Category Archives: philosophy

Confessions of a Grinch

Ninna Sherwood, Western Living Magazine, 1974

Ninna Sherwood, Western Living Magazine, 1974

1999 was the year Christmas and I broke up.

I was 6 months into opening my first venture, a tiny, bootstrapped little winebar in the college area of Kitsilano, Vancouver.  It had been a hard start, fueled almost entirely by blind enthusiasm, long hours, and the relentless fear of failure that only crippling debt will instill.  I was Facing the coming January February shoulder season which had the potential to bankrupt us, and decided that was the year I just plain didn’t have time for Christmas.


I had been spoiled by Christmas growing up.  Fantastic family outings, a fully decorated house, mom’s celebrated feast (famously featured in Western Living ’74), and a month of seasonal baking that carried well past the holidays.  The Sears catalog was always handy in the months prior for us to circle and dog-ear our wish-list, and even when we were struggling to make ends meet, the tree always went up and would be bursting with perfectly wrapped gifts for me and my brother.


Christmas was a sure bet in our family, when 364 days of attempting good behavior had a guaranteed positive result.  When you’re of the age when you measure happiness in toys, candy, and cartoons, it’s become the benchmark by which all other holidays are measured, and found wanting.


All of this is why I could never understand why one year, everything changed.  I had long since transitioned from toys and candy to aged cheese and brandy, quite happily, and being on the first step of a journey I’d spent 10 years preparing for, I still had a dreamer’s optimism percolating through me.  Maybe it was that first year of being truly too broke to buy anyone a present, or the year i rolled my jeep in the mountains on Christmas eve and found myself with a sleeping bag full of presents trying to find a way home to be with the family.  Maybe it was just that time in my life when I thought I’d outgrown it. I never really could pinpoint it, and year after year I found myself drifting further from the yuletide spirit, until one year Sue came right out and said it to my face.


‘You’re a grinch’


Dealing with me and my Christmas hate had started to grow thin, to the point where i think i was wrecking it for her as well.  She grilled me, and I mumbled out the regular ramblings about commercialism, money, the religious hypocrisy of appropriating pagan holidays for their own, cabbage patch dolls, barbie, Walmart, Hallmark holidays, yada yada yada, and it started to turn into a rant.  Accumulated years of angst and watching what i had thought was this pure magical holiday turned to shit started a cathartic vomit from me in such a tirade that even I hated me when i was finally out of breath, out of words, but still not out of anger at my once favourite holiday.


I understand now, 15 years removed from the first time i quit Christmas, why it happened, but it wasn’t for any of the reasons I sputtered on about, even though they were straight legit reasons to quit.  I’m embarrassed to admit it, but for 15 years I’ve wanted only one thing, one thing i know I’ll never get, and i’ve been in a 15 year temper tantrum ever since.


I want more time.


In only 6 months of entrepreneurial life I had learned that time was more valuable than anything else, and it might be the one thing i could never afford. That first year I needed one more week of revenue out of a month that would see 6 days of holiday shutdown, and I didn’t know where to find it.  In following years we honed the science of maximizing holiday sales with party bookings, gift cards, New Years events, but we worked like dogs every December to make it happen.  The holidays became a crucial time for execution, and there was no time for shopping, friends, family, trees, baking, snowball fights, or holiday parties.  I vividly remember sitting alone at the bar after closing one Dec 23rd, pouring a baileys on ice and watching the Grinch.  Exhausted, stressed, and hoping we had done enough to carry us until Valentines day, Christmas had become one hell of a business disruption, despite being a great excuse to drink baileys at breakfast.


That year I decided it would be different, and as I scowled at the TV Grinch with Bailey’s breath, I turned my back on Christmas past, and decided to build a Christmas future.


The restaurant business is famous for Christmas orphans.  Staffed predominantly by travellers, students, artists, and dreamers, a restaurant becomes a family around holidays, and ours was no different.  That night, inspired to change, I called upon every cherished holiday memory, and decided to cook a feast for my new family.


I invited any who would come, staff, regulars, people off the street, friends, for a Christmas Eve dinner, just like my Mom used to make.  I painstakingly recreated her signature red cabbage, and Danish almond pudding (the single whole almond hidden inside nets a marzipan pig to whoever finds it!).  I had a commercial kitchen at my disposal, an empty restaurant, and loads of people around who might otherwise not get a feast of their own.  I cooked for a day and a night, straight through, and 40 friends, staff, and strangers had a family for Christmas that year.


Year after year I picked up the knives and the apron and would cook for my restaurant family after a grueling Christmas season, and spend Christmas day passed out, blissfully sleeping until noon and skipping the typical ceremony.  Year after year we skipped the tree, decorations, and even instituted a ‘no gifts’ rule with the family.  Socks, underwear, and booze, of course, were all gratefully accepted.  It seemed I might be able to vanquish the Grinch within me, albeit mostly with alcohol and work.


