What Happened?

I closed a restaurant recently, and it was like pulling the plug on a sick parent, spouse, or child. Like a parent in that it was my base of support and identity. Like a spouse in that I was “married to it” by virtue of spending all my time with it, and being consumed with its needs and our “shared” aspirations. Like a child in that I was responsible for the health, safety and well-being of my property, product, and most importantly employees and their families.

I adopted this baby when she was virtually dead, abandoned by the one who birthed her. She bore his name. I spent a fortune and devoted untold hours and great effort to nurturing her to a semblance of health. In her weakened feeble state, I tried to insulate her from the constant assaults of predatory bullies in government, dishonest and abusive employees, and selfish insensitive customers.

I held her when my dear friend gave birth to her and had to let her go. I made substantial investments on his behalf trying to keep her alive before he had to walk away from her. She held such beauty and promise; I hated to see her die. I knew in my heart she was worth chasing. So I did. I devoted myself to providing for her so one day she could mature and stand on her own.

But, it seemed like every time she stood up, she got knocked down. She was very sick before we cleaned her up and made her presentable. People who saw her and didn’t know her condition even complimented her and expected her to compete favorably with much bigger, stronger kids in her class. I was proud of the good grades she consistently brought in. I was disappointed when those who graded her were harsh, not knowing what she had to overcome. I was very proud of her.

She almost never saw the light of day because a single self-important county official was unreasonably adversarial in the permitting process. A young fire inspector refused to allow her to operate because he questioned the center-wide sprinkling system that had been approved before he took jurisdiction. Then, there was the matter of past medical bills that had been run up. How much did I have to pay up front before the authorities would allow me to try to salvage her?

She looked good when she came off the incubator. She only got A’s on her health department inspection report card until another local restaurant got caught cheating when they infected several of their customers with an outbreak of salmonella. The culprit was a chain, but inspectors started cracking down on independent operators until their parents got together and took them to court… and won. The acting director lost his job and local inspectors were reassigned. But, the damage and costs lingered.

The new step-parent of an older sibling filed a frivolous lawsuit that failed, but further depleted our account while diverting attention away from what was needed. It is of no consolation that his costs were tens of thousands of dollars more than ours. The unbudgeted cost of major kitchen renovations took a toll. Then, our bank account was hacked. We still haven’t gotten restitution because a regulatory loophole was put in place two years ago when lobbyists convinced congressmen that the level of payouts due to such piracy threatened the vibrancy of America’s core financial institutions.

I paid a price for not showing adequate homage to agents of the IRS and TABC when they flashed their badges and stuck out their chests. I don’t respond well to individuals who are clearly unreasonable bullies, simply because they wear a badge and carry a gun. I grew up with that. Even when they have to back down, people like that have ways of turning their grudge into a target victims’ grief.

Our killing blow was struck by a little fella with a big job in the Texas State Comptroller’s office. They collect state sales tax, and I rolled the tax into the next month and paid the fine, fees, and interest while I was under duress for four months in a row. When he came in and made a spectacle of himself by threatening to shut us down in front of customers and staff, I questioned his tact, as well as his premise since I was paying fees, fines and interest as required.

Almost tearfully he sputtered, “I’m here representing the fiduciary interests of the state of Texas, and you have to show me more respect.” I was stunned. A customer seated nearby looked at me with curious disbelief. A waiter standing nearby bolted to the server station when he couldn’t contain his laughter. Unfortunately, another employee standing by, shook his head, muttered, “Another Barney Fife,” and walked away. I didn’t scold him.

The agent left, but the next day our crippled bank operating account was frozen. Funds remained inaccessible for weeks before his boss intervened and resolved the matter conceding his employee had overstepped. During the freeze my rent came due. I was also rolling my rent payment. Then we suffered a hurricane, and in the midst of confusion in the aftermath, a rushed decision led to a shut down that I just didn’t have it in me to fight.

The girl could probably have lived. But her life is taking mine. I chose to pull the plug. Now, I need to find a place where I can rest and recover. Maybe somebody else will take up this restaurant and revive her one more time. I have a feeling she would thrive now. But, I don’t have the strength or resources to pull her through. I’m able to let go knowing that I gave much more than I took. And I’ll always be very proud of her.

— Eric Scott