So You Want To Open a Restaurant: Part I

I've been thinking about writing this for years and now I finally feel the moment is right. The Chef and I opened our first restaurant in 2009 and since then we have lived through so much. We have learned so much too and I have always believed that knowledge and words are more powerful than any textbook. We try to live by my son's favorite motto "Sharing is Caring."

So, if you want to open a restaurant, this is for you. Each post will have a lesson that we learned from opening. Some lessons are bigger than other's. Some lessons we've learned. Some, we are still learning. Opening a restaurant is more than you and me. It's more than a chef. It's an ever evolving story that doesn't end once you open.  

This is the story of how we opened a restaurant:

In 2008 the Chef and I decided that it was our time to open a restaurant in Cleveland. We had moved back to our hometown from NYC and while the Chef was happy as a chef at Bar Cento, his dream had always been to open his own place. We began to work on the project and quickly found ourselves partnering with members of his family. His brother had decided to invest in the Chef's idea of a restaurant and had also brought on his wife's immediate family to invest. At the time we thought this was a BRILLIANT thing. We had money! We could open a restaurant. More important we could open the restaurant the Chef had always dreamed of. Trusting his brother as a partner seemed easy at the time, in retrospect it was easily one of our biggest rookie mistakes.

The Chef worked on the menu, his brother worked on the investments & banking, I worked on social media, and soon our little restaurant found itself a home on East 4th Street. We gathered an opening team consisting of the Chef, his friend from his previous cooking gig who was going to partner in as a chef, our designer, our beverage manager, our pastry chef, and me. We all holed up in an empty building on 4th Street (later to be opened as Chinato) and made plans for our baby. We drank wine so we could smash the bottles for our sustainable fly-ash bar that was to be installed. We wrote handbooks and menus and met with future servers and bartenders. We fought about design and money and budget. We lost our shit when the roof started flooding and the concrete had be re-poured. Our deadlines got broken. Furniture got bought, art was made, and we had fun. The days spent in that empty building were tiresome and hard but some of the best memories I have of opening The Greenhouse Tavern. 

In opening the restaurant we realized that money was needed up front. When the Chef first lived in NYC, he had lived with his brother, a well off engineer who had an interest in cooking in his spare time. His brother wanted in and the Chef was all for it. The Chef's brother raised money from his wife's family and friends, but we also needed a loan. The Chef and I had just bought a house (that we could barely afford on his crappy 25K salary from his current chef gig) and because of that we would need to put it up as collateral. Because we were young with virtually no credit, we needed other signers of the loan who actually had credit. We approached the chef's dad to sign as well as the chef's brother and friend who was partnering in. Co-signing the loan was another one of our rookie mistakes. Unfortunately for us we blindly trusted the Chef's brother as our leader when it came to financial and contactual obligations and this would eventually fuck us later on. We signed anything and everything that his brother put in front of us, with no lawyer of our own. BIG MISTAKE KIDS BIG MISTAKE. And here is where we find our first lesson in opening a restaurant:


First rule of opening a restaurant, HIRE A FUCKING PERSONAL LAWYER. If you can't afford it (like we couldn't), HIRE A FUCKING PERSONAL LAWYER ANYWAYS. Go into debt hiring a personal lawyer. I promise, I promise, I promise you will spend more money in the long run not being protected than you will in the beginning protecting yourself.

We did not hire a personal lawyer. And because of this we signed documents and contracts and loans and leases that didn't protect us. We trusted family blindly and that was just stupid. If you are going to go through the stress and chaos of opening a restaurant, you best be sure that your ass and that restaurant you built is protected from anyone and everyone. At the time though we could only see opening day. If the Chef's brother told us to sign, we signed. 

A lawyer saves you money in the long run. Investment contracts are CRAZY COMPLICATED and if you don't find yourself with a lawyer you may find yourself in our (and many other chefs) shoes. A lawyer finds clauses that don't protect you in the long run. A lawyer finds that the contract you are about to sign protects the investors but doesn't protect you. Had we hired a personal lawyer, that lawyer would have told us that the operating agreement we were signing was complete garbage and could completely screw us down the road. Well we didn't and guess what? It totally did. 80K later... A lawyer would have also told us that the bank loan we had signed a personal guarantee on would not allow us to take the personal guarantee off until the loan was completely paid off. This meant we could not sell our home for the duration of the loan. A good lawyer, hell even a bad one, would tell us that this was a red flag and we should shop around or try and raise more money.

