A few folks have asked me what was the greatest challenge I've faced while opening this joint. I might make a joke about the ghosts in the space or the drunk electrician whose creations are still coming back to haunt me (on Thursday, 45 minutes before service, the circuit breaker caught on fire). There was water. There were smells. Yeah, all that.
But you can control those things. What I can't easily control are the relationships between myself and my staff, and their relationships with each other. To gain the respect of my staff so that they value their work and their own very particular contribution to this restaurant is by far the greatest challenge I've faced. It's not always -- as some would lead me to believe -- about being kind. One also needs to set examples. I'm learning that.
The most difficult thing I've faced personally is how to balance compassion and understanding with good business sense. This is a fascinating and frustrating place to operate a business; maintaining a working relationship with someone can sometimes, at least in my own experience, force you to bend your own boundaries of right and wrong.
But service and kitchen work are also jobs that demand great professionalism and care and attention to detail and ridiculous hours and for all that rewards people with a pretty crappy salary. So sometimes, to keep everything from falling apart you need to let a few things slip. But in this elaborate dance between figuring out what is right for me and what's going wrong behind my back I've had to trust my instincts most. The thing is, I haven't. I've been conned a little and lied to a bit and accepted far more of that than I ever thought I might. (I do not think this is unique to Thailand, sensitive netizens. I think it is unique to the restaurant business. So please, relax your angry fingers.)
In the end, my gut has always been right. I knew the designers of the restaurant were incompetent fools. I gave them a second chance, and for my generosity they screwed me. I knew that a former staff member was a corrosive force, yet I let him stay and corrupt the culture of my place. And now I wonder when I'll really, truly trust my instincts. Now is a good time to start, I suppose.