Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

When things Break

When things break….


Not far down on my payroll for highest paid staff member is “repair technician.”  Running a restaurant seems to begin with the ability to fix stuff or find people to fix stuff.  The current fix list includes a dishwasher that likes to leak, a faucet drip (annoying and not so efficient), two stand mixers that refuse to run, a water heater whose design leads to shutting down in below zero weather. Add to that a set of cables, latches, switches and gauges that all need attention and you can see why I feel more like a nurse on an ICU hall than a manager of a grill, bakery and café.  Nearly every call I get from my staff at the shop includes something that needs to be fixed.


I try to handle a lot of my own fixes as I am able, but I also have several trusted (and trained) folks who can save me from starting a project that I can’t finish, or not having the right parts and tools, or from just taking far longer than is necessary if you’ve completed the task many, many times.  


I also try to remember that repair businesses are just that: a business.  And like me they need customers in order to stay in operation.  I want to support them so that they will be there when I need them.  I want to invest in their operations so that they can provide me with the best service possible.  Building a relationship with a few local repair technicians has meant that we have a shared history with my equipment and a shared goal of providing each other with services. 


And yet, the cost of repairs often becomes a huge struggle.  They are difficult to budget for and somehow tend to occur when you least expect them.  I don’t ever have much capital or credit to draw on in tough times, all of my cash flow is already spoken for, and repair companies tend to like to get paid up front and on the spot.  When something breaks, it costs me right then and there.  I have tried over the years to use maintenance contracts to help prevent my equipment from breaking, but break they do, eventually, and those contracts don’t give me a lot of breaks at that point.  Just making a phone call, or asking for someone to “just take a look” becomes a big expense.   Purchasing a brand new item all the time? Not such a good use of resources either.


I’m learning to make good use of warranties to assure that the new equipment I purchase does indeed run as it should.  And, although most of the “hassle-free” warranties don’t take into effect the initial hassle of having something work as it should so that I needed to call them….I appreciate the willingness of other businesses to act in the same way I do when a customer would like their eggs cooked just a little differently… Yes, it was a hassle that it wasn’t right the first time, but we should make it right without any more hassles and any more cost.


 In a business where production needs to be constant, any breaks have an effect on production.  Improvising and adjusting to keep production running is a creative adventure and although highly stressful, it’s also quite rewarding.  I try to lean on the deep, deep memories of my childhood, when trying to fall asleep and not feeling well would make me anxious enough to call out to my mom or dad, who would come down the hall from their nightly ritual of watching M*A*S*H after the 10:00 news, sit down on the side of my bed, and gently rub my back, or fetch me a glass of water or just reassure me that all would be well.  Such a simple fix I guess, and I wish all problems were that easy, but a little love and reassurance goes a long way towards fixing most everything.


I have been a bit congested lately, the long winter taking its toll.  The congestion usually means that I don’t sleep well and feel a little cranky.  It then reminds me that when my shop’s equipment isn’t “breathing” well they might feel a little cranky too.  So, around I go, checking filters, cleaning coils, vacuuming dust from fans, all the while thinking about ways that I can clean my own coils and try not to work quite so hard when I’m not feeling my best.


The way of the world is toward general entropy.  (I read that somewhere.)  All things tend to reach a point in their life cycle where they begin to head toward their own demise. It is inevitable. There is no stopping it. Participating in the fixes is indeed a lifetime’s work.