When I was in 4th grade my school teacher assigned us a simple assignment. If you had $1 Million Dollars, what would you do with it? While the majority of my classmates were buying toys, pizza, spaceships, etc. I opened a restaurant with my Dad. I just remember thinking how much he enjoyed his job and I wanted him to own the place he worked.
I sat down with him and went over everything that we needed in order to open the business. We had to write down financials in terms of what everything was going to cost us. I used him as a resource because at this point he had already accumulated over 10 years of restaurant experience doing everything from busing tables, cleaning dishes, to learning how to make food. I also had to use him as a resource because, in 1994, we personally didn’t have a computer or access to the internet. I still remember to this day writing down an expense of $1,000 for a microwave and my teacher balking, telling me my numbers were off. Well, Mrs. I don’t remember your name, please see what commercial microwaves today go for here. I imagine they were a bit more expensive back then before they became a household necessity, especially commercial ones. Yes, I’m still bitter because she questioned my financials and she was wrong.
During this time my dad had just completed 1 full year as the head cook at “The Cherry Pit Cafe” in Deerfield, Illinois. He had previously worked in different roles as I mentioned above but now he was the main cook. What is special about this is that he legitimately came from nothing. He grew up in Mexico where he didn’t own his own pair of shoes. He shared a pair with my uncle, but they only wore them or rather switched off wearing them on special occasions. He was pulled out of school in 3rd grade in order to help with farming so that the family could eat. When I was young I remember spending my summers at the farm in Mexico where there was no running water. No running water meant that there were no toilets, no bathtubs, no washing machines, and no sinks. Water was fetched from a nearby river. Going to the bathroom meant going out in a field. Showering and washing clothes meant jumping in the river.
My mother grew up very much the same way. She was also pulled out of school in 6th grade to help put food on the table. Growing up we were never well off financially. I remember growing up in a 1 bedroom apartment in a bad part of town. To me seeing cockroaches and mice were normal. I suppose when you are a child you just don’t know any better. My parents struggled to move out of that place but move they did. Just when we all thought life was turning for the better for us, my mother got cancer. As a child, you don’t know what that means. You just know that mom isn’t home. You visit her at the hospital but don’t realize the gravity of the situation. You just know that you aren’t getting new clothes for school like your classmates or that Santa didn’t make it to your house that year.
My mother got better and my dad worked his tail off. He then forced me to start busing tables at the age of 12 at The Cherry Pit. I hated waking up early to do that but I wouldn’t change a thing. It taught me the value of hard work and the value of an education. He wanted me to suffer according to him so that I would put more effort in school. His dream was for me and my sister to graduate college.
I did end up graduating from college but it was in 2009. Yep, I graduated at one of the worst times in our history. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but I knew that I wanted to some day open a restaurant with my dad. Even though the year was 2009 we were never in any financial trouble. My dad worked his tail off at 2 jobs and I envied his work ethic. I never thought I would ever work as hard as him. I loved going out with friends, having free time, and most importantly I loved to sleep. Throughout my life when I get asked who my hero is, I always say it’s my dad. To come from where he came from to where he is now is incredible.
Once again things were looking good for us and then it happened. My mother got sick again. It wasn’t cancer this time but it was something she’s had to battle through for years now (for her privacy I won’t say what it is). I kept thinking to myself why is does this continue to happen to her? She’s an incredible human being, she doesn’t deserve this. This is where that work ethic that I envied so much kicked in. I made it a point to not only work my tail off but also return to school to get an MBA. Santa isn’t going to miss our house ever again.
Fast forward to 2016 and at the age of 30, I helped my Dad open a restaurant (we didn’t quite need a million after all). Not only did I help him open a restaurant but we opened THE restaurant and co-founded it with 2 employees that had been there since 1994 as well. We opened the Cherry Pit Cafe in the same location where he’s loved to work at since we did that project. This time around I made sure to save my money because I made it a real goal to help him open a restaurant. Plenty of opportunities arose and I would push him towards them but he never wanted any other restaurant but the Cherry Pit. Once again we sat at our kitchen table going through the financials of what it would take to open the restaurant. This time it wasn’t make believe, this time it was real. We just had to be patient for 21 years.
Our family is doing just fine now. My mother is healthy given the circumstances. My sister graduated at the top of her class and I couldn’t be more proud. My dad now runs the Cherry Pit with his two co-workers who have also been at the Cherry Pit since 1994. I help them out with the business side of things and still hustle my tail off. I sometimes wonder how successful we’d be right now, had we not had those set backs. In reality, we needed those set backs because it taught us some invaluable lessons. At the age of 30, I helped my dad achieve his dream of opening a restaurant. Now it’s my turn to achieve my dreams. Stay tuned.