At the time, hiring a lawyer seemed so foreign to us. Why would we pay a lawyer when we had a company lawyer and family looking out for us? The company lawyer would have our back for sure and the Chef's family would never do anything to hurt him right? WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

We would learn the hard way that a company lawyer doesn't protect the Chef or the partner, a company lawyer only protects the company as a whole. The company lawyer doesn't protect ownership, your salary, or even your job. And family, well, that's another story completely.

To be continued....


If a story is in you, it has got to come out.

I haven't truly thought about writing until recently.

It wasn't until I stepped out of my comfort zone that I realized how much I missed writing. I stopped writing because the Chef and I were going through a pretty horrific legal/business/shady/greedy battle with his brother and I just couldn't bring myself to write anything good. Plus his brother, who was actively trying to fire the Chef and steal his restaurant, threatened me with legal action if I blogged, which he eventually did, soooooooo.....the chef's brother, totally not evil. Ha. 

The battle lasted for almost 5 years. Yes 5 YEARS.  It was hard and it was hell, we lost friends, we lost family, we made bad choices and we made good choices but eventually we won. We walked away with the restaurants and the ability to sleep at night peacefully. Not sure if I can say the same about the other side...

So that yearning to write came back recently. It started when I was perusing Facebook late at night and saw a call for Idea Pitches through the Cleveland Leadership Center. I have always had this idea in the back of my head and maybe because I was two martinis in I decided to fill out the application. Low and behold, a few months later, an email arrived that said my idea was chosen as one of the top five ideas for their Accelerate for Change event. I would present in the community change category, in front of judges and they would give me feedback. There was a cash prize that I briefly skimmed over and then had a prompt freak out. What I hadn't realized when filling out the application was that there was public speaking involved. I DESPISE public speaking. Shocking I know. In person I am pretty comfortable with just about anyone. I can talk to the best of 'em. But getting up in front of a crowd? Ummm, not so much.

But the idea that I pitched was an idea that I am passionate about. So I grabbed my laptop and started to type my presentation.

Here it is:

