Something wasn’t quite right, I thought as I stood on the dock looking across the expansive lawn at the lodge. It seemed like something important was missing, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. With only a few days until the grand opening, I was running out of time to figure it out, and maybe it wasn’t anything important, but it was definitely bothering me. However, I couldn’t just stand there and dwell on it; I had to keep moving forward.
I walked toward the lodge making a mental list of everything that still needed to be done to be ready to open for business in just three days. It was hard to believe that the time was almost here. Even though I had worked diligently and developed a tight but workable timeline, it still didn’t seem possible.
I wandered through the door and through the main dining area into the kitchen to refill my coffee cup before sitting down with my trusty planner. I knew there was more to do today than just what I made mental notes about. Looking over the list for today, I wondered how I would get it all done; it just didn’t seem possible. I hoped that nothing would go wrong.
I knew I was taking a huge chance not only on myself but on the area locals and the summer tourists. My parents showed me this place last summer when I was here visiting them – a beautiful, old, closed up lodge from the late 1800s, sitting along the banks of the Indian River in Northern Michigan. It took my breath away, sank itself into my soul, and when I couldn’t shake the thought of it, I knew I had to do something. When I returned home to California, I contacted the realtor, Alex, that my parents used when they bought their cottage there, and asked if there was any possibility that the owner would sell it since it was not in use, and was certainly not cared about. Alex told me that the current owner was still alive and had mysteriously closed it a few years ago. It seemed that people had their suspicions about why it closed, but no one knew why one night the owner turned off the lights, locked the doors, and put up a sign saying that it was closed for good. As it turned out, Alex had been contacted by the owner to list the property. Without even thinking, I made a full price offer which the owner immediately accepted.
The entire deal took only a matter of days, and before I even really knew what had happened, I was the new owner of an old half-dilapidated lodge some three thousand miles away. There were many moments of panic and doubt before I settled down and went into full planning mode. I knew this would require a complete upheaval of my life, and I was risking everything I had, but it felt like something I just had to do. My head, heart, and gut were finally in sync with each other.
I kept the entire thing a secret from everyone except my cousin until I had my plan completely figured out. I had to swear Paul to secrecy, but he didn’t care; he was happy to help in any way he could. I needed a contractor to get everything going and make decisions until I moved there in the spring. Paul’s father-in-law, Ted, a semi-retired contractor, was happy to help restore the historic old lodge to its former glory, and the best part was, he wanted to do it for the sheer joy of being involved and having something to do during the long winter months.
I took a long weekend to fly back there to meet with Ted, go through the property, and make a plan. Thankfully it wasn’t as in nearly as bad of shape as it appeared from the outside. It needed updating, but nothing structural except for the owner’s quarters. I took hundreds of pictures, made lists, drew diagrams, and headed home to prepare for the next phase of my life.
I waited until Christmas to make my big announcement to the family. I knew they were going to think that I had gone off the deep end, and maybe in some way I had. I put together a video of the before pictures and the pictures that Ted had sent just the day before, showing the dramatic improvement that re-doing the floor, painting, and general cleaning-up made. To have the bar and grill ready to open by Memorial Day weekend, we decided to do the project in 2 phases. Phase 1 would be the downstairs, which consisted of the bar, seating area, kitchen, and apartment, and three employees’ quarters and the outside patio and dock. The second phase would consist of remodeling the upstairs guestrooms.
I pretty much guessed correctly at the reactions I would receive: shock, confusion, and excitement. Everyone was supportive, although maybe confused as to why I would make such a rash change. I can’t explain it completely myself, but know it was something I needed and wanted to do. I was feeling really good about it all.
As I walked through the middle part of the restaurant toward the bar thinking about where to start on my list for the day, I grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and headed toward my apartment at the end of the building. When I toured the lodge after buying it, I fell in love with the thought that I could live on site in the owner’s residence. I had Ted do the necessary renovations to make it habitable, but I wanted to do the decorating myself and wasn’t sure how I would want it until I was there and got a feel for the place and the surroundings.
The apartment wasn’t large, but it was all I needed. The original floor plan had a bunch of separate rooms closed off from each other in an old a brownstone-type of style, with tall ceilings and tall doors with wood trim throughout. Ted opened the entire place up to make it more modern, bright, and airy. He also managed to save the wood molding and put that back in to retain some of the historical look. I had a kitchen and breakfast nook which joined the living area, one bedroom, one bathroom and a large office. Because I would be living on site and had no plans to hire a manager, I was not in need of the lodge manager’s office located in the same area, so the adjoining wall was torn down, adding the additional space to my living space. And with 12 guestrooms upstairs plus three employee’s quarters downstairs, I did not need additional bedrooms in the apartment. I would say I used the space wisely, and ended up with a very nice private spot. Ted also went the extra step and insulated the walls that connected with the restaurant, and used sound blocking sheetrock. The place was full of natural light; the bedroom and office both had a view of the river as did the living area.
As I reached the door that leads to my apartment, I could hear Lucy make her way across the wood floors, ready to greet me. Lucy is always happy to see me, my faithful yellow lab.
