At 23, I knew exactly what my idea of grandeur was. I had these visions and dreams of a restaurant space with every single square foot detailed and almost every logistic imagined. I saw recessed shade lighting, soft cream and white tones, French wrought iron, booths tucked away by elegantly frosted glass and contemporary interpretations of a fleur-de-lys. And, in the center of it all, was a signature glass chandelier – one that might make Chihuly blush. I could have drawn you the space from my head (probably still can). 150 seats was arguably on the lower end of estimates.
I slept soundly and dreamt capriciously. I was pretty stupid.
At 25, I think I smartened up a little. Take out the French iron. Fleur de lys? Tacky unless you’re French and, sometimes tacky because you are French. A big marble bar is nice, but do I really want people lounging around in booths all night? Chihuly? Better at the museum. Plus, I could get a wood burning oven with that money. Words like rustic, bistro, casual and comfortable felt just… right. I gawked, envied and dreamt to have what the greats had – I wanted their dreams. 60 seats sounded… perfect.
I slept lightly, only dreamt when I could. Rest of the time, I was awake and learning for 18 hours of the day.
At 28, I became a realist. Trust and competency suddenly became the most tangible and valuable assets I could imagine for a restaurant. I was no longer walking to an imagined future, I was running. I could see the path, but I also lost sight of what my visions were. A chase for grandeur no longer had a physical manifestation – it was all about the bite, the food and ultimately, the experience. Important words like listen, learn and watch were now giving way to equally important ones like discover, create, and build. I heard the conversations and read the books – I stopped listening to the noise. I envied the ideas – not the people, and certainly not the restaurants. I was easily fulfilled to tell 8 people in 8 seats about stories and their food for an entire night.
I’d like to believe I was sort of living the dream, but honestly, I remember being too tired to dream of much else. While my present was satisfying, the reality of the sacrifices to get there, was rather grim.
At 30, what was once rich and majestic is now small and minute. As I increasingly come to understand it, my happiness and fulfillment is inversely related to the size of a restaurant. We are beginning to see these examples and realizations throughout the culinary scene from city to city. The concept of true grandeur and ambition is one that has shifted from space to plate. Of my dreams, past and present, I have been told to, precisely in this order: make them, disregard them, aspire to them, manage them, forsake them, invest in them, reinvent them and build them. But we also understand that today is only the shadow of a reference point for what may happen tomorrow.
Today, I do not know how many seats will end up making up the new restaurant (an inevitable event), but I do now know better than to leverage my dreams and my ambition with my seat count or my reality.
Today, I sleep soundly.