As the Los Angeles restaurant community continues to struggle and adapt with no hope of immediate indoor dining in sight, another heartbreaking closure was announced today. Josh Kopel, proprietor of the Michelin Guide-recognized Preux & Proper in downtown L.A. is closing the gates. He shared this moving page from his diary with L.A. Weekly.
“Temper us in fire, and we grow stronger. When we suffer, we survive.” — Cassandre Clare, City of Heavenly Fire
What if you had the opportunity to start all over again, but this time, knowing everything you do now. No, you don’t get back the time or money you lost on your last project; you only get the luxury of hindsight that experience affords.
Welcome to my world.
Preux & Proper was an investment, not in a restaurant but in a community. I saw a resilience and an optimism in the residents of downtown Los Angeles, and I wanted to serve them. Almost a decade after making that choice, I find myself coming to terms with the death of that dream. Preux and Proper will not be reopening at 840 South Spring street. The past is prologue. The only thing that matters is the present and, in this moment, my restaurant is homeless.
I know I’m not alone. There are many restaurateurs without restaurants at the moment. As we look toward the future, we are each given the opportunity to evaluate the choices and compromises made over the years, as well as the costs incurred. I’ve come to many realizations over the last several quarantined months, but these are the biggest.
I was never a restaurateur. I was a restaurant manager with an equity stake. I spent my life dreaming of being a restaurateur, popping between locations, offering advice and inspiration to my teams, launching community-building events, etc. How did I really spend my days? Washing dishes because the dishwasher didn’t show up. Helping the staff clean the restaurant to save a few minutes of labor. Trying to fix a fryer in an effort to avoid the repair fees. Sound familiar? I hope not.
I’m not knocking the idea of playing an active role in your business, but I now clearly see the difference between working on your business and working in your business. I never escaped the day to day grind for long enough to take that ownership role.
If I’m honest, I enjoyed the busywork. It made me feel needed and productive, but that was never my dream. It was merely a natural evolution that occurred by choosing to tackle the “easiest” tasks instead of focusing on the big picture.
Achieving excellence in my career is not the same as achieving excellence in life. As I write this, the 2019 Michelin Guide sits on my desk with a little tab bookmarking where my restaurant is listed. That short paragraph in that little book can tell you everything you need to know about me as a restaurateur.
What it doesn’t tell you is who I am as a son, a spouse, a friend or as a father. It doesn’t mention the struggles endured by everyone around me who sacrificed, compromised, and picked up the slack so that I could focus on my career. I never took my success for granted but never fully appreciated the people in my life that made that success possible.
Hospitality transcends our industry. It is a state of mind and needs to be evangelized. The biggest lesson to come out of FULL COMP is the importance of hospitality. The benefits that come from adopting a service-oriented perspective are boundless.
In the restaurant industry, we succeed by injecting a personal connection into a financial transaction. Our guests aren’t paying for food; they’re paying for an experience. They want to be served, cared for, and feel valued.
These are universal desires, and they transcend the foodservice industry. Now, when I begin to chart the path forward, I see that every business is in the hospitality industry. I wonder if it’s possible to inject our values into other business models. I wonder if I’m locked within the four walls of a restaurant or if our values have a transcendent quality.
Could it be our industry that leads the world on a new, more considerate path?
If our entire industry can be torn apart and stitch itself back together in a matter of months, I can do the same with my life and my career. Aristotle said, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d rather have been talking.” I’ll start by listening to the greatest minds of our time and sharing their wisdom with our community so that we never, ever find ourselves in this vulnerable position again.
Despite my fears, I’m wading out into these uncertain waters with only one destination in mind: to be of service.