Saturday night we closed The Tar Pit.
The restaurant we (largely) own. Long story short, the landlady wants to raise the rent, we thought it should be less as the lease was negotiated pre recession. This has been VERY emotional. We have a lot invested in it. Other people invested in it. We have employees. There was going to be no point in staying open with high rent. None.
We just had a triumphant night with Mark cooking with Roy Choi. ( watch that here) Best to leave while we are ahead.
When we made the decision I was sick to my stomach. I said, “I think I’m going to shit in my pants.”
We had to leave to go to a food event Mark was working on. Our manager would notify our employees. Mark started calling the investors while I drove and the kids watched “Home Alone” and “The Wizard of Oz” in the back seat. We didn’t want to be defeated, but in this economy we can’t be squeezed anymore. We had made cuts were we could. We had the best manager and the best chef we have had since we opened. Our staff was the kindest, least drama mama’s we had had thus far. The drinks were the best.
But, the roof was leaking ( literally and metaphorically) and it was time to act.
I was glad we were away while the news sunk in. Back at Dolphin Bay with the sun shining, a big suite. It forestalled reality. People who fail don’t live here. It was also good to be in close quarters with my kids.
On Thursday I picked Vivien up from school and when I said, “Vivien we are closing The Tar Pit.” She started to cry.
“The rent is going to be too high.”
“This is bad mommy. This is a lot of money.” I cringed. Had I said that to her? I don’t want her to have money anxieties like I remember having. It’s a fine line though, you don’t want your kids to be spoiled, but she is so little.
“We are okay Vivien. We still have savings, we have our home. Nothing is going to change.” Then I took her for a cookie.
As we drove back to LA Saturday for the final night I was starting to feel better. At least we aren’t living in indecision. “have you talked to her Mark? Did she change her mind?” Even if it blew we knew were we stood. Poor Mark was miserable about calling his investors.
“Tell them we lost more than anyone.” I would say. He would ignore me. He actually sounded like a sound business person when he spoke to them not like a girl who feels bad about forgetting a lunch date like I would have, “well, I overslept and the cat coughed up a hair ball, and…”
As we drove down an idea started to form…this was not it. We had spoken of this, but it started to really sharpen in my own mind. We would take our barstools and shakers and go where we were wanted. Where the rent was a reasonable percentage of the sales. Maybe, it would be better.
We got home and Oliver kindly watched the kids as I changed to go out for the final night and to thank our staff. I will say this, we did create a lot of work the last couple of years. With our own money we were the job creators. I have learned a TON the past couple of years. It’s been like a really expensive Learning Annex course, “How to run a small business”, but with drinks.
“I know what to wear to an opening, but what do I wear to a closing?”
“Something with color” said Chef Peel, the eternal optimist.
When I got to The Tar Pit I had to wait 15 minutes to park. That was a first. The place was not only crowded, usual for a Saturday night, but it never waned. I sat with an investor. He was down, but hoped we would go on. I saw some friends who had heard through the grapevine who came in.
There were tons of people I didn’t know. Old employees came in by the bucket. It’s the transitory nature of hospitality that people come and go, but we have one server, Natalie who opened with us. She is so sweet and always wears a flower in her hair.
Tonight she had a really big flower. She got up and sang. We all cheered for her.
I was most touched by the chef friends who showed up for my husband. Roy Choi walked in. We can find a place for some people at Campanile, but most of our staff had just lost their jobs. Roy gave his card to the kitchen staff and told them to call them. He had ideas of where we could go. He has a great appreciate for Mark. I love that guy.
Govind Armstrong walked in. We hadn’t told him. He just heard about it. He started working for Mark when he was a teenager and now he is a major chef in his own right ( just opened Post and Beam, which we will be going to later this week) He was at our wedding. I was glad he was there.
Person after person told us where we should move, that’s a hot area, think that developer would love a Mark Peel restaurant.
I had to go and let Oliver go to sleep, but it was hard to leave. We had all been up beat and I went around a few times to hug the staff. I was in the bar well telling three of them, “thank you so much for all of your hard work,” and my voice cracked. I had to get out. They didn’t need me getting soppy on them.
People had to be thrown out after closing. Fingers crossed we will be able to welcome them back one day.