Manage This, Partner!

I’ve worked with a considerable number of restaurant and bar owners in my career, yet it never ceases to amaze me how pretentious and pompous many of them can be. What is it about that industry that attracts such types?

Owning a restaurant is a grueling, thankless, exhausting job ideally suited for masochists or the clinically insane, yet it seems like many of the restauranteurs I’ve encountered in my day are lazy, power-hungry glory hounds who somehow stumbled into enough money to open a restaurant but lack enough common sense and foresight to realize that simply owning one does not earn you a million dollars, or membership to some sort of exclusive, elitist club.

There is much work, blood, sweat, tears, screaming, cussing, yelling, and if you’re an Anthony Bourdain fan like me and have read “Kitchen Confidential,” lots of sex apparently that goes into making a restaurant a success. Yet owners of restaurants often seem to fail at everything beyond the “lots of sex” part.

Bigger restaurant groups and local chains are often owned by a conglomerate of investors. They usually consist of a very predictable duo of opposite extremes, with a few other folks of a varying degree one way or the other thrown into the mix.

There is usually one guy with lots of money who owns the largest percentage of the company, interested in making more money, not interested in getting his hands dirty at all in order to do so, and certainly not interested in the fact that the business is a restaurant. It could be anything from a meth lab to a car wash, all this person cares about is the bottom line. This person is never seen nor heard from throughout the entire existence of the company. A silent partner.

There is usually another guy, the smallest percentage owner with the smallest amount of money, not necessarily interested in making any money because he didn’t really invest enough to lose, and certainly not interested in getting his hands dirty to make someone else money, but definitely interested in being able to say he is “the owner” to women who come into the restaurant for the purposes of having “lots of sex” with them. This person can be seen not working at the restaurant almost all the time. A managing partner.

Here’s a story about a “managing partner” I recently had the fantastically entertaining privilege of observing in action.

A few weeks back, I played my first show at yet another suburban, Mexican restaurant. It was a Thursday night and I arrived a little more than two hours early so as to beat traffic. The G.M. was there when I arrived. She was the one who actually booked me for the night. This was our first time meeting in person. She was wonderful, and truly appreciated what quality live entertainment can do for a bar scene (so why she hired me I’ll never know), which I’ve found to be a rarity in this industry.

After shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, she says to me, “hang on a sec., I want to introduce you to my owner.” So I sit at the bar and await her return with the owner. After a few minutes, she comes back out and says, “he’ll be right out,” so I continue to sit and wait (not like I had anything better to do for the next hour and a half). And I sit. And I wait. And finally, after about 10 minutes or so, the G.M. comes up to me again and says, “come on back, he’s off the phone now and is ready to meet you.”

I follow her toward the entrance to the kitchen and am met at the opening in the wall by the “owner,” who is pretending to be on his phone, obviously talking to no one, but needing, for whatever reason, for me to believe he is far too busy and important to talk to me for five seconds.

Thinking he was merely on hold with someone (but not really caring either way), I stick my hand out to shake his. “Hey, I’m Troy Cono, nice to meet you. Great place you have here. I’m looking forward to playing tonight. Thanks for the opportunity.”

I’m met with an open hand toward the face, followed by a head turn away, and lastly, the covering of the opposite ear with the open hand so as to better drown out the background noise (me introducing myself) so he could better understand who he was talking to (no one).

I look over at the G.M. as she mouths the words “I’m so sorry” to me before I return to my seat at the bar. The G.M. once again comes over, but this time it is to apologize for how rude her owner was to me. “I don’t know why he’s like that. I waited for him to get off the phone. I saw him put it down and then he told me to send you back.”

About 30 minutes later, the owner leaves, never having spoken a word to me. He doesn’t return for the duration of the evening; not even to make sure I’m not terrible and scaring away all his business my first time ever playing there; not even to try to hook up with a female patron or employee who is not his wife. Just gone.

Yep, if I was a bettin’ man in that instance, I’d bet “the owner” was really the “managing partner,” and that his percentage of ownership was by far the slightest of all the investors. And as it turns out with a little research, I would have won the bet.

So the next time you’re out to eat and you see a guy mostly just partying at the bar like a patron, but from time to time you notice the manager talking to him briefly before walking away with a sad, defeated look on their face, don’t let that guy tell you he owns the joint. When he tries to, look him square in the eyes, and then jab your fork into them and say, “you must mean ‘managing partner?'”