Tilth turned two years old on September 2.
The thought of this causes me to reflect emotionally on the past year of challenges, accomplishments, stressful moments and happy moments that have been shared in this little restaurant that sits inside a 1910 craftsman home in a tucked-away neighborhood in Seattle.
Our second year started out a little shaky. I thought maybe the honeymoon period was over and we were not the hot, new restaurant anymore. Kids had gone back to school that month. The fall weather change and the opening of a bunch of other new restaurants had affected business. I started to panic a little. Is this what the normal business level is going to look like? How can I earn a living by losing money or barely covering our bills every month? Why in the hell did I decide to open a certified-organic restaurant with food that costs 40% more, making the bulk of it from scratch, and keeping the check average down below the competition’s (who aren’t even organic)?! Why in the hell did I choose go green and spend so much more money on toilet paper, hand soap, and detergent? I just opened a year ago, I’m still in debt up to my ears, and I have a lien on my house for this place! I put it all on the line, man, and for what?!
My future started to flash before my eyes. I’m going to be one of those old, bitter restaurant owners, using broken-down equipment, bitching about never making any money, shouting, “Do you know how much that cost me?!” every time the staff breaks something, grumbling about how I’m too old to be chasing twenty-year olds around the restaurant doing my best to manage them, spending my dying days just trying to get by, with no retirement in sight. What a kill joy!!
I thought owning a restaurant was supposed to be glamorous, exhilarating, sexy, fun. I thought every night was supposed to be packed, with that buzz in the room of lots of people enjoying themselves, having a great time, and me walkin’ around with a smile on my face saying “Yeah, that’s right! You know it! This is my restaurant! It’s the place to be! I’m livin’ a dream! And you’re all here sharing it with me!”
But that September, October, November of last year was a little quiet in the dining room and money was tight. My cooks who worked during that time called it “the great depression.” Due to the fact that every night around 9 p.m. I’d say, “Okay, who’s going home early? Sorry guys, it won’t be like this all the time.” And the unlucky cook of the night would bow his head down at the thought of money loss to pay their own bills, would loyally say “Okay, chef” and he’d come back the next day ready to work hard, still believing in the food we we’re cooking, trusting in me that “It won’t be like this all the time.” The knot in my stomach got just a little tighter each night I had to say that phrase.
Than December came and the holidays were here! People were spending money and coming in to Tilth to celebrate! Lots of them. The cooks got their hours on the clock, servers got their tips, I was payin’ the bills with no problem! Things were turning around! A reminder of the joys of restaurant ownership was back!
And then, we had that spell of torrential downpour weather and the main sewer line backed up. During brunch service on a Saturday, of course. A few short hours later, it was apparent that we would not be opening on time for Saturday night dinner service. The busiest night of the week! The plumber said that if he couldn’t clear the sewer line that was backed up to the street (due to a crack in the original pipe of the ever so charming 1910 house), we may need to close for six weeks to fix the pipe. And also get city permits to close down 45th street, break through the asphalt, to do the work on the pipe. This would cost about 50K, not including loss of business. While I had three plumbing companies come out to try and fix the problem over the next three days, I was simultaneously having to prepare to put down my 22-and-a-half-year old cat that I’ve had since I was 17 years old! If I had to close for six weeks, the restaurant would possibly have to fold. I had hardly any business savings, no personal collateral for a business loan, and minimal money stashed in retirement. My only shot would be to ask my silent investors to bail us out this mess. Then on Monday, one hour before service, the massive jetter the plumbers brought in, cleared the sewer line and we were back in business! Ahhhhh, a sigh of relief.
Back to great holiday business all the way through January! Little did we know, Frank Bruni, restaurant critic from the New York Times, came in to dinner to review us for his ten best new restaurants outside of New York City list. We made the list! The article came out at the end of February and Tilth has been packed every night since. Me and my staff felt on top of the world! We were challenged with how to keep up with this staggering new pace. The old equipment was getting pummeled from so much use, we were scrambling around trying to keep up with prep, we just couldn’t seem to have enough servers on the floor, and the expectation from the guest was through the roof. It’s every restaurant owner’s dream to have this happen! On top of it all, I was able to provide my guests and my staff with things that were needed. Like oh say, a beautiful patio to sit on that doesn’t have rotten deck boards, a women’s restroom toilet that doesn’t slightly back up every Saturday night, a stereo system that has more than two speakers for the entire dining room, and a piece of mind sitting in the bank for that rainy day when the plumbing goes out.
Currently, we’re packed every night, with that buzz in the room of people enjoying themselves, having a great time, with me walkin’ around with a smile on my face saying “Yeah that’s right! You know it! This is my restaurant! This is the place to be! I’m livin’ a dream! And you’re all here sharing it with me!”
I thank all of you for coming in to Tilth and dining with us. If it weren’t for your continued support and wonderful energy, we wouldn’t be able to continue to do what we love to do. Which is to feed you delicious organic food, make you feel comfortable and cared for, and generating a feeling of shared happiness at Tilth.