Selling the restaurants in 2007, however, introduced a significant stumble to the 12 step program, and soon I was back to my old Grinchy self.  Everywhere you go during the holidays, people are lining up to buy shit they don’t need with money they don’t have.  If you stand back and watch Christmas as a spectator, it’s genuinely horrifying.  Black Friday brawls, parking lot road rage, offshore factory worker suicides, Monsanto hormones in the eggnog, factory farms churning out Turkeys by the truckload…and the band plays on.  Jingle all the way you crazy bastards, thanks for shopping at Walmart!


That was it, I was finished with Christmas for good, and was glad to be done with it.  No presents, no tree, no lights, no goddamn way I’m getting caught up in that bullshit.  With no other Christmas orphans around to cook for, I was free to wallow in my own Grinchitude.  Bah Humbug, damn rights.


Now listen, anyone can quit Christmas, it’s easier than quitting any other vice.  You can cheat a little, with minimal consequences.  You might find yourself enjoying some gingerbread, absent mindedly humming a carol, or indulging in an eggnog latte, but come January you can go right back to ignoring Christmas for another 11 months.  Christmas is so forgiving, because you can sneak a little of it one day a year, and you know you won’t be shaving 10 years off your life for one bad decision.


My problem wasn’t quitting Christmas, that was easy.  Like any breakup, I’ve done my best to hold on to the great memories, remember what brought us together in the first place, and focus on all the things that mattered.  I still keep those tucked away in the part of my brain that refuses to believe I don’t have superpowers (I just haven’t figured out how to unlock them), the part where the excitement and curiosity I had when I was 6 has built a blanket fort to keep the cynicism and harsh reality at bay.  This is the safe deposit box that my entrepreneurial brain dips into when it needs a spark, and needs to believe that a great idea can succeed in the face of insurmountable odds.


Rifling through those memories as a new father, though, I started to see them through a new lens.  I imagined being in my parent’s shoes, struggling with the same entrepreneurial stresses, financial troubles, and problems of their own, and facing a couple of brats like me and my brother.  They rocked Christmas hard every year, and every year we lost our minds with excitement.  Lego, handmade clothes, hand baked cookies, and the best Christmas dinner you could imagine.  They never mailed it in, not even once, and they had every excuse to do so.


I realized a torch had been passed.  I had been on the receiving end of so much awesome Christmas, and I was in danger of breaking the chain.  My daughter deserved to love Christmas like I did, she deserved to believe in magic, and fairy tales, and make believe, and just because life got hard for me shouldn’t wreck the holidays for her.  If I had any respect for the sacrifices my parents had made, I had a duty to pay it forward.


So, last year I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, and dove in, jingle bells deep, to Christmas.


It didn’t hurt, not even a little, despite being broke, bootstrapping 2 new companies, and completely stressed for time.  I dare say I even enjoyed it a little.  I still had issues with Christmas, but I kept them to myself.  I  stopped paying attention to how everyone else is doing it, stopped being a spectator, and started taking it shift by shift.  Every day was about giving my family the best Christmas they could have, and it was awesome.  I spent two months building my daughter a custom dollhouse that she never plays with, but her face on Christmas morning was the face that every parent plays the game for.  That was the day I started using Christmas again.


I didn’t discover that my mom’s Christmas dinner was actually famous until we were sifting through old pictures and Dad pulled out the 6 page magazine spread from 1974.  If you look closely, you’ll see the red cabbage and almond pudding, and I kid you not we still have those same serving dishes 40 years later.


This year, Christmas will be just the three of us, and for good reason.  Next year we’re opening up Christmas dinner to the public again, at the house, so if you find yourself without a date on the 24th of Dec. 2015, give us a ring.


15 years after I quit cold turkey, and I’m not ashamed to admit I’m off the wagon, and high on my own supply.


Happy Holidays Everyone!
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The Best Advice I Ever Ignored.

red-pill-blue-pill

A stranger’s advice is usually worth what you paid for it.

Diddly.

I know this because last year I spent months dedicated to helping 6 people solve their biggest life dilemma on a TV show/social experiment called ‘The Audience’. It was a sometimes ugly, often gut wrenching process that dragged 50 strangers through the emotional muck of someone else’s life struggles, in a last gasp attempt to help them move on with their lives and find happiness.

You have to be desperate when you’re willing to let 50 people follow you around for a week, strip you emotionally naked, and grill your closest friends and family like Columbo on cross examination. You have to be at a point when the advice of your closest friends didn’t work, or is split down the middle. For these 6 people, life had literally stopped, and every new step in their life hinged on a decision they couldn’t make. They had stopped living, because a problem they couldn’t solve was in the way.

