My time as a restaurant owner provided me with some wonderful memories, a banging wine cellar and a collection of Albany-centric art. Not a bad take away really. I’ve finally hung the pieces I collected and couldn’t be happier with how they look on my walls. There are photographs, prints, a fine pencil drawing and a couple of watercolors and they’re a wonderful, tangible reminder of a chapter of my life that I was fortunate enough to experience.
First up, and apologies in advance for the less than stellar photo, is this incredible sketch of the interior of 200 Lark St. When I asked my friend, Ken Ragsdale, to do my required schematic for my liquor license application I had no idea that I would have this wonderfully detailed framed architectural drawing. It hung in a spot of honor at Lark + Lily and always garnered a tremendous amount of attention and I’m proud to have it now in my home.
The photos below were given to me by the remarkable Albert Gnidica, the man who is everywhere judging from the photos he posts on social media. I’m a fan of his work, particularly his skyline photos of downtown Albany, and I had these two mounted and framed locally. They did a really nice job and the photos looked great in the restaurant and equally good now in my living room.
A map of Albany’s neighborhoods is an image that evokes a few different emotions for me. I originally bought it at the Fort Orange General Store and was thrilled to see that the artist had included DelSo as one of the neighborhoods. Amazing, right? After popping the print into a frame and hanging it in one of the restrooms in L+L, where it perfectly covered an unsightly hole in the wall, it suffered some graffiti. Someone decided to take a black pen and, for reasons I’ll never know, attempted to scratch out DelSo. I was able to wipe it off, but it does make me a little sad sometimes when I think about what might motivate a person to do something like that. You can order one for yourself here. I think I want shirt.
This print, though, can cure any melancholia I might be feeling. I won it at Champagne on the Park’s silent auction and it is the last thing I see when I walk out of my house. I don’t knows how about art, but it feels kind of deco and the colors and depictions of Albany’s landmarks are joyful. Lee Dixon, the artist and graphic designer is a super nice guy and I’ve often seen his works for sale at local art events. He’s also done some awesome postcards that I’ve seen at Elissa Halloran’s shop on Lark Street.
Stay tuned for Picturing Albany – Part II
As of 4:55 on a Wednesday in June, I no longer belong to the ranks of business owner – and it feels great. The transaction was as low-key and undramatic as are all of the involved parties. The deal was put together without realtor representation and the terms were easily agreed upon with minimal negotiation. I walked out of the attorney’s office downtown positively elated.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been moments in the past few months when I had twinges of regret and times when I had to fight against a feeling of having failed. Maybe if I had done X or Y differently, perhaps I needed to stick it out longer or make dramatic changes to achieve the level of success necessary to make remaining in business an appealing prospect. Ultimately though, I know this was the right move. I can return to what I do best and enjoy most – providing hospitality. Later, for you Quickbooks and Paychex. We’re officially over.
The experience of owning a business has been life changing. I tried something I never imagined doing. I stretched myself thinner than ever before and did not allow myself to get broken. It was more than, as I overheard one of my former employees say, “that old cliche, a waitress who thinks she can be an owner.” See, unlike the person who uttered that statement, I could be an owner. It just didn’t bring me joy and joy, not money, not ego, is the currency of my life.
I’m so excited to witness the success of Mio Posto and to play even a small part in that goal. I’ve worked a couple of nights already and Danny’s food is exactly at the level that I knew it would be – creative, high quality and composed with passion and professionalism. It’s wonderful. I wasn’t certain how it would feel to be “just” an employee, but I’m really happy to fill that role and to realize that my pride comes from providing guests with a memorable dining experience, not from signing paychecks.
I’ve written before about some of what I’ve learned from owning a business, specifically a restaurant. I recently reread that piece and, while every single thing I said at that time remains true, I was struck more by what I didn’t say. It was pretty friggin vague in a lot of ways.
I went into the project with an ultimate goal of creating a warm, comfortable environment for a diverse group of guests, feeding them and taking care of them with sincere professionalism. God, that sounds pretty damn Pollyanna-esque, yes? Note: making money was never primary. I’ve concluded I’m not a good businesswoman, but I am a good hostess and that’s truly more important to me.
I’m sure it’s challenging to work for someone like me. I was not incredibly consistent, other than about the ambiance I wanted to create. I gave a lot of leash because it wasn’t possible for me to be on site enough hours to micromanage all the details. Maybe that was perceived as a lack of interest, but that wasn’t really the case.
If I couldn’t be there, I couldn’t be certain that the business was reflecting me and my hospitality sensibilities. If the business wasn’t projecting the way I wanted it to, it frustrated me, a feeling which was multiplied by all the pressure to keep things going. My business life was negatively impacting the quality of my life, something I just won’t tolerate.
Physically, I could do it. I let the accountant go and began managing all the banking and invoicing and daily sales journal activities. I figured it the f*ck out. I canceled the linen service and took on the laundry, front and back of the house. Despite all of this additional responsibility, and the physical exhaustion from running 20+ miles a week, I couldn’t sleep more than 3 hours before being interrupted by thoughts of the restaurant. Mentally doing math, feeling heavier and missing free time and, now, missing rest.
Something had to change.
