It is probably something that unites all street food traders, due to the fickle nature of our profession and the British weather: We’re not really motivated by money. As far as I’m concerned, quality of life far outweighs any cash rewards. Don’t get me wrong, there is a certain amount of capitalism required to lubricate a comfortable life, but living to work has never been my end goal. Restaurant life, over the past few months, has been lacking in quality. When you add in a (pending) baby, that becomes even more true.
We are now a handful of weeks away from the biggest adventure of all, and three days out of the restaurant. It’s a complicated mix of feelings. We tried and, by almost every single measure, we failed. Before you lovely folks jump to our rescue and say nice things to make us feel better, let me tell you the Brief Lament of the Turtle.
It starts when we first get a chance to do The Books. This is almost two months in, with all three of us (Barny, myself and James AKA Cake Doctor) working stupidly long hours, devoting all our spare time to keeping the Turtle afloat and generally, at least in my case, getting increasingly pregnant. I had felt that we were gradually making more money each week, with sales on a gentle upward trend and lots of positive reviews on the One Site That Rules Them All.
The feeling was true. But while were were on an upward trajectory, The Books foretold that it would be 217 days (give or take) before we would actually be able to take any money out of the business. Our original business plan, you see, was based on Queensway Court being largely occupied, rather than largely vacant. We were getting the public in, but word of mouth is a slow process, and the residents made up a significant chunk of our anticipated turnover. Unfortunately the residents did not appear to be eating with us, mostly because they hadn’t moved in yet.
So we spoke to the company that owned the building. They were very understanding, and after we had made some contingency suggestions a resident’s meeting was called, to see which suggestion would be best suited. We were not invited to the meeting, but candidly, with us out of the room, the residents decided that they wanted two things we could not possibly provide: Cheaper food and evening service.
To make the food any cheaper would have meant compromising on the quality. That would have meant that all the customers coming in from outside and exclaiming about how good value our food already was, would stop. Evening service would make restaurant life a 14+ hour day, rather than a 10 hour one.
It boils down to quality of life. Restaurant life, for me, was sociable and fun. Long hours, but fun. For Barny it was a constant battle as residents asked for cheaper, more mainstream meals in place of his epic kitchen creations. He was stuck in the kitchen, away from customers, churning out dishes that inspired him less and less. I was about to go on maternity leave, with Barny left to pick up the slack. Left to work a 14 hour day for 7 months without any return. Probably to miss the first few months of his son’s life.
And thus the Brief Lament of the Turtle finds a swift end. Sometimes, being a quitter is a rock solid choice. It’s sad to leave the many lovely residents and regulars we met, sad that we didn’t get to finish what we started and sad that we couldn’t make it work.
Then again, I’ve not felt this happy in months. We missed you street food. It’s nice to be home again.
To honour the Brief Lament of the Turtle, or BLT, here is a bagel we made earlier.