"Oh, I just love Cucina Paradiso," I've heard people say.
And it's a fine restaurant.
Or people might say, "I LOVE Maya del Sol!"
And I like that place a lot, too.
But does anyone love either of these excellent restaurants enough to put in their spare time toward fixing them up, building new furniture, getting city permits and then actually doing the construction? Would you work, free of charge, to help a favorite restaurant do better business?
Of course not…and these restaurants don't need your help. They're both well-capitalized businesses that can afford to get professional contractors to do the work.
With smaller mom n' pop places, however, it's a different story. Restaurant margins are not huge, even at expensive places (Noma, regularly at the top of the world's best restaurants, has yet to turn a profit). At less expensive places, it's a very, very tough business, indeed.
I was touched when a friend, Matt Zatkoff, told me that he and some others were putting in many hours of their otherwise free time to help out the folks at Rainbow Thai Cuisine, a small restaurant on Chicago's north side (4825 N. Western) owned by husband-wife team Pramote Rukprueksachart and Wanpen Phosawang.
As Zatkoff told me, ""As anyone who has met Wanpen and Pramote knows, they aren't your average restaurant proprietors. They're so warm and welcoming. When I started eating there two or three times a week, Pramote would make time to chat with me about anything. Before I knew it, I was basically part of their family, occasionally even bussing tables and taking orders when they got busy.
"Hanging out at Rainbow," recalls Zatkoff, "the subject of expansion came up often. I really pushed the idea. We were not asked to help. I don't even think there was a point when I said 'I'll help!' The project just kind of came together naturally over time. For better or worse, it's in my nature to go over my head into any project I get involved with, so that's probably why this expansion became much more than just throwing some more used tables and chairs into an empty room."
Answer Book 2019
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