When your restaurant is forced to close, how does it affect you mentally, personally and financially?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th May 2019

For most chefs, opening their own restaurant is the dream. Michael Carr is no exception and in 2015 he made that dream happen when Restaurant 92 opened its doors in Harrogate.

Three and a half years later and it had turned into his worst nightmare when he was forced to announce its closure.

He now has a new role which has reignited his love of cooking, working alongside Simon Gueller at The Box Tree.

In this open and honest interview with The Staff Canteen Editor, Cara Houchen, Mike talks about the distress losing a restaurant can cause, how it pushed him mentally to a dark place and why he believes it’s so important for diners to support independent restaurants.

Michael Carr Restaurant 92 Harrogate Interview

Michael on the pass at Restaurant 92

credit: Yorkshire Food Guide

I met Mike in his regular coffee haunt in Harrogate, a place he told me he hadn’t been to since closing Restaurant 92.

“I used to come here, bring my notebook and think of recipes and dishes – I loved this space.”

For the past four months he says he ‘detached’ himself from the town as he has gone through the process of digesting what happened.

He can’t thank people in the industry enough for the support he got after announcing in January the restaurant had closed but he still feels it shouldn’t have happened.

It really snuck up on us, which sounds daft being a business owner,” he explained. “It was about three months before closure when there were a couple of bumps in the road. We really wanted to do so much this year to the building, including having a chef’s table. “

“The year before was phenomenal, we had a cracking October and December was booming but in 2018 things turned awful, we were no where near taking what we were projecting.

We had a bad summer, we were banking on having a fantastic end to the year but it didn’t happen.”

Mike sat down with his business partner on January 1, 2019 and they realised unless they put in another 50 or 60 grand a piece they just couldn’t keep the restaurant open.

The reality of the restaurant not being financially viable still visibly upsets Mike. Taking a deep breath, he said: “That’s where my heart broke the most because when you’ve put your soul into something and it doesn’t work – it’s absolutely gutting. Three and a half years of blood, sweat and tears felt like nothing at that moment. I thought, ‘why have I just done this to myself?’”

Not only did he lose a lot of money, he explains he also ‘lost a little bit of the thrill of what it’s like to be a chef’.

“I’ve been really down for months and it’s been horrendous. To get to where I am now and rebuild and push on again has been very hard.”

“That’s where my heart broke the most because when you’ve put your soul into something and it doesn’t work – It’s absolutely gutting. Three and a half years of blood, sweat and tears felt like nothing at that moment. I thought, ‘why have I just done this to myself?’.”

mike carr and business partner
Mike and his business partner Ian Humphreys

His business partner, Ian Humphreys, prides himself on being an excellent businessman and Mike says he offered such good support, they had a brilliant relationship.

He said: “That’s one big thing I’ve learned from this experience is that you really need to choose your business partner carefully. You have to really get along because there are some really good times but there are some really tough times. You both need to be following the same dream.”

The pair thought they had the perfect formula at Restaurant 92 and were ‘both absolutely broken’ when it closed.

“We’ve done it the right way,” said Mike. “We’ve not just shut the doors and said, ‘we’ve gone bust’ because we haven’t, we just couldn’t find the funds to do it properly.”

One of the toughest things to hear as I chatted to Mike is the restaurant is up for sale or let – a fully furbished restaurant which someone else can come in and open, knowing that it’s still there he says ‘is heart-breaking’. However, he explained he doesn’t think he failed, he does feel that  ‘he was failed’ due to the lack of support.

“I get so frustrated because I feel like if i picked up 92 and put it in any other part of the country I feel like it would work. As a local business in Harrogate, we didn’t feel supported,” said Mike.

“A restaurant is a passion, I knew full well when we took it on it was going to be tough, You don’t just open the doors in to profit it doesn’t work like that. You have to put so much in just to get a little back.”

Hearing that I questioned whether it was a mistake to open in his hometown, but he insists it wasn’t.

“I opened in Harrogate because it’s where I’m from and it might sound silly, but I wanted to give something back. So when the opportunity arose to have my own restaurant here in the town where I was born I said ‘yes, let’s show people what we can do and let’s get this place on the food map’.

rest 92
Restaurant 92

Location aside, Mike is only 27 and many people may say he was too young or inexperienced to take on his own place. He says that was something he worried about but now looking back he doesn’t think ‘you are ever ready.’

He said: “I think it’s something you’ve either got a passion for or not,  you want to make it successful and make it work – if you have that mindset you can do anything, I truly believe that.”

He added: “Running an independent restaurant is so difficult and I just didn’t feel supported by our consumers locally.”

Unfortunately, in this industry we read about restaurant closures almost daily and as with any news, we read it, think: "oh that’s a shame" and move on but what about when it’s happening to you, what happens after the doors close?

“I went to a dark place,” explained Mike. "When I began to realise it wasn’t working I began to feel anxious and stressed, waking up worrying, overthinking everything, you want to throw yourself in to work to hide from it or make it better but it doesn’t help."

“I wanted to just pack up my things and disappear, it’s been a weird experience and I don’t think it will ever be a closed book, it will be quite raw for me for a long time but I also don’t think that’s a bad thing - I think it has helped me grow a lot."

“When I began to realise it wasn’t working I began to feel anxious and stressed, waking up worrying, overthinking everything, you want to throw yourself in to work to hide from it or make it better but it doesn’t help.”

“I can’t live in the past, I’m ready to move forward and now I just want to progress in my cooking and push myself even harder. I want to keep on climbing and work with the best people. It’s about loving what you do and I do love it and I’m so passionate about food, I genuinely thought I had lost that.

mike carr and simon
Mike and Simon Gueller

“Mentally more than anything it has been very difficult, I’ve had days where I’ve thought, what’s the point in being a chef? But I know that for me life is about being successful and pushing yourself because you only get one chance.

“One night I was cooking at home and I thought ‘I love this’. I realised I just needed to ride the wave.”

And while he was riding the wave I asked him what impact that journey has had on his family and friends?

I’ve been a nightmare, a very negative person to be around. I’ve been very downbeat and not myself. It has just played on my emotions and my mental state. My family have been through a lot and through every stage whether that’s been anger or being upset I’ve taken that home and my girlfriend has had to deal with it.

“The turning point for me was the day that I met with the Guellers. We talked for a while and found that we really got on so well and that the relationship came easy, they said that my experience wasn’t a negative but an education in running a business and that it would help in the future.

“Chatting to Simon about food and cooking and his new found focus for The Box Tree inspired me and the opportunity to work alongside this great chef and be part of the next chapter was exciting.

“Since joining the team I have found that Simon and I can collaborate to such a high level while making it fun and the banter in the kitchen is great - the whole team feel invincible and look forward to next day.”

He added: “Now I relish the idea of hopefully, one day, having my own place again.”

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th May 2019

When your restaurant is forced to close, how does it affect you mentally, personally and financially?