Lunch today just about broke my heart...

· Business Tips,Business help,restaurant help

The food wasn't bad...

And the owner stopped by our table twice to chat. But when we left, I just struggled internally walking away! There's a very, very slim chance we'll return and it's not like they did anything WRONG.

It's a new restaurant that just opened and they took the place of what used to be a well-known, established restaurant in San Antonio that closed down last year. It was an old-home country cottage restaurant.

When they closed down, a Vietnamese restaurant came in behind them and we've been watching the signs go up for the new restaurant with anticipation. Finally, we had the chance to go today for lunch and walking up, I wasn't sure what to think. The building hadn't been changed much. They'd added a koi pond to the front and some big expensive wrought iron gates, but it felt out of place with this homey-country cottage.

When we walked in, I was first impressed, follow by very confused. They'd cleared out a lot of space to open up the restaurant so it wasn't so close together, but the roof was still very low. They had obviously spent a lot of money on a very expensive tile and placed a grand piano and a water-feature in the lobby.

But jutting up from the beautiful marble tiles were the same aged wooden supports. In the backdrop, the big country fireplace that graced the sitting room in the old restaurant still dominated - and it looked very out of place against the marbled floor.

As they walked us back to our table, some of the old decorations still hung on the walls touting "farm fresh eggs" and a big mirror promoting "fresh milk." Some of the tables had been replaced with graceful round tables, but the booths still sported old-fashioned stained glass.

It was as if an upscale Asian restaurant crashed into an old-fashioned American cottage. It felt odd. We ordered and I crossed my fingers that the food would be mind-blowing enough to make up for the half-remodeled building.

The soup was great. The appetizer was fine. The meal was okay. It tasted good. Nothing to complain about. But it was also nothing to drive across the city for.

Walking away, there was nothing that stood out!

It was a painful reminder on so many levels...

I've prided myself over the past 10 years on being able to tell within a few minutes of experiencing a business whether or not that business will still be open in another year. What breaks my heart most in business is seeing a business owner with a dream and a vision who gets a chunk of cashflow to open their business either from their retirement fund or through a loan, and seeing that business owner stuck carrying the weight of their less-than-successful business for the rest of their life.

I'd guess they easily put $250k into opening this property. And maybe they ran out of funds, or maybe they are planning to complete the remodel before the grand opening, or maybe they are planning to take a break after they turn some money and finish the remodel. Or maybe they think they are done.

Regardless, I walked out of there feeling guilty as the words "Maybe they'll last 12 months" crossed my mind.

It was a painful reminder on many levels. On one hand, I completely commend them for getting out there and getting started. There's something to be said for taking action and going!

But opening a half-finished location that has been drawing as much attention as this one has during the interim was not a smart move. Every person who comes to visit before the remodel is complete will walk away with the same feeling: unsettled and neutral.

And in business, neutral is dangerous!

If I hate you, I'll talk about you and someone might come just to see if I'm accurate. If I love you, I'll come back and bring my friends, and talk about you. If I'm neutral, I won't think about you again, except to muse over why I felt so let-down by my visit.

If there's nothing special and unique, there's no reason for me to come back!

Beyond feeling neutral, there's got to be SOMETHING to get people to come back - either transport me to Vietnam physically, or through my tastebuds. I didn't really get either of those. There's nothing that stands out about this place.

If there's nothing special and unique, there's no reason for me to come back.

In reality, it felt like they opened too soon because they ran out of cash to complete the remodel. Which, since they obviously blew a LOT of money on huge wrought iron gates and a grand piano, made me think that this was/is a first-time restaurant owner who had an idea in their head, that they couldn't get out into reality and either didn't accept advice, or didn't know who to turn to.

It's heartbreaking to see someone who obviously had some kind of vision, but doesn't know how to make it happen, and will struggle, and probably eventually close the doors after sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars. If the owner ever get out from under that debt, I'll be amazed. Or if they sunk all of their retirement funds into it, that's even worse!

Now they are stuck working forever as punishment for taking a chance and trying to build their business and they may never know what happened.

As a business owner, take time to bring in an expert. Let them help you stage your store if you aren't sure about how to bring your vision to life. Let them help you design your brand if you can't articulate it in a single (short) sentence. Let them help you figure out how to monetize your dream.

I know it costs money. But if you're investing $250k in your business, isn't it worth it to take even 10% of that to protect the rest of your investment?