Never Go Into Business With Family, or How A Restaurant Destroyed My Family

On Mother’s Day 2007, my family made a decision which we all will regret for the rest of our lives, and I will always loathe the conversation that changed all of our lives forever. I’m writing this as a lesson to any of my readers or any of their friends or family or even friends’ friends who are considering doing this and who think that won’t happen to us. We didn’t think it would happen to us, either. We were extraordinarily close and it will never be the same again; in fact, the situation we have found ourselves in just continues to get worse. Because we opened a can of worms that, once opened, can never be closed. We can never change things or even improve them, because what’s done is done

For the six of us, the six closest of us in our entire family, decided to open a restaurant franchise together: mistake #1. The six of us consisted of my husband and me, along with my family: my mother and my father, who I’ve always been very close to; my brother and my sister-in-law (who I knew first and introduced to my brother, then I became even closer friends with her and we ended up being the absolute best of friends for over ten years–she was the friend I had always wished I had, the kind of friend other people had and I admired, the kind of friend who, when we went to family events–the two of us almost always ended up alone in a room together talking about anything and everything and just laughing and chatting away, sometimes crying: it was wonderful). I would also say my brother and I were so incredibly close that I would consider the three of us having been practically best friends. My brother was my best friend too, and I will never be able to get that back.. believe me, I have been trying and trying and it’s changed me, the result of a broken heart has been too much to bear.

My parents and I have had a rocky relationship on and off ever since, but was honestly borderline problematic a long, long time ago. I have a real problem with some of their values and beliefs, and it upsets me so much that we are always butting heads and our arguments go around and around constantly, never reaching a solution because we think so differently. And they always think they are right, and they, unlike me, never- I mean never admit wrongdoing of any kind nor do they ever simply apologize to stop the boat from rocking- only I ever do that, and I’m sick of it. It’s almost like they are from a completely different century at times. I used to always think the problem was with my Mom and me; I’m finally realizing it’s actually more my father. And he’s very stubborn; I love him to death but his stubbornness is really what people are talking about when they say bullheaded.

In addition, I haven’t seen or spoken to my brother, just 17 months younger than me, since 2010 and my friendship with his wife, unfortunately, ended in 2010 as a result of something that occurred which I would rather not get into in this blog but which never would have happened were it not for that dog-gam restaurant. Furthermore, I haven’t been allowed to see my two darling nephews, either. My birthday and Christmas cards and/or gifts are returned to me unopened. That is the most heartbreaking part, they don’t even know who I am any longer. There are other quite selfish reasons for the end of the relationship with my brother and his wife, but the main reason centers around the restaurant we opened together. There was a lot of bitterness surrounding a very insensitive comment made by my husband and my brother to our Mom, which the rest of us all felt was completely out of line and inappropriate, but despite their attempts to explain the comment so she would understand they didn’t mean it how it came out, she is still hurt to this day by it and she has been unable to let it go. She and my Dad can’t stand my husband, and with good reason: he has been very verbally abusive to them over the years and they don’t take that kind of treatment from anyone, but certainly not from their daughter’s husband. He has talked things out with them in the past and they’ve forgiven him, but I have no idea what he said to them and I don’t trust one bit that he didn’t somehow throw me under the bus (to make himself look better) in his apology because they have always taken it out on me about our restaurant business failing.

I will admit that I’m not good with my own money; however, the franchise procedure I learned while in management training for dealing with the restaurant cash was clear, precise, and structured, making it very simple for me to strictly adhere to, which I did. For example , I did twice-daily safe audits and each and every morning and evening I knew exactly how much money was in the safe, and it was almost never off. I also did our food and paper goods inventory (which was everything in the restaurant other than bar items) and was quite good at it. Seven months after we opened, our back of house, or kitchen, manager went back to using drugs and quit coming in to work, which left me to handle another person’s whole job responsibility, which we felt was pretty important since we were paying the guy more than $14 per hours to do it. I in essence also became the Kitchen Manager. I was also excellent at dealing with customers..the regulars all knew me by name and I always went up How can I ever give up trying to get my family back? Would YOU? and acknowledged our regulars when I saw them at some point during their visit, just to make them feel welcome back and at home, as if they were a part of the restaurant’s family, and they loved that. Customers were constantly calling me over to the bar to come have a shot with them, and they treated me like we were good, close friends. And I have always felt its important to keep employees happy, because I would much rather have the same employees working for me two years down the road who I hired before we opened the doors for business than have employee turnaround be really high, leaving me to train new people all the time. There are much more pressing things that require a general manager‘s time. Which does not include things like, (believe it or not there are people who really believe this) doing our taxes, which is not a general manager’s responsibility under any circumstance. Can you imagine the general manager of, say, a bank doing the taxes for the business? No, certainly not. Businesses have a completely separate professional, usually a CPA, taking care of taxes. There are very specific job requirements for a general manager, anyone who questions what those requirements are at any time should that you can go online at any time and find out exactly what those requirements consist of. But my parents (specifically my father) felt that because I was getting paid as the GM, (which, if he would think back, I didn’t want to do; I was just two weeks away from starting basic training as a Correctional Officer for the State of California‘s Department of Corrections; I didn’t want to manage our restaurant but my husband virtually made me) I should have to take care of every aspect of having a restaurant–mistake #2. They didn’t feel anyone should help me, that I was getting paid and any work that needed to be done, needed to be done by me. I understood their feelings at the time, and tried to explain them to my husband, brother, and sister-in-law: my mother wanted to manage the restaurant, and my father wanted her to as well. I’ll be honest, so did I. But the other three begged me to do it. I was very unhappy because I felt like i had no say whatsoever. Mom, if you’re reading this: for the record, I wanted you to manage that place just as much, if not more, than you did. Why don't they care about me? What is wrong with me that even at Christmas, they don't reach out to me?

