This is Day 5 in a month of posts about how I came to own a pay-what-you-can vegan lunch café in the middle of meat-and-potatoes Midwest America. If you’d like to learn more about the café, I invite you to visit the website or find us on Facebook.
So I’m feeling, as I write this, all of the trepidation that consumed me a year ago. Re-living it, right down to the nervous energy in my gut: the sense of possibilities tipping into overwhelm, the to-do list that never got shorter, just re-worked, as one thing replaced the next in a long line of oh-yes-we-need-to-do-that-too. The gnawing fear that it wasn’t going to work, that people wouldn’t come, that if they did come I wouldn’t have anything to feed them.
I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at pretty food on the internet. I also spent more than a minute searching for suitable carry-out containers.
When I finally found them, and decided on the right size, and the right quantity, it took me most of an evening before I could make myself click the buy button. After living so frugally for so many years, spending money was kind of freaking me out, even in the wee small amounts I was spending, even for the absolutely necessary things I was buying. Carry-out boxes, food-handler gloves, liquid soap for the washroom. It was ridiculous.
But I felt as though I had no margin for error.
Years ago, when I was getting ready to open my coffeehouse, one of the sales reps for an espresso machine I was considering — one that cost more than I felt I could spend — offered a bit of advice. “Don’t save yourself out of business.” Meaning: spend what you need to get what you need.
Carry-out containers, gloves, liquid soap. Check.
My journal from last December is full of affirmations. Positive thinking. Cheerleading myself along as the weeks passed and everything got very real. I ran the numbers again and again, in different configurations. Projected food costs, meals served, average payment. It all looked okay on paper. I’m not anxious about this, I wrote.
Dear friend, I was very anxious.
Of course, all my friends were anxious at this time last year. The country had just elected Donald Trump president. At least I had something to take my mind off that.
So in the weeks leading up to serving our first lunch at the cafe, while the country was upside down trying to figure out how the unthinkable had happened, my daughter and I talked food. Made lists of food. Soups and savory tarts, tajines and rice bowls. We talked vegetables: what went with what, and was it better to roast or cook in a skillet? (Both, depending.) Did we want to include things like processed vegan cheese, tofu, textured vegetable protein? (No, maybe, absolutely not.)
Ask anyone who likes to host dinner parties: planning the menu is the best part.
I put in my two-week notice at the coffee bar just before Christmas. On my last day, right after the new year I got a two-word text from my (soon-to-be-former) employer: good luck.
Breathe, I wrote in my journal. Again and again. Breathe.