Inviting a group of strangers into your life isn’t something to be taken lightly, and the weight of 50 people silently judging every decision they had made in their life quickly overwhelmed every person we tried to help. Even our most diplomatic attempts to balance the investigation came across like an inquisition, every question an insinuation that somewhere along the line they had made poor, self- serving decisions in life. It was a necessary evil to help us understand their situation, but it was as painful to participate in as I’m sure it will be to watch.

Imagine your mother in law telling you how to live your life, and multiply it by 50.

Anyone would be excused for flipping off ‘the fifty’ at that point and instructing them to go pound sand. I would have, and sometimes did, but it speaks to how much trouble they were having solving their problem, and it humbled me very quickly.

Fifty vastly different people brought a tremendous array of perspectives, but with it the inevitable reality that we wouldn’t always get along. Conflict in the group only grew once we got emotionally invested in the problem.

Once we got to work on a problem, we immediately started dishing out the type of advice that you get for free. We had no stakes in the game, only our own philosophies and judgements about how life is to be lived. We simply slapped those on the particular issue, wiped our hands of it, and patted ourselves on the back for being so clever. Useless twats, and I was the proudest peacock of them all.

Three days in, however, things had changed. As we unravelled the journey this person had taken to get to this point, we started to understand the stakes a little more, we began to realize the consequences that each path would incur, and we started to grasp the full weight of the compromises that had to be taken.

What was worse, however, was that we started to care.

By this point, these people had stopped being unknown random people, we would spend 5 solid days with them, poring through their lives deepest secrets and vulnerabilities. We would grill their loved ones and families for clues that might help us understand more. We would end up learning far more than we had expected, and often we were shocked by what we uncovered. We were there for our objectivity, our reason, and our perspective, and by day three we had become so emotionally invested that we lost all of them. By day 5, we had journeyed so far into the problem that most of us would go home and hug our families, no longer worried about our own problems, and with a renewed appreciation for the things we had.

Once we cared, the stakes became real, and everything changed. We changed.

To this day I don’t know if that made the advice we gave better or worse, but I know that it stopped being worthless. At that point it stopped being a judgement of all these people’s past decisions, all their personal hang-ups, and every bit of baggage they had been collecting throughout their lives, and it became a collective effort to stop the cycle, help them to stop looking back, and start to move forward.

The greatest mistake in life is to make no mistakes at all.

The dilemmas we faced had no middle ground. There was a choice between a path to take, and one to abandon, and the path not taken would haunt them for the rest of their life. In each choice they made, there would be a bucket of regret served alongside, and no matter how many people we threw at the problem, that would never change.

They say you should walk a mile in another man’s moccasins, and we probably logged 20.  All i got was sore feet until i realized that this process taught me an amazing thing about life, and it was the one piece of advice I needed to hear.

Advice is only worth the action it inspires. There are no wrong decisions. Your ability to squeeze every bit of happiness and satisfaction from the decisions you make is the secret to their success.

The Audience – premieres tonight at 10pm on W Network.

Let me know what you thought of our decision.


Happiness is a slippery fish

Pray for a difficult life

By

Years ago I read a study that said one of the most stated regrets of people on their deathbeds was that they hadn’t built a better relationship with their parents.

The oft repeated quote ‘no one on their deathbed wishes they spent more days at work’ has also been slyly directed my way more than once, enough that I might even start to listen.  The other regret, however, weighs heavily on me.

I’ve watched with some concern as my parents get older.  As a kid, time passes so slowly that you take everything for granted.  Your parents have all the answers, I was sure my dad could beat up anyone else’s dad, and it just seemed like they’d both be around forever.  Watching them age, even as gracefully as they have, has been a stark reminder that those regrets are rooted in a harsh reality.

I’ve had a front row seat as they both crafted entrepreneurial ventures from the ground up.  They took big risks, worked hard, and eventually those ventures grew strong enough to pull us out of crippling debt.  Some years later, they co-signed a loan to help me start my first restaurant.

The circle of debt continues…

My folks are the people I aspired to be.  Self-made entrepreneurs who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, and still found a way to achieve their dreams, they were proof that you didn’t need charity, or luck, or a silver spoon.  Coming from an Alberta farm, my dad’s solution to every problem was hard work, and my mother, fresh off the boat from Denmark, was always crafting, innovating, and thinking of new ways to approach old problems.  Together they were a formidable pair, and watching them flip the bird to the corporate establishment and do it themselves felt like the greatest ‘fuck you’ to a world that I was just starting to realize wasn’t built to be fair.

A few years after they co-signed my first business loan, I had three busy restaurants, a social calendar filled with wine dinners, fashion galas, poker nights, wrap parties, and all the other bullshit I thought was cool at the time.  I barely saw my folks in those days, I couldn’t manage to find the time to cross town and have dinner once a week, and was losing touch despite living a 30 minute drive away.  It couldn’t have been any easier to stay in touch, and yet, I didn’t.  I started to realize why those regrets would be on the lips of every person as they took stock of their existence.  It was just so damn easy to take it for granted.

