My pursuit of a dream meant that I continued to ignore the signs of growing animosity coming from my hastily installed assistant now general manager. Because I had viewed him as a moron I hadn’t considered him a threat to my business. I could not have been more wrong. His ability to attach his lips to the owner’s ass was beyond anything I have ever witnessed and when you have two incompetent individuals, both in a place of power and authority, feeding off of each other’s insatiable greed – well, there was no surviving the nuclear attack I had created.
It was the subtle things at first, the stubborn reluctance to receive the restaurant’s prepared foods for sale in the C-store, or the lack of follow up on infrastructure maintenance that was the responsibility of the owner. My lease arrangement was for the space and included all utilities so therefore all utilities and maintenance on the space was the owner’s responsibility – that is when he wanted to get around to doing something about it.
Then there was the not following through with the building of an outdoor patio. Or the gelato shop set-up, where all equipment and set-up costs suddenly landed on me. If that wasn’t enough the general manager then took my newly designed menu and began to tear it apart, which brought the owner into the mix who also gave me a bunch of trouble for changing the menu, changing the prices, and changing anything in the restaurant. His expectations was that I would run the restaurant as it was and pay him the privilege of doing so. Apparently I had overlooked that line in the contract.
Despite the best efforts of the general manager and the owner, my business was booming and I was well on my way to breaking a million dollars in gross sales for that first year. Through some very creative and aggressive ad campaigns and several changes I had made I was experiencing at least a 20-30% increase in sales. This came with staff stresses and I needed to make some personnel changes early on in order to make sure I had a strong team that could handle the business.
But from the corner of my eye I would see the general manager, coffee in hand, standing on top of his perch in the corner of the C-store, peering over towards the restaurant, or staring at me from the second floor. He was plotting against my success, but even in those early days I still considered him nothing more than a stooge. My own arrogance had blinded me because in reality it was I who was the stooge and I was about to find out how.
The owner was complaining that my lease arrangement was not fair and he was suspicious that I was hiding some of my business from him so he instructed the general manager to constantly be auditing my financial records. I was given restricted access to the restaurant’s computer system out of concern that I had figured out how to change the financial reporting, of which my lease payments were based on. This then lead to my agreement with the owner to supply the rest of the truck stop with prepared food being broken. Then, I was no longer able to continue to operate the gelato shop. I was no longer allowed to utilize any other space in the complex apart from the restaurant, which I was using for some catering business that I had been developing.
But then it got nasty.
Since I was a 24 hour restaurant it didn’t occur to me that the general manager would come to my restaurant when I was not there and talk to my staff. This he did, starting with my overnight staff. He talked to them, convincing them that I was a lousy boss and that if they quit and came and work for him he would make sure that they were paid well and taken care of. I lost my overnight cook and a server almost immediately. I was able to replace them relatively quickly but I was still reeling from the blow.
It was becoming clearer that I couldn’t take time off or be away from the restaurant for any amount of time because the general manager, who would spend his days sipping coffee from his perch would wait until I drove off the lot and then move his base of operations into my restaurant and begin to sow seeds of discontent with my employees. It was worse then a militant union organizer who had a quota to make or else he would end up with a pair of concrete shoes.
I would find out about these intrusions and would walk over to the C-store to confront him. He would remain seated in his perch and would mock me – taunt me – declaring that this was his business and his complex and that he would go and do whatever the hell he wanted to do. I knew I couldn’t find support with the owner as the general manager was wearing an every present shade of shit-colored lipstick. Coincidentally, the owner was deciding to stay away for much longer periods of time, essentially cutting himself off from me.
I was becoming unglued. At the front of the restaurant the business kept walking in the front door but behind the scenes, I was being undermined at every turn. Now, I walked with the added anxiety of not knowing if my staff was loyal to me or had bought in to the cascading promises that the general manager was making over in his corner of this complex.
And then that happened.
I was exhausted, worn out mentally, physically, emotionally from fighting this battle for the last six months. Both my wife and I were actively working shifts in the restaurant, between the both of us trying to be on site for as long as possible – often at the neglect of our own family obligations. I was battered and bruised and each day I would show up that moron turned super-villain would be sitting up on his perch, sipping his coffee, pointing and mocking from afar. I didn’t know how much longer I could take this but little did I know that decision was about to be made for me.
I arrived early at the restaurant – I believe on a Wednesday or Thursday of that fateful week. I was shocked at what I found, tears in my eyes, and anger in my fists as I walked into a darkened restaurant. There was a makeshift sign put up at each entrance to the restaurant that read, “Restaurant closed. Sorry for any inconvenience. Management.”
He had dealt me a death blow.
After I tore down his makeshift signs, written with a black marker in a hurry, I could have gone into my restaurant and opened it up. But I didn’t. Perhaps it was because there were no staff there and I had not received a phone call from anyone. Obviously this was more than an effort on the general manager’s part – some of my key staff had given into the dark side and helped set this up – deciding not to show up in order to drive home the point.
Yes, I could have fought this illegal shut-down. I could have fired those staff members who helped orchestrate this shut-down. But my fight was gone. As long as he controlled the light switch I was at his mercy. I had created a monster in my own pursuit of success and I was now paying the price for my shortsightedness.
With deep sadness mixed with a sense of relief because it was now over, I made some calls to those employees I knew were still loyal to me and asked them to come in. There was no way I was going to walk away leaving a fully stocked restaurant for the owner to take as well, so I spent the next several hours emptying my restaurant of everything that was not the owner’s. I cleaned it and turned off all of the equipment, leaving through the back door when I was done.
I have never set foot in that place since that fateful day. I spoke to a lawyer about my situation and was informed that I would most definitely win if I decided to sue, however to fight the battle in the courts would cost me $10,000. I just had my restaurant ripped away from me – my business that my wife and I had poured all of our resources into. The last thing we had was money to fight this.