My name is Amelia and I am here to talk to you about a Sanctuary for Addicts and Animals. 
This is my brother Andy. Andy is a heroin addict. 
In 2006 on Thanksgiving Day my family’s life changed forever. My brother, a handsome, athletic, intelligent college student, came to my dad’s house and announced he was flying to Florida because “he need a break.” He looked skinny, sickly, and grey. Our family was confused and angry, why would he be so brash to leave on a holiday about being grateful for your family? We would later find out her name was was heroin.
After a soccer injury, my brother was prescribed Oxycontin for pain associated with a broken collar bone. We've all heard this story before. Within months, the oxycontin addiction he developed became too expensive, heroin was cheaper, and he quickly became a full blown heroin addict. The past 10 years watching my brother suffer with the disease of addiction has forever changed my family. Addiction is the most devastating disease I have ever witnessed. Watching someone you love lose their self to addiction is harder than watching someone you love die of cancer. 
My brother has seen bright days and he has seen many bad days. In 10 years I have learned so much about heroin addiction. I have learned how far family will go for someone they love. I have learned that heroin steals the person you once knew and replaces them with a complete stranger. I have learned that addiction is actually a disease and should be treated as one. I have learned to value the time my brother is sober but keep my distance enough to know that at any moment the call of the needle could entice him back. I have learned that heroin not only steals someones soul, but it also steals their self worth. This is where the Sanctuary comes in. 
This is Ladybug. Ladybug is an abused pig who was found in a home that had 49 other animals all living in unsanitary conditions while being neglected. Ladybug was rescued by Happy Trails Animal Sanctuary and is the first smiling pig face you will see when you walk through the doors. 
What does my brother and Ladybug have to do with each other? Last summer my family and I visited the Happy Trails Animal Sanctuary. We were appalled by the abuse stories of the animals but at peace seeing them thrive at the sanctuary. Over the past 10 years I have watched my brother’s addiction consume his life wishing, praying, and hoping I could stop it. He has spent time clean and sober but has always gone back to the needle. Why is this? I believe that his purpose is lost on him. Heroin stole his self worth the first time he put a needle in his arm. Even when he finds sobriety his purpose in this life is still lost. He cannot find a job. Most of his friends, if not all, have moved on. His guilt over his addiction is all consuming and his confidence in himself is virtually non existent. The disease takes everything. But what if something could give him his life back? What if Ladybug could give him a purpose?
My pitch for Citizens make Community Change is a Sanctuary for animals and addicts. The sanctuary would be a non profit recovery farm for both addicts and animals located in Northeast Ohio. Like a traditional animal sanctuary, abused animals would find a new home. Unlike the traditional animal sanctuary, the recovering addict would find themselves the caretaker of these abused and neglected animals. They would find a purpose in themselves by working on the farm, growing their own food, and taking care of the abused animals while simultaneously working on their own recovery. The results of their hard work would be seen in the rehabilitated animals which in turn would give back their sense of self that heroin stole from them. 
In between the time an addict gets out rehab, detox, or even prison, the addict often goes to a sober house. A sober is house is usually just a landlord who is supposed to make sure that the people who rent rooms are sober. The problem is this rarely happens. The houses are usually in underprivileged areas where drugs can easily be found and are often filled entirely of addicts. If one person in the house falls, they all fall. My brother has lived and relapsed in many sober houses over the past 10 years. Recently my brother found sobriety for the longest he has ever been sober. For 12 months he was clean. We had him back in our lives. My kids played with him, I laughed with him, and our family shared joy with him. And then he was gone again. Heroin found him through his roommate at the sober house where he lived. No more job, no more house, no more laughter. 
Sanctuary would replace the Sober House and could not only help my brother but all people suffering from the terrible disease of heroin addiction. Sanctuary would give addicts a place to live, an inspiring fulfilling job, and the opportunity to work on their own recovery alongside some of nature’s most damaged creatures.  They could find their own value  again through saving the lives of animals. Living at Sanctuary an addict will learn skills and tools in both the veterinary field and agriculture field. Sanctuary will help the addict find responsibility and value in themselves. Sanctuary is a place that an addict and an abused animal can find their purpose in life again. I believe that a heroin wildfire is spreading through our country and no one knows what to do about it. I believe that Sanctuary could play an active role in an addict’s journey to recovery both in Northeast Ohio and nationally and is part of answer to this epidemic that is very much needed.
Thank you for listening. 

The day of the pitch I was ready...or so I thought. I had it memorized, I was ready for questions. My squad was attending the event. I had my favorite black boots on. I was good to go. And then it was my turn. And then there were 40 people in front of me and I was about to talk about my brother's heroin addiction. I barely made it through. When I opened my mouth to speak, a flashback of everything our family has been through for the past 10 years hit me and my emotions and fear took over. What felt like 40 minutes was actually 9 and before I knew it my kids were giving me hugs and kisses and telling me how great I did. I didn't win 1st place (a judge did tell me I was the runner-up tho) but I did win something else. I won back the confidence in myself to write again and to share my ideas. That's always been my passion and unfortunately for me I let an unhappy sad man temporarily take it away from me. Not anymore. 

Silenced no longer, I feelzzzzz good.



Token Economy Reward Closet Shopping Spree at Five Below

In our house we use a token economy to encourage our kids to be the best they can be. Instead of the old school "take something away" form of discipline (i.e. you can't go on the computer for a week because you talked back too much), we do the opposite. We reward good behavior first. Every month we choose three positive behaviors we want to see in our kids.

This month we chose:

  • Honesty
  • Kindness
  • Helpfullness

When their dad or I see these behaviors we can reward them with a token. We can give them as many tokens as we feel like throughout the day. They can also lose tokens by showing three negative behaviors we choose monthly.

