Discover more from Bridget McGinty's Newsletter
Oh My! This Oughta Be Good!
Guys! It’s happening again and I am powerless to stop it! I think I am opening another Tastebuds, here in Cork! Well, it will bear its name anyway, but it will have to be a one-woman operation and mobile this time. Was I scarred by the pandemic? Yes, of course! Has Ireland taught me that bigger is not always better? Indeed!
This is becoming a real nail-biter as I am down to my last $10,000 from the sale of my house in Tremont. While there were business opportunities I wanted to pursue when I had the cash to do so, I didn’t yet have permission to remain in Ireland or the right to own a business, so I invested in a home for Ari and me instead. With the dire housing crisis in Ireland and the ever-rising interest rates on mortgages, it is a great comfort to own our own home and nothing short of a miracle that we ended up in an ideal location and with the best neighbors you could ask for. Midleton, Cork is close to everything and it is just a short walk to all that I deem essential in life; a cinema, playground, great school for Ari, grocery store, pharmacy, bike shop, train station, and a weekly farmers market! I believe I’ve mentioned the distillery a time or two already!
Since most jobs cooking pay very little and require long hours, mostly during the evening and weekends, I’ve decided that my best hope to keep writing and being there as much as possible for Ari is to purchase a food trailer. While it is certainly riskier and much more labor-intensive than just about every alternative, I will be able to set my own hours, and holidays and I’ll be able to bring Ari to work with me!
Finding a food trailer within my budget was difficult, but I think I’ve narrowed it down to one, the only one I can afford! The owners were asking for 7,000 euros but will take 5 to be rid of it! I know this pain all too well. I sold my Tastebuds food truck for $15,000 after spending $35,000 on it and only using it for one year, the year Ari was born! Obviously, it became too much for me to take on after that, and I had to sell it.
The trailer needs a bit of work and a fresh coat of paint, and a sign of course! Taking this on is incredibly daunting considering I don’t know anyone in the trades or restaurant business here as I do in Cleveland, but my mom always said, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it!” This was long before Tom Hanks popularized a similar quote in A League of Their Own!
She also taught me to always write a list of pros and cons before making any decision and to do my homework. When I googled ‘Reasons Not to Open a Food Truck Business,’ weather was number one on the top ten list because of its unpredictability! “No problem!” I thought to myself, I know that the weather will be cold and rainy most of the time. No surprises here! Luckily, I made a trip to LL Bean before leaving Cleveland earlier this month, and I’ve got top-notch rain gear, from head to toe to keep me dry!
Side Note: If you are thinking of taking advantage of these new Aer Lingus direct flights between Cleveland and Dublin, a trip to LL Bean is definitely in order!
I may have secured a permanent location for my food trailer just off the main road in Midleton and two blocks from the Jameson Distillery, so you all have no excuse but to come and see me for a salad, sandwich, or simply a cup of coffee and a lively chat after your whiskey tour! Of course, I’m hoping to have the same hours I did in Cleveland, so plan accordingly! It’s looking like I’ll be open Tuesday-Saturday 11-2 pm and closed December 21st-March 1st if I can afford it!
About a year after I bought our house and filled it with slightly more than the essentials, and I was down to $30,000 in the bank, I sat Ari down and told him that we had to really cut down on our spending. I explained that we could only afford to buy necessities from now on. When I told him we were about to be broke, he asked why I didn’t just go get a job and I explained that he was still too young to be by himself and I couldn’t afford a childminder on a chef’s salary.
Perhaps I went into too much detail after that, but when I was a child, I wanted to be treated as an adult and told the truth, so it’s definitely possible that I tell Ari more than I should as a result. A few days later, I was working at my desk and I heard a scuffle among the lads who were playing outside. Ari came in in tears and slammed the door and plopped down onto the couch behind me. I leaned over him, held his red face in one hand, and stroked his hair with the other while asking what was wrong and what had happened.
He said, “One of the boys said, ‘I think I speak on behalf of everyone that saying that you and your mom are broke because you are down to your last $30,000 is offensive.’ and now they’re all making fun of me!” I could not help but burst into laughter, imagining too, how it would’ve sounded with an Irish brogue! Soon I had Ari sitting up laughing along with me when I said, “Well…he isn’t wrong! Mommy may have deserved that!” Then I spent ten minutes giving him countless examples of what perspective is until he finally understood and gave his own examples, like being disappointed that his Oreos weren’t double-stuffed when some people don’t have Oreos at all!
