I have learned a lot in the past 3 years. I’ve taken a risk and gotten VSG surgery, I’ve tried to open a restaurant, failed, and lived through it…
Now I’m tired. Tired to the bone.
I think I’ve reached the time for me to unload some of the angst, anger, frustration and disappointment of the last year and a half. Then maybe unpack some lessons learned.
First of all, let’s go back to the VSG in 2016. THAT was one of the best decisions I’ve EVER made. Nick was working, we had the money, it was ALL GOOD. I’m happy with that move and I’d do it again. Even losing my trusty 1994 Honda Civic EX in 2017 turned out OK, for which I am grateful.
Now let’s move to the end of Nick’s job (Dec 2017) and where we were then.
Nick was making a very good living at NuVision after 20+ years. At the end, he was making $75k. We knew months in advance that the shop was closing – they were down to their last client (Rite Aid), which had been bought by Walgreens. When that shot clock started in mid 2017, we decided to see if we could perhaps roll our existing arcade business into a bigger, more lucrative concept: arcade pub.
We knew we didn’t have the money to start up something like this, so we asked one of Nick’s bosses if he might be interested in investing since NVG was closing, etc. He already owns a bar in Memphis, so we thought he might be amenable. He said he might, so I got to work on a business plan and projections. We had a coupla meetings and he seemed interested, but then he ultimately said no. We think it was actually his WIFE that said no. LOL
So we shelved the idea and Nick continued to close down NVG, which was a MASSIVE job. December of 2017, NVG finally closed for good, Nick got his severance and applied for unemployment.
I took a job at Kroger at their new Wine and Beer Bar in Decatur in January 2018 (RIP, it’s gone now!). I’d been trying to get hired for about 2-3 months, but they are so disorganized that it took that long to get in. I started that job in addition to my regular bookkeeping job. We knew that once again, we were on the shot clock for Nick to find another job to keep the cash flow and reserve all the monies we’d squirreled away. (BTW, the grand total of unemployment Nick got, after paying IN for 25 years, was $4k. That’s it. FOUR THOUSAND. For 25 straight years of work. So anyone who thinks unemployment will keep you afloat: IT WILL NOT.)
Nick looked diligently for a job during the unemployment (you have to, they monitor) and found precisely NOTHING. We started getting nervous, so he took it upon himself to start to look around for a way to get startup monies for our Pub idea. (Before you start offering ideas: NO the SBA will NOT fund startup restaurants. NO you cannot just “get” a big fat $150k loan from a bank. NO you cannot get money from anyone for starting up a restaurant. I tried EVERY avenue. It’s not possible. Once you’re open? Yeah, they throw money at you.) I’d given up on the pub idea all together. Nick poked around and found this thing called the ROBS plan via Guidant Financial.
I did not want to do this plan, the rules and paperwork were MAMMOTH, but ultimately, Nick and the Guidant dude talked me into it. We took all of our 401k money ($107k) and rolled into our new start up business. We were funded and ready to go. We had the ROBS cash, $20k in savings, about $50k of open credit and our investment fund of about $25k. We had enough money to get started. I’d done my homework, I knew we could do it.
We have many friends in the biz who we’d talked to about our plans. They were all supportive and said that yes, it could be done with what we’ve got, if we were very careful. I agreed.
Then we got back in touch with a realtor we’d talked to a few years previous when we were trying to get the James Joyce space in Avondale Estates (which is now the home of My Parents Basement, who got us started in our arcade business and are good friends of ours). This realtor was always really nice to us and very supportive and seemed like a really cool guy. By now it’s, like, May 2018 and we start our search in earnest. The unemployment is gone and we’re on the clock, so we hit it hard.
This is where the wheels start to get wobbly. The realtor was helpful and did a lot for us, but we let our nervousness about no money coming in put us in the wrong mindset. I’d been steadfastly insisting on a second generation space, but we were not finding any. Nick came across this space on Buford Hwy (Global Forum) that he wanted me to see. I didn’t like the location and I didn’t like that it was first generation (read: office space, needing FULL buildout). But the realtor was enthusiastic and our various mentors seemed to think that we could still make it work. I resisted for about a month, then when no other spaces were found, I came around to agreeing with Nick, the realtor, the landlord and everyone else, that it could be done with our budget.
This was June or so and the landlord was saying yes, let’s get the lease going. By now Nick and I were swept up in the excitement of getting started and all that, so our common sense took a back seat. We fully acknowledge this, we should have realised that this scheme had about 1000 holes. Alas, we did not. We also did not get f/t jobs, because we thought the lease signing was imminent.