Danny & Heidi Urschel
Thursday night I had the pleasure of working alongside Danny & Heidi Urschel, the couple who are in the process of purchasing my business. Weeks ago I had mentioned to them that Champagne on the Park was a big event for our neighborhood and suggested they participate by providing some food and their presence as a means of introducing themselves to Lark St. It was a perfect evening and I was really pleased by the welcome offered by residents and Lark + Lily regulars. Mio Posto is going to be a wonderful addition to the neighborhood.
In the weeks since Danny, Heidi and I first met to talk about their business occupying 200 Lark Street our “negotiations” have consistently been easy. We have the same goal – get me out and get them in and make them successful. Simple. They, and their concept, are absolutely perfect for the beautiful space I’ve called my own and it truly feels like the stars aligned to bring us all together in the right place at the right time.
In some ways, the sale of my business reminds me of my divorce. There’s a lot of stuff to itemize and assign ownership, lawyers are involved and there’s a mess of paperwork. Similar, right? The other thing consistent with my divorce process and the sale of the business, is a conscious effort to keep an eye on the ultimate goal. In the first instance it was all about what was best for the children, while in the current situation it is about what is best for the very special space that is 200 Lark. The civility of our divorce earned the boys’ dad and me the title of posterchildren of healthy divorce and I fully expect the same positive transition to occur with the business transaction.
As I get closer to the end of my business endeavor, I feel an array of emotions – satisfaction, twinges of sadness, excitement, relief and acceptance. I’ve learned a lot of things in the past two years and it’s going to take some time for me to process it all. The takeaway, though, is that I have few regrets. As Memorial Day weekend and finalizing the sale draws closer, I’m truly looking forward to the summer with a new appreciation of the time I will have available to spend doing things I’ve missed. It’s going to be fun.
For the second time in my nearly 30 years of living in Albany, I got a parking ticket. This recent ticket was much less traumatic than the one I received when I was an undergraduate student. That time cost me some serious cash because the car, which wasn’t mine, actually got towed to Joe’s Osborne Street Garage. That, my friends, sucked.
When I first saw that slip of paper under my wiper blade I immediately thought “Who can I contact to make this go away?” It’s what people do, right? I know some folks who might be able to “take care of it” for me so I could keep that $50 in my pocket.
But, then I started thinking – who the hell am I to consider myself to be exempt from paying a fine for parking in an area that clearly says “No Parking Ever?” Even though the regulation is borderline ridiculous, there was no ambiguity about what the sign said so, suck it up, buttercup. I guess I’ve got a check to write.
Whenever the conversation turns to city life you know that the topic of parking is going to come up. While many of us have no issue with doing a couple of laps, or even walking a few blocks from our car to our destination, there are quite a few people who absolutely will not venture somewhere without “convenient” parking. Truth.
As someone who is accustomed to considering a parking spot within a half mile of my location when in NYC to be a real find, I don’t completely understand that mindset, but as a business owner, I need to be cognizant of it. Since purchasing my Lark Street business, I’ve spent a fair amount of time eyeing the county owned parking lot a half a block from Lark Street. You know, the one between Lark and Henry Johnson on Washington Avenue that essentially is nearly empty beyond the county business day? Yeah. That one.
I’ve had conversations with the Lark Street BID, a person from the county, people from the city and someone from the parking authority. The end result: nothing. Zero progress.
Here’s the thing – some businesses in the neighborhood have promoted the evening use of that parking facility to their guests via social media. I’ve got pictures to prove it. There’s a nearby church that has a sandwich board which they place in the lot of Sundays inviting their worshippers to park in that very lot during services. Have they been given the green light by officials or are they merely rolling the dice and taking a chance?
I’m not going to lie – I’m really irked by the lack of consistency regarding both permission to park and the enforcement of the county’s policy that the lot is exclusively for county employees. It seems unfair, incredibly inefficient and it bothers me. Why is a prime asset to neighborhood businesses not being used to its potential? At a time when localities are struggling for revenue, wouldn’t it be logical to make this lot available in the evenings and on the weekends to potential customers and charge them a fair fee for the convenience?
Come on, Albany. You can and must do better.
Yesterday afternoon, as I met with a representative from the Alliance for Positive Health to discuss our involvement with their annual event,* Dine Out for Life, I learned that we had received a voice mail cancelling a reservation for that night. It seems that the caller had reconsidered spending their money in my business because of something that offended them on one of our social media platforms. Scrolling through our feeds, I can only conclude that our support for the Women’s March, and Planned Parenthood specifically, conflicted with their own beliefs.
My initial reaction was one of angry disdain – screw them, whatever. After 12 hours of contemplation, I’m reconsidering my response and I’ve been able to transition to respectful acceptance. I understand that it is hypocritical for me to mock anyone for their political or religious beliefs. If I allow myself to fall into that trap, I’m truly no better than the current President and I refuse to fall to that level.
I’d like to think that all of us make thoughtful choices about how and where we spend our dollars. I know I do. Owning a business along with a series of social/political beliefs can be challenging and it’s probably inevitable that we will alienate some potential guests with, ironically, our spirit of acceptance. I imagine the folks who cancelled their plans to dine with us were able to find a destination that they deemed more palatable than the one we offered to them. I hope they enjoyed their evening as much as the 44 guests who purchased our Saturday night cocktail special, Pussycat Punch, enjoyed their drinks or close to as much as I enjoyed writing that donation check to Planned Parenthood.
*More about that April 27, 2017 event as it gets closer.