How funny that my days of wine and roses are now my days of double-stuffed Oreos. I’m gonna miss those!
Bridget McGinty's Newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
When Last We Spoke…
I was revisiting the armed robbery at Tastebuds Restaurant as well as some troubling interactions with customers that led to a fear of bodily harm, false accusations, and the threat of a frivolous lawsuit. I mentioned how abruptly a situation can arise at a restaurant and how quickly it can escalate which can change your life forever, even ending it for some. 2004 was both, the worst year of my life and the best (before Ari was born, I mean!)
While going through all of it, I searched for a way to remind myself to never, ever put myself through the torture of owning or building another restaurant ever again, and I decided to pierce my nose. That way, every time I looked into the mirror, I would be reminded of the pain! The following are just a few tales of the triumph and trouble I lived and endured during that year. Enjoy!
September 23rd, 2003
I finally opened my dream restaurant on September 8th and every day since then I’ve been inspired to write in my journal, but I’ve been overwhelmed by the challenge of putting into words how this feels. Time has passed and now I’ve calmed down enough to try to put into words what my life has become. It’s a comfort to know that I have my dream at 32 years old! I am through searching. Everything I love surrounds me and inspires me 24/7. My mom AND my dad have been working at Tastebuds. I don’t think there is anything that could make me feel more proud and more loved and more blessed. I’m in a dream state during our busy lunch rush.
Customers rave about the place and the food and my parents inform them that it’s their daughter Bridget’s place. They point to me and I smile at them, as I frantically put together to-go orders and answer the phone that rings off the hook! We have been so busy, but still not busy enough to make a profit, but so what! I believe that what I am creating here, offering a healthier alternative to fast food is more important than focusing on profitability. I laugh. What would change in my life if I had money? I want for nothing! (Ok, if I’m being 100% honest, I’ve always wanted a Porsche, but that can wait till my house is paid off!)
Paul’s music studio is coming together. My paint studio is close to ready and I have a black leather vintage chair next to a small blue table with a reading lamp (where I am now) that is strictly for creative writing. So far this week I’ve made three fabulous dinners. Sunday I made grilled pork chops with redskin potatoes sautéed with apples and bacon and boiled green beans. I made a sherry beurre blanc and drizzled it all over everything before finishing it off with cracked black pepper. Monday I roasted a chicken with lemon, garlic, potatoes, onions, celery, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Tonight I put some leftover chicken and vegetables over wild rice and finished it with a Lake Catawba wine reduction.
Rewarding my hard work every day with an afternoon nap, red wine with every dinner and dark chocolate for dessert, baths in my pink jacuzzi tub, and trips to Starbucks in the early evening. I truly want for nothing! Well…there is one thing! I want to be done with permits and inspectors, codes and city ordinances, architects and mechanical engineers, lying landlords and cheating contractors, phone calls and meetings, and going to bed every night and waking every morning wondering if it’s all going to be stripped away from me.
That would be nice!
November 13th 2003
I can’t sleep tonight. I’m so disturbed by what happened at work on Tuesday but I guess more importantly, what happened this morning. Tuesday a customer treated me and my mom like shit, ordering us around and holding up the line for ten minutes asking for everything to be boxed separately, bagged separately, and rung up separately. Then she caused a scene when I told her the extra cheese she ordered that my mom had to run back to the kitchen, find and microwave while 25 people waited, cost fifty cents.
It started with her asking how much for just the chicken off of our hot entree special. My mom told her it would be $5.50 and she laughed and rolled her eyes. I asked if she has ever bought boneless skinless chicken at a grocery store, and told her it’s expensive and we pound it, soak it in milk, bread it and sauté it in oil. She locked eyes with me and said, “Well you betta melt some more cheese on it to make it worth $5.50 and I informed her that actually, extra cheese is fifty cents and she seemed fine with it.
She then wanted separate containers for every damn thing she ordered! She came in with a woman who does almost the same thing, but she’s nice about it and she’s a regular, so we do it, although, we have told her that she needs to call and order it ahead because it’s not fair to the other people in line to have to wait so long behind her. I told her it would be quicker for her too because we’d have it all ready when she got there, but I think she just likes to be the center of attention.
So when the order was being rung up and she saw that the chicken was $6 and the entire entree was $8.50, she told me I better give her the whole entree, and when I went to do that she called me a Biotch quite loudly, so I turned back and took all of the containers from her initial order off of the counter and said, “We don’t have to do this at all. She left cursing at me loudly and all of the other customers who had been waiting behind her were nice enough to tell me that I was in the right in what I did.