Fast forward to August of 2018. Still no lease, and we’d not gotten jobs because the landlord kept stringing us along with “oh, yes, just a couple more weeks!”, and we foolishly believed him. Meanwhile, we’d been living on our credit cards. I quit Kroger in May because I thought I was going to have to start doing work for the pub – so we literally had about $500/mo coming in. We could not touch the ROBS money, it was strictly for the business, so we lived on CCs.
So things keep dragging on and FINALLY in late October, the landlord produces a lease. We are excited and we call the realtor to have him read it over and tell us if it’s a good deal or not.
THIS is where the wheels fall OFF.
I call up our old buddy the realtor and ask him to review the lease. He flatly refuses. I am flabbergasted and more than a little annoyed. He said “it’s not within my job to review leases, you’d better get a lawyer”. So I find an asshole lawyer who said it would be $1k then billed me $2k for “reviewing” the lease. By “review” I suppose they consider spell checking and critiquing the verbiage a “review” because those idiots said the lease was “fine” and there were no problems. After disputing the overage, I ended up paying those assholes about $1300 for nothing.
So here we are, with a lease that has been “reviewed”, and our various friends say that “six months free rent is GREAT!”. NEVERMIND that we got zero build out money from the LL. NEVERMIND that there was no timeframe for the LL to complete his duties. NEVERMIND that the whole lease was too pricey and the increases were fucked up. “IT IS FINE!”, they said. We believed them. Seems really stupid now, but these were people we knew and trusted. That is all on us. I did not engage my normal amount of skepticism and I own that.
By now, it’s almost time to sign the lease, so I call up our old buddy the realtor and he is nowhere to be found. The day before we are to sign, he finally returns my call from his umpteenth family vacay to excitedly tell me all about the leaves they are looking at in the mountains. ??!! I am incredulous and I say, “What about our lease signing!? I thought you’d be there with us!” He says, “Ah, NO! I’m with the family! Y’all have fun!!”
What. The. Actual. Fuck.
Not only did this twat refuse to do ANYTHING a realtor is supposed to do (advise clients about lease terms, review the lease for said terms, be there for lease signings) he GLEEFULLY blew us off to go motherfucking LEAF PEEPING.
Then he was butthurt when I was completely DONE with his ass and did not even attempt to hide my contempt of his complete and thorough bougie attitude towards us. He works for the biggest (and most despised) commercial real estate firm in town – and conveniently married the owner’s daughter, so what does he care if we win or lose? We were completely betrayed and thrown under the bus by this guy and yet, he could never understand my wrath towards him. That’s some fucking stone cold stupidity and privilege right there, folks.
So now we’d signed a lease that was in no way, shape or form in our favour. But since all our mentors had signed off, we thought we were ok. HA! Hubris!
We ask around for references for an architect/general contractor to handle the build out and all the permitting. This guy that one of my mentors used had a meeting with us and agreed to the gig. I told him the money we had, what we needed and that I expect the GC to bring me bids for the contractor work. He agreed.
Now we are nearing the holidays, 2-3 weeks having gone by. This architect had done little to get things going, and the designer he brought in to do the drawings had just begun. Then the holidays happen, so most of December is a bust. The designer hands me a fucked up, idiotic design that uses 50% of the space for kitchen, which I reject. Both the architect and the designer are butthurt that I reject their stupid idea. The architect/GC had only brought in ONE contractor to bid in all these weeks, and the bid was stupid high. I told him I expected more than one bid for each part of the job.
This asshole did absolutely NOTHING for another month. He called his typical contractors, all of which had completely inappropriate high bids, but he would not call in second bids, so I started bringing in contractors. This pissed him off, but whatever, I think we should take bids, so I did. This guy continued to fuck around, doing nothing and burned up another month. Now we’re into February 2019. Our “free” rent period is up in April and nothing’s been done. NOTHING. So I fire his dumb ass when I find out that he has not even lined up engineers for the MEPs (mechanical, electrical, plumbing engineering plans). Why? Because he says: “OH? You need those? I’ve never had to get those before!” I am not making this up.
Yeah, so, turns out this asshole not only is NOT qualified to do the job, but he has never done a full buildout for a restaurant, just REFURBS, which is TOTALLY different and requires different licensing. Now, I ask you: how the FUCK am I supposed to know that there are different licensing for different types of builds? I AM NOT A FUCKING CONTRACTOR, ENGINEER OR ARCHITECT. Yet, I had to look all this up and figure it out. Because the professionals I’m paying have no fucking CLUE, apparently. WTAF. Fortunately, both the fuckwit architect and fuckwit designer only cost us $5k. Could’ve been much worse had I not fired his ass.