Looking around at the apartment, I have to keep telling myself not to get sidetracked by the boxes, lack of paint, furniture, and décor in my apartment, but instead to head straight into my office and get busy on today’s list of to-do’s. I had a bit of time before I had any appointments so I could go over my grand-opening plan and make final adjustments to it. Because the grand opening would be on Memorial Day Weekend, I wanted to keep it simple and what I consider traditional, for Memorial Day. The flags I ordered arrived yesterday, so they would be put up on Friday. I had a large American flag for the flagpole, buntings to line the upstairs deck railings, small flags on stakes to line the property along the river, and would have red and white flowers everywhere. It was simple, American, and frugal since I could re-use everything again for the 4th of July celebration. I added the chore of putting up the decorations to Ted’s list for Friday. I also added putting up the “grand opening” signs to his list.
Today was employee day. All the employees I hired were due to arrive at 10 am to learn the lodge, and how everything would work here. I had a list of chores for them to work on, since I would be paying them for their day. I was both nervous and excited at meeting them all again and getting started on working together. I hired only the bare minimum, with the hope and anticipation that I would be hiring more very soon.
The chef was the first person I hired after arriving, knowing that he would be the one to know where to procure local goods as well as the one who would help with the menu. Josh was a godsend when he showed up the day after I arrived and handed me his résumé. After taking him on a walk around the lodge and kitchen and hearing his ideas, I knew we would get along great, so I hired him on the spot. Josh immediately started on the kitchen set up, and figuring out what he needed. We were working with a very short timeline, but that didn’t seem to matter to him; he rolled up his sleeves and jumped right in, helping Ted to get the kitchen in order. Whenever he would take a break or when Ted was busy on other projects, Josh would be at a table in the corner or out on the dock, working on the menu and his list of supplies.
I was also fortunate enough to be able to hire a bartender right away, who just happened to be Josh’s girlfriend. Shelley was just as eager and excited as Josh to get the place up and running. They made a great team, and would be great for the business and the other staff.
As the clock grew closer and closer to the 10:00 hour, I grew more and more nervous. I made sure I looked presentable while still being comfortable, and headed out of my apartment to the front door of the lodge to unlock the front door for the employees who would soon be arriving. Josh and Shelley were both behind the bar unpacking the glasses and liquor, laughing and joking with each other.
“Good morning, you two,” I said, as I walked through the building. “I’m going to unlock the front door so our new team members can come in when they get here.”
I taped a sign to the door to let the employees know that they could come on in, and to also let others know that we were not open yet, and that it was an employee training day, just in case anyone thought we might be open for business.
“Hey Josh, do you have anything we can serve up for lunch for the crew, or any ideas? I know, I should have thought about it sooner, so if you don’t we can order some pizza,” I asked, walking back into the restaurant area.
“I’m expecting trucks this morning, I’m sure I can figure out something, I’ll go take a look and see what I have coming,” he replied with a cheery attitude, heading for the kitchen.
“And Shelley, we should have plenty of water and soda right? How about ice?”
“I turned the ice maker on last night when I left, so there should be plenty, and we have bottled water, soda, and I just made iced tea,” she said.
“Perfect. I think we are ready,” I said, looking at the clock. “Everyone should be arriving any second.”
“This is exciting, and it should be a fun day. I know you have a lot of activities planned. It won’t take long for us to get everything put away,” Shelley said, as she came out from behind the bar. “Josh and I got most of the liquor put up, and have been running the glasses through the dishwasher non-stop. I will put beer mugs in the freezer later, so they are nice and frosty for Saturday.”
“I’m so lucky you guys are here with me. I will never be able to thank you enough for all your help and support,” I said, hugging Shelley. I know how lucky I have been, and plan to do something special for Josh and Shelley soon.
By twenty minutes after ten, only one person had arrived. There were no phone calls and no emails from any of the other employees I had hired. I couldn’t believe no one showed up; something wasn’t right. Faith, the one person who did show up, didn’t know any of the other employees, and had no idea why none of them would skip out.
“Hey Em, we have a problem. Do you have a minute?” Josh said as he came from the kitchen, looking around at the lack of employees.
“What is it, Josh?” I asked with hesitation.
“Well, it would seem as if all the local produce and meat I ordered won’t be coming; all the orders have been canceled,” he said, handing me copies of the canceled orders. “Where is everyone?”
“The orders were canceled? Why?” I asked, looking at the papers he handed me.
“No reasons were given. I just got emails saying that the orders had been canceled,” Josh said, shaking his head, “I don’t understand, and I’m not sure what to do.”
“What do we have? What is for sure coming?” I asked, walking toward the kitchen.
“We don’t have much, actually. Almost everything was coming from local farmers: all the meat, greens, bakery, and even the dairy,” he replied, running his fingers through his hair with a very worried, yet dejected look. “I don’t know what happened; I’m so sorry. I had confirmations on everything, and had spoken to all the ranchers personally to obtain good pricing because we would be buying from them regularly. I put copies of all the confirmations in your in-box. I don’t know what to do.”
“I saw the confirmations; I don’t understand what is going on here. First, none of the employees show up, and now we have no food to serve. I suppose the linens won’t show up, or the flowers, or anything else we ordered,” I said with a shaky voice, bordering on tears. Everything up to this point had been going so well, and now with only two and a half days left to go before opening, things start crashing down around me. “I have to think; we need to figure out what else might not be coming that we need. I have to figure out what to do to pull this together,” I said, as I walked away. “Don’t worry, the three of you aren’t going anywhere, I need you here, and Josh, I know this is in no way your fault, so don’t worry.”
I had to figure out what was going on. Strange coincidence, or was it more than that?