Forever isn’t forever, and time is a thief that distracts you, so that it can more easily steal your most precious moments.

I could see myself following in the footsteps of millions who came to regret their apathy, and I resolved to do something about it.  Something drastic.

I moved into my parent’s basement.

It started off as awkwardly as you can imagine.  The house was in a quiet suburb, populated by lousy chain restaurants, with nothing but raccoons and a long commute to keep you entertained.  Restaurant life was hectic, social, and wildly unpredictable.

It seemed like I was walking away on a life that had enough booze and badly behaving people to stay interesting for quite some time.

After working for years to build the lifestyle I wanted, I had traded it in for the hope that I could avoid that single regret, the lingering wistfulness of memories that were never created, the opportunities forever lost.  In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Today is my father’s birthday.  He is turning 74.

I’m broke, completely invested in a new business adventure, and I can’t afford to buy him a gift.  I find myself quite humbled, and I’ve justified to myself that perhaps the better gift has been this time together.

It’s a lie, of course.  That gift was a gift I gave myself, and keep re-gifting without guilt, year after year.

My father was my first mentor, my first business advisor, and the best sounding board I’ve ever had.  He built Canada’s first microbreweries (Granville Island Brewery, Upper Canada  Brewery) with a group of friends, starting one of the greatest movements the modern world has ever seen, craft beer.  It was an impossible dream, an unlikely success, and was beset by obstacles, challenges, and an unproven market (there was beer, and light beer, brewed to taste ‘cold’…seriously, wtf does ‘cold’ taste like).   That he did it at a time when our family was struggling with the fallout from the housing crash of ’82 is a constant reminder to me that our family is at its best when our backs are against the wall.  I can still remember at 9 years old stuffing beer bottles into six pack containers to help out opening week, and getting my first hangover off batch #1 of GI lager (parenting was a little different back then).

My father’s father, Farley Sherwood, was rather persuasive about him getting a college education, so he came out west to earn a degree in forestry from UBC.  He went back and landed a job on the radio, leveraged that fame to marry the local hotty, went on to sales (Imperial Oil), and eventually became the Marketing Manager for McDonald’s in Western Canada.

That was the job he quit when I was six, and to this day it remains a vivid memory.  He checked out, mid way through a great career, in his prime.  I remember him telling me and my brother that he was unhappy, his job wasn’t fulfilling, and he hated the politics.  Confused, I struggled with the notion that your job was something you could enjoy, not just a paycheck.  I was also more than a little concerned that we had just broken up with McDonalds.  Even in the pre-nugget era that place had a grip on my heart, and I was pretty stoked to have happy meal connections.  I was literally on a first name basis with the Hamburgler.

At six years old, I was served a reality check that indoctrinated me into the entrepreneurial ranks, and I had no idea.

We flirted with bankruptcy.

Actually, it was more of a long, drawn out affair.  My folks had bought their dream house, and, counselled by their realtor into keeping the old one as long as possible to ride the rising market, they got caught in the crash.   They owed twice as much as the houses were worth, and were getting crushed by 24% interest rates on two mortgages.

Just like that, happiness became a luxury we couldn’t afford.

We moved into the basement, and rented out the rest of the houses to help cover the mortgages, and Dad called a family meeting to craft a plan.

My brother and I got paper routes, lots of them.  We stuffed flyers, mowed lawns, and did other odd jobs.  My mother pulled a page out of the 3 Amigo’s script, and when asked what she could do to help, she said ‘I can sew’.  Her little craft business grew into a sportswear business that grew into a national fashion company with an impressively innovative distribution model.  It was the precursor to companies like Indochino, long before the digital age, and as my dad tells it, it was the rope that pulled us out of hell.

He was good at what he did, and he picked up gigs as a marketing consultant.  Then, maybe because crazy plans were something he’d grown far more comfortable with, he and his friends came up with the idea to build a brewery, using the fresh Vancouver water, with all the heart and soul of being for locals, by locals.  There were three large brewers at the time, and they paid the little upstart no mind.  Within a year, however, they saw market share escaping, and combined forces to crush the microbrewery movement hard.  It was too late, the market had gotten a taste, and soon small craft breweries were opening faster than Molson’s, Labbatt’s and O’Keefes could squash them.  Unionizing plants, controlling bottle regulations, even excise and production limitations were successfully lobbied for, but microbreweries found a way to make it work, something that’s easier when you have customers clamoring for your product.

Happiness was a fish he had once tossed back into the water for being too small, and now he had hooked the big one.

My dad’s tolerance for risk had put him in deeper waters, and we almost drowned, but I’m convinced it was going through the struggles which gave him the hunger to appreciate every opportunity he had, and land that big fish when it counted.  With my mom’s business thriving as well, they had pulled off the rare double, and there wasn’t a doubt left in my mind who my heroes were.  The seed had been planted, my mind had been made, I saw the difficult path as the most attractive, with the biggest payoffs, and I was determined to be an entrepreneur just like them.