Now we are into March 2019. I’m struggling along, trying to bring in bids and now trying to find someone to take over the GC role. You are required to have a GC when doing commercial projects. So now the landlord is getting involved. He is freaking out that nothing is done and so am I. Nick and I had taken out the walls and removed all the (almost 400) ceiling tiles ourselves and had been working like dogs to try to get something done. I’m also now asking the landlord why he has not begun his part of the build, which was new HVAC and installing the grease trap. He hems and haws and says he’s working on it. (Which is a LIE.)
Finally as March goes into April, the landlord offers up “his” team of subcontractors to start working on the space. This is prior to our getting any permits, which we cannot get without the goddamned MEPs (which we STILL don’t have) or the grease trap. The landlord assures us that with his team, we’ll get this shit knocked out in a month and get back on track. We comply, because what the fuck else are we going to do?
So, here comes the landlord’s flock of subcontractors with their hands out. So, I pay the motherfuckers to get started. In the meantime, I’m on the phone with fucking Gwinnett every fucking day because no one knows anything. We’ve got a new “architect” that the LL provided, who is finishing/fixing the plans from the first incompetent fool, but unfortunately, this new “architect” is also incompetent, not even an architect (he is an assistant, I called him Not-Architect) and he also cannot do the MEPs, which must be farmed out for another few grand. So I’m wrangling these fools, trying desperately to get the fucking plans and MEPs back on track to get our permits and Nick is working on the ceiling and building shit at the space.
Now it’s April and there’s some stuff done, but not much. We’ve got the walls, HVAC and electrical roughed in and get started on the plumbing (which is a massive job) by the end of April. I’ve written, oh, about $40-50k in checks by now. This is NOT including the liability insurance and all the other things I’ve had to pay for. Our checking account is now down to about $70k and we’ve used up all our savings and credit. I’ve also been buying equipment as I find deals, in an effort to save money. Meanwhile, the fucking contractors keep making mistakes and fucking things up. No one knows anything and I’m still having to be the GC. I AM NOT A GENERAL CONTRACTOR. OR ENGINEER. OR PLUMBER. OR HVAC. OR ELECTRICIAN. OR DRYWALL. Yet, here I am, having to do all these tasks to keep things moving.
At this point, I see we will absolutely not make it. In no way do we have the funds to finish this buildout. We try to find an investor: nope. We do a small GoFundMe, $800 was a drop in the bucket. I know this is failing, but Nick will NOT allow me to entertain this idea. This is what I’m talking about in the other post when I’m talking about having too much grit and not giving up when you should. I should’ve stuck to my guns and walked. But I just couldn’t go against Nick. I didn’t have the strength left in me. I’d been beaten to a pulp by all the fucking MEN who’d fucked us over and I just didn’t fight it.
Then, in the second week of May, Nick fell off a ladder and sliced up every finger on his left (dominant) hand. It was serious. We managed to get him patched up (37 stitches), but thanks to a shitty healthcare system, he now has a severed tendon in his ring finger and a fucked up pinkie that will never get any better. DeKalb Medical never sent me another bill after we asked for them to write it off. I guess they did? At least the medical bills were only about $800. But the damage is permanent.
That was the last straw for me. I can tell you that I knew right then that this project was done. Yet I still wrote another check to the asshole plumber (Who did a horrible job and did NOTHING after I paid him $5k. Mr Vasquez, I hope you get serious karma for stealing from people who are down.) and finished buying the last of the equipment I needed (that money was kindly refunded by the vendor). We ran a huge kickstarter that I also knew was folly, but we did it anyway. I took it down after a couple of weeks.
June rolls around, nothing is getting done, the space is a wreck, still no MEPs, still no HVAC, still no grease trap.
We gather up all our shit and tell the LL that we are done.
He says he’s disappointed and will get the lease termination documents written up.
And here we are in August, with no lease term agreement, nothing. And we can’t afford to pay $878 for a fucking lawyer letter to shake a term document out of the LL. So I guess it’ll just hang there. There’s no corporation to sue and we sure as shit ain’t got no money. Our fucking bank account has, like $1000 in it. If that. So fuck off, CL! You can’t sue us for SHIT. Fuck you, you fucking FUCK.
And that is why Angela is a sour, foul girl these days.
We have dissolved the corporation and are getting our remaining $24k out of the ROBS plan and back into a personal IRA. It’s a PITA, naturally, and I have to say I am SO relieved to be done with Guidant and ROBS. Now if I could just find a goddam bank who can understand WTF the ROBS thing is and take our fucking money to set up the new IRA. We’re currently on try #3. ::fingers crossed::
So, there it is: the unload. Brain is dumped. Now, to unpack what I’ve learned from all this.
