Rubin: If you want to own a restaurant, be hungry

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The two things everyone thinks they can do are run the Detroit Lions and run a restaurant.

At least with the Lions, you’d be losing someone else’s money.

What brings that to mind is a trip to the Michigan Restaurant Show, which wrapped up Wednesday at the Suburban Collection Showplace.

It was a fragrant and friendly event, full of new products like a craft beer slush, caffeine-loaded ice cream and Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Jalapeno Bacon Cheddar Bratwurst, which seems like way too many nouns but is actually delicious.

If you’re one of those people whose cinnamon rolls or ribs or ratatouille are so good that everyone tells you to quit your day job, it was a place to get fired up for a new career.

Or, it was a place to get so overwhelmed you’d run screaming from the building. Long-term, that’s probably the better move.

Former banker Michael Moloney, for instance, owns the Treat Dreams ice cream shops in Ferndale and Midtown and has a piece of the Woodpile BBQ Shack in Clawson. Having paused to sample the pure cane sugar ginger beer from Brix Soda Co. in Grand Rapids — “One of the best ginger beers I’ve ever had,” he decreed — he reflected on a learning curve that was steeper and stickier than the chocolate fountain at a Mother’s Day buffet.

“It took me three years to figure out what I didn’t know,” he said.

Come to find out, for instance, he needed “an insurance guy. A grease trap guy. A pest eradicator.” And judging by a spin through the stalls at the Michigan Restaurant Association’s annual trade show, that’s just the appetizer.

An endless list

Cleaning services, one of them a specialist in walls and ceilings. Payroll services. T-shirt printing, menu printing, digital menus in case you don’t want printing in the first place.

There was an accounting company with a big glass jar of Twix bars that people kept grabbing even though free samples of gourmet cookies were only a few steps away. At least two law firms. Paper supplies — not napkins or toilet paper, which are some other company’s department, but place mats and the rolls for the machine that prints receipts.

Bar mixers. Bar renovations. Computer systems. The gentleman hawking the Fruit Fly BarPro was also selling a butter roller, and please don’t get them confused. Ice: Do you go with Scotsman, “the Ice the World Demands,” or the Ice-O-Matic?

Linen services, uniforms, chef coats, exceptionally stylish aprons from Detroit Denim Co. Dish Network, and across from it, Prestige Glassware. And, just in case:

On the bright side, Biddergy is a place to find used restaurant equipment at cut-rate prices. On the bleak side, the equipment was yours, because it turned out no one wanted drive-through ratatouille.

“Sometimes,” conceded Biddergy’s Ed Oullette, “we’re the grim reaper.”


Too much of a good thing

In the parking lot, Aaron Martz was grilling ribs. Fabulous ribs. Ribs you’d drive to Petoskey for, if he hadn’t driven down for a competition he didn’t win.

He left engineering a few months ago and started a catering and food truck business called Burnt Offerings. He loves what he does, honest, but the food itself?

“I don’t like barbecue anymore,” he said, and neither do his five daughters. They’re burnt out.

Inside, Tammie Bachran of A Serendipity Cakery in Wyandotte was offering samples of the flat-bottomed cake pops she calls “cake drops.”

She started baking after a layoff from a construction company — three years at her house, then a move to 1752 Eureka Road in April 2015. The cake drops are so good that a Detroit health inspector visiting the show bought a 14-pack.

Bachran’s problem, she said, is staffing. “People don’t want to work nowadays. Or it’s drama. Or they want to be on their cellphone.”

Still, though ...

She loves it. Bless them all, some people do. They work endless hours and fight the odds and maybe they win, so that people like me who refer to the kitchen as the reheating room have places to go.

Fresh out of college, John Eberhart opened a pizza shop called American Pie and kept it going long enough to beat the 18-month average for a new restaurant.

Now he sells kitchen gear for Restaurant Equippers, and he asked a browser in a blue checked shirt if he needed help.

The young man shook his head.

“Just dreaming,” he said.