These things cost money. I don’t understand why anyone expects them to be free. I serve the best food around here and I sell it at such a fair price that I don’t make any money, but it doesn’t matter because I love my clientele and I love what I do. People love my food. It’s my dream and I’m doing it! When people make me feel like I’m trying to rip them off it’s wrong. When people think they can abuse me or swear at me or treat my mom, sister, or boyfriend badly, I won’t tolerate it. They should not have the pleasure of eating what I worked so fucking hard to prepare, what I’ve made sure is perfect and in a place that I put my life on the line to build. Things escalate so quickly in situations like that. I hate when things like that happen.
So today…this morning, I get a call from a woman asking about the incident, claiming that their entire company has experienced racial prejudice and discrimination at Tastebuds. I couldn’t believe anyone would say that about our place and as it turns out, it’s the only person who could possibly believe such a thing, Missy Andrews (I’ve changed her name for obvious reasons). The woman who exchanged her spare change for dollars out of the employee tip jar because she said, “Carrying coins is low class!” one day, then come in the next day and cuts in front of about 15 people who were waiting in line ahead of her. When I questioned her, she rolled her eyes and then she asked the owners of Distillata, who just so happened to be next to her if one of them would screw me because I must not be getting screwed if I’m that uptight!
She caused such a huge scene when I told her she’d have to wait in line like everybody else, yelling at my mom to just hand her a salad and not letting anyone else get through to the register, that I actually called 911. Thankfully that got her to leave and I told them to never mind. Then she harassed me with a barrage of faxes and had a delivery service send me $5 because of the tip jar incident. She faxed me copies of her income statements highlighting how much of her income goes to charity. I even asked a lawyer at the ACLU who was a regular customer, what my rights were if she continued harassing me or came into my restaurant again. Luckily, she only came in a couple of times and it was long after the incident and she was not a problem.
So her phone call this morning was to tell me that they are planning a class action lawsuit based on racial discrimination. I laughed and said, “Good luck with that because there have only been two times when I’ve denied someone service at my restaurant; the first was you, for asking customers to screw me when I wouldn’t let you cut the line or take money out of the tip jar, and the second was this girl who called me a Biotch!
But now, I’m laying here thinking about how many frivolous lawsuits make their way into court, cost money, and take time. Hell, even Oprah couldn’t shake those evil Texans with their ridiculous lawsuit over her comment about never eating a hamburger again.
And how does this become a racial issue? If these two women, one calling me a Biotch and one telling me I need to get screwed were Jewish, would I be anti-Semitic? If they were fat would Richard Simmons be filing the lawsuit on their behalf?
January 10th, 2004
Another bittersweet re-opening week at Tastebuds. Like the anticipation of the first school day of the year, I didn’t sleep Sunday night. I stared at the alarm clock that was set for 5 am, imagining what it’s gonna be like to be open once again. The faces of our regulars returning with smiles on their faces danced in my head.
At 6 am my hands were tearing lettuce and plunging the leaves into chilly water. It was still dark outside and I was alone in my restaurant with the windows steaming up from my 2 pots of soup cooking on the stove. The smell of cookies and muffins baking in the oven was making it all feel so warm and cozy and I was happy again!
As my employees began showing up, refreshed and excited, we exchanged Happy New Year’s hugs and shared stories of the holidays. The phone started ringing at 10 am and really didn’t stop until we closed, with people just wanting to make sure we were open.
We opened at 11 and were slammed all day but just about every single customer that walked through that door said how much they missed us and how much they love us! What a thrill! I swear, every day this week was the same way. I made the sign of the cross in the middle of my dining room, smiling up at God at the end of every day, praising Him, thanking Him. I am just so overwhelmed with the joy that my customers, my staff, and my restaurant bring to me.
So, what could be bitter? Well, we got a call from the landlord, without even a Hello or a Happy Holidays. He has been on vacation for almost a month and it seemed weird to me that he was so short with me. He curtly asked for Paul and he told him that he wants to meet with us about all the money we owe him for ‘This Big Mess’ as he called it and he wants us to get all of our stuff out of a room that he was allowing us to use for storage by Monday. This was Friday! It’s a huge job!
Paul knew we’d probably have to pay a price for asking him to heat the basement so our pipes don’t freeze, which was one of the first and foremost of our concerns when we were in lease negotiation hell and he said, “Absolutely there will be heat in the basement!” but would not put in writing.
