November 2, 2015

Conversations from Above

Recently, on a flight from Rome to New York I met a woman whom I will call Kathleen. Our conversation began awkwardly as she noticed my concern while she swallowed a handful of pills with her Baileys and cream. She laughed and reassured me that what she had was not contagious, but PTSD. Kathleen was in the US Army, and had recently left active duty.  Now she was here, sharing her stories and pretzels with me.

It’s a 10 hour flight; the conversation we shared that evening went deep and made its mark. We discussed our struggles growing up, our life paths, and her feelings about military life. At one point, she asked, “when did you realize that hospitality consulting was what you wanted to do with your life?” The question took the wind right outta me.

I tossed it around for a minute when the answer hit me like 30 pounds of spongy injera–it was that Ethiopian restaurant in Culver City, from the way-back!

Early in my career (over 10 years ago), I met an Ethiopian husband and wife team through a restaurant contractor I knew. The couple had met each other while working in a popular deli, fell in love and got married, and had been saving up for 15 years with the dream of opening their own Ethiopian restaurant.

The owners (who had already been paying rent on the commercial property) hired me to draft up a floor plan and kitchen design. Their broker had assured them that the space had previously been used as a restaurant and therefore permits would not be a problem–FYI this is the kind of textbook scenario that, unfortunately, I still must warn clients about today.

And so it goes, we immediately filed plans with the Health Department and Building and Safety Department for review. However, any prior permits for the space were vague and didn’t carry enough weight to consider the space for restaurant use. The location would be subject to all current zoning provisions such as requiring additional parking the property did not have.

As bleak as things looked for my clients, I refused to backdown. And this was the moment when I knew that I was doing something I believed in. I realized that I had the talent and drive necessary for navigating the complicated bureaucratic jungles of codes and permits, so to truly help people actualize their dreams and open doors.

In the end, all panned out well for the owners who enjoyed a long running, thriving business. Their success and the continued successes of all our clients serve as constant reminders that I am on the right path.

It’s pretty great what a 10 hour flight, a nice stranger, and a little Baileys can stir up.