There’s a certain glamor in living your dream. But that wears off quickly when your dream is owning a restaurant and you’re starting up on a shoestring. Just ask Dave Kilroy, owner of Kitchen Table Café, the subject of my restaurant review this week.
“My January and February were just horrific,” he says, thinking back to a year ago when he opened the doors of his home-cooking café in City Park West. “One day we did $110, and I remember thinking I made the biggest mistake of my life.” Just a few months prior, opening a restaurant had seemed like life’s silver lining, a way to turn the negative of getting laid off as a cannabis consultant into a positive. But there he was, with business so slow he had to lay off all his staff and do everything himself. “I told myself I’d give it a year,” he recalls. “If I’m still struggling, I’ll sell the equipment and go back to my office job.”
Fortunately, business picked up when the weather improved, and within a matter of months the restaurant took off on Yelp, where it landed on the list of top 100 places to eat in the country. It was a remarkable turnaround for Kilroy, who was able to keep the job he loves, and good news for fans of his pulled pork, macaroni and cheese and chocolate-peanut butter pie.
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Andrea Knight never had to lay off her staff, but this pastry chef-founder of the Noshery faced plenty of other challenges as she got her bakery-café off the ground last summer. “We had to buy used equipment, and every single piece of equipment we own broke within two months, and half of that broke again three months later,” she says. “You think you’re going to make good food … but it’s janitor, mechanic, florist and all these other different hats.” Now, in addition to making a mean lemon meringue tart, Knight has become an adept handyman. “You can’t keep throwing money out at other people to fix it,” she notes.
Denon Moore, owner of the popular Cake Crumbs Bakery, is well past the start-up stage. But she will never forget what it was like in 2007 when she was juggling two jobs and raising two boys ages three and five. For the first six months, “I was putting in forty hours there and forty hours at a paid job,” she says, working during the day as a mental health counselor and spending nights and weekends at the bakery. But her hard work paid off, and now she employs a staff of 25 and plans to open the Crumb Café in Hilltop on April 1. “It was insane,” she says. “I enjoy it now more that we’re established.”
Words of encouragement – in case they’re still needed – for Kilroy and Knight.