Thriving cities depend on the adventurous among us, who alter the urban landscape when they forge their own successful paths.
Each month, we ask an influential San Diegan: What was it like for you in the beginning?
Live: Bankers Hill
Work: Marina District, Bankers Hill and East Village
How Long: Since 1990
What was the moment that propelled you to open Cafe 222 and later to expand?
I have always worked in restaurants… always. I did stints in retail and in window design, but always worked nights in restaurants. I loved the vibe, loved the people and loved the crazy hard work.
When I lived in Seattle right out of high school, I started a little business called “The Surrogate Wife,” (yes, a bit sexist) where I cooked, baked and grocery shopped for many of the single professional athletes in town. The business captured a lot of media attention (I think because of the sexist name) and eventually I sold my story to a production company in Los Angeles, where it was turned into one of those so-cheesy-it’s-good Lifetime TV movies. I was paid for the story, hired as the technical consultant and made my “acting debut” playing a dumb blonde (a ballplayer’s girlfriend). I took the money I made from the movie, sold the business and moved to San Diego.
I immediately started looking for a spot to open a little restaurant of my own. I met one of the partners of a new SRO that was being built and he invited me to come look at the space in “a new area of downtown,” called the Marina District. I set up a meeting with the all of the building owners, created mock lunch menus, sponge painted “Cafe 222” on a white apron, cooked lunch and gave a little presentation. Cafe 222 opened about six months later. They took a risk on me… I had no restaurant cooking experience and no previous restaurant ownership. I only had years and years of working in the industry and a big dream.
What struggles did you face when starting your own business?
In the beginning, I was undercapitalized. I spent every nickel on the build-out. I remember closing at 2:30 p.m. after lunch and taking out whatever money was in the drawer, riding my bike up to the produce market (which used to be where Petco Park is) for enough supplies to make it through dinner. None of the commercial vendors would give me credit because I had never had a credit card and had no personal net worth at the time.
The one thing I will always remember is that I earned my money one waffle at a time. It keeps me from being hasty or extravagant in my decision making.
What was the riskiest business move you ever made?
Every time I open a new place I feel like I am taking a big risk. I lose sleep, I lose weight, I forget to pick my kids up at school… I become a wreck. “Do I really need another place?” Every restaurant is so different. I don’t care how many years any of us have been doing this, it’s like starting over every single time.
If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you would do differently?
I wish I would have “let go” a little earlier and let the good and qualified people I hired do their jobs. I would have had a lot more fun when I was younger.
Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?
I doubt it… a person gets a little bossy after being in charge for all these years.
What personality traits must a successful restauranteur possess?
Thick skin and a sense of humor. You must have the ability to let criticism roll off your back. Especially these days with Yelp, where everyone has free reign to have at ya. Also, to understand that you will never make everyone happy. If you did make everyone happy, you would have a very watered-down version of what your original vision was.
In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what 3 words describe how you might have felt?
Wow…she’s still around.