Sunday, February 23, 2014
Holy Grail Pub owners explain what it’s really like to live the restaurant life
"It’s impossible to turn it off completely, but you have to stay somewhat sane – somewhat."
PLANO The idea is, well, maybe a little idealistic. Working with your spouse, spending your highs and lows with the one you love seems to be the best solution for those who choose the restaurant life – and for many, it is indeed. It’s certainly the case for Christi and Brian Rudolph, owners of Plano’s Holy Grail Pub as well as FM Smoke House in Irving. Side-by-side, they work the day away serving customers, ordering inventory, cleaning tables and cutting paychecks. For the Rudolphs, life together in the restaurant business is a lark.
Except for the times when it’s not.
“Yeah, it sounds pretty glamorous. Then you end up cleaning up vomit at 3 a.m.,” Brian says. “Just this morning I had to go fix a sink that got busted last night, so that was how I spent the first half of my day.”
The Rudolphs smile through the anecdotes. Holy Grail — a "European-inspired pub," Christi notes — was their first foray into restaurant ownership, and it is indeed a happy place. The dark wood contrasts with the banners on the wall, and a broad selection of brews from local sources to foreign can be enjoyed by patrons. Anyone might want to own such a place: music, conviviality, and drinks all around. FM Smoke House, their second venture, is a different concept, but no less attractive as a place to spend one’s time. Serving rural Texas comfort food with a full bar and a bright atmosphere, it would seem that between the two restaurants, the Rudolphs have this ownership down – even while raising two kids at the same time.
But then again, maybe it takes a little time. The pair always knew they wanted to go into restaurant ownership – they met at The Hyatt Regency in Austin where Brian was the beverage manager and Christi was a cocktail waitress – but the initial going was a little rougher than they might have expected.
“At this point, I’ve run restaurants for 18 years, but the process was eye-opening,” says Brian, who worked in the industry in Austin before working at the Old Monk in Dallas. “So I thought I’d done a whole a lot. Prior to opening, I was like, 'Yeah, sure, how hard can it be? We’ll just find a space.' Well, being a little mom-and-pop with no equity to speak of, no background, no other businesses – people laughed at us.”
They finally agreed to terms on a spot near Preston and 121 in Plano, and realized that the fun had only just begun. They had plenty of experience in the industry, but building from the ground up, business relationships and marketing were only a few of the aspects that they had to consider as owners, rather than employees. And as the restaurant grew and then eventually a second developed, they realized that they had suddenly become responsible for much more than feeding only their two kids. The responsibility that comes with success turned out to be far greater than that which came with mere ambition. Far more lives are affected by the Rudolphs now than when they opened Holy Grail in 2007.
“I think we expected it a little bit, but it kind of took us by surprise. We have two children, but we have 70 people who work for us. They’re all dependent on us as well,” Christi says. “Having that kind of dependency, it’s good that we have these people, but it can sometimes feel like a burden, it hurts sometimes.”
And with the result of that stress can often come strife, especially to those who aren’t expecting it. That’s the difference, Brian observes, between people who start restaurants who have had years of restaurant experience versus those who haven’t. And it’s also why the two are able to remain happily married despite spending the stressful hours together working out problems and finding solutions.
“In the restaurant industry it’s very easy to get overwhelmed, and sometimes you need to do what you can to turn it off. It’s impossible to turn it off completely, but you have to stay somewhat sane – somewhat. Sane people don’t do the restaurant industry, but you know, sane is boring,” Brian says. “I’ll sweat, running around crazy hectic and then get that almost runner’s high after a really busy dinner.”
But knowing where to separate business from personal life is probably the biggest key – and the most difficult one to master.
“His phone will go off all the time. It will go off at four in the morning after something happened. And that’s kind of where our life is right now; we have that sort of feeling where we have to jump the boat and we have to manage this or that,” Christi says. “I think we have challenges when we go out for date nights. We have a hard time – especially since we’re likely going to another restaurant – like we have a hard time not associating restaurants with work. We’ll analyze them instead, just because that’s how our mindset is now.”
Adds Brian, “I’ll start talking about flow patterns and how they’re doing this or that and then she’s like, 'Hey! We’re on a date here. Let’s talk.'”
It can be an addictive industry, and one difficult to master. But the two know it well, and as they continue to grow their own responsibilities to their customers, employees and even their own family, they’re continuing to learn the tricks of the trade together.
“There’s certain things to know – it’s a bad idea to start talking about work while you’re going to bed and you’re pulling the sheets over you,” Brian says with a laugh. “Try to keep that at a minimum. And try not to wake up in the morning talk about it right away. Ease in and out of the day.”
It is, after all, about the only time you’ll be able to do anything with ease in the restaurant industry.
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