After 50, he started to look tired, and sometimes I wondered if he had grown a little weary of the world.  He was supposed to be pushing retirement, and seemed to be genuinely considering it, even though there seemed to be lots more left in the tank.  His signature glint in his eye didn’t appear so much, and I was wondering if it would ever return when the colleges came calling. That started a change.

I’d like to believe that being around young, idealistic students who still hold the notion that the world is theirs to change, was the reason he sparked up, and maybe it was just that he could stand in front of a room full of cute college girls and they’d believe every word he said (…and, I just realized I want to be a teacher), but he had a renewed energy, and the glint that had lived in his eyes for so many years was back, and brighter than ever.

He taught marketing and sales all the way up to 65, when they forced him into retirement.  It was an outdated union rule that would end up being changed a couple of years too late, and I think he would have continued teaching to this day if they’d let him.  The amount of his former students who still come up to me to tell me how much they learned from him, how important he was for them, and how much they loved his stories, is staggering.

I had one of them doing his best to vigorously convince me of how cool my dad is, and all I could do was nod, smile, and think, you don’t even know the half of it.

My dad’s retirement party was bittersweet.  He didn’t want to celebrate it, as much as everyone wanted to celebrate him.  He was getting pushed out, just when he was having the most fun.  I remember thinking how odd it was, how broken the system, that its greatest contributors are removed when they’re at their most effective.

A man provides.  He contributes.

We measure our worth by our ability to be the mind or muscle that moves mountains, even if it’s only a single stone at a time.  We measure our lives by what we did, our contributions, and our impact. Take that away, and you take a fundamental part of our identity.  We need purpose, and when we have it, we will build, we will act, we will overcome.  When we don’t, we start losing our curiosity, our ambition, and our willingness to tackle anything but a ham sandwich and an afternoon nap.

When my dad retired, his signature spark, the glint in his eye, started to fade again.  Without the regular influx of young idealism, boundless energy, and world changing ambition into his daily routine, I think he struggled to find a reason to give a shit.  The chores around the house became the problems he needed to solve, and everyone knows that trimming the hedges doesn’t solve sweet fuck all.

I think often about carrying on the family name, of doing it justice.

My brother and I both have daughters, and that means the surname attached to our future generations won’t be his. I’m ok with it now.  His surname has power to me because of who he is, who his father was, and all the fathers before him who worked their asses off to move the sticks a few yards further.  They had different surnames, with different meanings to the sons and daughters who bore them on.  The name represents those men, their sacrifices, their risks, their failures, and their successes, and while the name will change, their legacy will not, because of what they invested in their children, who invested it into my father, who has since invested it in me.

I’ve realized now, that as I was building my companies, my family, and my career, I thought I was creating a legacy.  I wasn’t.  I’ve inherited his.   It has made me even more determined to measure up.  I inherited a legacy from a long line of people who struggled and sacrificed to move the sticks a little further, and I’ll be damned if I’m the generation that fucks it all up.

The birth of my daughter was unexpected, and life changing.  I’ve never been more scared of anything than when she first stopped breathing, seven weeks premature, and I was completely helpless to do anything about it.  My parents were there for every minute, and without them I’d have been a complete wreck.  (I was still a wreck, just with the support to ensure I could fake it appropriately)

From that moment on, my father’s choices in life made perfect sense.  It wasn’t ambition, or pride, or even greed, which fueled his decision to chase happiness.  He had learned the stakes of the game, that once you have seen how frail and impossible happiness is, how delicate and improbable its survival, you realize you need to fight for it.  You need to put the bullshit on the line, the houses, the cars, the jobs and the fancy titles, and you need to put all that shit on red and spin the fucking wheel because the cost of having it far outweighs the cost of reaching for it.

I know my parents would like me to learn from their mistakes, I just can’t.

I ignored their mistakes, I forgot the times they yelled at me for fucking up (there were more than a few of those).   I wrote over any memory of my father not being the man I wanted to grow up to be like.  I saw every challenge he endured only through the successful outcome he wrestled from it.

It sounds naïve, but it isn’t.  I studied everything he did that made him my hero, and tossed the rest.  What do I need to know about mistakes he made?  I know enough about pain and struggles, I’m a fucking connoisseur of the curveballs life can throw, and the only shot I’ve had of overcoming those is from studying someone with a demonstrated expertise in overcoming them.

I’m lucky, I know.  Perspective is everything for me now.

I’m lucky that my parents would put up with my shit, give me a shot at avoiding this one regret, and teach me how to bait the hook and reel happiness in.  Evangeline, our daughter, has inherited her Grandfather’s signature spark, and in turn, rekindled his, and they’ve formed a two person, cookie-snatching conspiracy.