Paul and I spent the evening talking about our fears of what this money we owe him could be. We know one thing is the building permit, but I’m wondering if he is going to charge us for all the work the city wants him to do to bring the building up to code. Paul said he sounded suddenly as if we were the enemy.
We did everything he said to do. He bullied me into everything; using HIS architect, because MY architect said he didn’t see any way of making this place handicapped-accessible and he told him he should mind his own fucking business and that his building is ‘Grandfathered In.’ I didn’t want to subject my friend and neighbor in Tremont to that kind of abuse. I wanted to use my own crew for the demolition and construction, but he insisted I use his guys for everything. Anyone I brought in got the wrath from him and his contractors and was quick to leave.
I love my kitchen guys at Dubick Fixture but before the project was finished, John Cipriani had been verbally assaulted by just about every contractor and by my landlord himself about the delivery of a walk-in cooler being two weeks behind schedule. Dubick’s highly recommended hood installer expressed that he was extremely uncomfortable obtaining his necessary permit when he discovered none of the other contractors had theirs. He kept asking me, “Who does your landlord think he is? You can’t get away with building an entire restaurant without permits.” After he got bitched out by him, he understood how powerless my dumbass was to stop any of it. I can’t remember how he obtained his permit, but I think he called it a “rebuild” or something and found a way for us to pass our inspections and fire test.
All the contractors were working for my landlord and he told me if I want to do this, this is how it was to be done. He proclaimed to be “The unpaid general contractor,” and said we would save a ton of money and time doing it his way. We didn’t need an architect once we had his drawing and he fired him, saying he was acting on my behalf. He told me we didn’t need plans, we didn’t need permits, he said, “This was food service in the past, we’re making it food service again, and it’s gonna be fine!”
I kept coming back to him as I started doing research and finding out that actually, we do need plans and permits and he kept telling me to relax. Meanwhile, plumbers were working that I never even saw or talked to and I thought my landlord was paying them till I started getting bills. He told me the plumber’s estimate was $7000. Nothing was in writing and my friend’s estimate was $7,800, so I figured it wasn’t bad. My first bill was $5000. and nothing was really even started. They had been working from a drawing that the architect did merely to get estimates, not the drawing to begin work, nothing was agreed upon and nothing was final. Paul and I put signs on all the doors. “ATTENTION PLUMBERS! PLEASE STOP WORKING UNTIL PLANS ARE FINALIZED!” They never stopped and the bills grew to $22,000.
Anyway, I’m getting off the point, and the tension is building in my neck and shoulders. The point is before my landlord rented me this place, my first question was, “Is it legal to have my restaurant and living space in the same place because it seems so hard to believe?” He said, “Of course it’s legal!” and then he showed me a newspaper article about how Bill Gould, the architect who lived on the fourth floor, the one he hired and then fired, and City Councilman Joe Cimperman had successfully gotten this building zoned for LIVE/WORK. I would have never invested what’s ending up costing nearly $200,000 in a building that I don’t own if I didn’t think it was legal.
Turns out, he should have never rented me this space. I trusted him. I did everything he told me to do. I let him verbally abuse me when I questioned his judgment. He owned restaurants before. He owns tons of property. He is experienced. He is a licensed contractor. I figured he knew a lot of things I didn’t and now he’s acting like MY restaurant is causing him great pain. From what I understand from the deputy director of building and housing, Bob Vilkas is that the city is willing to let us get away with what we’ve done here as long as the landlord is willing to make the building safer and ADA accessible. My understanding is that this will cost my landlord $50,000.
Considering he never paid for anything that he said he would in an addendum to the lease which was conveniently blank (another long story involving him being out of town and unable to finish the lease), $50,000 doesn’t sound like much. Especially when you are talking about a fire system that would allow every tenant in the building to know about a fire anywhere in the building. Now common sense would tell you, having a restaurant on the first floor, a ceramic studio on the fourth floor with 3 or 4 kilns, 2 print shops probably using highly flammable chemicals on the second floor, and 8 tenants sleeping in the building including three and four-year-old children, you need a fire system! Not to mention, a building with locked stairways and exit doors should probably have had it long before I got here! But, I’m the bad guy! It was my restaurant that fucked everything up! Well, I babbled on much longer than I planned and I’ve got a storage room to empty, so it can sit empty and somehow make my landlord smile.
