I called the landlord again today, following the strange, confusing discussion I had with him yesterday, and he finally came out and told me that he is taking another offer. I busted his chops a bit. Figured I'd vent out some frustration on him...it's not like he's a bridge I mind burning. And I asked him a few questions about this so-called better offer.
Apparently, whoever's he's now renting to is going to keep the concept the same. They're going to re-open it as the unsuccessful middle eastern sit down restaurant that closed way back in December. Yeah, that'll work. I'm sure the neighborhood will just flock to a place that's been closed without explanation for six months and then suddenly reopens as exactly the same thing as it was when it closed. Good plan!
The landlord claims that it'll work this time because the new owner is a chef. I snorted and scoffed a bit and then predicted that he'd be back in this same position within a year. I'd be surprised if it took that long. Sour grapes? Yep! I'm not going to apologize for it. I spent a ton of time working on this and I'm pissed.
My wife had a bit of a breakdown last night when we were talking about the deal falling through. She'd already been picturing how this restaurant would effect her life, similar to what I was talking about towards the end of this post, and losing all of that potential stuff was hard for her. She's got a good friend that lives in Lincoln Square, and she'd been picturing herself spending time down there, taking walks over to the restaurant, going to the park with the kids, etc. We've both spent a lot of time envisioning how our lives would be while I ran this restaurant, and now, all of a sudden, the page is blank. Again.
I can't help but think that the landlord and seller did, in fact, team up and try to get rid of me on this deal. The landlord's whole "talk to the seller" thing rings false if he simply accepted another offer. Plus, I've now called the seller twice to have kind of a post-mortem on our deal, and he's not calling me back. If the seller was really getting the rug pulled out from under him by the landlord, he'd be calling me back, if only to commiserate. My guess is that he got a better offer after he signed the contract with me, and his only way out of our deal was to go to the landlord and ask him not to agree to terms with me, so our deal would blow up, he could take the higher offer, and then pay the landlord back more of what he owes him in back rent.
The lawyers tell me that I can stall this out as long as I want to, effectively preventing the seller from selling his property to anyone else until I release him from our contract. I can potentially string him along for months, claiming that I'm still trying to work out a deal with the landlord. But I probably won't.
There's really no point in it and it's better for me to let go of the anger and resentment I'm feeling, rather than indulge in a pointless, spiteful exercise that won't get me anywhere but mired deeper into a situation that's never going to resolve itself the way I want it to.
On top of all this lovely stuff, my wife is freaking out about money. Since this deal was supposed to have happened by now, we set up childcare for our kids and, in addition to our normal expenses, we're now paying around $250/week for someone to watch our kids while I'm at home, not working, essentially not doing anything that would prevent me from watching the kids myself.
But, we're reluctant to just pull the kids out of the situation they're in, since, if another deal takes shape, we'll have to just slap them back in there again, which isn't fair to them or the person who we've got taking care of them.
That being the case, I feel a strong need to make every day the kids are at childcare a day that I do constructive stuff towards getting this restaurant off the ground. Often, that's just making phone calls or waiting for people to call me back, but today, I took some initiative and did some scouting in the area that may be about to become our new prospective location. (Did I put enough qualifiers in that sentence? You can tell I'm reluctant to emotionally commit to this new possibility!)
This site is in a different part of the city than the last one. It's near Armitage and Western (just a bit south of Margie's Candies, for those that know the city) and it's a very good opportunity. I detailed some of the pros and cons already in an earlier post, and while the entry situation is excellent, the big question mark was the neighborhood, and whether it can support the concept I'm envisioning.
So, I took the train down there today and spent about five hours of this cold, rainy Tuesday walking around the area, scouting competitors, getting a feel for the area, checking out the ratio of new condos to old apartment buildings, and having lunch in the space.
I'm pretty encouraged. This area is a lot harder to get a handle on than Lincoln Square, which is kind of one dimensional (but in a good way--the one dimension is young urban families and couples with disposable income). This area is much more varied. There are plenty of fancy upscale condos just a bit east in West Bucktown, and, subsequently, quite a few hip little boutiques and shops to cater to their inhabitants, but Western Avenue is kind of the border of that area, and Western itself is still pretty seedy, with lots of currency exchanges, payday loan places, and dollar stores. Let me put it this way; the immediate area isn't lacking in people standing around bus stops for hours drinking liquor from paper bags and smoking cigarette butts they found on the sidewalk.
The upside, though, is that there's almost no direct competition. There's a McDonalds very nearby and a tiny hot dog stand with no seating that doesn't have burgers. And then a new outpost of an established suburban Italian beef place about six blocks away. So, not much. Another plus is that while there's less foot traffic than there would be in Lincoln Square, there's a ton more car traffic and parking is relatively easy. This is a much more high-traffic area overall, with an 'L' stop very close by, tons of cars passing through the six-way intersection of Western, Armitage, and Milwaukee, and a lot of busy bus stops as well.
The restaurant that currently occupies the space isn't, according to the accounts I'm getting, doing all that bad, it's just that the owners overextended themselves during the buildout prior to opening and so they have a pretty big debt to service every month. One partner has decided to get out of the restaurant business, and the other doesn't have the ability to buy her out or run it solo. They were pretty busy for a rainy Tuesday, with nearly every table full at around 12:30 and still some stragglers at around 2:00 when I finally left. Their prices seemed very high--I had a sandwich and a can of Diet Coke and my total was $11.01.
(Tangent--what's with restaurants that sell cans of pop? This annoys me to no end. C'mon, people, get the damn fountain service! It's cheaper than cans, you'll make more money, customers prefer it, you present a higher perception of value by offering free refills, you don't have to store all those cans, and there's much less to put in the garbage/recycling. Get with the program, folks!)
So that's encouraging. I think by offering a much more focused, simple concept and a better value price-wise, we will do pretty well in this location--especially because we will not have all that debt to pay back.
Based on what I saw today, I want to move forward on this place. My wife is reluctant. She thinks I'm just going for the "rebound" opportunity, and she's probably right. But that doesn't mean that we can't make a go of it in the rebound place.
The thing is, I don't think we have time to mull it over. This place is a great opportunity; the owners have allowed their lease to expire and now are just interested in getting a decent return on their equipment without having to deal with an auction company or selling stuff piecemeal. If I don't act soon, I'm certain someone else will jump on it.
But I have the inside track on this place; the building's owner is a neighbor and a friend who's been trying to get me interested in this space for a while.
So, once I got back home, I called him up and told him that we're interested in taking the next step toward moving on the place. Certainly not a done deal; he's got to get his partners sold on having me and my concept as their tenant. But at least we're moving forward on something.
If this space doesn't end up working out, I really don't know what we're going to do.