This month we are deducting tokens for the following behaviors:

  • telling white lies
  • being mean to siblings
  • saying God in vain

Once they earn 30 tokens they got to take a trip to the reward closet. Before I told the kids about the token economy I took them on a shopping spree at Five Below where everything, everyday is just $5 and below. 

I gave them each a gift card, a budget, and 30 minutes to buy as many things for themselves that they wanted with the knowledge that they would not be able to immediately open what they purchased. Ever wanna see a kids insane excitement turn to emo gloom in about 6 seconds? Turn them loose in a store with toys, style, room, sports, tech, crafts, party, candy, & pre-teen goodieslet them buy stuff, and then tell them they can't have it. They. will. lose. their. minds. Luckily for me, the brights aisles of colorful Lego® and the Disney®  toys for days quickly stole their attention and soon the Five Below carts were full. They added up the totals of their items and put back what didn't fit in their budget. We loaded up the counter and even though they were absolutely DYING to play with something, just anything, they were both curious about the plan I had been keeping from them. With their hands full of the blue and white bags, we piled into our car. I began to tell them the plan of our new Token Economy.


That was two months ago and in that time both kids have earned a trip to the reward closet. Both kids are still excited about earning tokens on the daily. Both kids are NOT excited when they get them taken away. Now that a Five Below Reward closet trip has come and gone both are much more conscious of not getting their precious tokens taken from them. All in all, I think the token economy is gonna stick around for this family for a little while indeed. 



This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Five Below.


The Boogeyman Exists

I consider myself pretty well versed in all things social. I started this blog before blogging was blogging and I think I was #3 to jump on the Instagram bandwagon. My early instagrams were all hipstamatic photos. Yep. Hipstamatic. The lost (thank God) filter. And twitter? Don't get me started on Twitter. I practically invented it. Ha! Just kidding. I did, in fact, teach Michael Symon how to tweet. And boy look at him tweet! Over 565,000 followers in a few short years. LIKE WHOA.

So yeah, me and the social media go way way back. And for the most part I still love it. However as the minis get older my focus on social media turns from selfies & business promotion to how my kids will interact with social media and the internet. We are still a device free household with our kids and don't have any plans to get them phones. But even though they don't have phones they know what's happening on the internets. Kids in their classes have phones (not kidding, half of the 5th grade class has a phone) and information spreads like wildfire in school. So when my friend Pauline told me I had to go to Jesse Weinberger's talk on internet safety I decided to check it out hoping to gain some insight on "what the kids are up to these days."


Jesse Weinberger & Me at Gilmour Academy 

Jesse Weinberger & Me at Gilmour Academy 

Jesse's talk started out with a bang. She spoke of popularity and how now with the help of social media and the internet your popularity can be ranked and measured by your followers and likes. Back in our day popularity just kind of happened. Not so anymore. There is a ranking system in high school and it's called INSTAGRAM. I had never thought of it that way because I don't really give a shit if people like my photos on instagram but the kids do. And the likes, the like, they really matter. 

For the next three hours Jesse spoke of apps I had never heard of like Omegle (your kid talks to strangers in a 1 mile radius from where they are WTF) and another app that records kids as they sleep and pedos (that's what kids call pedophiles when they talk about this app) pay a fee to do so. So the kid puts their phone next to the bed, goes to sleep, and the next morning has $50 in his/her bank account. Ewwww, fuck people, ewww. Jesse's talk opened my eyes on so many levels. The most interesting aspect of her talk was the data she collects from the school she speaks at. She meets with students and they tell her everything they do on the internet. They tell her about their porn habits (high school kids watch ALOT of porn), they tell her about sexting, apps, how much time they spend on the internet, bullying, everything. It's pretty mind blowing when you see the data for grades 4-12 right in front of your face. The world has changed and our kids are being exposed to so much at such an early age. 

Her talk was really life changing for me. While I still use and love social media, I now know that I honestly don't have a clue. And if my kids are gonna make it through this crazy age of social media, as a parent I really need to have clue. 

