The time I bought 2.76% of a restaurant

Spring, 2002

When I first moved to Seattle in 1997, I discovered around the corner from my apartment a wonderful, cozy, hippie vegetarian restaurant called the Green Cat Cafe that served a variety of tasty meals. I've been a vegetarian since 1982, so I was quite happy to find it. The rotating staff at the Green Cat were always quirky and personable freaks, and the Cat quickly became my favorite brunch spot. I spent many weekend mornings there over the following years.

In 2001, after almost ten years doing business, original owner Mark Edmison sold the Cat. It was purchased by a Korean couple, the Pangs. They had never owned a restaurant, but saw it as an easy investment. Mark documented all procedures, gave the Pangs two weeks of training, and walked away. Half the staff promptly left or were fired by the inexperienced, distrustful Pangs. It was the beginning of the end.

Are restaurants defined by their menus? Or by the culture of the people who create them? Some combination of the two, certainly, but I believe that the latter is the more important of the two. Without Mark's friendly, expansive, welcoming leadership, the atmosphere of the Green Cat quickly disintegrated, though the menu remained largely the same.

I continued to dine there, though I watched with sadness as the Pangs stopped baking pastries, let go all the staff I had known, cut back to reduced hours, and nervously hovered over the customers, continuously apologizing for imagined slights.

I moved out of town a few months into the Pangs' ownership. I moved back six months later. A month after that, the Green Cat closed. I was distraught when I read the eviction notice taped to the sealed front door. Distraught, but convinced that something had to be done.

About this time I had just thrown my first large scale event, called Patrick Jones and the Flying Pickle Circus. I pulled it off despite large odds against it and, heady with my success, I decided I must somehow buy the Green Cat and restore it to its former self. I had only the barest idea how to accomplish this as I had no cash and no experience in the restaurant business, but I was willing to give it a try. I decided to learn what I could. I would start with the eviction notice on the door.

When I next returned to the Cat, it was to my excited delight that I found the eviction notice stripped down, and a note from founder Mark explaining that he was reopening the place. Hallelujah! I scribbled a hasty note for Mark asking how I could help and fed it through the door slot.

Mark and I played phone tag for a while and had a couple of meetings. I learned that he'd sold the place on a note, and foreclosed when the Pangs defaulted on payments. They'd left him in hefty arrears and he needed a big infusion of cash and labor to get the Cat back on its feet. Since I had little cash and no experience, it didn't seem I had much to offer him beyond my wild enthusiasm, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. I offered to help Mark with the $2,000 that I could spare, 20 hours a week of my time, and aid in the hunt for other investors.

Meanwhile, Mark was already fixing the place up with his girlfriend Stephanie Speer, and friend Paul Garber. Stephanie and Paul were both investing with sweat equity and not bringing much cash to the table. Stephanie brought in a fellow named Johnny who was able to bring in a chunk of cash. Unfortunately, Johnny had very different ideas about what to do with the Cat, and everyone found him to be slimy and unctuous. Johnny was politely ousted. Enter Dave Meinert, another loyal customer of old. Dave, a successful music promoter who represents such hot Seattle bands as Reggie Watts and Maaktube, put in the remaining cash needed to get off the ground.

And we got down to business. As of this writing I've been working at the Green Cat for six months, and love it. I'd never worked at a restaurant before, but I find the work challenging and satisfying. I get great delight out of interacting with our customers. I still put in 20 hours a week, so it's more of an enjoyable hobby than an occupation, but plans are to expand into evening hours soon, and I'll be running the place as the evening manager.

So if you're ever in my neighborhood, pop on in and I'll make you a coffee drink of your choice. It may not be the best you've ever had, but I guarantee it'll be served with a friendly smile.