January 12th, 2004
Tapped into my savings account to catch up on bills after being closed for the holidays. So that’s it. I’m wiped out financially and we’re barely breaking even at the restaurant. I have sunk everything I have, plus $20,000 from Paul’s inheritance money into this. We’ve got to get busier. I’ve got to get smarter. The scariest thing is that we still don’t have an occupancy permit. I paid $180 just before we closed for a three-month extension on our temporary one.
My landlord’s secretary who I can tell sympathizes with us, sent me downtown with a letter she wrote but didn’t mention would cost me so much to file. She came in today and told me that they are about to do the final paperwork for Vilkas and that if that doesn’t get us our occupancy permit they were going to send it over to their lawyer. What does that mean? I don’t get it and I am terrified to find out!
Should I be talking to my lawyer? Everyone, from Cipriani to my architect, mechanical engineers, mentors, and even my bank has told me to definitely talk to my lawyer! I’m so fucking pissed because Paul and I just spent two hours trying to get our stuff out of an office our landlord let us store our stuff in temporarily. We asked for heat in the basement so our pipes don’t freeze and he retaliated I guess. What the fuck? The guy has fucked up our lives. He told us we had to do everything his way and we did, and it’s totally fucked up and he claims no responsibility.
It’s like he wined me and dined me, promised me the world, and made love to me ensuring me we didn’t need to use birth control and now I’m nine months pregnant, he’s denying being the father and he’s telling everyone I’m a whore! I put everything I had into this place. I wanted to grow old here. This was my dream living space and Paul’s dream music studio. Now, Paul and I are looking around in disbelief, wondering if we are going to lose it all because our landlord is too stubborn and cheap to do what the Department of Building and Housing wants him to do.
Valentines Day 2004
How lucky am I to paint at a time when every color imaginable is available in a tube at Pat Catans AND for 40% off? How lucky am I to cook at a time when every fruit and vegetable, every nut and legume, and every herb and spice are available to me and at a time when chefs are commanding celebrity status? And how lucky am I to have been born female at a time when women are encouraged to do it all. All I see is doors opening before me that had previously been shut, kicked down by women like Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisholm. Thank you ladies!
My hometown of Cleveland has become THE place to shoot films like American Splendor, which is sure to win an academy award and we get to feed the actors and crew! There is so much beauty and excitement around me. The Cleveland Museum of Art which has possibly the BEST collection in the US, is just 15 minutes away and it’s FREE! With the Cleveland Orchestra and Playhouse Square (which I can walk to), the Cedar Lee Theater and the West Side Market, I can’t help but want to write, paint and create, cook and love! But where’s the love? I need a lover.
I need someone to share the beauty with! Paul can’t see it. He cannot be moved by love or beauty. It takes so much to make him laugh or smile or love. I’m tired. Today I painted and listened to music all day. I felt so sexual and sensual. I took a break at 5 and ate my lunch with my fingers. I drank wine and I thought about the last time a man licked my fingers. I dreamt about love and how I long for sweet passion and burning desire. I went back to painting and listened to Mozart’s Requiem. Tonight we are going to see Ernie Krivda play jazz on West 25th Street. Right now I am looking through my art books like I used to, when I lived alone, and was truly happy!
To Be Continued!
Am I crazy?
I find it hilarious that I am writing about the hellish battle I fought to build and open Tastebuds on East 30th Street at the same time I am signing up for one more tour! Am I a glutton for punishment? Yes! I am a chef! And while I WANT to be a writer more than anything else in the world, I NEED to cook for and feed people! Three years is a long time to be away from where you belong and feel most useful and appreciated.
One of the best parts about being both a chef and a writer is that there is a side of me that is not too disappointed when things go awry. In fact, it’s the better story! I sat in my front garden last night talking to two really good friends about my possible food trailer business and potential menu ideas and they asked a lot of very good questions like, ‘Do you really think Irish people will like your salads? How are you gonna prepare all of this in your teeny tiny kitchen? And my favorite, ‘You don’t have a car! How are you going to shop and transport everything?’
All great questions, but it’s that last one that has my fiendish humorist hungry for failure! I learned a long time ago, when I was living in Pittsburgh and set off to find a job, changing out of my culinary school uniform and into a skirt, blouse and heels in a McDonalds bathroom, that humiliation, no matter how excruciating or embarrassing, is just a few days or years away from becoming one of your best stories. One that is guaranteed to have you and your friends rolling on the floor in fits of laughter! Alas, I must save that one for another paid subscriber exclusive!
Thank You For Being Here With Me My Friends!