Together, we settled in. Jessica joined us, and the happy little family began their new life in Atlanta. I didn't stay very long at my first job. They were programming in a language called MUMPS, and C++ was the rage. I left there after my first year and joined a very small consulting company. It ended up being a fortuitious move. That little company merged, and grew, and merged, and grew, and unmerged and finally was bought out. I was there for the entire deal, in on the ground floor, and a key employee. I could afford my pot now.
We paid off the house, and the cars. There was no budgeting. No bills worth worrying about. We always saved more than we needed. A couple of years after that, Dee Dee and I began looking for our "thing". We wanted to take a shot at being our own boss, have our own company. For two years, we couldn't find anything we liked. We took the family to a little neighborhood pub that opened up down the street. It was called "Beef'O'Brady's". We loved it. We loved the food, the concept, and family oriented environment. We had found our thing.
In 2004, we signed the lease on our space, built our restaurant, and began cooking in earnest. We poured our heart and soul into 2800 square feet of space. It didn't take long to realize that the we had not opened a gold mine. The sales just weren't there. We worked hard, struggled to build our sales, and coped the best we could. Like a lot of new business owners, we bit off more than we could chew when we opened a second restaurant. Why we would open another store when the first one wasn't doing so well escapes me. That little dream collapsed in 9 months and scared the hell out of us. Fortunately for us, we were already back to being "shit house" poor by then, and the leasing company went after our business partner instead of us. We managed to escape non-the-worse for wear.
By this time, the other store was self sufficient. I had been pouring money into the store every three months or so to keep it running. Now, it had to survive on its own. There was no more money. I had committed my entire savings to the store and my two son's private school education. The store was coasting along, but it still wasn't doing well enough for Dee Dee to draw a pay check. We made a little money here and there, but regular pay was not forth coming. I fully realized it wouldn't take much to tip it over. I hoped and prayed for the best.
The economy took a turn for the worse, and that proved to be the "tipper". We got behind in the rent. The shopping center was already mad at us because we were disputing common area maintenance charges, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. We got our ten day notice in October. January 12th, we got the letter telling us to get out immediately.
Dee Dee and I put our heads together and tried to work out what was best for everybody. We could have stayed in the space until they forced us out with a court order, but that could've gotten ugly, and besides, it's just not our way of doing things. We thought it best to give our employees some notice so that they could take care of their jobs and their families. Plus, it gave us time to sell off our remaining stuff to pay our taxes, employees, and vendors. Saturday night, our last day in business, we would have a private party for our employees and friends to say good bye.
Friday night, we were extremely busy. Almost all of our regular customers were at the bar. So busy, as a matter of fact, that Dee Dee decided not to open for business on Saturday at all. I stopped by the store after Matthew's indoor soccer game and made the rounds. I wanted to personally invite each and every one of my regular customers to the going out of business party.
Dee Dee got up early Saturday and went to the store to meet a few of our employees and clean the place up. I stayed home, nursing a hang over from the previous night's stress reduction ceremonies. After getting a hair cut and buying Matthew a video game, I went back to the house to meet Dee Dee. She got cleaned up and purtied up for the party. She looked smashing. We went back to the store around 6PM to get the place ready. A neighboring franchisee came by and picked up all the stuff in our cooler and freezer. Dee Dee finally got another pay check. I went down to Publix and picked up party trays and beer. We had a good amount of fancy smancy beer still in the cooler, but very little regular beer like Bud and Bud Lite.
Everything started off pretty low key. It was just Dee Dee and I and a couple of our friends. The employees began to arrive, followed by more and more key customers. It didn't take long for things to heat up. My girls are a crazy bunch. Almost all of them had been with us for years. Some, since the store opened. There was dancing on the bar, body shots, including a few off of yours truly, and some display of boobies. I kept things reigned in a bit, but the leash was long. The kids needed to let it all hang out, and I was NOT going to spoil that for them.
Around 10:30, quarter till 11, Dee Dee decided that she had had enough. She'd been crying pretty much all week. It was time to say good bye. One of our friends put the theme song from Cheers on the overhead, followed by "Closing Time" and the tears started to flow. There were heartfelt speeches, more tears, and quite frankly, a few of them came from people that surprised me. You just don't realize, sometimes, how you touch people's lives until something like this happens.
We finally managed to shoo everybody out the door. It was just Dee Dee and I. We were ending just like we started. We turned off the radio, shut out the lights, and locked the door one last time.
There will be no more tears. We have work to do. For us, on this day, the dream has died...