What’s it really like inside the four walls of a bar, restaurant, or food truck—or, increasingly, under the cover of a parking-lot tent—these days? Our readers know the ins and out and ups and downs of the industry intimately. This Restaurant Diaries series brings you tales from the thick of it, in hospitality folks’ own words.
This installment is from Natascha Hess, who launched her food truck, the Ginger Pig, in July 2016 after over a year of planning. Since then, Hess has operated the truck in Boulder and Lafayette while doing strong business in corporate and private catering. Now, she’s in the process of opening her first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood. She’s aiming to start dinner service in October; the truck will remain a parking lot fixture, serving a limited lunch menu.
Opening your first restaurant is really exciting and really scary—every single day. Any entrepreneur can relate to being on a constant seesaw of hope, then fear, then hope, then fear again. And opening your first restaurant during a pandemic…”What? Are you crazy?” is a response I have heard more than a few times. Most people, though, are very encouraging and seem genuinely excited.
We are about a month from our anticipated opening. I keep reminding myself we have a fantastic team, great location, and great food made with so much love. We will be OK, right? But then I wonder, “How can we be OK?” Our whole industry has collapsed. How can we really stay in business if we are at half capacity? How long will we be at half capacity? I tell myself we could have a robust take out and delivery game. I think of all the catering we can do to make up revenue, and then I remember there are no real catering opportunities anymore, either. I worry, like everyone does, but then I just keep going. I keep believing in our food and our team and I am back, ready to go. Ready to dream, and work, and fight to keep this going.
We have been through a lot already that’s given us hope and resilience. We come from the food truck world, which is a tough place to survive. We stayed in business several times when the universe had other ideas. We made it through four transmissions and three engines in four summers. “We can do this,” I keep telling myself.
The busier I am, the less time I have to spend on the seesaw going back and forth between hope and fear. I check my to-do list and every time I cross two things off it seems I add five more. It gets longer, not shorter, every day. I am overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. I wonder how people do this.
Last week, at my weekly meeting with our designer and general contractor, I literally asked them, “How do people actually do this?” Our designer pointed out that usually people do what we are doing over seven, eight, or nine months to a year. We are doing it at warp speed—in three months. Since she mentioned this, it’s made more sense to me why we are so overwhelmed.
We have this great opportunity that we just could not pass up. One of the silver linings of COVID is that it is a really great time to sign a restaurant lease. I have confidence in our team and our food. I am back on top of the seesaw—for now.