’t have an answer for him, because I don’t know if I’m ready to throw in the towel just yet. I also believe that one can get used to the pain.

Lisa and I are currently trying to give our restaurant a face-lift. It’s been almost five years and it's time for a new coat of paint. I guess that’s us telling The Universe we want to stay around a little bit longer. We won’t be “foldin’ ‘em” just yet. I’m still convinced that we’re not done doing what we came to do. We still believe in our restaurant and our growth.

I don’t know where we got that belief from – but we do.