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CRAZY AS YOU WANNA’ BE

The Most Expensive Restaurant in the World.

Most expensive in the world? For me this is true, because we owned it and my family and I ran it, or tried to. It seemed like a wonderful idea at the time.

We had this large building that had been built as a parsonage in the early 1900s. It had been a part of a business complex for a company I founded (AMG – All-Music Guide, All-Movie Guide, etc.), but I had moved that whole business to Ann Arbor and sold it. So there the building sat. I tried to rent it, but no one seemed interested.

Somewhere along about 2003 I had the harebrained idea to turn it into a restaurant. My wife Margaret would want you to know that this was solely my idea. And so it was, but the kids liked the thought and we could not rent the building and…. well, you know how things go. Pretty soon I had workmen in there tearing the building apart and turning it into a restaurant, which was a lot more complicated than I would have guessed. As it turned out we pretty much had to do all new wiring, all new plumbing, including mammoth gas pipes and a commercial gas service to deal with the large stove and pizza ovens.

That’s right, homemade pizza was something we definitely wanted to serve. Where did this crazy idea (as some friends deemed it) come from?

There are different answers to that question. One is that there was no decent place to eat in town, but I know you don’t want to believe that was the only reason, although it has merit. Most of all I was appalled at what restaurants had done to food in the establishments I knew, like serve processed food almost entirely. We would not do that.

Having been trained in macrobiotics years before, I knew more than a little about whole foods and what is healthy and what is not. But when I really look deep into my soul, I feel that somewhere in there I always wanted to have a restaurant AND I saw it as a way to bring the whole family together on a project. What fun and it was! At least I thought so.

And I love designing space and creating mandalas – signs in this world of something greater than our linear life racing from birth to death. There has to be an oasis or two in every life and for me the “Two Sisters Café” was going to be one of them. In actuality, it was financially a train wreck, but who’s counting.

The name of the café came from my brother Daniel, the second in line of five boys, I being the oldest. Since my daughters May and Michael Anne were going to help run it, we ended up calling it the Two Sisters Café and that stuck, although it was actually a full=blown restaurant. It was a great name. Thanks Dan!

Of course I was in full swing and high gear in creating atmosphere for the place. This is my specialty – actively creating space to either live in or serve as a signature of the spirit within us all. There is little I like more, and I was soon head over heels involved in the look and feel of the place. Of course the whole family helped, only it was me that was down there from dawn to dusk (so to speak) directing the work team. That is my idea of fun.

Then there was the menu. Everyone pitched in on that and the girls (my wife Margaret and my two daughters) knew a lot more than I did about recipes and cooking. This was not a vegan restaurant, so prepare yourself. We all knew that we wanted to create a menu with no processed food on it, as in “home cooked,” made-on-site, etc. And we did. We made our own salad dressings, peeled all our potatoes, fashioned all our soups from scratch, and on and on. This was home-made comfort food like perhaps grandmothers made in the past. Crazy as I am, I insisted on only the finest ingredients, like $6 a pound (our cost) for the corned beef that we used in sandwiches, real Genoa salami, really fine olives, and so on. You get the idea. It was from the start way over the top.

We did serve meat because not to do so would be instant death in the small conservative town we live in. But even our meat was handled with care. Our homemade meatballs were just incredible (I still dream of them) and we cooked our Salisbury steak all night in slow cookers. We ordered only the finest Ahi Yellowfin tuna and our salmon was wild and hand-hooked in Canada. I could go on and on. If your body could afford it, you would like to eat at the Two Sister’s Café, I can assure you. Maybe I just did it to make sure that somewhere in the world such a place existed! Even I don’t know for sure what motivated me. It was fun.

We had a $6000 espresso machine and served up all the wonderful drinks you would find in Seattle and San Francisco. We had rare gourmet teas flown in and all kinds of special coffees. And food and drink was not the end of it. We wanted to make the café a community center of sorts, so we had entertainment. I had a special red theater curtain custom-made and a track of theater lights installed with spotlights out front. There was a quality sound system.

On Friday and Saturday nights we would curtain off one room and have bands, folk acts, magic, and even poetry. I am still a wannabe beatnik at heart, and a coffee-house atmosphere is part of this dream that I call life.

We opened our doors in the fall of 2003. And let me start out with the good news, which was that the food was wonderful. It was all home cooked, handmade the old-fashioned way, and delicious. I should know. I put on a lot of weight eating there every night. We pretty much stopped cooking at home. In fact we had a little table just inside the back doorway where the family would sit. I called it the “mafia table” because we were like Tony Soprano eating spaghetti at the back of the restaurant. I loved that and I ate all kinds of things I should not have eaten, and repeatedly. I’m probably paying for it now.

And a certain group of townspeople saw it for what it was and loved it. The rest (I am sorry to say) could not tell the difference between us and Applebees, incredible as that sounds. They just wanted food, lots of it and as cheap as possible. And now for the bad news.

We knew nothing about running a restaurant. Nada. And my penchant for serving only the best was a pipe dream I smoked and it cost us dearly. I am sure we were losing money on all kinds of stuff. And waste! We knew neither how to control waste or portions. From the get-go, it was way over the top.

We managed to limp by for about two and one half years before the economics really sank in. We were not making any money. Worse, we were losing money. And to top it off a general manager that I had hired was ripping us off until we caught on to her. She was not paying the taxes, but pretending to. This cost us a mere $40,000 when the IRS came calling.

Also, one of the two sisters, my daughter May’s music career suddenly began to take off and she was soon out of there and on the road a lot. This was her chance and we all wanted her to take it. And this left one sister, Michael Anne, who bravely carried on with help from the rest of us. And so on. Michael Anne is now a gourmet chef and sometimes cook who caters to large groups every now and again.

The bottom line was that the place could not keep its doors open and had to close. Perhaps the biggest lesson learned was that just because you make a superior product does not mean people can tell the difference or really care. We did not serve alcohol (on principle) and that hurt us big time. Kitchen and serving-help turned over like a Ferris wheel; it seems like we were endlessly training new folks. And half the workers were alcoholics or druggies. This is standard in restaurants. We hit a brick wall.

On the entertainment side, we had a mini-theater right in the restaurant, as mentioned, with lights, curtain, and a solid sound system. It was like an old-time hippie coffee house. We had poetry, magic acts, and lots and lots of music. And so it went.

I must say that it was a wild ride and (aside from the cost) a fun ride, although I will never again drive by a restaurant parking lot without counting the cars in it and wincing if there are few to none. Plus, I have enormous compassion for anyone gutsy enough to open and run a restaurant. The profit margin is so narrow that you have to be totally dedicated to even survive. And you really need to have a family to make it economical. I had the family, but none of us knew the business. LOL.

Still, the food was home-cooked and the good times outnumbered the bad ones. So, I can say without blinking that for a couple of years I ate at (for me) the most expensive restaurant in the world. I include some photos for your enjoyment!

If you are interested in Asian food, take time to refer to the Cambodia Vietnam tour! To get more information, click here! To see more: http://www.holiday-in-vietnam.com/news_events/_While_I_hope_I_don_t_offend_anyone_I_find_the_alternative_the_idea_that_I_ought_to_stay_in_the_cultural_lane_I_was_born_into_outrageous_.html
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Update : 20-11-2017

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