30 April 2021, 06:16 AM
  • "I’m learning that when you sell your hospitality business, it is not the end. Not by a long shot," writes Tracey Tannenbaum, former deli owner and chef
Confessions of a (former) deli owner, part 2

You could argue that it was like rubbing a bruise.

Yesterday, I walked by our former deli business, and every table was taken. There was even a queue. And, to be frank, I felt absolutely sick.

I’m learning that when you sell your hospitality business, it is not the end. Not by a long shot. If you have, like me, spent three and half years building up a business, there’s a part of you that doesn’t want the new owners to succeed. It’s not an attractive thought; it’s ugly and emotionally ‘dirty’. But it’s not uncommon.

I spoke to a fellow café businesswoman yesterday. Let’s call her ‘N’. We met for a coffee, something we hadn’t been able to do previously because of work. The sun was shining, but we were, um, grumbling.

‘So the best thing was that it didn’t fit through the door. I shouldn’t have laughed, but I did.’ So said N describing an incident at her former café. It seems the new owners had ordered an ice-cream machine but forgot to measure the width of the doorway. I relayed rumours of chaotic service at my old place and a dull new product offering – glimpsed during my ‘walk by’ on the café’s blackboard.

But N continued at pace, ‘And why did she choose those chairs? They’re too big for the space and she’ll be losing covers.’ I countered that the new owners had raised coffee prices by 30% overnight and that I was getting the angry emails. ‘Not my problem, mate’ I thought but had sweetly referred all correspondence to the new owners. Perhaps with a little too much glee.

So, where has this schadenfreude – or delighting in the misery of others – come from. After all, wasn’t I the ‘nice’ one who gave coffees on the house if I heard there was a birthday and gave bonuses to staff if we had a stellar day? I’m having to re-evaluate who I am. Does this new preponderance of ill feeling mean that I’m actually as bad as the next guy?

Former customers keep asking if it’s been hard giving up my baby, a metaphor for the café/deli. I smile and think that a baby grows up. It doesn’t stay at the same level of stress forever – or indeed increase when the customers flood in – and faulty dishwashers flood out. I did create this ‘baby’ with my husband, my business partner, but we also, if we keep this analogy going, sold it to a surrogate.

One, that in my view, will never be the same emotionally attached parent. But isn’t that really code for ego? Do we ever want to see credit going to someone else for what we created, or even worse, make a bigger success? Doesn’t this render us redundant, forgotten?

I was a deli owner. And now I am not. This loss of identity is perhaps the hardest thing to deal with. But while I contemplate my next move, and to certain extent the next ‘me’, there is one thing I will do – the next time I walk by my former business – I’ll cross the street.

Read part one here.