Jesse speaks all over the country to schools, parents, businesses, and kids. I highly recommend checking her out. And if you are in Cleveland tomorrow, you can catch her talk in Chagrin Falls at the Chagrin Falls Schools Performing Arts Center from 7pm-9pm.. It's free but no kids allowed. And if you can't make one of her talks check out her book The Boogeyman Exists and follow her page on Facebook. 

Knowledge is power parents. Get it. Or don't. Maybe your kids looking at porn on Pinterest (YES PINTEREST) doesn't bother you but it sure as hell bothers me. 

And Pinterest, come on. Where did you go wrong?

Enough is Enough.

So politicians want teachers trained in diversionary tactics and GUNS in CLASSROOMS? Teachers that work in schools that politicians don't think need money or fair paychecks? Wonder who is going to pay for that? 

How about anyone who buys a gun has to be trained in how to own a gun? How about that? How about parents teach their children to respect guns like mine did? How about parents actual pay attention to the TERRIFYING video games that their children play that are filled with murder and violence (google most violent video games and watch them on YouTube, it is the most disgusting thing you will do today I promise)? How about this whole country stops thinking about their own political and financial interests are starts thinking about the value of human life? 

Diversionary tactics for teachers COME ON. I'm sorry but how about proper training and respect for guns. The people who are participating in these mass shootings are not respectful gun owners. They are messed up kids who shouldn't have a gun in the first place. Why do that have a gun? How did they get the gun? As the granddaughter of a police officer and as the niece of hunter I 100% do not have an issue with guns. I believe that people should be able to own guns (maybe not assault riffles and machines because the majority of people aren't RAMBO even if they think they are). However as an EDUCATED woman and MOTHER if I were going to get a gun, I would take a course on how to use said gun, I would research gun safety, I would make a plan to keep a gun safely in my home where my kids couldn't get it. But these kids who are shooting our CHILDREN are not in the right mind. They are getting guns somehow and using them to murder our children. 

I honestly don't know what the answer is on this issue...I don't think any of us do. No matter what political smokescreen we think we believe in. 

There are so many facets of these shootings, mental illness, pharmaceutical drugs, the ease of buying a gun, the violence on our screens, and the complacency with the value of human life to name a few...I do know that the ANSWER is not arming teachers in schools. What makes us think that these sick individuals wouldn't plan to take these guns from our armed teachers and shoot up schools? And honestly if that is the answer for these idiots who run our country, then as a mother and a parent I can't imagine sending my child to school in this country any longer. Our system is so broken in everything. It's no one man's fault. It's all of our faults. It's our fault for paying more attention to the Kardashians than the people we elected who are just lining their pockets with cash from whatever special interest gets their hooks in them. It's our fault for becoming complacent with the value of human life. It's our fault for being lazy. We don't read anymore. We post status updates on our cookie cutter beliefs and we close the computer. We don't talk to each other anymore. We just believe in one thing and count everyone out who believes in something else. We are at war with each other based on what political party we believe (they are the SAME btw) and instead of discussing change like our ancestors did when they created this once beautiful democracy we ignore the travesties that happen in our country because we forgot how to talk to each other. 

There has to be a revolution on all fronts. Everything is so messed up and all we do is rant on Facebook while our children lay in puddles of their own blood. 

Detroit Shoreway Revitalization Home Destroyed by Fire

This morning I woke up to the news that my brothers house caught fire in the Detroit Shoreway.

Two years ago my brother bought a building in the Detroit Shoreway to revitilize. He and his wife fell in love with the neighborhood and decided that they would buy a building, rehab it, and open his art studio and live in the apartments above as they worked on the building. 

Over the past two years my brother Matt made the forgotten building on Detroit Road beautiful again. The hardwood floors lost the years of dust and shone again. Their apartment after years of hard work and dedication turned into their home. They walked to restaurants in their neighborhood after a long day of construction and supported the community they chose to live in. Matt's beautiful art found a home in his new studio below their home in the Detroit Shoreway and Matt himself found a place to create works of art like nothing I've ever seen.  They started their first year of marriage in the apartment on Detroit Road and recently found out they would be having their first child together, a boy. Life was beautiful.

Until this morning at 3:37 am.