I had the good fortune of being told what to do the entire 18 months, by my husband, the most controlling man when it comes to business. It was fun at times and I enjoyed it at times, but I did not like being micromanaged, and that’s exactly what was happening. My parents thought it was some glamorous job for me, it wasn’t. There were times I went home from work and cried my eyes out because I felt trapped and I wanted to be rescued from it. And what happened as a result of my being unhappy, was I developed a drinking problem. But even worse than that, was when I severely fractured my tailbone in October 2008 while checking to see the progress of the cook’s closing duties in the back of the restaurant. I slipped on the just-mopped floor and landed right on my tailbone. It was the start of a whole new nightmare: painkiller addiction. Mylife hasn’t been the same since addiction touched my life in 2009, and I would do anything in the world to do things over and refuse to manage that restaurant.

There were definitely things I did well. I’m excellent at customer service. And human resources. I was in charge of training all employees. I’m certain my father never even knew that I designed and successfully implemented my own front of house training program (mostly for servers and bartenders) which, when all is said and done, takes less than half the time the training program the franchise previously was using took, and even better–it cut out some of the noncrucial items and spent more time teaching things like the POS system, which servers had the most difficulty in learning, and the server sidework, which clearly wasn’t focused on enough because it wasn’t getting done; overall, my training program saved our restaurant approximately 4 percentage points in labor cost on average.  Furthermore, the Franchise Development Manager of the restaurant franchise we all owned was so impressed with my training program upon carefully reviewing it and having me explain my purpose, that he wanted to implement it in the franchise training store, and then all of the franchises, if it was as successful as I claimed. Last I knew, it had been implemented in the training store and two additional franchises. Furthermore, my training program was implemented in the restaurant we opened after that one was closed (I don’t recommend owning a franchise if you have any restaurant experience) and which my brother now co-owns, and it was used in my husband’s and my restaurant, Bluto’s Sports Grill.

The restaurant closed in May 2009. The location we chose for the restaurant didn’t bring in enough of a lunch crowd, and we didn’t have busy enough Saturday nights to survive with $20,000 per month in bills just for the rent on the building, and the small business loan. Furthermore, what killed us the first year was that a Chili’s Grill & Bar opened up less than a 1/2 mile away. Funny thing is, they saw we were in the middle of building and had a Coming Soon banner up, then the began building and finished as well as opened before us. But they closed about four months before us, too. Ever heard of a Chili’s opening and closing in just over one year? That’s how bad the economy and area was. Our business majorly picked up as a result of Chili’s closing and we were having the best weeks we had had since we opened; it wasn’t enough, however, to keep us from closing. We too far in the hole at that point. We tried to keep open; we cut so far back on labor that one or two days every week for months I ran the front of the house by myself: I greeted and seated people, then took their orders, got their drinks (regular and alcoholic), expo’d their food, brought it to their table, checked on them and refilled drinks, then cashiered them out at the end of the meal. Those days I hated being there. There was no one to talk to, and it was either completely dead or so busy I couldn’t handle it. It was not a piece of pie for me by any means. I would gladly have handed the responsibility and the pay over to my Mom, I would have enjoyed making her happy.

By the time our first year in business had passed, my parents weren’t even speaking to me. To this day I don’t understand why they never once gave me the benefit of the doubt, or tried to talk to me about it. It’s been nearly six years and still my family continues to suffer the ill-effects of a failed family business. I haven’t seen my Dad since July 4th of last year; before that I hadn’t seen him since July 2011. My family will never be the same, if we’re ever even a family again.

Don’t ever go in to business with family. What happened to my family could happen to yours. No business, and no amount of money in the world, is worth losing your family… I never thought my family would let this happen; if can happen to my family, it can certainly happen to yours, too…

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