I don’t know that this was the happiness that my father had in mind when he quit his job to start us on this adventure.  I do know that on my deathbed, I will have one fewer regrets to list off before I pass on the torch to Evangeline.

Today is my dad’s birthday, and when I grow up, I want to be just like him.

Go post a dirty joke on his wall, he could use some new material.  https://www.facebook.com/larry.sherwood.50

You see the glint, don't you...

You see the glint, don’t you…


“All women are squirrelly”

“All women are squirrelly” a very close friend of mine once told me, “but the trick is to find one that’s the kind of nuts you can live with”.

I had become so obsessed with this restaurant life and achieving success, that weak attempts at a personal life had become a distant distraction.  An enviable string of beautiful, intelligent, yet ultimately disappointed women had passed through my life, and I soon discovered that I was becoming a stereotype, and not a good one.

I’ve always loved women.  The kind of spellbound, obsessive sort of love that cherishes tiny details, subtle hints, and the magnificent power of persuasion they can toss about whimsically, like giggling despots keen to test the loyalty of their subjects.  I was always extremely particular, but there was always at least one thing about each one i met that could make me weak, and I revelled in it.

I learned over time that this wasn’t at all something to make my life easier, but instead a living curse.  To have 52% of the population with an unreasonable amount of control and power over me, an uncanny ability to convince me to make poor decision, or simply to leave me struck dumb with fascination as i gawked at the latest target of my attention.

I asked the question so many times, ‘why would I be made to be so in love with women, why on earth would I have needed this evolutionary glitch in my DNA?’  The answer, it seems, made perfect sense.

When I met Susanne, she was my server at an East side joint run by a young aspiring restaurateur named Andrew Wong (who went on to famously build Wild Rice, with a second location opening soon).  Susanne was one of those rare types that you find in the business.  Carrying herself with a coy confidence, holding court over the entire dining room, and barely concealing the bounce in her step as she moved seamlessly from table to table.  I wasn’t simply smitten, I was entranced.

When we eventually collided some months later, I was ravenous for her. She matched me strength for strength, and had as little time for me as I had for her.  Within months, I ambushed her with a public proposal that she awkwardly accepted.  It was clear that while I had managed to trick her into biting the lure, there would still be quite the fight before I could bring her into the boat.

She was strong, stubborn, and willing to fight, and I loved it.  I was about to build a second restaurant, I had a beautiful, strong woman by my side, and the future was looking bright.  I had no idea what was waiting for us in the coming months and years, but I would come to love and hate her stubborn will to fight, although it would eventually save both of us.

Shortly after LMB opened, Susanne stepped in and took over the reins at Fiction.  She was a natural leader, and the staff, regulars, and locals embraced her immediately.  As LMB grew, and overtook my life, she became the steady hand for our relationship, organizing the tiniest of details as I ran around town trying to cover the broad strokes.  She managed the PR for LMB and fulfilled my dream of landing in the pages of Wallpaper* magazine, and brought us the press and coverage that eventually saw us earn Conde Nast Traveller’s coveted Top 50 New Restaurants in the World.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer some months later, neither of us were ready for it, but knowing her fighting spirit I knew the cancer didn’t stand a chance.

Life got harder, and so did we.  We fought a little more, and as the chemo started taking its toll, depression kicked in.  Her hair started coming out, she lost weight, and still refused to stop working 6 days a week (one day off for chemo treatment).  She explained that it was the only distraction she had, and sitting at home with chemo drugs running through her was making her certifiably insane.

She kept fighting, we shaved her head (very sexy, by the way) and I was inspired to do the same (sadly not sexy on me).  We kept fighting, and for years she battled cancer, we battled each other, and the battles at the restaurants continued.

She started to throw charity fundraisers at the restaurant, to raise money for other breast cancer patients to get spa treatments so that they could have one day of feeling pampered and pretty.  She did work with a company that made wigs for women whose hair was falling out from chemo, and she did it all while running the restaurant, working 80 hours a week, and taking one day off for chemo.

She was a fighter, but she was getting weaker, and more frail, and prone to fits of depression.  She wasn’t winning this fight, despite putting everything into it.

After a few years the doctors were out of solutions, and it was clear that it was time to fire everything we had at it.  The bouncing step, easy smile, and honest, hopeful eyes had all faded, and she had the steely silhouette of a shipwrecked survivor.  Her hope had faded, and she looked at me simply and asked ‘why bother?’   I loaded up the credit cards and flew us to Mexico, desperate to find some way to bring some sunshine into her life and restore the optimism and hunger for life she used to personify.

