Twenty years ago, I cracked my very first egg into a Pyrex glass mixing bowl. The jagged shell tore the yolk open as it splashed into the bowl; shards from one half of the shell floated around and the other half slipped out of my hand and crashed over the rest of the liquid. It was incredible.
Five years ago, at 6 in the morning, I cracked an egg on my very own flat top on the opening day of my franchise restaurant. In 2008 I opened the 7th Sunset Grill- a popular breakfast franchise in the Greater Toronto Area. Knowing next to nothing about opening a business, having barely-descent cooking skills and far too much confidence, I decided to take on the restaurant world. With my semi-retired, heavily accented father by my side, I began one of the greatest and most gut-wrenching experiences of my life. In the first six months I became a complete insomniac, suffered a minor heart-attack, cut and burned my hands, ruined several relationships, gained 20 pounds, hated everything, hated everyone, and worst of all…began to hate myself. No one will deny that the restaurant world is tough, but when it is a reflection of you, every broken plate, broken egg and broken customer relationship cuts a little deeper.
Perhaps at 23 I wasn’t entirely ready to open a restaurant. Who am I kidding? I was definitely NOT ready, but I was ready to learn the valuable lessons that came my way. As time passed, I began to develop meaningful relationships with my staff and customers. The kitchen crew was made up of four Sri-Lankan line cooks who cared as much about the restaurant as I did, the servers always had smiles on their faces, the cashiers were sweet high school girls who were eager to please, and my father…an impeccable mathematician and highly acclaimed financial advisor, cleaned tables and washed dishes. He never smiled- not because he didn’t want to, but because, I am convinced, Russian dads just don’t know how. But I knew every time he spilled ketchup on his black shirt or slipped on the puddle of water that formed beneath the washing station, he was just happy trying to help. To him, hard work is hard work, and for that lesson, I am forever indebted to him.
Following a rocky first year, the restaurant finally began to run smoothly and we all felt like we could take a breath. We were met with friendly familiar faces in the morning, nearby shop owners would continuously come by for cups of coffee, corporate companies held morning meetings over specialty breakfast spreads, families celebrated birthdays and holidays on the crowded patio and I began to fall in love with this world. Eventually, Sunset Grill was THE neighborhood restaurant. We held charity events, raising money for cancer research and the World Wildlife Fund, and hosted community celebrations for Easter, Christmas and Mother’s Day. I was eager to create new specials and whip up seasonal soups from scratch. Our regulars helped me regain faith in the human race. I loved Sunset Grill and we grew together.
After nearly three years of ups-and-downs, I finally decided I needed a change in my life. I loved what I was doing, but felt…tired and old. After getting accepted into the Gastronomy Graduate program at Boston University, without a second thought, I sold three years of my life and moved to a new city. I regained my passion for food and knowledge and am forever grateful for the incredible experiences I had at Sunset Grill. I do miss it…well some of it.
One thing I will never forget is the incessant questions I received about the name of the restaurant. “Why ‘Sunset’ and not ‘Sunrise’?” people would ask. Honestly, I don’t really know. I do know that there is something undeniably special about breakfast. It nourishes the day, strikes inspiration, drives the body and sharpens the mind. To be without breakfast is to start the day empty. Breakfast is the greatest meal of the day and greatness should be served at all hours.