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For the past six months Dina Berta has thrown herself head first into the operations of Frank's Kitchen, which she owns with her husband, Frank. But before she committed to life in the kitchen, she made a living writing about restaurants. As a business reporter at the Rocky Mountain News for eight years, she covered retail, beer and dining. Her reporting on a Boston Market legal issue brought her to the attention of Nation's Restaurant News, where she then spent nine years covering human-resource issues and the Rocky Mountain region. And after she was laid off by the industry mag in 2009, she continued to freelance.
It was a story in another publication, though, that changed the course of the couple's lives. "My husband had been doing construction for fifteen or sixteen years, and he was starting to burn out on it," Dina explains. "He wanted to do something different. We saw this article in the Wall Street Journal about food trucks, and the lightbulb just went off. The dream was to do one or two things a day and change the menu every day."
While Frank explored locations for a commercial kitchen, Dina kept her day job and continued to write. But when Frank found the space at 2600 High Street and they decided to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant instead, her writing went on the back burner. "I needed to focus, so I took a hiatus," she says. "All the writing now gets channeled into the blog [frankskitchendiary.wordpress.com] and Facebook."
So, did her restaurant-reporting experience help when she and Frank actually opened a restaurant? "It's given us a good perspective on how much hard work it is, but nothing truly prepares you to step out and do something you've never done before," Dina says. "Writing is one thing, doing is another. After a dozen years of interviewing restaurant operators and writing about them, you would think I would have all this down. But looking back on it, when I talked to owners and restaurant executives, I was listening from a journalist's perspective: 'How can I tell your story in an interesting way for my readers?' rather than 'How can I take the information you're giving me to improve my own business?'"
Now that her perspective has changed, her conversations with other restaurateurs are very different. "Since opening, we've been honored to have other restaurant owners come in to check us out," she says. "Some were real veterans who've put in twenty, twenty-five years or more in the industry. I'll try to get them to talk about their early years, and we'll ask for any advice. I hang on their every word."
While Dina acknowledges that her writing years may not be over yet, she has no immediate plans to return to the field of journalism — or to turn the Frank's blog into a book, as her former editor suggested. "I don't know if I have the time," she says. "Once you're trying to promote your business, you want to have as much control over its image as you can. You put your best foot forward. I don't know if I would do a book now. Maybe later."