We made a plan, to take tiny little happy steps.  We swam with dolphins, we para-sailed (she peed), we snorkelled in caves, and we lived only in the moment.  We got as greedy as we could with every hour we had, and started to fight a different fight, a fight to answer just that question, ‘why bother’.  When we returned we looked at everything we could do, and changed our diets first, and then started removing anything that might be a negative presence in our lives.  There was a lot, it turns out, and it was time to clean house.

Six months later, she received a clean bill of health.

The doctors didn’t seem to care what had changed, but it had worked.  Her cancer had literally shrivelled up and disappeared, and the last of her chemo treatments blasted the last bits away.  (I still maintain that the tequila did all the hard work, but so far big pharma is keeping that miracle cure under wraps). We were stunned, and relieved, but the good news was dampened when they let her know that the damage of years of chemotherapy had ruled out any chance at becoming pregnant.

We kept on the path that brought us there, and proceeded to sell the restaurants (there were three by this time) and take some time to re-evaluate.  For the first time in our lives since either of us were young teenagers, we weren’t in the restaurant business.

I was lost, and spent a year trying to find a job that would give me the sort of fulfilment I had gotten out of building the restaurants, and never really did.  I found consulting work, and renovated the house, and started trying to figure out how to fix the world’s problems.  Sue got work with a career coach helping people change their lives for the better.

One year into retirement, I couldn’t help but notice that Susanne had been sick every day that week, and a dark cloud entered my mind.  Panicked, I forced her to go to the clinic and get herself checked out.  In my mind I imagined the worst, and started preparing for another long battle with cancer.  I did my best to keep my thoughts to myself, but I knew she was probably just as scared.  The look of concern on her face when she came home from the doctors told me things were not quite kosher, and she was having a very difficult time starting the discussion.

It turned out she was pregnant.

33 weeks later, Evangeline Victoria was born 7 weeks premature while Susanne was visiting me on a work trip in Victoria.  It was an emergency c-section, and it happened in seconds, but when they opened up her guts and pulled out that tiny little thing, I knew instantly the answer to both my lifelong questions.  I was built to love women, their quirky bits, their silly bits, and their batshit crazy bits, so that I would fight the world for them, and not stop fighting even when it gets so hard that I think ‘why bother’.  They are why I bother.

Both my girls are squirrelly, and they’re the kind of nuts that can drive a man crazy, but this is the kind of crazy I’ve been trying to find my whole life.

My crazy girls


Laws of energy, and entrepreneurs

Momentum is an awesome power.

Newtonian Laws weren’t written to explain entrepreneurial inspiration and perspiration, but they may have been influenced by the same understanding.  The idea that a body, once set in motion, will continue that motion until otherwise impeded is also a fundamental law of entrepreneurialism.

Often when you meet an entrepreneur, you’ll immediately notice one thing about them.  They don’t shut up.

The momentum of one idea turning into another, and another, is the gas in our tank.  It propels a thinker to think of more, and rewards them with further ideas, which have potential, potential to disrupt, to change, to improve, and to excite.  Dreamers are dreamers because they’re high on the heroin of the potential of their beautiful ideas.  There is no room for logic, no room for mathematics, schematics or pragmatics.  Chase the dragon, chase the dream.

At the beginning of Lucy Mae Brown, we had drank the kool-aid.  Hell, we spiked it with whiskey and redbull for good measure.  Admittance to our coven required it, and if you too were a dream junkie, we had a home for you.

The thing we all know about dreamers is that momentum tends to trump organization, planning, and basic business fundamentals.  Boring and mundane, those tasks are relegated to the ‘less visionary’ and deemed unnecessary to savants like ourselves, who can iterate elegant (and affordable) solutions out of even the most obstinate of problems (that’s sarcasm, FYI, we’re optimistic idiots, tricked by our own dopamine addled brains into thinking ‘we’ve got this’).

So, drunk on dreams, propelled helplessly by the momentum of what we had started, we cannonballed into the deep end of the pool, and started smashing the place up.

My partner Matt, the owner of the Crime Lab, was one for whom the laws of momentum were specifically written.  He was a man of action, regardless of direction or motivation, and took to the demolition like a hooker in a cocaine snowball fight.  Eyes wide, a wicked grin on his face, he would hurl framing hammers at shamelessly tacky arched mirrors from across the room.  He held anywhere from 3-6 hammers at a time, laughing, cackling, as he whipped each hammer at the offending mirrors.  It was a Tarantino symphony of destruction.  The crashing of debris, the dust clouds building, italian stucco snowing from the roof, and a lone man, surrounded by mirrors, fending them all off armed only with his insanity, and Estwing framing hammers.

Weeks and months went by, as they do, and the dream was getting constantly beset by distractions.  Michael, the other partner, was busy running Allegro Cafe, Matt was running the Crime Lab, and the guy that I had brought in to fill the void at Fiction was turning into a drunken disaster.  While Matt and I were busy destroying and building the LMB, our other projects were suffering, and Michael had lost patience long ago for the lack of instant gratification this long term rebuild was delivering.  Our personalities were starting to wear thin on each other, and the added stress of our other projects exerted further unneeded pressure.