The main thing I’ve learned is to NEVER let your enthusiasm and grit keep you in a situation that is untenable. I rarely do, this is a Nick thing. We’ve talked about it and agree that he’ll never push his tenacity on me like that again and I’ll give more pushback if he does.
Secondly, NEVER expect anyone to give you good, solid advice. No one ever does, though they try to be helpful. Everything I know in this life, I have EARNED by MY hard work and my own failures. This exact scenario is why I rarely listen to anyone’s advice without checking it first. While we DID check out everything as best as we could, it just wasn’t enough. Not by a long shot. We let our desperate desire to get started totally run away with us. Then, when the money ran out, we let our desperation push us even further, because we knew we could not sustain ourselves out in this brave new world of shitty jobs. (Confirmed! We cannot.)
Thirdly, we should have gotten fucking jobs in spring of last year. Period. We let these bougie, rich white guys tell us that we’d be going any minute, just hang on, and that was a mistake. Had we gotten our shitty jobs then, it would have at least staved off the complete trashing of our credit that has happened. We let our finances go to shit and it’s our fault.
The $83k that was squandered was the fault of the asshole landlord and the asshole realtor who got us into that shitty deal to begin with. YES I blame the realtor. It was his JOB to help us get a deal that was in our favour and he absolutely did NOT do that. The rest of our money was squandered by us not getting jobs soon enough and buying equipment. I can recoup most of the equipment money, but it’s going to take forever to sell this shit. FOREVER.
We did find a lovely human who will help us get restarted, but we’ve got to find a space first, and that is the hardest shit to do in this town. This guy has given me the exact formula to negotiate a lease IN MY FAVOUR, so I’ve now got a clue about how to do it. We found a spot on Buford Highway, but the fuckwit child realtor decided to take a vacay and forgot to submit our enquiry to the owner, and the space got leased out from under us. Gee, a realtor who goes on vacay rather than help a client…why does that sound familiar? (I hope all realtors die in fucking fires. Really, I do. I detest them all.)
So here we are, about 18 months later, broke, no credit and barely keeping ourselves afloat. Nick has a shitty $17/hr job (For his 25 years experience! What a deal!) that is on the other side of fucking town, one hour each way. I lost my bookkeeping job in Sep 2018, because the guy I had worked for for 18 years decided to kick me to the curb. He claims that he thought I was going to be too busy, but that’s a lie. I’ve got NO job, we’re bringing in about half what we need to stay afloat with no relief in sight.
We are now about $60k in the hole with CC on top of the $20k savings gone and $83k of our $107k 401k gone. That’s pretty shitty. I really do NOT want to bankrupt again. If we have nothing going by the end of the year, we might have to bankrupt again in 2020. The pub concept was our ONLY plan to make a decent living after Nick’s job ended. We knew the job market sucked. Nick’s work buddy also had to take a shitty low paying print shop job, we KNOW pre-press as an industry is dead. That’s why we wanted to do this pub in the first place. Sigh.
I’m trying to start up a catering and/or private chef business, but it’s not paying the bills right now. I’m looking for a shitty job myself, anything to bring in a little cash. It is depressing and demeaning to be 53 years old and looking at minimum wage shit. (This is what happens when you have niche careers, folks. Take our tales as cautionary ones.)
On top of all this, we’ve got a roommate now. We rescued our GM, whose house was sold out from under him. He would be pretty much homeless without us. So in he came. We’re all friends, so it’s OK. He gave up his massage business to come work with us, so he was also burned by all this shit. We are pooling our resources in an effort to keep ALL of us from fucking homelessness. He’s also looking for a shitty job. At least we all have each other. Sigh. The cats need to figure it the fuck out, tho. They are being idiots about it, as cats do.
It’s good to finally unload the whole story about what has happened to us in the past 18 months. It’s good to unpack the lessons learned.
And with this, I hope to move the fuck on. I think I’m done with the pub concept for now. I mean, if some perfect second generation spot drops in my lap, I’ll get back on that horse, but for now, I just need to rest and heal. I feel like I’ve been tortured emotionally for the last 18 months. I am TIRED. I am flat. I pretty much have nothing left to give. I can’t even get upset enough to cry any more. (But I will say that just making this post is bringing forth some emotions that I didn’t expect.)
If you’ve made it this far: thank you. It means a lot to me that you’d even bother to come off FB long enough to read a blog post. I’m trying to move forward and it is hard. I appreciate every single person who’s been supportive to me and to Nick over the last 18 months. WE SEE YOU, even if we don’t call you by name.
Gratitude for what we have is what we work on every single day. Our lives may be fucked up, but in the big scheme of things, we are grateful for what we’ve got and the people who lift us up.