At 3:37 am their life forever changed. Their dog Rue woke them up to go out. Like we all do with our furry friends when they wake us up in the middle of the night, they shushed her to go back to sleep. But Rue persisted and when Matt and his pregnant wife Christa woke up they saw smoke. When they opened their apartment door they saw more smoke. Quickly realizing they were in the midst of a fire they grabbed Rue, their clothes and raced outside. They called 911 and watched their house burn down. 

Today my brother and sister in law lost everything but each other. They lost their clothes, their belongings, Matt's entire portfolio of art he has made since college, but most importantly they lost their home, the home they were going to raise their new family in. 

My brother Matt is one of the best dudes I know and his wife Christa is one of the most nurturing women I know. They started dating when they were 13 and have been soulmates ever since. They are beyond fun to hang out with and together they are humble, thoughtful, and kind.  When the Chef and I first moved back from NYC, I came back alone with the boy, while he finished up his 6 weeks notice. Yes, back then chefs actually gave real notice. I digress. At the time, even though Matt couldn't have been more than 19 years old he stepped in. He helped out with Catcher all the time. I never told him but he was my rock back then. I was so scared to be a mom and with the Chef in NYC it was so nice to be able to count on Matt. Eventually when the Chef moved back to Ohio, Matt's girlfriend (his now wife) became our babysitter. Early on they became a huge part of our family and a huge influence on our children. They are so important to our family and they need help. 

Can you imagine losing every thing you have ever had? Imagine walking into one room in your house and imagine everything gone, then walk to the next room and do the same. Do it for all your rooms and I guarantee you will be in tears. Every picture, every memory, everything piece of home gone. Each time I think about what they lost in the fire I am heartbroken for them. They are such good people who believed in Cleveland and believed in the Detroit Shoreway so much they made it their home. The love the gave to the city is only a sliver of the love we can give to them. 

I know that most of you don't know me or my brother Matt and his wife but I ask you to consider helping them out. Rebuilding a life is not easy. Rebuilding a life when you have a baby on the way is unimaginable. They gave their all to the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood and today they lost everything they had. A friend of theirs started a Go Fund Me page for them to help out with the monumental loss. If you can donate a little please do. If you can't please send them love and prayers and positivity. They need all the love and light they can get right now. 

Tonight I go to bed grateful that my brother and sister in law are alive. I go to bed grateful that come February their baby will enter this world. And tonight I especially go to bed grateful for this girl:

Rue, the hero dog of the Detroit Shoreway

Chefs Advocacy Foundation

There is a beautiful article in today's Crains about our restaurant group Team Sawyer.

The Chef sat down with Kathy Carr last week to chat and after a 2 hour interview my phone rang. The Chef had let it slip that I was in the startup phase of a non profit foundation called Chefs Advocacy Foundation.  


The Chef's Advocacy Foundation came to be because of the experiences the Chef and I have had over the years in the hospitality industry as well as watching countless friends go through many of the same things that we have gone through. I have seen friends lose restaurants because they couldn't afford to hire an attorney to look over contracts,  I have seen chefs sued for their creative property by profiteering partners, I have watched grown men choose to take their own life after being persecuted by people who saw the financial gain a celebrity chef can bring to the table.  The Chef and I have even had our own experiences with these kind of issues throughout the past 10 years of our professional careers. Had we been able to hire an attorney or even consult someone our path could have been much simpler. Chef's Advocacy Foundation will allow these kind of consultations to happen for those in the hospitality industry at no charge by way of legal aid through the foundation. 

"You can't make good deals with bad people or bad deals with good people."
-Richard Melman

The industry has other pitfalls as well besides profiteering partners and bad contracts. There are long hours, low pay, and the allure of the glamorous celebrity chef lifestyle. Addictions arise, mental health is put on the back burner, and hospitality fatigue happens. Chef's Advocacy Foundation will provide assistance in all of the above and more for anyone in the hospitality industry. These chefs give back so much to this industry and so many other industries that it's only right to start giving back to them. 

While we are still in the beginning phases of startup for this foundation we are always looking for help, ideas, thoughts, and input. If you are interested please reach out to me via email. And if you haven't check out the amazing Crain's Cleveland article on Team Sawyer, please do!