We were fully in entrepreneurial momentum withdrawl.

The symptoms of withdrawl include blank stares at empty stud walls, heavy drinking, and a manic search for inspiration.  Each addict has their own way of dealing, and we were a horrible support group for each other, so we went our separate ways.  Matt and Mike were drinking buddies already, and that kept them sated, but I needed the good stuff.  I needed big beautiful ideas.  Magazines, art, films, New York, San Fran, Paris, grafitti artists, dancers, musicians.  I needed to freebase the inspiration directly.

Another law of entrepreneurialism, the law of conservation of energy, states that energy may neither be created nor destroyed.  In the face of so much destruction and chaos, one could find it hard to believe, however, one should never argue with science (unless of course, you still think the world is 6 thousand years old.  In that case, have at it).

Our momentum had done something special, it had transferred itself to the team around us.  The dreamers we had assembled together had picked up the torch, and were fervently spreading the word, enlisting recruits, and telling the story of Lucy.  It may not have been a beautiful dream anymore, a sad, tacky old building in the awkward stages of renovation, a partnership fragmenting, and all focus lost, but in their minds it was still beautiful, and they were still fighting for it, even when we had lost faith.

People conduct electricity and energy with a frightening efficiency, and if you don’t believe me go stick your finger in a light socket.  Our staff had become the more willing host for the optimism and momentum, and nature followed the path of least resistance to those who would more efficiently carry the energy.  While we had burdened ourselves with our staff’s and each others expectations, we had created a toxic environment for the momentum, and it had found a better host.

Ben Franklin, the guy with the kite and the key who tried to prove that lightning wasn’t simply God punishing you for touching yourself (science still can’t fully dispute this theory, part of the reason I never go out in a thunderstorm), surmised that “from electric fire thus obtained spirits may be kindled”.

How right he was.

Our momentum then, once set in motion, stayed in motion.  Even when we felt our energy had dissipated, it had only transferred to a more willing host, following the path of least resistance, and that energy, once collected, kindled the spirits of all of us, and created momentum anew.

Science is so cool…

The Science of Entrepreneurialism


The idea started simply…

The world needed a better way to organize it’s life.

I hadn’t really thought of it, you know, as a big problem.  i hadn’t really thought of it much at all.

Only thing i knew was that life had been simpler before, easier to understand….  smaller.  And most of us liked it that way.

All that was about to change…. isn’t that how most stories start?

This story starts with an ending.

I had spent 10 years fulfilling a dream.  i had successfully built and operated 3 kickass restaurants/bars and i was pretty damn pleased with myself during the run.

Actually that’s not true, I was miserable most of the time, but it sure looked like I was having a blast.

Anyways, on to the beginning.  The ending started ending when the cancer treatment started ending, and the beginning of our new life looked like it had a shot at working out.  We didn’t have a long term outlook.  We didn’t have a plan.  We had a ‘put your head down, grit your teeth, and get through today’ approach that had gotten us out of the cancer, out of debt, out of partnerships with addicts and assholes, and out of the everyday shitty feeling like there’s something looming on your horizon about to kick you back down the hole you just crawled out of.

That was working great for us, but it was a far cry from where we started a decade before.

In the first year, success came slowly, fidgetting it’s way nervously towards us as we fumbled awkwardly towards it.  When it finally hit, it wasn’t smooth or romantic, but a clumsy and awkward accident.  Like horny teenagers fearful of catching an std from french kissing, or getting pregnant with a dry hump, success and I did everything wrong, and still ended up holding hands and smiling uneasily at each other, imagining a perfect future in a soon to be perfect world.

Optimism strapped itself on my back like a rocket pack, and i took off in exploration of a world where anything is possible if you just have the right pluck and determination, and the eye for people that dare to dream, to pick up along the way.

Some that I picked up were just as awkward with success as i, and as much as i tried to ease them into it, everyone’s first time is always weird, and scary, and gloriously exciting.  Enthusiasm makes up for so much when you’re playing with impossible outcomes, and sometimes even then it’s only worth it if you’re chasing something impossible.  The romantic in all of us is a sucker for staring at night skies, imagining that somewhere there must be someone as scared, as hopeful, and as tragically doomed to failure as themselves.

That romanticism saved my soul, as we negotiated booze addled poker nights of the industry’s most debaucherous card sharks, or cocktail soirees with ballerinas, champagne purveyors and wild mushroom foragers.  The people who were drawn to us, were the same romantics as us, believing beyond rationality (and probably influenced by a healthy appreciation for our wares), that the impossible was indeed possible.  We all hitched our wagons to each other as if to say, we’ll outnumber the bastards, and fuck em if they can’t take a joke.

I miss that place, a lot.   I miss the people far more…